By ALICIA WALLACE
We are not short on opinions about Bahamas Carnival. From the announcement four years ago, it was a point of division. Between the Junkanoo vs Carnival debate and the desperate appeals from the church, the event has always been controversial and polarising.
We are divided on Carnival and its place in The Bahamas, just as we are at odds on many other issues. Some of them intersect with Carnival, and the event shines a light on them. These issues do not exist all on their own. We birth and nurture them, watching as they become looming creatures that grow out of our control. Issues like misogyny, fatphobia, and moral superiority latch themselves on to Carnival, ready for the spotlight.
Social media is still abuzz, loaded with pictures, videos and reviews of the weekend’s festivities. Carnival participants had a great time and people of all ages took their positions to observe and enjoy the road march. This became a cause for concern, even for those who do not care for the event and did not attend. When Carnival comes up, we cannot find enough reasons to be angry or “concerned”. Our primary concern should be for the safety of all participants, especially women who are targeted, attacked and then blamed for the assault. The way to address this concern is not by limiting the participation of women, but ensuring police presence, implementing a safety and behaviour policy for participants and spectators and giving men the responsibility of controlling themselves.
Women in public space
Being a woman in any space is a challenge. There is always someone or some system to tell women we do not belong, to limit our participation, or to make our experience as uncomfortable as possible. It happens at work, in schools, in churches, on the street, in the gym, in bars and anywhere else you can imagine. Why would the road march be any different?
Being in the street with hundreds of other people feels safer. No woman is alone. Everyone knows what to expect during the parade. Every year, however, we are almost surprised by the comments from spectators and those viewing photos and videos on social media.
There were legs. Midriffs. Cleavage. Collarbones. Slim women. “Solid” women. Bigger-bodied women. Many people have been obsessed with the latter for days. Yes, there were rolls. Yes, there were stretch marks. There were sags and dimples too. Some of them were more beautiful than the feathers, stones and expertly made up faces. Isn’t it interesting to see what the body can do? It is too bad so many people chose to focus on body sizes and parts, seeing them as flawed. Seeing people as undeserving.
“Why she do herself like that?”
“Who tell her she look good in that?”
“Some people don’t have no shame.”
There are far too many people, of all sizes, who have heard enough terrible comments about themselves and other people to make them want to disappear. They do not want to be seen because they do not want to hear comments from hateful people.
When women show up in public space without apology, without inhibition and without a coverup, the whole world — the world that makes it hard — should celebrate her.
Instead, people work diligently to limit options for other people, and make the world a smaller place based on their own levels of comfort. People are fragile, jealous, and failing to deal with their suppressed sexualities. No wonder they are so bothered about the people who either do not have these issues or are able put them aside for a weekend or a day as they enjoy Carnival. It must be a sad life for those who watch other people live, then complain about it or laugh at them in attempts to ease their own pain.
Holier than thou
The holy and the sanctified somehow manage to turn their gaze to drunken debauchery for long enough to issue one-way tickets to hell, but not long enough to admit themselves. Every year before Carnival, we hear from religious leaders about their fears. This year, Pastor Cedric Moss opined about “brazen vulgarity”, “disregard for public decency laws” and “virtually naked women” dancing and having “virtual sex” with men of no character. It may be too much to ask for people to separate sex from sexuality and understand that dancing — including wining — is not about sex, and the connection we make between the two is of our own making. Instead, let’s focus on what Carnival brings and the choices we have.
Carnival creates a moving-party environment for the people who choose to participate. It is not concerned about the people who are not involved. Maybe we could look at it like a religion. It is an option — one of many. We all decide whether or not we think it is good, right and beneficial to us. When a large number of people choose it, the rest of us become outsiders. We must then join the crowd, ignore it, or find ways to navigate around it.
Sometimes Carnival — or religion — impedes our ability to move and act freely, even though we did not choose it. This is just the way it is and, since we know it exists, we have ample opportunity to plan our lives in ways that give us the freedom and protection we want. Is it fair? Who knows? Either way, there is a big enough market to keep Carnival going, so if we do not like what is happening on the road, we can stay off it. Just like (hopefully) no one is making us go to church every week, no one is making us watch “debauchery” every May.
A number of people went to great lengths to rebuke parents who took their children to watch the road march. In one post, someone described Carnival as a rated-R event and said parents who take their children to the event contribute to the “high rise in young kids having sex” and the “high teenage pregnancy rate”. This logic is not only faulty, but lazy. The poster and anyone else with this thinking should contact Bahamas Sexual Health and Rights Association for two reasons — the organisation has data and statistics to disprove this statement and needs volunteers to help deliver the Baby Can Wait programme. If anyone is truly concerned about teenage pregnancy — which is still an issue — and early sexual debut, they can assist organisations like BaSHRA in awareness-raising and education efforts.
People found it easy to condemn parents who took their children to the road march. It is just as easy to condemn those who left their children at home so they could have a good time as adults, and to condemn those who are afraid to let their children see adults dancing because they are in denial about the nature of sexuality and woefully unprepared for any conversations that may be sparked.
Parents make difficult decisions every day. They have to know themselves, their children and what works best for their families. It is irresponsible and ignorant to make a sweeping statement about parents based on personal opinion and capabilities. Some parents have better (or different) skills than others, and they operate accordingly.
Sexuality is everywhere. It is in curled hair, red lipstick, a three-second gaze, a lick of ice cream, a squat at the gym. Children will encounter sexuality and they will grow into their own. Healthy development depends on parents’ behaviour and how they engage children in response to experiences. One of our biggest problems is the consistent framing of sexuality as negative, bad, or dangerous. Another is the inclination to see sex in everything. Sometimes a dance is just a dance, and a dress is just a dress. Dancing is not sex. Dancing does not automatically lead to sex. Where Carnival is concerned, the choices are clear. If you do not want your children to see it, ask about it, talk about it, or mimic it, do not take them. If you do not what to see it either, stay home with them.
Carnival is a beast. It is a source of confusion. Insulting. Foreign. Bad medicine. Failure. Abomination. Not Bahamian. Carnival is fun. Empowering. Business. Freeing. Opportunity.
Whatever you think of Bahamas Carnival, it is here and it’s not going away.