Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

Reading Time: 7 mins

Preface: this will be clunky. There’s just so much to be said!

Ladies, I’m going to start this post off with a question: have you ever talked to your parents about dating? Like at what age would you be allowed to have a boyfriend? What were the boundaries once you did start dating? When you first fell in love, or your first heartbreak, or who or what was off limits?

Let me guess, the answer to all of those questions for a majority of us is THE CONVERSATION NEVER HAPPENED and if it did, it was very short and off-target.

Let me ask you a different set of questions: were you expected to bring home the perfect guy as soon as you graduated college? Are your parents pressuring you now that you’re over 25yo and unmarried? Do all conversation roads somehow lead to the fact that you’re still single, if you are, or that you need to have kids, if you haven’t already, or shoot, have more if you “only” have one or two?

I find it interesting that we go from being seen as little girls and seldom have in-depth conversations with our Senegalese parents, namely our moms, to being expected to have it all figured out almost overnight.

Okay, one last question: has your mom ever talked to you about sex? Even after marriage, I bet the answer is no and if she did, I bet it was very passive and awkward.

Our dear parents/moms – they’ve always wanted what’s best for us, even in their blatant obliviousness to what the dating scene in America offers today. Contrary to what they might think, yes, their daughters are dating before marriage. And get this, they’re dating non-Senegalese men too (gasp)!

Today’s topic: Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

The reality is we’re dating and we’re dating actively. Meaning when one relationship doesn’t work out, we are learning lessons and we aren’t afraid to try again. And we’re not afraid to wait as long as it takes to figure our shit out. I mean, we’re getting our asses kicked yet we keep at it! We’re all trying to learn about ourselves, our preferences, our boundaries, our deal-breakers, our turn-ons and turn-offs (yes, I said it). We’re taking control of who our partners will be, experimenting, and meticulously taking notes along the way. Our poor mothers don’t even know that we each have a “type.”

Okay, but more seriously though, the phenomenon of dating as Senegalese-American women is very real. The days of our parents picking a spouse for us are over. The days of marrying our cousins are [starting to be] long gone (there are still those of us who deal with this pressure). The days of not knowing and loving your partner – because they say jigeen dou beug, day miin (loosely translated to “a woman doesn’t love, she gets acclimated”) – are truly over. Or at least they should be.

This is probably a good place to interject with the Islamic disclaimer. I did a simple Google search on dating in Islam and will summarize my findings here. Courtship is allowed in Islam, meaning “dating” within specific boundaries to prevent Zina, or fornication. Dating in the modern sense is not allowed – e.g. you cannot be alone with your partner, no kissing, no touching, etc. – you get the picture. That’s the short version; if you’re looking for the long version, consult your local Imam 🙂

Getting back to the topic…growing up in America, there are a lof things we see as the norm and to be frank, dating is one of them. As people are generally getting married later in life, it’s hard to remain single up until the point you’re ready to marry. And quite frankly, dangerous. Some of us are not marrying until our late twenties and you can imagine how many lessons missed and opportunities not harnessed there are in that scenario. In the past, your spouse “could” be selected for you and everything work out “just fine.” There were families ties, traditions, and rules to be upheld. The thought of even straying from the boundaries our parents placed were slim to none, especially when you take into account the geographical limitations of women rarely living away from home. A typical scenario in Senegal might look like this: young girl grows up alongside her parents, may or may not finish school, is set up with a close or distant family member as soon as they deem her ready to marry. She may or may not go back to school depending on how her husband feels about that but you can bet your life that her life will take a complete turn as she transitions from youthfulness to the “cours des grands” (big leagues).

Well, today, that narrative is different. A typical scenario in the US may look like this: a young Senegalese-American woman grows up having dreams of who she wants to be, focusing on finding genuine friendships, and building a life around her. Her husband may not come into that picture until laterrrrr down the line and he certainly won’t be the center of her life’s attention. And that’s not to say that she values marriage or loves her partner any less. It’s just that that’s not at the forefront of her desires – or value as a woman. That’s also not to say that young girls in Senegal do not have big dreams. It’s just that the societal pressures weigh differently in those two contexts and the dreams of young girls in Senegal are often cut short to fulfill the ultimate destiny of being a good wife. Wouldn’t you too succumb to that gigantic pressure that corners you at every turn you take?

So you can imagine the Senegalese-American women dating scene: experimental, trial-and-error, and very fluid. Yes, we’re dating within and outside of our race/culture/ethnicity and we’re having a blast doing it. Do we get stung along the way, YES! But nonetheless, we’re much more free to explore our options and come to our own conclusions and to be honest, I love that. Even when things don’t work out, it’s reassuring knowing that you played a part in what happened to you. Proportionately , it’s disheartening to feel like life happened to you and you had no say – you were just a victim.

