Why hinder women’s sexuality not men’s?
Excision/female genital mutilation is a decisive aspect of the construction of gender identity. A woman is a cultural creation and female circumcision is normatively obligatory as part of this creation in many cultures (Nypan 1991:42). In Mali, male identity is glorified through its “innate” ability for leadership and its ascribed role of economic provider. Female identity is centred on domestic and reproductive roles, which are exalted and looked down upon at the same time. Wives are viewed as “the pillar of families”, responsible for the basic needs of the family but also for their husbands’ reputation, the implicit assumption being that women have greater influence on men than appears to be the case in public. Being a mother is the preferred and cherished self-identity of many African women (Oyewumi 2000:1096). The role of mother is also highly appreciated due to the centrality of families in the functioning of society. A common belief in Mali is that ‘women hold the community’s destiny in their hands’ through their innate capability of procreation, their ascribed role of socialisation of younger members of the community, and their de facto status as role models for future mothers. In other words, they are at the centre of family formation and continuity.
The implicit reason for hindering women’s sexuality at an early age is probably to shift the instinctive fascination with sexual gratification among young adults to a commitment to family roles and obligations. Up to the menstruation period, the young girl has no explicit access to information on sexuality. Instead, she is voluntarily kept in the dark on that subject, while fully involved in learning her gender roles through an active participation in domestic chores. Therefore, the pri-
Paradoxes of Female Sexuality in Mali
macy of women’s roles, as wife and mother, is precisely what underlines the greater attention to her sexuality, relative to men’s. A woman’s focus on sexual pleasure is seen as a threat to the priority that should be given to motherhood, whereas men’s pursuit of greater sexual fulfilment is often viewed instead as a will to take on more responsibilities as a father. Flirting is sometimes rationalized as the necessary step for a married man to take on a new wife in order to increase his offspring. The hindrance of women’s libido may then be understood as a social device meant to reinforce differentials in gender roles.
The system of enhancing female sexuality looks as if it is set up to compensate the physiological damage caused by the parallel mechanism of hindrance. Yet, there is no work relationship between magnonmakanw and bolokoli-kelaw. With regards to the relationships between these practitioners, all the persons interviewed in the present study have confirmed that there are hardly any interactions between the two sets of practitioners. They know well each other’s mission and roles but do not collaborate directly, except in cases where there is a need to ‘reopen’ an infibulated bride, in the nuptial room. They describe their tasks as social obligations that are independent, stressing that one is a system for preventive measures against ‘abnormal’ sexuality and the other is a support system to adult sexuality. Interestingly, the magnonmakanw grant the same care and services to brides, regardless of whether they are circumcised or not. This is so because the enhancement of female sexuality is framed in the overall process of socialisation into gender roles.