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For those from Senegal or very familiar with the way women show up in Senegalese, there are certain words that come to mind when you think of “The Typical Senegalese Woman.” Submissive. Quiet. Obedient. Well-put together. Dignified. Sassy but soft at the same time. She always have my hair done, never talks too loudly, and never strays from the prototype.
There’s nothing wrong with that description above. It’s just there’s a new type of Senegalese woman emerging and that’s the loud, outspoken, tatted, back talking, go-getter, and unapologetic one. With the influence of social media and new sisterhood bonds, the Senegalese woman can show up in many different ways in today’s world.
It’s taken me quite some time to write this piece as I was having severe writer’s block. I tossed around the idea that there were always different types of Senegalese women and what we may know as the “rebel” is not a novelty. Then it dawned on me that I can only speak about my experience growing up and I thought about the very first series I did when I stated this blog: the “Jigéén Dafa Wara…” series. The was a series of short stories all about challenging the “typical Senegalese” attributes of a woman. I recommend you take a look at those short stories for a view of what may be influencing some of the stereotypes we may have.
For this piece, I want to talk about those times when we may see a Senegalese woman and that initial gut reaction when they don’t look like the “typical Senegalese woman.” Like the woman in the picture below, I think we all have initial thoughts such as:
“Maybe she’s not full Senegalese.”
“Maybe she was born in the U.S.”
“Oh she’s wild!”
I think over time, that initial gut reaction has diminished and we start to think and say things like:
“Wow, she’s so confident.”
“I love her authenticity.”
“I know that’s right!”
So maybe those were corny…apologies for that. But you get the point! What I am getting at is we’re starting to embrace the many versions of the Senegalese women that appear on the spectrum. There’s no longer a prototype and mold that must be fit. We’re able to exist as human beings, as individuals, without being tied to distinct attributes alone.
Another trend I’ve noticed is more business minding and less judging. I don’t think that will ever go away completely. In a recent Joko Podcast episode (Season 2, Episode 7), co-hosts Arame and Aida (that’s yours truly :)) talk about “Social Media Posting While Senegalese.” The episode explored the “”double life” many Senegalese-Americans live due to external pressures to present oneself in a particular way on social media. This “particular way” is the typical Senegalese image of being pious and responsible. While those are amazing attributes, it sometimes does not leave any room for self-expression, social experimentation, or making mistakes. There’s always a jury that’s on the other side of the screen waiting to brand you. But as I hopefully stated, I have noticed more of minding one’s business and just being ourselves, no matter how tightly or loosely that ties with the standard cutout.
What I challenge you to do is to erase that image of the perfect Senegalese woman from your head, if you have one. Instead, allow space for the nuanced experiences and personalities we have! I’ll be honest that not all my thoughts made it to this post as I am still sorting through some of them but I see beauty in that. There’s a lot of runway for this discussion to evolve – I invite you to share your ideas in the comments section! What’s been your experience regarding this topic?