And that’s the root of this conversation. Women are no longer victims of bad marriages that they were forced into. They’re active participants in their own love lives – by dating and figuring out for themselves what they want and don’t want. I would call that amazing progress.

Growing up in a traditional Senegalese household, this was my understanding of dating: I was sort of allowed to after a certain, undisclosed age, but only at a surface level. I wasn’t expected to never have a boyfriend but the how was strictly under control. I was supposed to stay pure, have lots of dignity, and never falter, all the way to the point until I found my husband – or he found me as they would say. I wasn’t allowed to let them see any sign of niak fay da (lack of a backbone) in my face and God forbid I disobey Allah in the process (which was a whole contraction in and of itself based on the summary I provided earlier). Let me tell you right now that that’s not how my experience went. And based on responses from the lovely ladies who responded to my Instagram prompt, the story is the same for many. We faltered, made mistakes, got our hearts broken, and looked “niak fayda” on more than one occasion. And that’s okay! We’re human beings and we’re experiencing normalcy.

I strongly encourage dating responsibility, and sometimes otherwise, to truly learn about ourselves and our partners. In a perfect world, we would be able to blindly follow the advice of our parents and hope it all works out. Unfortunately, we are not in a perfect world so better safe than sorry.

Remember when I said we’re getting our asses kicked? Well, it’s Dating Horror Stories Time!

I asked my Instagram Senegalese-American female followers to share some dating stories with me and here are some samplers:

Story 1: “I love Senegalese men, but I also detest part of their mindsets when it comes to women.”

Story 2: “Dating is annoying. A majority of men are too headstrong/difficult. They ooze toxic masculinity.”

Story 3: It’s complicated. Ni**as be looking for a come up, not a girlfriend or a wife.”

Story 6: “Dating a Senegalese man is hard and complicated. And Senegalese men in American are a different breed!”

There you have it! Looks like we’re all getting a piece of the pie!

Devil’s Advocate (but not really): Marrying early protects women

This is going to be short. I always think about how many Senegalese women did everything right and still ended up getting played! Sorry to be so blunt but damn ! Like our moms tried to demonstrate the right way of doing things and I personally still see so many missed opportunities and heartbreaks! So I don’t know about you, but I am in favor of dating and figuring out what will work and what won’t work. Even with the horror stories, the ladies I talked to would rather get played, because we all do – more to come on that in another post – and eventually find our Prince Charming than be stuck with the choices of others. For those of us that are Muslim, we’d love to be courted and do things the right way…as soon as the Muslim men around us start adhering to that definition. Culture dominates in the dating scene in Senegalese society unfortunately so we’re left to fend for ourselves so we don’t end up in broken marriages, sleeping next to the enemy.

Work-Life Balance during a pandemic

3 minutes to read

The last year and a half have been intense to say the least. I always aspired to have a greater work-life balance and I thought working from home would enable that. I was wrong, point blank. My personal and professional lives have merged into one: in the boundaries of my room where I have my bed and my work desk. I go from my bed to my desk and back, each and every single day. It’s absolutely draining and redundant.

So, not the perkiest of intros but humor me. Do any of these statements resonate with you?

  • I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish everything I need to.
  • I don’t feel fulfilled, no matter how much I get done.
  • I abandon my personal feelings/boundaries often to get things done at work.
  • By the time I finish work, I don’t have any more energy to do anything for myself.
  • I hate my job.
  • I have lost motivation/energy for things I used to enjoy doing.
  • I feel alone.
  • I want something different.

I could go on and on about how I have been feeling for the last year. I’m not deliberately trying to be a Debbie Downer but it truly feels never-ending. I know it’s partially due to just being in a very new place in my life but it’s also due to the pandemic. Being home more has not made me happier or “have more time.” It’s only blurred the lines between the different commitments I have.

Trying to “achieve” a better work-life balance is where we went wrong in the first place. The fact that we have gotten to a point where work has taken over so much of our lives that we have to try to fit life into it is problematic. It should be the other way around. This emphasis/correlation between work and success is threatening the personal happiness, mental health, and emotional fulfillment of many. And I wouldn’t say this is a problem that the pandemic brought along with it; it’s just that the pandemic (and working from home) has exacerbated these circumstances, making it harder and harder to peel away from the related anxiety and stress.

