How do both social practices validate gendered sexuality?
Basically, the norms of chastity and abstinence apply to both men and women, when they are not married, at any stage of their life cycle. There is a net preference for ‘social sex’, in which the final goal is procreation, as opposed to the promotion of ‘personal sex’ that focuses on self-gratification. Hence, regularity of intercourse in wedlock, childbearing and her husband’s satisfaction are the conventional indicators of a woman’s healthy sexual life. The concern for optimum pleasure in the sexual act, for men and women, is neither emphasized nor displayed due to a limited access to relevant information, the expectation of reserve in individual behaviour in public, and the taboo around sexual issues. However, both the practices of excision/female genital mutilation and nuptial advising express gendered sexuality. Both systems of influencing individual sexuality fit well in the prevailing context of gender inequality. Women’s sexuality is about giving and pleasing, whereas men’s sexuality emphasises experience and power. Men have greater sexual freedom due to more tolerance for their misbehaving, and the fact that they are permanently on the marriage market thanks to the option of polygamous marriage. Women have limited power of sexual negotiation, in conformity with the social values of submission, patience and endurance that characterize ideal femininity, as defined in the Malian society. However, men’s virility is praised and also presented as something out of their control: it is up to women to avoid being victims of their own sexual impulses, and to use the necessary means to enhance their own sexual capabilities. Gender relations in this context are about women demanding less due to excision/female genital mutilation, and knowing enough to satisfy their legitimate sexual partners with the support of the magon – makan.
There is no explicit intent of hindering men’s sensuality through male circumcision, which consists of taking off the prepuce from the male organ in order to keep it clean, obeying the rules of tradition. In contrast, female genital mutilation may be seen as corresponding to men’s castration due to the fact that it consists
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of cutting the clitoris, the small and large lips of the female genitalia. The parallel is more explicit when looking at an infibulated woman: no sign of genitals!
However, there is a high probability that ‘mutilation’ is not what people have in mind when they submit their daughters to the practice of female genital mutilation. The expectations and impact that magnonmakanw claim on women’s sexual behaviour leads to thinking that the mutilation aspect of the practice is not a conscious act. Indeed, the assumption behind the practice of nuptial advising is that the effects of ‘female genital mutilation’ on women’s sexuality are reversible. Women are believed to get back from one practitioner what they lose with the other one. An interesting finding of our research is that both the magnonmakanw and bolokoli-kelaw pretend that the final goal of their respective practice is to empower women for self-agency. For the nuptial advisor, her products and teaching enable women to acknowledge and possess their sensuality, and to perform their role of wife well. Where others see ‘mutilation’, the bolokoli-kelaw see empowerment: they claim that their act has a positive impact on women’s status. They believe firmly that it allows women to have self-mastery and capabilities to have power over men, who are perceived as slaves of their own sexual desire. In other words, the belief is that with excision women will be in a better position to protect themselves, and successfully negotiate their sexual encounters based on their needs and interests.