Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph
Contriving A Gender Issue
By Terry Joseph
CARNIVAL visitors may well have returned home with the impression
that some kind of revolution took
place during the festival, resulting in the
liberation of hitherto oppressed female singers.
The feeling, fuelled by patently excessive fanfare over Sanell
Dempster and Singing Sandra, who
copped the road march and national calypso monarch
crowns (respectively); is nothing but a cheap political shot. While the
ladies won fairly and must be congratulated for their success, the political
spin put on the whole affair by the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs, may
well have reduced whatever intrinsic or artistic value their triumphs originally
The celebration of their victories as a singular conquest for
women (more so than their work), led to a special party being thrown by the
Minister, indicating to the uninitiated that females had dismantled some major
human-rights obstacle or won afresh, the right to vote.
The arts have never before been subjected to such cheap
distinctions, where the gender of performers purchases greater respect than the
very substance of their work. Were it the first time that such a thing had
occurred, the benchmark acknowledgement would suffice. To suggest, however, that
battle lines are now drawn between the sexes is really the height of political
Such was the prevailing euphoria that even Calypso Queen, Shurlane
Hendrickson, was embraced by this ludicrous celebration of "all-female"
triumph, as if her particular title had previously been dominated by male
singers. Ironically, when Denyse Plummer won the Young King title in 1989
and male singers protested, they were shouted down.
achievement, we must be careful to ensure that the quality of the work is paramount and not obfuscated by a superimposed
coincidence. Meaning no discredit to their performances, we should however note
that, in the instant case, neither of the major title-bearers could lay full
claim to writing the song, arranging the music or charting the course that
brought them to victory.
But with a female Minister of Culture, it must have seemed like a
heaven-sent opportunity to raise a flag for the oft-forgotten Gender section of
her portfolio. Ironically, Calypso Rose, who managed to cop both titles in 1977
and then repeat the road march win in the year following, was left out of the
picture, as was another pioneer of the
female presence in calypso, Singing Francine.
Both Rose and Francine laboured long in calypso tents that did not
even facilitate them with separate dressing-rooms and often left them to jostle
with men for places on the playbill or in the washrooms. Denyse Plummer, by
quite another route, scored a kind of success that paved the way for a whole
other cadre of female to enter the arena.
But the hurrah was politically tailored to this year's winners,
whose victories may well be fleeting, given the very nature of calypso and road
march contests. Knowing the local penchant for competition in the arts
(particularly at Carnival time) the trickle-down effect of the Ministry's
eagerness to exaggerate the importance of gender in the instant case, may steer
us along a quite unnecessary route.
Next year, one supposes, the Ministry will be equally enthusiastic
about feteing the winners, if they are all gay or Chinese (or for that matter,
Rastafarian), lest some thin-skinned singer cries foul.
Isn't it amazing how we design trouble for spaces where none existed
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