Recently, I read my dear friend’s article on her blog, Haniya Khalid (WFH Tips: Mental Health & Productivity – Haniya Khalid) and I must say, the tips helped. Because I was feeling confined to my room all day, the two that I found really helpful were making my bed every day and delineating between spaces for different tasks. I made my bed in the past but not intentionally. I would tidy up and call it a day. But actually taking the time to make my bed, position my pillows, turn on a candle or spray some room spray has tremendously helped me start my day. It’s a major accomplishment as soon as I wake up and I automatically feel more motivated. Subsequently, I don’t touch my bed again all day. I delineate spaces and utilize more of my apartment. I eat in my living room now, work only at my desk (unless I’m on a call while making breakfast/lunch, in which case I just use my phone), watch tv in the living room, etc. I highly recommend reading Haniya’s article (and her whole blog site) if you are feeling like you could use a refresher on setting boundaries!

I personally thought the pandemic and confinement living would end with 2020. But here we are in June 2021 and we’re still dealing with some of the same, prolonged issues. Things are slowly opening back up and that’s great but the feeling of exile doesn’t just go away. I still feel like there’s so much to do to get out of that funk so I’m going to keep trying and keep moving! I hope Haniya’s article and this one helps you step away for a second and reflect on how solitary living and dealing with working from home during a pandemic can take a toll on us – and what we can do about it!

My one-time rant on polygyny

Whenever I tell people I host a blog about Senegalese women empowerment, or that I call myself a feminist, one of the first follow-up questions I get is “So what’s your take on polygamy?” I always smirk and give a quick answer about how “It’s a choice.” I don’t always delve deep into the topic because there’s this stigma on feminists in Senegalese society that they’re man-hating, angry, rude, and ugly beings. It’s just not a good look. And that’s not why I avoid the conversation; I just know it’s going to be a long one and I’m usually not mentally prepared to have it.

But today, I decided to get this one-time rant out on my feelings about polygamy. I’ll start with the definition. Polygamy is “the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.” In Senegalese society, more specifically in Islam, a woman is not allowed to have multiple husbands so it’s not even a topic of conversation. Polygyny is the term used for when a man is married to more than one woman at a time. So today, we will talk about polygyny.

See the source image

Here’s what I think: it really is a choice.

A woman may decide she is okay being in a polygynist marriage. A woman may decide she does not want to be in a polygynist marriage. She may change her mind as well, although, this stirs up new issues in and of itself and will require a re-visit on the initial agreement she had with her partner.

A man may decide that he does not want to be married to multiple women at the same time. He may also decide that that is his cup of tea and would like to be married to multiple women at the same time. He, too, may change his mind, which also stirs up new issues, but the conversation should still be had to get back in alignment.

That is to say, I believe being involved with multiple people, whether it’s polygamy, polygyny, polyamory, polyandry – whatever poly it is – is a matter of having all the right information and making a decision based on that information.

What I believe is that people have emotions, rights, and desires. When those boundaries are stepped on, it takes away from the agency people have. It’s unfair to make a choice for someone. It’s not right to say, “you must live a polygynist marriage because xyz.” This often happens in Senegalese culture because women are told things like:

  • He has a right to have up to four wives.
  • Your peers are managing polygyny so who are you not to?
  • After everything he’s done for you… as if you are indebted to your husband for fulfilling his duties to you.
  • It’ll only hurt in the beginning. You’ll get used to it.
  • Your mom/sister [or insert a close female relative here] was a second wife. Why not you?
  • Deal with it.

Statements like these make it really hard to see any positive aspect of polygyny. I won’t be talking about those positive aspects because quite frankly, I struggle to see any in today’s world. I’ll stick to breaking down the statements I mentioned above. They’re dismissive, insulting, inconsiderate, and triggering. When we say things like this, it ignores any emotion, past trauma, mental health, or rights of the woman. It’s neglectful and truly disempowers the woman, who very well should have the right to say, “that is not what I want.” That right cannot be taken away from her.

I don’t have a problem with polygyny itself. I have a problem with how it’s too often executed in Senegalese society. I asked a friend that I admire – her way of thinking is always so mature and balanced, hey Arame 🙂 – and here is her mantra: Choice. Truth. Respect. I thought this was so eloquent and in perfect alignment with how I feel about it. Let’s get into each item.

Choice.

I’ve already talked about this and what I will add is that this choice is profound. That is one of the most rewarding attributes of being a human being and it’s what gives us a reason to live. Being able to feel like we have a say in the life we live. If you are simply a consumer of the circumstances around you, you are not living life and unfortunately, many women are left to be consumers of the polygynist lifestyles their husbands live. They have no say (or at least they’re made to feel that way and they fulfill that prophecy).

