The Jamaican puppy tail
This Child Month we're reaping exactly what we've sowed with the sexualisation of Jamaica's children. Therefore, it's the shock at what we see going on in the news that's strange and shocking, not the goings on. For instance, last week, I learned that we have a new Jamaican version of the puppy tail. Who knew?
Remember the old association of puppy tail?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs'
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
Now I don't want to praise this 19th-century nursery rhyme too much for fear of consequences and repercussions! In fact, let me state up front that I believe we need to totally retire this sexist rubbish that projects women as generally nicer and safer than men. It's obviously a mechanism of patriarchy meant to repress a woman's right to be as mean, selfish and nasty as any man.
And even though it might appear to give girls an initial psychological advantage, clearly it was meant by evil patriarchy to trap them in the role of 'everything nice'. Plus, we know that everything from the 19th-century is bad, right?
So, yes, this jingle would never get past today's censors and politically correct mandarins, and even if we were to reform it, we would need to add a line about transsexuals to make sure nobody feels left out.
I suppose this is where I should confess that I used to like the little rhyme, plus I've grown up to learn it's mostly true. But who cares? We must have progress. So into the dustbin of history it goes.
allusion to male body parts
Of course, the allusion to male body parts in 'tails' isn't too difficult to see, and I'm sure the Victorians enjoyed the sexual reference and considered it was quite rude enough. Oddly, many scholars attribute our modern idea of childhood sanctity, and that childhood should be a time of work-free and sex-free innocence, to the Victorian upper and middle classes. It certainly is when social movements to give children of all classes legal protections, and put them into state-funded schools began to gain traction. But I'm wandering far afield.
Of course, the notion that children don't have sexual awareness just isn't true. Psychologists and sociologists will tell you that it's an adult fantasy, and mostly the result of deliberate blindness and amnesia, personally and socially. If we think about it, we realise that most of us had some sexual awareness as youngsters, even though it was, hopefully, undeveloped. But if you are in any doubt, just look at the findings of any study about Jamaican children, who are on a whole up to their necks in sex by the time they become teenagers.
And these things cause trauma! In my case, I was an innocent 13-year-old walking up Hope Road when there appeared a large woman, probably of unsound mind (although the sun WAS very hot), outside fully naked cooling herself with a hose while posing for a growing chorus of male onlookers. Only later, and with therapy, did I make the connection that this psychological insult had led to my cigarette-smoking career.
Anyhow, this is how I began thinking about the new puppy tail: I opened last Friday's Gleaner to see the headline 'Child gyrating to dancehall music disturbs youth advocate'. The article didn't have a link to the offending video, but me and my faas self searched it out. Have you also ever made a decision you immediately regretted?
I'll describe it so you don't have to watch it. The video opens with provocatively dressed adult women lined up dancing. It's a typical, wonderful piece of Jamaican scenery when only adults are involved: young gyal a bruk out pon riddim. But soon enough a little child enters the picture, begins a performance, and you realise that everything is about to go horribly wrong.
At this point the child is dancing inappropriately, but she hasn't yet gone uncontrollably raw. That's when the adults step in, not to stop the pickney, but to give her encouragement and even ply her with money like a stripper. Her movements then get more aggressively sexual. In short order, the child is wining, reinventing the pedal an' wheel, splitting herself open on the ground, getting on her headtop, doing de 6:30, and even hoisting one foot in the air and patting her pubic area, all to the crowd's delight. Then near the end comes the piËce de rÈsistance: the puppy tail.
Y'know, in a few years my children may be singing it to their children as part of a fully indigenous child-rearing regime. Yours too. So we may as well get to know it. And notice that in keeping with the thrust for gender parity, this time it's the girls who have the puppy tails:
Watch de gyal dem a kotch it
Every gyal back a ben'
Gyal a do de puppy tail wid a man
back a dem.
The dance move involves bending forward, hoisting your behind into the air, and then doing a sustained, quick, rhythmic jiggle and wiggle of the tail. Admittedly, when performed by women of appropriate age and build, it's a sight to behold. And before the moralists among my readers get too uncomfortable, let me remind them that puppy tail is a massive improvement over last year's 'walk like a dog and cock up and piss'. So there's cause for optimism.
But it's disconcerting to see a child mimic such unambiguously sexual movement, to have an association of sex and money seared into her from so early, and to see the young ones receive social approval for depravity. This child's associations when she hears 'puppy tails' definitely won't be "Boys are made of snips and snails ... ", and unfortunately, on the current trajectory, she will, all too soon, find out exactly what boys are made of.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.