“Jonge”: The politics and performance of a Senegalese womanhood. A dissertation proposal by Astou Fall F. Gueye

The word or rather the concept of “Jonge” contains different meanings. Primarily it could be translated as “the art of seducing and pleasing” while, at the same time, it can be extended to a broader social context. That means, it can be related to clothing, cooking, hosting events or as a part of sexuality. It can be framed as a Senegalese gender practice for both sexes although the focus of the presented work will be on womanhood. At the same time practicing “Jonge” stands for recognition and status in Senegalese society, which shows the concept’s intersection of gender, sexuality and class. Scholars have not paid much attention to the topic, which left it understudied, until now.

At the center of the presented research work lies a set of questions including topics like the deconstruction of the representation of Senegalese womanhood and the gender relations in that particular cultural context. Specific questions would be: How and for whom is “Jonge” performed and how can its social relevance be described? Does it challenge or maintain traditional gender division? One aim of Gueye’s research will be to understand gender categories in the Senegalese context via a specific cultural practice. Another central factor is the presentation and representation of the body and how bodies are transformed through “Jonge” as a cultural practice.

For the analyses on the transformation of gender, Astou Fall F. Gueye uses the theoretical framework of postcolonial feminism. The setting for the qualitative research is in Senegal, a country with a relatively young, multiethnic population of 15 million people, mostly Muslim. Gueye will do her research through a postcolonial perspective, used especially to analyze the development of the concept in oral literature, the representation in literature and popular media as well as through qualitative interviews with Senegalese women who practice “Jonge”. This data will be analyzed with the use of grounded theory.

Regarding the cultural context, “Jonge” is treated as a taboo on national television. Instead, women are watching these shows on channels similar to YouTube and others. “Jonge” in that sense enables women, gives them favor and respect as well as expertise. A given example is the so-called fishing-net, a sexual practice that is at the same time challenging traditional gender roles because the work of fishing is exclusively done by men. It challenges that men are the active part in sexuality; instead women leave the state of passivity and are in control of the situation. Furthermore it can be seen as a possibility for women to get into conversation about sexuality and allows them to speak about “inappropriate” topics. This challenges the predominant discretion in Senegalese society. There is a certain ambiguity, so the concept can simultaneously be seen highly critical because of negative impacts it could have on the expectations made to women in the frame of relationships and marriage.

In her research Astou Fall F. Gueye will give an insider perspective on a cultural practice that will contribute to a broader understanding of gender categories, the construction of Senegalese womanhood and the contemporary challenges women face in Senegalese society. We are excited to learn more while the dissertation proposal is processing and progressing.

Tina Wolf is a German graduate student in Peace and Conflict Studies who studies in the fields of African American Studies and Gender
& Women Studies.