Truth.

This is a big one. Being honest in initial conversations about what each party wants, can handle, and aligning on that, is crucial to preventing future disappointment. It’s when one or both parties keep information from one another that deceit seeps in, betrayal becomes a companion in your union, and you lose quite possibly the most important foundation of any sustainable relationship. It’s 100% important to be honest about:

  • What you want at the present moment
  • What you envision for a future, mature version of your relationship
  • Non-negotiable circumstances
  • Triggering events/circumstances
  • Communication methods for hard conversations

It’s not easy being honest about hard topics but it’s a requirement. You cannot wait until the moment you decide you want a second wife to tell your wife you want a second one. You cannot get another wife first and then tell your first (or second, or third, or fourth). You cannot wait until the moment your husband informs you that he wants a second wife that you disagree. Have proactive conversations and early! That’s part of putting in the work required to make a relationship…well, work.

Respect.

I mean, does this need elaboration? All I will say here is that if you love a person, you will respect their feelings, their reactions to your actions and decisions, and their wellbeing – and beyond respecting these things, you will take it into consideration when making decisions. You will not want to see them hurt or in pain. I understand I am speaking from a place where I am assuming people marry for love. I also understand that not everyone marries for love but love is not a prerequisite for respect.

It’s not rocket science that polygyny is not for everyone. When people ask me my opinion on the topic, I recognize that it’s not a “why do you disagree with it” discussion. It’s more of just understanding my take and it took me some time to formulate but I finally got there. It’s just a matter of having a say in the matter (choice), being up front about feelings, capacity, and boundaries (truth), and being decent human beings to one another (respect).

To wrap up, I want to briefly touch on other aspects that I don’t hear being brought up in these discussions. Things like (•) STD testing in polygynist situations, (•) how the children will be raised when the father may be absent for certain aspects of his kids’ lives – or even prolonged periods of time when the father is not in the same location as his family (we see this a lot in immigrant husbands who have multiple households). (•) treating all wives “fairly” whatever that means, and (•) writing clear wills or fostering healthy environments so when the husband passes, his families are not left quarreling over his inheritance. That one is assuming there will even be an inheritance. Too often we see men who cannot financially handle multiple wives and families and end up creating disastrous consequences. Everything I stated above points back to one thing in my head: polygyny is about more than just being married to multiple woman and trying to satisfy carnal desires. It’s a complex, multi-layered system that warrants a lot of consideration from all parties involved before committing to it.

Personally, I do not want to be in a polygynist marriage. I would not like to be involved in a love, financial, and/or spiritual triangle, no thank you! I would be elated to hear from my readers, whether you agree or disagree. As always, let me know your thoughts and experiences with this topic. Feel free to reach out on Instagram on @elleparleenfin or my personal page @aida.guisse__

Introducing Maabo | Khadijah Boutique

4 minutes to read

It’s been months that I have not been able to sit down and consistently write like before. I have a passion for writing and it’s tough when I’m not able to give it the time I would like to. When I think about Year 1 of my blog, I had 13,000+ views and 67 posts. Over 4500 visitors to my site. For Year 2, it was barely 2,000 views and 14 posts. I simply didn’t write.

Global pandemic, stagnantly working from home, and other major life events aside, I had to re-vamp and re-think my mission in starting this blog. As the name suggests, I wanted to showcase and highlight the many voices of Senegalese women and their experiences. I thought about continuing the interview series and short stories and while they’re both great, I knew the runway for them was getting shorter and shorter. I had to innovate and ensure that the work I was doing for this blog aligned with my overall goal of being an entrepreneur.

I would ask myself — how do I marry the things that I like to do so they don’t feel like 10 different commitments? How can I accomplish my goals while fulfilling my passions? How can a sista make some money in the process? Well, keep on reading to find out what I’ve decided on.

When the machine is functioning as expected (machine being me), I work a full-time job, attend school part-time, co-host a podcast, run a blog, and most recently, started a small business selling goods from Ngaye, Senegal. So my idea is to combine this blog with my small business and be my own Shinin’ highlight. I will be interviewing myself and sharing the journey of starting a small business with you all.

Introducing Maabo | Khadijah Boutique.

I invite you all to visit my website at Maabo | Khadijah Boutique and learn a little bit more about the business, see the beautiful products, and SHOP! There will be a separate post on the source of these baskets/paniers as it will spotlight the dedicated women of Ngaye that hand-make them — be on the lookout for that! But for now, I strongly urge you to support and to shop!

