Power structure fueling abuse culture in dancehall, say expertsThursday, October 21, 2021
As more women associated with dancehall come forward to share revelations of assault – physical and sexual – they've endured in the entertainment space, industry insiders admit that there is a power structure present within the foundation of the music that fuels a 'not-so-secret' abuse culture.
A revelation earlier this month by 27-year-old female entertainer and ex-soldier Elaine Lim, also called General Ling, seemingly had a domino effect on the industry. Ling in a video that went viral on social media accused reggae artiste Richie Stephens of sexual assault and, in a matter of weeks, at least two other well-known female artistes took to social media to share their own horror stories of abuse.
Retelling her story of how she was raped by a popular and well-respected figure in the local sphere, reggae artiste Tanya Stephens showed support for Ling. Before long, veteran dancehall artiste, Macka Diamond was brought to tears in an Instagram live session as she recounted the gruesome details of how she was 'beaten' by a male artiste at the genesis of her career.
Speaking with OBSERVER ONLINE, Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Donna Hope shared that the tales of abuse being brought to the fore in recent times are nothing new. According to her, the abuse culture in dancehall is well-established and is being run on a well-oiled machine of male supremacy.
"The music industry is a very patriarchal place. The word patriarch means father and so the man is at the head of it all, the 'all-powerful' being. There are a lot of men in this business, a lot of men with power. Power over one's career-the ability to decide who gets a 'buss', who gets the stage shows, how much money you make," she explained. "And I know we are talking about abuse as it relates to women, but there are men in the industry who also face abuse and it's directly linked to the power structure existent within dancehall. It's men who have the advantage, the upper hand that makes them feel they can do anything to anyone."
Hope expressed that it is this power structure that cushions the culture of silence surrounding abuse. According to her, the fear of having one's dreams snatched from you is enough to keep the mouths of abused victims shut.
"Jamaica is becoming a far more cosmopolitan society and one of the prices of development is that people become more self-aware. So we are gonna hear more women coming out and sharing their stories. But many people who have been sexually abused (and or physically abused), the journey to publicly disclosing this trauma is a very long one,” Hope said, adding that “anyone who has been physically or sexually abused by someone will tell you that to come out publicly and speak of the abuse is hard, especially in a world where the first thing that happens is that the victim is blamed, or shamed especially if the man has a profile and is well respected."
She added that "victims are oftentimes threatened with job loss, harder work environments and less opportunities so they convince themselves staying silent is best. No one wants to make a bad situation worse."
Agreeing with Professor Hope, dancehall aficionado and playwright, Michael Dawson lauded the actions of the courageous women who dared to speak out about their abuse. He expressed that in a culture where the mouths of victims are fastened shut by fear, "it has taken some brave women to take on some powerful men, the institute of patriarchy and their own fears for us to even be talking about this issue like this."
Adding that "victims are pushed into silence because of the fear of losing their jobs, the fear of being victim-shamed, blamed, the fear of losing everything they've worked hard for."
Dawson said he believes its high time certain power structures in the music industry are dismantled. And, according to him, a core part of disrupting the constant 'powerplays' in dancehall, is to have more women being erected at the top of the musical food chain.
"We have a long way to go with eliminating these power structures altogether but I believe that if a woman is violated or feels victimised, she should be able to go and talk to another female who has authority to fix the situation or bring persons into reprimand," he said. "It is difficult for women to go to a man to report another man and they shouldn't have to. It's just not fair. I think the labels and everyone in the industry need to put more women in positions of power. That is the way we disrupt the current power structure within the industry and give abuse victims a window to regain control over their lives."