Ambiguities of female sexuality
The usual feminist model, for explaining ‘female genital mutilation’, stresses women’s lower status in patriarchal societies. The woman in feminist theory is a wife, the subordinated half of a couple (Oyewumi 2000:1094). For the magnonmakanw and bolokoli-kelaw, wives have better social status and greater autonomy
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than appears to be the case. They give cosiderable credit to their practices for safeguarding women’s power in society. The presumed impact of ‘female genital mutilation’ on husbands’ sexual performance has been inconsistent, ranging from an increase to no effect (Toubia 1993). Based on our exploratory research, social norms, not men’s preferences, are the origine of these practices. The magnon- makanw affirm that many men would accept their wives as they are, at least in urban areas. They did not recall any cases of husbands who gave up their spouses just because these women were not circumcised, not even in a polygamous marriage in which the other wives had been through these practices.
This debate, on the society’s handling of female sexuality, is all but settled. Meanwhile, ‘ambiguity’, not ‘just plain oppression’, would better describe the weight of gender relations regarding the practices of magnonmakanw and bolokoli – kelaw.
Another ambiguity in Malian society concerns the smooth co-existence of the commitment to tradition and the willingness to accept changes in individual attitudes and behaviours. Hence, the practice of excision/female genital mutilation in the name of sexual morals persists despite widespread pre-marital sex, increasing teenage pregnancy and prostitution. The proponents of this practice are aware of current discrepancies between social expectations and individual behaviours. They are going along with changes in individual sexual behaviours, often overlooking the normative sanctions of deviant actions. Yet, conformity to tradition remains the guideline of individual perception and decision-making. Is the persistence of the status quo, within this ambiguous social context, a collective hypocrisy or an expression of resistance to social change?