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You watch dat video?

Published: 
Monday, October 9, 2017

Sextapes just aren’t news. I made that point when I returned to these pages ten months ago. I want to try to make it again.

As many people began their sentences this week, I am no fan of Shamfa Cudjoe. But, had she actually made a sextape that went public, I would have been rushing to the front of the line to defend her.

Simply put, how politicians behave sexually—unless it involves violence, harassment, or favouritism with State resources—ought to have almost nothing to do with governance.

I won’t say their sexuality is not my business; I’m as much a maco as the next. But it just has nothing to do with political performance or capability. It’s merely one of a legion of areas of life where people—including politicians—can exercise bad judgment.

As everyone who knows Cudjoe’s face knew immediately, she is not the woman actually in a video circulated online coupled to a still image of her. Therefore I found her response to not being in the tape—as well as the response of the PNM Women’s League—to be indefensibly harmful.

Imagine if she’d been witty, lighthearted or smart-mouthed—like her political leader not too long ago, warning the media about an image circulating of him—and effectively dismissed the matter.

Cudjoe rejected that course of action as obscene. Instead, she decided to get on. She deemed what happened wicked, vile, inhumane and a malignant plot. Though, strangely, she had nothing to say in solidarity with the actual woman in the video which, it’s alleged online, was part of an effort to blackmail a political figure. made the woman’s video into her own news headline.

She even asked local police to investigate the post as a cybercrime. She claimed it was a political attack. And a dastardly one, said the Women’s League.

What confused and dismayed me isn’t that she gave an evident sham so much energy and public attention. What she ended up doing by wrapping her reputation around a sextape reinforces the toxic culture and politics that enable women to be demeaned as jamettes, the rapeshaming of Keith Rowley her former teacher engaged in, the same teacher who called her a Bethel badjohn in the same chamber. She continued the old hypocritical PNM morality that makes one’s sexuality a matter of deep political and public concern. That good-and-nasty is incompatible with leadership or womanhood—with one’s “good name.”

It’s not just women who are the victims of this. I wish I’d spoken up when we all let Hafeez Mohammed be shamed into resigning the PNM’s Senate bench, with the understanding pats-on-the-back from his fellow male colleagues. When none of them stood up for his right to remain in office. When Khadijah Ameen slutshamed him across the aisle—the same woman whose medical files Jack Warner purported to wave on a campaign platform—and none of us cried shame on her.

Morality in public office is about accountability and economic justice, inclusion and respect for difference, resource sustainability and truthfulness. Stealing, waste, arrogance and racism are happy handmaidens to performances of sexual piety.

When are we going to take the sex out of politics? Shamfa Cudjoe and the PNM Women’s League blew a golden opportunity to move the country to a space where that video did not matter. But moral panics are the age-old circus that distract the voters from the shortage of bread.