It hasn’t been easy coming to this decision; I had to get out of the funk that I was in first. I spent way too much time feeling like I had failed because I wasn’t writing. I didn’t give myself any grace for what actually happens in my life outside of this blog. That just because I wasn’t releasing on a regular schedule that I wasn’t doing a “good job.” I didn’t account for the ideas that could be a result of a hiatus – the creative solutions that would not have been possible if I didn’t step away for a little bit. I’m happy to have this new direction and can’t wait to take you all along this journey.

Follow us on Instagram at @elleparleenfin for all the latest news and bookmark http://www.maabo.store !

Senegal: Sonko is not the solution to our problems.

As far as basic facts go, I won’t spend too much time on what’s going on in Senegal currently. If you’d like to get caught up, use the hashtag #FreeSenegal on Instagram or Twitter; everything you need to know is there. And if you still need resources, feel free to ask any Senegalese person with an account (given they have common sense) and they will be more than happy to get you updated.

Senegal needs more than just a new President. Since the beginning of this turmoil, which dates back to 1659 when the French first started meddling in our affairs, we have known that the Sonko vs. Adji Sarr plot was just a means to an end. It’s never been about Adji Sarr, who is nothing more than a tool used to achieve that “end.” And ultimately, this is not about Ousmane Sonko either. He is one man that is a representation of the pent-up frustration, anger, and destitution harbored by the Senegalese people. He is one man that we hope can be the catalyst for the change we have long yearned for. But let’s be very honest with ourselves about what will happen when the dust settles: Sonko is not going to transform Senegal into the utopia we have in mind. He will simply lead the struggle and journey, but we would be selfish and irresponsible as a people to put all that burden in the hands of one man. We too must actively participate in the makeover of our country. The Senegal we want, and need isn’t going to be curated by one man – that’s the very issue we’re trying to resolve right now. We must all claim our piece of the responsibility pie and understand that the Knight in Shining Armor we’ve been looking for is in fact in each of our reflections in the mirror.

I have a few ideas on how we can do that, and I am inviting you all to be part of the solutions discussion, share your thoughts!

  1. When it is time to rebuild the country, build it with full ownership, integrity, and sustainability in mind. Meaning we need to avoid this very revolt we’re going through and the only way to do that immediately is to have more Senegalese-owned businesses. How can a young man with 2 degrees and no job in his own home feel any type of remorse or guilt about destroying a French multinational company? Where is the vested interest? It is disheartening for the Senegalese people who work in those establishments – knowing they don’t have a job they can go back to right after the battle is over. But do we want short-term gratification (and chump change compared to what we could really have) or long-term solutions? Let’s change the narrative from “Senegalese people work there” to “Senegalese people own and operate it.” Only then will the youth have a care in the world about the damage being inflicted.
  2. Getting rid of Macky Sall will only resolve part of the problem. He is the apogee of years of oppression, distraction, and manipulation – the deliberate distribution of somnifère to the Senegalese people to keep them sleeping so they don’t have time to question what’s been going on. What we have is a rotten regime that needs to be demolished and rebuilt, just like the concrete buildings. We cannot keep relying on the Guy Marius Sagna, Pape Djibril Fall, Karim Xrux Xax, Assane Diouf, Yacine Fall, and Barthelemy Dias’ of our country to keep fighting this battle alone. Risking their lives and the livelihood of their families every time they are dragged off to jail for daring to speak out against the injustice. We must all denounce it, each and every single time. This revolution is a great start, but we can’t go back to business as usual after a few days. We must keep educating ourselves and keep fighting.
  3. Go back to the basics. We are a beautiful, proud, and creative people. I’m coming from a place of privilege; I am fully aware of that. When I go back to Senegal, I find myself speaking almost in third person when I talk about the Senegalese people, my people, me! Going back to the basics means re-identifying with the resounding power we have. Yacine Fall poignantly said in a press conference on March 3rd that Senegal as a country is “rich but the people are poor.” That is unfortunate and sad. Let’s go back to the drawing board individually and then regroup to pinpoint the many riches we have and learn to exploit it for ourselves. A country cannot develop without education and security but above all, without opportunity! There are already so many brilliant entrepreneurs in Senegal. Genius ideas that make you smirk! Let’s use that as fuel and ammunition to curate the Senegal we need. We don’t need Western solutions infiltrating every aspect of our lives. It’s inevitable because that’s just the world we live in but it should not dictate our every move. Going back to the basics means prioritizing what we need and how we can get it – for ourselves. Leadership plays in a role in creating those opportunities but we as the people play an even bigger role in properly and responsibility exploiting them.
  4. When this revolt started on March 3rd, the government started censoring the Senegalese people living in Senegal by shutting down social media servers and cutting the feeds for TV stations reporting on the news. We are so upset as a people that we were being censored. How dare they!? But I challenge us all to use technology and the Internet more responsibly when this is over. The same way we’re disseminating information right now, let’s continue to do that. Less TikTok and more news sharing. Less WhatsApp stories and more thought-provoking discussions. Less dance challenges and more entrepreneurial displays. That’s how you transform the culture of a country. The media is a no small tool.

