In particular, I am concerned about two things: Jongehness as a feminised practice and the unsteady trajectory sexuality is expected to follow (after marriage).
The art of being jongeh is without a doubt a feminised practice. It is something that women hope to master and men hope to enjoy and a responsibility first and foremost. This is no coincidence but is instead a continuation of preexisting ideas of femininity and womanhood that are already embedded in Gambian society.
To be woman is to cook, clean and please both in the bedroom and outside of it.
To be woman is to collect nemali, jal-jali, bin-bin, churai, bethio as if it were ancient treasure.
Rather than being painted as a symbiotic and reciprocal responsibility between partners as it should, to be jongeh and to seduce is conceived of as something the woman must do in order to stop her husband from straying. It is, before anything else, a padlock that ensures your yeff remains just that, yours. Some consider it an art which a woman should use to “ tame her man, to cajole him so that he does not want to hang out on his way back from work.”
A report from Leral.net writes that a jongeh woman is one “who masters the game of seduction. She must necessarily know all the tricks in addition to knowing how to express herself gently and with a certain sensuality.”
A man who was interviewed in the report went on to state “I am so thrilled when, as soon as I get off the car when I get home from work, I feel the fragrance of thiouraye that captivates the house, it makes me think that today the evening will be special and I admit that my wife is very djongué. As soon as I arrive at home, she calls me by my favourite nickname, discusses a little work with me, then she dipped my feet in a bowl of water, she massages them; I am relaxed after this moment of intimacy with her. I do not even think of going elsewhere. “
What are we really saying when we normalise single assumption of responsibility in conditions under which dual participation is essential for happiness? Why are women expected to follow the Wareef-approved routine of cleaning, cooking, showering, taaling churay, wearing jal-jali, putting on betcho in order to be considered seductive when men can roll -up with last week’s joggers and reach the same status? Yes there are also men who go through similar things in order to appear pleasing to their partners but in my observation, this is the exception rather than the rule. It is not something that is placed on them like a huge, unmoving, boulder and it is not a standard by which their desirability, masculinity or right-to-happiness is judged by. If they do – great and if they don’t – oh well, it was never their duty anyway.
This is not only draining and tedious, but it creates a perfect backdrop against which women can blame themselves for all kinds of harmful and emotionally wounding behaviour : cheating, abuse, abandonment, lack of sexual satisfaction and on and on..
A few weeks ago, an episode of Pod and Marichou aired where Marichou, after finding out that Pod cheated on her and Eva with his secretary and that the secretary was now pregnant, returned to Pod’s house (dressed like a bride and sat square in the middle of his bed parce que du abandon yeffam mukk si aduna). Again, this was hailed by certain people I know as an act of love and jongehness – that Marichou’s sensuality in that moment came from the fact that she stayed in her marriage instead of “allowing another woman to steal her man” and “ruin her home.” That by refusing to act with displeasure at his damaging behaviour, she had reached the epitome of what it meant to be sexy.
For a lot of people, the most important element of being jongeh relates to their sexuality. For some, it is the saff saffal that ensures that they have satisfactory and pleasureful sexual lives. But, how does this operate when most most of us can agree that there is a lack of comprehensive sex education amongst us? What most of us know about our bodies or about sexual health did not come from personal sources or from those close to us but rather through slow-streaming snippets of information here and there and Google-powered answers to curious questions we didn’t dare utter. Sex is put forward by many as a taboo that can only be explored or even thought of in the safe confines of a marriage. Women especially are encouraged to be as asexual as possible usually under threats of “if a man touches you, you’ll fall pregnant” and then, poof comes the sudden expectation that they’ll transform into all-knowing sexual beings after marriage.
I have witnessed many awkward occasions in which brides, usually my friends or family, are unexpectedly given “the talk” from older women who before that day they had never even heard utter a single word related to the female anatomy. All these expectations are dumped upon women and they are now put in charge of ensuring that pleasure is achieved, for the man of course. Sex becomes a gift which they give to their husband and for a lot of women, any pleasure received from it is simply a by-product rather than anything intentional.
To reiterate, I’m not against jongehness, seduction or being sexy. I just want us to start seeing the cracks in how we conceive of it and how we accept it as a practice, especially in regard to its gendered nature so that it doesn’t become, for women, “extra work, no paycheck.”
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