I have come across a constant theme while reading about Black women’s sexuality. Most of the literature centers on how Black women have been made to be sex objects through white and male gaze. Few scholars write about the way Black women secure sexual agency in a male-dominated world.
Shayne Lee is one of few scholars who have taken up the subject in his book Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture. Lee defines erotic revolutionaries as:
[Women who] wage war against the politics of respectability and challenge traditional scripts that offer men greater space to indulge in a fuller range of sexual expressitivities.1
Lee uses pop culture as his center of analysis looking at singers like Beyoncé and Janet Jackson as well as entertainers in comedy, daytime television, and even book publishing. While reading Lee’s work, I immediately thought of the erotic revolutionaries I recognize in Jamaican pop culture, specifically dancehall queens. Check out five Black Jamaican women who reign as the erotic revolutionaries of dancehall.
Life Without Dick – Lady Saw
While the politics of respectability call for Black women to remain silent about their sexual desires, Lady Saw offers a politics where a Black woman can be frank in her salacious ode to the sex organ “Life Without Dick.”
Lady Saw becomes the objectifier in this track in which she fantasizes about sex through the character Dick. Dick is a man whose loyalty goes beyond friendship and she insists she couldn’t live without him. He apparently feels the same of her, as she insists he “cries a whole bag of tears” whenever he’s happy.
Lady Saw refuses to give in to social expectations that she be celibate. Thus erotic revolutionaries present a counter narrative to gendered expectations about women’s sexuality.
Undercover Lover – Patra
In the sultry Reggae song ‘Undercover Lover’ Patra sings to a backstage suitor she dials up when she’s not satisfied with her main show. Patra’s melody follows a number of erotic revolutionaries who have no qualms about attaching a cash value to sexual favors.
From early on, Patra sets the boundaries of the sexual liaison stating “I’m just a lover,” who requires gifts of diamonds and pearls.
As the song proceeds, she increases the price she demands for her sexual favor, offering her suitor more explicit and erotic acts in return. By the end of the song, Patra demands a house on a hill before repeatedly singing “Me gon just sit down pon it” to the object of her desire.
Patra not only understands the financial connection between men’s desire and women’s sexuality, but she asserts her value by using sex with men as a means to gain material resources.
Need A Boy – Ce’Cile
In her 2008 single “Need A Boy,” dancehall artist Ce’Cile begins laying out her case for why she needs a boyfriend by posing the question: “Where my boys at?” before she goes on to insist “I need a boy…I think I need a boyfriend.”
What makes a man up to the task? Ce’Cile asserts: “Give me some boys that get my heartbeat racing.” She alternates between using subtle imagery and explicit articulation of her sexual intentions. In one line she first tells a man she can introduce him to her spot before comparing her sexual prowess to the Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper.
Here it’s clear the phrase boyfriend means stand-in for a dedicated sexual partner. Perhaps this is why later in the melody, a man finally responds to her pleas assuring her she can stop her search because he’s certain he has what she’s looking for.
Ce’Cile’s “Need A Boy” demonstrates that erotic revolutionaries in dancehall see sex as pleasurable. Rather than mystify her attraction to men through religious or scientific language, she calls it straight – her ‘need’ for a man is completely sexual and on her own terms.
Please Me – Tanya Stephens
In ‘Please Me,’ songstress Tanya Stephens describes her disappointment when she discovers a man she had desired sexually turned out to be a dud.
In this song, Tanya recognizes sexuality as part of a Black woman’s aesthetic. Insisting women’s passion, body, and technique makes them true possesors of sexual power, she paints men as pretenders when it comes to sensuality.
When Tanya boasts she is the type of woman most men can’t handle, she laments how a man’s ability to put it on the dance floor failed to translate to the bedroom.
So Mi Like It – Spice
In this hit, dancehall diva Spice narrates how a night of cuddling can quickly turn into a night of passion. She takes the lead in enticing her bedmate, next describing in detail exactly which she prefers with her partner.
She also describes how her sexual moves are well received on the dance floor. Indeed, she invites her enthralled viewers to photo and video her and share it on their social media. Thus, Spice knows the fluidity among sex, dance, and voyeurism, but rather than shy away from the cameras, she invites others to make her a social media star.
What These Dancehall Queens Tell Us About Sexuality
Women dancehall artists also insist on taking care of one’s reproductive health, demanding that their partner uses condoms and maintains monogamy. Thus, whereas some Black women maintain a silence it conflicted feelings about their sexuality, these erotic revolutionaries are unequivocally outspoken.
These women also complicate our understanding of Black women and sex work. These women see their sex as a commodity rather than a thing that is commodified by men. In this way they set the price, even providing itemized receipts to which they demand men pay up for each act of their erotic labor.
Nevertheless, these women can’t be seen as representative of all Jamaican women or Black women the world over. A politics of respectability exists in this culture as well. Most strikingly, these politics restrict the exploration of women’s sexuality to relations with men who fit a hypermasculine ideal.
- Lee 2010, pp. xiv ↩