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    Caribbean: Gender Socialization and Sex Tourism in the Caribbean
    Posted on Friday, December 17 @ 07:28:58 UTC by admin

    Sex and Tourism By Reuben Albo


    Prompted by an initial summer project on male sex tourism in Barbados and my own experiences as a Caribbean male, I undertook a project this semester to study gender socialization in relation to the sex tourism industry in the Caribbean focusing on the island of Barbados. Barbados was my island of choice firstly because of previous personal experiences there over the summer and secondly because it is a small but very significant island, making it easy to study and a good representation of the Caribbean for the purposes of this study. Barbados is significant in that it has a very tourism-dependent economy complete with male sex tourism workers and a stereotyped island image of sun and fun that often obscures other cultural and social aspects. In addition the history of the island from slavery onwards, with differing experiences from both sexes, is well documented by historians such as Barbadian Professor, Hilary Beckles.

    The main ethnic group in focus comprises the descendants of African slaves who make up the majority of the Barbadian population, and whose experiences of slavery, racism and gender tensions are the main focuses of the study. I will contrast their experiences somewhat with those of the Indo-Caribbean population but I will largely be focusing on Caribbean blacks in English-speaking countries, that is, countries last colonized by the British. I will also focus mainly on the male population since this is where I believe there is the largest social crisis that is manifest by the uneven numbers of educated males to females and the uneven number of fathers to mothers.

    The recurring themes of this study are the legacy of slavery, the color hierarchy of the Caribbean, tourism and international politics, sexual relations including inter-racial relations, gender constructions and differences, racial stereotypes and the direction that all these themes, together, are taking. I have separated this essay into three parts. The first looks at the historical background of Barbados focusing on gender differences and the legacy of slavery and how they play out in the modern context. The second part deals with the socialization of Caribbean males and gender discourses. The final part examines sex and tourism in Barbados and the Caribbean and its larger implications for the Caribbean.

    While this essay focuses on many of the social problems within Caribbean society it is by no means intended to undermine the love and cohesion of the people that is so essential to the culture. Still, I believe that Caribbean people are largely affected by a colonial legacy that repeats itself in a Western, white, patriarchal world that often regards Caribbean islands as mere tourist destinations. Understandings of the past and present are necessary for the progress of the Caribbean as a whole. They are necessary to confront the existing constructions of gender and race that often contribute to many of the Caribbean's problems and to see how even now Caribbean people are shaping their own futures.


    The English settled into an un-colonized Barbados around 1627. While emancipation was gained in 1838, it was a landless emancipation that posed many problems for the freed slaves. Expensive land and abundant labor made the Barbadian slave population one of the Caribbean's most subservient. Barbados remained a British colony until it's independence in 1966 and it was the Caribbean island most like Victorian England. It is still often called "Little England," and bears scars from a colonial legacy of racism, class-ism and sexism. There are many important historical points I wish to point out that may have contributed to some of the current social problems in Barbados. While some points may be purely speculative, I feel they should not go unrecognized.

    A social hierarchy based on skin color currently exists in Barbados. Lighter skinned people are generally deemed more attractive, whites and the lighter-skinned control the majority of finances, and local males often prefer white tourists to local black women. This color hierarchy is nothing new. Historians such as Gordon Lewis and Hilarly Beckles have documented this. Beckles contends that the 1675 caste-like hierarchy went: 1. freeholders (white) 2. Freemen (free indentured labourers, mostly white) 3. Christian servants 4. Negroes. According to Lewis, racial prejudice in Barbados was the strongest of all British Caribbean islands maybe equal only with Bermuda and the Bahamas.

    Concerning local males preferring white tourist women, the historical connection may be deeper than just the color hierarchy. African-American writer Elridge Cleaver describes the black man historically as the Supermasculine Menial (the body) and the white woman as the Ultrafeminine with the white man as the Omnipotent Administrator (the brain) in his novel "Soul on Ice." While the white man has the power, Cleaver explains that the sexual attraction between the black man and the white woman is a result of the dynamic magnetism of opposites—the Primeval Urge. Franz Fanon argues that by getting with a white woman the black man proves to himself his importance and it allows him to make up for his inferior feelings caused by slavery. This phenomenon is also tied up with stereotypical notions of the hypersexual Caribbean male. We will return to this theme in later parts of this essay but there is an important historical connection concerning the hypersexual Caribbean male that must be addressed now.

