Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor

By Verhagen, Katherine | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race, and Sexual Labor


Verhagen, Katherine, Women & Environments International Magazine


SEXING THE CARIBBEAN: GENDER, RACE, AND SEXUAL LABOR by Kamala Kempadoo. London: Routledge, 2004. $24.95 US (paperback), 264 pages

Kempadoo provides an extensive, but impassioned, exploration into the economic and social motivations of Caribbean sex workers. Though "numerous studies have been conducted on aspects of sex and sexuality in the Caribbean," she states, "little has centered exclusively on Caribbean sexuality or connects racialized sexualized practices with the economy." She backs her claims with a decade of research, placing herself within Third World feminism as practiced by Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Himani Bannerji.

She explores the inevitable link between tourism and the sex industry, simultaneously oppressing and liberating Caribbean sex workers. On one hand, workers "confirm racializing and exoticizing ideas about the hypersexual nature of the Caribbean" and thus often reconstruct the limits of obtained financial mobility. Nevertheless, Kempadoo asserts that, by taking such work, "they transform racialized, exoticized bodies into resources for freedom, betterment, and economic development." As well, her discussion of migrant sex work opens up challenging questions about the possibilities of globalization for empowerment or for dissolution into invisible, underground economies that compromise personal freedoms.

Her treatment of male and female sex workers alike presents a comprehensive view of Caribbean economies that facilitate such economic opportunities. By breaking the gender boundary in her discussion, she treats her subjects more like agents in a global economy than as aggressors or victims. I see an attempt at objectivity that is mostly effective and adds to the persuasiveness of her argumentation. She doesn't make a concise argument about how we as readers should feel about the evidence that we're given. This book, until the last chapter, seems to be less of a call to action and more of a resource of documentation.

However, she doesn't fully explore "whether sexual agents constitute a 'rebelling pillar' in Caribbean society" until her last chapter on "Resistance, Rebellion, and Futures. …

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