Attention all Carnival revelers and masqueraders attending the Caribbean’s biggest bacchanal: Non-consensual grinding, the provocative hip-gyrating, free-for-all that’s known in Caribbean parlance as “wining,” can get you slapped with an assault charge.
Trinidad and Tobago, the two-island country that’s considered the birthplace of the modern-day Pre-Lenten Caribbean Carnival, is telling all attendees that before you back it up on someone, ask permission. And the same goes for twerking, when the street party kicks off Monday and Tuesday in Port-of-Spain.
The ask-permission edict from the police comes after years of protests by Trinidadian women who want to be free to dance without having to worry at Carnival, the annual cultural event that draws everyone from tourists to costumed diplomats two days before Ash Wednesday.
Last year, one of the biggest hits in the lead-up to Carnival was the song “Leave Me Alone” by Calypso Rose, about a woman trying to dance in the streets free of harassment. The lyrics — “Boy, don’t touch me” — made the song a feminist anthem and inspired hundreds of gyrating women to wear “Leave Me Alone” and “Leave She Alone” T-shirts during last year’s Carnival.
Like the song, the new consent rule is part of a Caribbean-wide push by women to have more say over their bodies, said Gabrielle Hosein, the head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
“What you’re getting is an argument that has been made by tens of thousands of women over three or more decades in the Caribbean, long before the me-too movement addressing sexual harassment,” Hosein said. “Women have a right to be sexual and feminine in public without that happening on terms set by male aggression.”
And what’s happening in Trinidad is more radical than the me-too movement, she said. It’s women, who often dress in racy costumes during the revelry, saying they have a right to express sexual freedom without fear of sexual violence.
The concern over sexual harassment during Carnival isn’t only in Trinidad. In 2016, 22-year-old college student Tiarah Poyau was fatally shot in Brooklyn during the J’Ouvert street party before the West Indian Day Parade after telling a man to stop rubbing against her and dancing provocatively close. Police later arrested 20-year-old Reginald Moise.
Hosein commended the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for warning last month that those who “thief a wine” — or hip-grind on a person without consent — during the raucous street party can be charged with assault, based on a law prohibiting physical touching without consent.
“This is a struggle that is finally recognized not only in law, which it was before, but explicitly in the language of the police in what is an extremely progressive position and statement the police service has taken,” she said.
Soca artists, whose performances are designed to provoke hip-grinding and gyrating, are divided about the controversial rule.
But when one well-known singer, soca king Machel Montano, objected and told fans at a concert that no consent was needed to wine, the public backlash forced a quick turnaround.
“Once you get consent, take a wine and have a time,” Montano told the Trinidad Express in a written statement.