    Slavery in Barbados held the highest female to male ratio in any of the British colonies for many years, though it eventually evened out. This did not affect productivity—the women worked as hard as the men—rather, it helped productivity since more women could produce more slaves. Men were largely studs used for breeding, and were allowed as many wives as they were able. This system ran so well that Barbados was the only sugar plantation to eliminate the need to import more slaves in the early 1800's. Surely this kind of indulgence has taken its toll in the collective historical psyche of Barbadians and may be one reason for the promiscuity found particularly among local males. Complicating the matter is that fact that Africans were actually accustomed to a polygamous family structure which was corrupted by the British who could not understand this structure as anything but immoral by their "Christian" standards.

    This was not the only way black families were torn apart. Men often had to visit their wives at night many miles away at a distant plantation after a hard day's work. As well many black women were mistresses to white males and Bridgetown, Barbados had one of the highest rates of prostitution in the British West Indies. In fact, the entrepreneurs, like modern day pimps, were often black males or females who did this in an attempt to purchase their freedom. Similarly, many freed blacks bought their families as slaves so they too could easier earn their freedom. One downside to this was that the freed blacks adopted a lackadaisical attitude to manual labor perhaps contributing to the stereotype of the "lazy freed slave." These familial adaptations, however good or bad one may think them to be, speak of the flexibility of the black family during hard times and we will see examples recur in the second party of this essay.

    Currently in Barbados there are sharp differences between the male and female population. For example, while more and more men are attracted to a lifestyle of promiscuity, sex tourism and idleness, women thoroughly dominate the places in higher level education. A local newspaper article in the Barbados Nation in August 2004 claimed males were discriminated against in the school system but there may be some historical patterns in play and also a head start gained by black women coming out of slavery. Black women were manumitted (freed by law) in much larger numbers than men after their child bearing periods were over since they could not produce any more slaves. They gained preferential treatment as child bearers, mistresses, and mothers of colored child who helped them out (though this was actually not the norm). Black women, such as Nita Barrow, also led the majority of non-violent protests and engaged in "huckster-ing" or selling their produce at public markets to gain more economical power. There were also more jobs available to women as there was a high demand for nurses in the 1900's. Men, however, did not make this kind of progress often being targeted as the main threat to the system to white supremacy. As well, men face different social problems from women that may also contribute to their slowed progress and these will be addressed in the next part of this essay.

    At times in Barbados it seems not much has changed since the colonial era. The Economist carried a report on Barbados in 1989 exposing the racist economic order of Barbados with reference to the corporation, The Barbados Mutual. The report, as documented by Beckles, said, "After 23 years of independence, Barbadians are still trying to decide just who they are." Beckles himself argues that "Afro-Barbadians have been systematically kept out of the commanding heights of industry and commerce by a rigid and ancient colonial Euro-Barbadian complex." These stories, of course, would hardly appear in a local newspaper in order to preserve the externally perfect image of the tourist destination, and they speak of the general apathy in the island to deal directly with internal problems.

    Gender Differences and Socialization

    We have already encountered the gender gap in education and the norm of male promiscuity in Barbados. These are some of the gender issues in Barbados and more will be explored in this part of the essay. In order to understand how these and other norms are perpetuated we must examine the different means of socialization in Barbados, particularly concerning male sexual socialization.

    Grahman Dann examines such issues in his 1987 book, "The Barbadian Male: Sexual Attitudes and Practices." The main institutions of socialization in Barbados are the church, the schools and the family. A failure of these institutions to give young males sufficient guidance is one reason for the lower number of males than females pursuing tertiary education, their involvement in sex tourism, promiscuity and the prevalence of single-parent families. The church is regarded, particularly by the youths, as of little use concerning sexual education with its unrealistic rules of chastity and actually seems only to support views on female subordination and male homophobia. The system of elitist versus common schools has served more to segregate than sexually educate youths with its inadequate version of sex education lost among other simplistic teachings in the subject in school called "Guidance." Finally, the prevalence of single-parent matriarchal families has given rise to more single-parent families, and there is a severe lack of fathers and male role models in Barbadian society.