Going back to the title of my article, I would like to reiterate how we cannot rely on one man. We are 17 million and that’s much more powerful than one man. That being said, I would like to say Thank You to Ousmane Sonko for having the courage to take on this battle. Thank You for sparking hope in the hearts of many and Thank You for trying, trying to do better by us. Only Allah knows what will come of us but I hope Senegal is victorious. We cannot afford otherwise. Our people are tired.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here and invite you to be part of the discussion. How do you view the current situation in Senegal? Where did we go wrong? Going forward, what can we do better? How are you feeling?

What do you want to be when you get older?

Lately, I’ve been searching for the answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Nobody has asked me… the prompt is coming from me. The questions I get from others are more along the lines of “what do you do?” or “Do you like your job?”

For what feels like forever, I feel like I haven’t been fulfilled. I am grateful for my job and I am grateful for the multiple opportunities that have presented themselves to me over time. I truly am. But one thing that keeps coming back in my head is this desire to do more. I have a passion for helping others and that cannot be overlooked when I think about what I want to do or how I spend my time. It warms my heart to do something good for others, for no other reason than to make their lives or day easier, better, happier.

I don’t know what I want to be when I am older in terms of title but I know I want to be someone who positively influences others. Someone who makes the lives of others better by presenting them with opportunities and teaching them skills to be better versions of themselves. Above all, I want to be part of the solutions that eradicate hate and abuse, especially towards women and children.

One thing I struggle with is admitting to myself that I do want to be known! In trying not to be cocky, pompous, or “fouy” as we say in Wolof, I have subdued myself into thinking that it’s a bad thing to want to be known. I don’t want to be known or famous for the sake of popularity. I want to leave a legacy behind so that I can empower people the same way other men and women have empowered me. I want people to know me as someone who was selfless and abundant in all that she gave. My time, money, energy, efforts, and everything in between dedicated to serving the world and its citizens. It probably sounds cheesy but I want to help change the world. And that’s not a small dream or goal, so I have to stop making it small and in turn, making myself small.

I urge all my listeners and readers to ask themselves the question: what do you want to be when you get older? It’s never too late to decide to go on the journey to find that answer. In fact, it’s closely linked to finding out our true calling, our contribution to this world.

What it means to be a feminist…to me.

** I am speaking from MY point of view. I do not speak for all feminists as that would be impossible. I would love to hear what feminism means to you, woman, or man. Let’s discuss. **

Being a feminist in Senegalese society can sometimes be the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter. The term is so tainted and honestly, there’s not even much room to explain what you mean by “I’m a feminist.” People automatically write you off as one or all the following:

  • A man hater
  • Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.
  • A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)
  • You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

One statement I find myself saying often is: “giving women equal rights does not mean revoking any rights from men.” I said this to justify being a feminist and almost to ease the minds of the many men (and women) who have a problem with feminism in Senegalese society. I was apologizing for the very thing I stand for. The statement should really read: giving women equal rights … or better yet women having equal rights. Period. Not having it given to us as that implies it can be taken back at any point.

When I started the blog Elle parle, enfin, I started with short stories about fictional (but very much realistic) Senegalese women. I wanted to show women in a more empowered light, with a voice, even when some of the stories showed the too-often-seen scenario of women being marginalized in our society. Today, I want to get to the crux of this blog by just flat out writing about feminism in Senegalese society and my view on the topic. I will do so by starting to unpack the statements above.

A Man Hater

Feminists do not hate men (at least not that I know of). Now, certain feminists may also hate men based on personal experiences but the two are mutually exclusive. There is no rule in any Feminist 101 Guidelines that states that hating men is a prerequisite to being a feminist. Simply put, feminists fight for the rights of women, for the protection of women against abuse, for the right and privilege to live a wholesome life. They are not set out to crucify men worldwide.

Someone who wants to be free to do whatever they want and can.

