To Be Someone, To Belong:The Black Womyn's Experience in Rastafari

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"To Be Someone, To Belong":The Black Womyn's Experience in Rastafari

Introduction

Upon seeing various Jamaican films and listening to various reggae artists, a constant question running through my mind was,"Where are all the womyn?"In all of the films it seemed as though there were virtually no womyn in Jamaica, and those that were there were only on the periphery, not playing a main role in everyday life. Those films that depicted the Rastafarian way of life seemed to show no womyn in them either. I was somewhat confused about the seeming absence of womyn, and it forced me to question their role in Jamaican and Rastafarian society. My questions regarding this issue were pushed further when a friend of mine returned home from Jamaica and expressed the same kinds of concerns. She said that during the few weeks she spent there she had seen maybe a dozen or two dozen Jamaican womyn altogether.

As I moved further into my studies of Rastafarianism and reggae music, I noticed how gendered the language in both the religious tenets and music lyrics was. As a western womyn, this was peculiar to me. As you can notice, I don't even write the word"womyn"with the"man"in it. I find it insulting that my identity should be bound up in that of the opposite sex. I am entrenched in the world of political correctness and gender neutrality. However, reggae music and other rhetorical pieces of literature from Rastafari do not contain the same element of neutral gender identity as the United States has been moving towards. Rather, much of it is framed in a male or masculinist language. This implanted a few suspicions within me about the possibility of Rastafarianism being somewhat patriarchal, but, I was at first unwilling to accept the idea. I felt that this was impossible due to the fact that Rastafarianism was such a socially conscious movement dealing with the horrors of oppression and exploitation of blacks.

However, it seems as though the impossible is possible, or at least mostly possible, and traditional Rastafarianism enforces rules and cultural norms that keep womyn in the subordinate, domesticated realm of everyday life. Yet, in the last thirty years or so, those rules and norms have been slowly challenged by a new generation of Rastafarian womyn who no longer accept their inferior position and are demanding greater equality. These womyn, some of whom turn to reggae to promote their own socially conscious ideas, symbolize the growing consciousness of womyn in Jamaica and other majority world countries who have experienced centuries of oppression.

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