    Boys felt the differences between themselves and girls at a young age doing outdoor chores such as "sweeping the yard" and girls doing chores such as "washing the dishes." Young males also did not get their socialization "inside" at home where the women dwell but, rather, "outside" on the street, at the bars, where the men gather. In Dann's study one subject even admitted to learning sexually from the stories of the beach-boys (male sex tourism workers), thus the attractiveness of a promiscuous lifestyle is no surprise. It is often said that when a man cannot prove his manhood economically he will resort to "breeding" or making many children as may be the case here. Money is also always an issues and the male sex worker accomplishes getting both money and sex.

    Barry Chevannes did a similar assessment on culture, socialization and gender identity in five Caribbean communities and made similar findings of single-parent families, male promiscuity, homophobia and macho-ism particularly is the inner-city parts of Jamaica. It was recognized that boys have more distractions to contend with than girls and this may be a major factor. Boys are easier distracted by sex, gangs, drug culture and street life and possessing a "bad-boy" image. The process of "becoming a man" thus seemed more complicated and demanding than "becoming a woman."

    From Chevannes' study an interesting comparison of Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean gender relations could be made. While the males in both cultures generally attempted to subordinate their women and some degree of "wife-beating" was present in both cultures, Indian women seemed more submissive than Afro-Caribbean women who often fought back. As well, patriarchy was the norm in Indian communities where marriage played a central role, but single–parent matriarchy was more common among Afro-Caribbean families. Poor Indian families were also more likely to choose a boy to send to school than Afro-Caribbean families who would sooner send the girl since she was thought of as having a better chance of success in school.

    In Afro-Caribbean culture the power exchange seemed to go in both directions. Women wanted a financially secure man who could primarily give them material things and men wanted sex. Some women did not care if their boyfriend had other women as long as he provided money and women sometimes had more than one "money-provider" themselves. Yet they did not see themselves as prostitutes. This mirrors the relationship between the tourist and the sex worker which takes the form of love and romance rather than prostitution. We will see more of this in the next part. Some women, tired of the ways of men, chose to be lesbians. For a man to become homosexual, however, was seen as a much bigger step and almost a denial of his manhood which is proven by heterosexual relations.

    A woman's power was seen through her sexuality and some theorists point to women's "lude" dancing in dancehall as an expression of her sexuality and a means of gaining power. These theorists make similar statements of liberation concerning the sensual dancing of Indian women to chutney soca music. Indeed many women have made a career off of their sexualities and the situation resembles the sex workers who used their sexuality to earn their freedom from slavery as discussed in the first part of this essay.

    Despite the tensions, the Caribbean population is a close and loving one. The underlying problems seem to be caused by money or a lack of it. Many Caribbean writers have pointed out the complexities involved in Caribbean people adopting Western European gender roles in the context of poverty and deprivation. The first step will be to encourage more fathers to stand up to their responsibilities and also be more respectful to their women. As well, youths should be better sexually educated particularly in light of the growing AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean.

    Sex and Tourism

    The culmination of this study will focus on sex and tourism focusing mainly on male sex tourism workers in Barbados. These workers are called by a variety of names; Rent-a-Dread, gigolo, beach boy, beach bum. They are usually between eighteen and thirty five years and lack higher education. They sleep with foreign (white) women, who often may be in their middle ages, usually in exchange for money or material things like a trip abroad. Many of them sport dreadlocks to add to their laid back Caribbean stereotype but they are a far cry from the true dreadlocked Rastafarians of the Caribbean who comprise a more disciplined, religious movement centered on black consciousness.

    As we have mentioned before, there are many dynamics involved in such relationships; the stereotypes of the hypersexual black male and the easy white woman, the history of inferiority felt by blacks that may lead some men to pursue white women, the thin line between love and money, and the perpetuation of a macho promiscuous image of masculinity in the Caribbean.