Contrary to popular belief, feminists have boundaries, limits, and realities they face. They are not loose cannons trying to prove to the world just how free they are. A feminist is not someone who just wants to be “disobedient” for the sake of – with no thought behind their actions. And quite often, feminists are not JUST feminists. That is just one piece of their identity – intersectionality is the culprit here. They are much more than just a feminist that those other personas play a factor in the choices the person makes.

A sexually liberated person who just wants to taxawaalu (roam free)

For some reason, in Senegalese culture, when you say you’re a feminist, it’s assumed you have no regard for the “virginity culture.” You are associated with promiscuity. This is simply not the case. The sexually liberated woman can be a feminist. The young woman saving herself for marriage can be a feminist. The happy housewife can be a feminist. The woman with a busy job handling business can be a feminist. There’s no template for what a feminist is, should look like, should behave as such, etc.

You want to stray from your culture’s “traditional values.”

I would pay a million dollars to go back in time and see how women were treated in Senegalese society because this association with feminism baffles me. I refuse to believe that my culture and tradition are rooted in oppressing women, mistreating women, and minimizing women. In the Senegalese context, feminism is not even asking for CEO positions or starting companies from the ground up; we’re talking about letting women have a voice in their conjugal life; we’re talking about not beating on your wife because she is “disobedient”; we’re truly talking about not treating women like second class citizens. That is a basic human right and when Senegalese feminists talk about it, they are quieted with assertions of losing their values. But what about Aline Sitoe Diatta and Yacine Boubou? If we pull it back to more recent time, women like Yassine Fall and Anta Babacar Ngom? Were they told they should sit quiet and not fight for what they believed in? Are these women any less Senegalese because they defy the norms? Can they not be Senegalese and feminists at the same time? And I don’t know that any of them self-identify as feminists – just that they are often brought up in feminist discourse and I beg to differ that they are not true, Senegalese woman because they dare to break the mold.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the topic of feminism in Senegalese culture/society. Factually, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. I implore you, as a consumer of my posts, to give this definition some thought. Wouldn’t you agree that it doesn’t take being a woman to simply believe in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes? And given that women have for a long time been deprived of these rights, that the fight for this equality should be focused on women? Wouldn’t you then agree with me that every one of us should be feminists? 

I started with a list so let’s close with one.

  • You can be a feminist… and cater to your man.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a stay-at-home mom…or dad.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a second, or third, or fourth wife.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a muslim.
  • You can be a feminist… and be a man.

Feminism is about choice, not force. It’s about men and women having the choice to live the life they desire, deserve, and work for, without coercion, oppression, and abuse being an interference.

To end, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought via a quote.

[Begin quote] “Being pro-feminist means being aware of women’s experiences and to bring them to the center of analysis, not to displace men, but to broaden the perspective.” [End Quote]- University of Massachusetts Amherst Men and Masculinities Center

Top 5 Things I Learned About Working Remotely in Sénégal

Early December 2020, I went to Sénégal with the intention of working remotely for part of my one month trip. I had my laptop, chargers, portable wifi modem, and workspace carved out. I was ready. Then I got in the country and automatically lost all motivation and drive to work. This blog post will be simple and to the point: my top 5 realizations about working remotely in Sénégal. Let’s get to it.

1. There will be a lot of background noise. I was in my house by myself for the week that I worked remotely so I figured there wouldn’t be any noise to distract me or my conference calls. I was wrong. Cows, chickens, goats, sheep, little children joyfully playing outside, neighbors greeting each other… you name it! There’s no shortage of noise that your coworkers will hear in the background and inevitably ask you about. And if none of that is true for you, there will certainly be the neighborhood call to prayer!

2. Don’t plan anything else on the day(s) you need to work. The team I work with sits in Seattle, WA. The time difference was 8 hours so I did the math and figured I needed to logon around 4PM local time in Senegal. I thought — heavy emphasis on the THOUGHT — that I could get one or two things done in the morning/early afternoon before logging on. To my unpleasant surprise, I learned that the notion of time is very different in Senegal. I can’t plan for anything at 9AM because that ‘thing’ probably won’t start until 10:45AM (that’s being generous). That means I will finish late and anything else I planned will subsequently be shifted by a few hours. Thus, I can’t start work at the scheduled 4PM time. I quickly learned to just sit my a$$ down until 4PM with nothing planned in the morning…unless I had a strong desire to have anxiety attacks while sitting in heavy Dakar traffic. I’ll stop there.

