Barnes, N. 2000. “Body Talk: Notes on Women and Spectacle in Contemporary Trinidad Carnival.”

Barnes, Natasha. 2000. “Body Talk: Notes on Women and Spectacle in Contemporary Trinidad Carnival.” Small Axe 7(March): 93-105.

Shift in Trinidadian Carnival costuming marked by dramatic increase of women in the events, across races and classes – moving from elaborate theme costumes to “spandex and string bikinis” (93). Scanty women and sexualized undertones critiqued, mostly by liberal men – evidencing socioeconomic domination by women, and undermining of traditional male “protectors.”

“Because Carnival is a period that is licensed for the reversal of social order, women’s subversion and appropriation of male-identified forms of sexual display may actually serve to reinforce the patriarchal structures it otherwise critiques” (95) – by taking on, embodying, and re-enacting masculine stereotypes (idealizing sexually available women), Carnival women consent to their subjugation, instead of critiquing it.  Rohlehr (1998) discusses gender divisions in Jamaican dancehall/US hiphop – “And just as soca [type of music] invites women to unmask their sexuality, it also represents the male as predator and voyeur” (90, here 95). — enhanced, due to fetishism and voyeurism/policing of black bodies.


“Variously expressed as ‘freeing up’, ‘having fun’, ‘breaking away [from social convention’, the libidinal energies of the season are, like all Carnival performances, provisional and limited: the sexy female masquerader is a role a woman assumes for the duration of Carnival; it is not the performer’s ‘real self’ (104) – bracketing of Carnival to separate these personas/performances from their everyday roles/identities.


“The real danger that sometimes accompanies the feminine masque of sexiness shows that definitions of play belong to the powerful. Female visibility is no indicator of tangible social and economic improvement in the lives of Caribbean women – if such improvements actually exist – nor is it a register of the assertiveness that women supposedly feel in the domain of their private, sexual lives” (104).

—- “If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture” (Phelan 1993: 10).


“Women’s visibility in Carnival is more appropriately located as a terrain of struggle; it is a field of competing and contradictory desires where acts of libidinal self-assertion exist uneasily with the pleasures and real dangers of commodification and fetishism” (105).


“What are the theoretical and psychic meanings of visibility in the context of Carnival performativity when the notion of ‘being seen’ forms such a crucial aspect of the pleasure experienced by the masquerader and the onlooker?” (96).


Alternate reading – “wining” (provocative dance) as experience, rather than trope – offering transformative potential – “Their performance can be watched once spectators have entered the experiential space of the dancehall where their dance becomes a symbiotic encounter between audience and actor” (98).


R+EDM: “Carnival masquerade emphasizes a racechanging performance where the play of the African witch doctor masque does not obliterate the performer’s white subjectivity but instead makes racial and national identity appear constructed – which they are – and equally contiguous – which they are not – categories” (102) – “Carnival rituals involve transformation without the erasure of the performer’s prior identities [….] Whatever is subversive about the desire of the white teenager to become African in colonial Trinidad, the staging of the masque highlights its provisionality” (102).



Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge.

Rohlehr, Gordon. 1998. “’We Getting the Kaiso That We Deserve’: Calypso and the World Music Market.” Drama Revue 42(3): 89-90.


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