    Female sex work in the Caribbean is a whole different ball game and is well documented by sociologist Kemala Kempadoo. Female sex work does not reconfirm ones concept of femininity but is looked down upon as degrading. Tourists often exploit female sex workers while male sex workers still may dominate their partner even though the one with the money carries the financial power. Thus males may be pulled into the industry while females pushed into it.

    Feminist Cynthia Enloe argues that female sex tourism requires the economic desperation of the country involved, the exoticism of the "submissive" local women, and an economic alliance between local government and foreign business men. For men, however, economic desperation may not be a prerequisite since Barbados is not only quite economically stable but it is one of the few Caribbean islands offering heavily subsidized tertiary education.

    This economic stability, however, does come at a price. Enloe speaks of tourism dependent countries such as Barbados or Hawaii as being reduced to a "nation of busboys," or "chambermaids." While being a chambermaid does not threaten normal constructs of femininity, being a busboy does threaten dominant concepts of masculinity and thus many men may choose other ways of proving their manhood. Enloe speaks of tourism-dependent countries as "the new plantations," that reflect the old colonial system; white men are the managers, colored locals are the entertainers, coach-drivers and chambermaids, and there are even brothels.

    A United Nations World Tourism Organization forecast estimated that by the year 2000, tourism will be the single most important global economic activity. However, it is up for question whether the economic benefits of tourism are compensation enough for the accompanying racial tension and exploitation. Enloe argues that tourism is about increasing internationalized power and maintaining elitist structures and a "tourism-dependency" is imposed by foreign banks and the government. It is no coincidence that problems of racism, exploitation and inequality are universal among tourism-dependent countries. Therefore, while many internal problems exist on tourism-dependent islands such as Barbados, the larger culprits may be the IMF and the WTO that impose policies and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) on Caribbean countries plunging them into poverty or even bankruptcy as in the case with Globe Trust in Guyana in 2002. Solving internal problems within an oppressive system only complicates matters.


    Social problems of racism, color-ism, and sexism in Barbados have their historical roots in a past plagued by British colonialism. This colonialism repeats itself in modern times through an oppressive tourism-dependent economy that is tied in with prostitution and male sex work. While even now gender relations are changing within the Caribbean context, there are many difficulties involved in Caribbean people taking on Western Eurocentric gender roles in the context of poverty and deprivation. Sexuality has become the cornerstone of gendered identities and the liberation of such, particularly among women, is paving a new direction for the future. The topic of AIDS is too broad to touch significantly in this essay but it will affect the future of the tourism industry in the Caribbean one way or another. The AIDS epidemic has infected at least 2% of the Barbadian population alone and larger amounts in other countries and cannot be ignored. Education and sexual education is therefore essential in waking Caribbean people up to how they shape their own futures.


    Beckles, Hilary. White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, 1627-1715. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. (1989).

    Beckles, Hilary. Great House Rules: Landless Emancipation and Workers' Protest in Barbados, 1838-1938. J. Currey, Oxford. (2004)

    Beckles, Hilary. Chattel House Blues: Making of a Democratic Society in Barbados, from Clement Payne to Owen Arthur. J. Currey, Oxford. (2004)

    Beckles, Hilary. Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Black Women in Barbados. Rutgers University Press, NJ. (1989)

    Beckles, Hilary. Afro-Caribbean Women and resistance to slavery in Barbados. Karnak House, London. (1988).

    Chevannes, Barry. Learning to be a Man: Culture, Socialization and Gender in five Caibbean communities. University of the West Indies Press, Barbados. (2001).

    Cleaver, Elridge. Soul on Ice. Dell Publishing Co., NY. (1968) Dann, Graham. The Barbadian Male: Sexual Attitudes and Practice. Macmillan Caribbean, Barbados. (1987).

    Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California, Berkeley. (1990).

    Kempadoo, Kamala. Sun, Sex and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean. Rowman and Littlefield, Maryland. (1999).

    Kempadoo, Kamala. Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labor. Routledge, NY. (2004).

    Lewis, Gordon. The Growth of the Modern West Indies. Monthly Review Press, NY. (1968).

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