Monday, 6 April 2009

For rent or purchase: beach chairs; sunblock; Rastas

Via Gwen at Sociological Images, we're brought this Link International film highlighting Caribbean men who have sex with the female tourists visiting their countries.

As Gwen indicates, the men in these situations are seen as the aggressors, the ones with the power, who charm presumably innocent women into believing that theirs is the one true romance. But there is surely a great deal of power wielded by (comparatively) wealthy, white tourists who commodify sex with these men in the pursuit of their own racialized fantasies. They do not just want a black man, with whom they would presumably have to engage in a courtship on more level ground. They want a black man who is easy to fetishize and who is capable of being bought.

Despite what the video portrays (one would think the only black men in Jamaica and Dominica live on the beach or in the mountains waiting to trap a white woman), these men are poor, yes, but also marginalized within their own societies. They assume the power that is being afforded them by the white purchasers of their product: arguably, a hypermasculine male is exactly what these tourists are buying, and they often want a man who manifests the aggression they visualize these 'objects' to have. You'll notice that the apparent spokesman for the group of young men in Dominica criticizes black, Dominican women as 'not as open-minded', because he would not be afforded the same sexual liberties with his countrywomen as he is with his tourist consumer. Rather than adjust the attitudes and approaches which see women's bodies as public property for him to access, he would rather adjust the women - from ones who are less tolerant of exploitative male behaviour towards those who are seemingly accepting of it.

But the fact is that this is not wholly his choice, as he suggests. Because certainly in my experience, "land sharks", the name often given to this type of male sex worker in the Caribbean, are marginalized to exist outside most mainstream, heterosexual relationships in their societies. (Even the term used frames them as less than human, and as dwellers of a different space.) They are not considered as part of the pool from which Caribbean women might choose their mates, and among other men, are often ridiculed as desperate, homeless, drug dependent, incapable of attracting and providing within regular relationships with women. Even their physical appearance and expressions are targeted as identifiers of their lifestyles, and an indication that one should stay away: their skin which has become extremely dark from spending entire days on the beach; their sun-bleached dreads; and their affected half-American accents. (And there is another group, not highlighted in the video, which is also subject to even further ridicule: male sex workers who have similar relationships with male tourists.)

So the power dynamic is not as discrete as the apparently disgusted hotel owner suggests. The men are in some cases ascribed and allowed power based on the fetishized, 'animal'-dominant relationship that some of these women want to encourage, and based on the fact that they are on home territory, acting as guides and integral to the holiday experience. But this is a service: there must be remuneration for this attention, and the purchaser of the service must exercise some power. In cases where the relationship is removed from its point of origin - back to the woman's home country for example - there is often a shift in the power dynamic away from the man who now has no income and is in unfamiliar surroundings, towards the woman who may have different expectations now that the holiday is over.

Of course, that is not to say there are no situations where women, assuming they are entering an honest relationship, are duped. There are also many cases where such relationships evolve and are sustained, where the men in question are not simply fantasies, but true partners. In general, there is quite a bit more happening here than a straightforward, predatory, male-dominated dynamic, as is often portrayed. With so many issues of race, gender, colonized bodies, economic disparity and human emotion, there must be.

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen the movie Vers le Sud ( It's a rather more nuanced look at female sex tourism in the Caribbean, in this case in Haiti. It is still told mostly from the perspective of the white women, but it explores more deeply the power dynamics and social issues in Caribbean sex tourism.


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