3. Your focus will be off. I mentioned in the intro that I had my equipment and workplace set up. Let me tell that is not enough! BEING in Senegal calls for something other than being laser-focused on conference calls and to-do lists. If you live there full-time and know this is your daily life, it’s fine. But if you come to a short period of time and try to squeeze working into your schedule, it just doesn’t flow the same. You go from talking about the upcoming baptism or baby shower… or concert … or drinking a nice glass of ataya to talking about project deadlines and roadblocks. It just doesn’t work. I was not as productive or efficient as when I was home and it had a lot to do with the fact that the environment around is not on the same wavelength as you are. It’s not good or bad; it just is.

4. You’ll have to help your Senegalese family understand why you’re working on vacation. One thing about Senegalese people is when they are on vacation, THEY ARE ON VACATION. Being in that space and dealing with responsibilities back home isn’t the most harmonious situation! So be prepared to explain why you’re a semi-workaholic and how what you’re doing is the watered down version of your life, everyday back home.

5. You realize what’s really important in life. We run, run, run every day that we’re working these intense jobs. We have hectic schedules and relish in that busy feeling; it makes us feel important or useful sometimes. But for me, I stripped that feeling when I was back home. You could say I stopped to smell the roses. I learned that there is so much more to life than what we often chase after and to be quite frank, none of us are performing brain surgery by ourselves. Truly stepping away is necessary for our happiness, our mental health, and our physical wellbeing. Burnout is real.

All in all, my biggest takeaway when it comes to working remotely in Sénégal, is to avoid it if you can. It’s one thing to visualize how you could make it happen; it’s another to actually make it happen. Between the less than ideal internet connection, the sounds of animals in the background of every meeting you have, and the vast difference in speed of life, it just is a recipe for disaster! But more importantly, I learned to appreciate the tiny moments that make you miss home THAT much more when it’s all said and done. Although it was a challenge to work remotely, it just made me realize that I should leave my baggage at the door when I go to visit my homeland, pays de la Teranga. There’s no room for checklists 😉

Pro tip: get a portable modem while you’re there for continuous connection! It’s a small, Orange box that you can recharge and connect your devices to!

Cuties: Why this Movie Succeeded at Failing

I watched the movie Cuties this past week and I have a couple of thoughts on it, just like the rest of the world it seems like. I’ll start with a brief background on the movie and Director and then get into what I thought of the movie.

Cuties was released in France in August 2020 and in the United Stated in September 2020. It is a French coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Award and is critically acclaimed! (emphasis on the critically). I should also mention the screenplay for Cuties won the Sundance Global Filmmaking Award back in 2017. The film is centered around 11 year-old Amy, a Senegalese-French pre-adolescent who is caught between her Senegalese culture and her life in France. She joins a group of young dancers who attend her school, after being bullied by them and trying to gain their approval. She introduces new, sexually explicit « dance moves » to the group after being influenced by music videos she sneaks around and watches on a phone she stole from her visiting cousin. This abrupt summary by no means does the movie justice. I just wanted to paint a quick picture of what the hell is going on here.

Now, a little bit about the director: Maïmouna Doucouré. As I mentioned above, she is a French-Senegalese film director and screenwriter living in France, where she was born in 1985. She had a successful experience with her film Maman(s), which premiered in 2015 and won Cesar Award in 2017. Cuties is her directional debut and let’s just say her name is becoming a household one. Her goals of female empowerment and embracing femininity are the underpinnings of her movies Maman(s) and Cuties. She delivered an emotional speech at the Sundance Film Festival upon winning, stating “ladies, just believe and we will become.”

Maimouna Doucoure speaks onstage during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards Night Ceremony at Basin Recreation Field House on February 01, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Now, let’s take a look at the Netflix poster, right, that got everyone talking (which is different from the poster used in France, left).

See the source image

When Netflix started advertising for the film, released on September 9th, people were up in arms about the “pedobait” aspects of the trailer and poster. Petitions started coming from every angle, demanding the film be taken down from Netflix. When the film finally aired, the uproar exacerbated. The film garnered anger, disgust, and concern – to the point where Doucouré started receiving death threats! Death threats are unacceptable and hyperbolic. That being said, this post isn’t as much about Sundance or the success this movie’s gotten as it is about the missed mark on this film.

When I was watching this film, my jaw was on the floor half the time. I am not a prude. If you’ve read up on my blog stories, you’ll see that I am very open-minded and progressive in many ways. But this film definitely has a shock factor that is bound to keep you interested. It’s a different type of interested though – it’s cringe-y. You want to keep watching but you feel UNCOMFORTABLE. It’s disturbing. It’s shocking. It’s flagrant! And I believe that’s exactly what Doucouré wanted us to feel throughout, to get us thinking.

I watched it a second time before writing this piece. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And here’s what I really think.

I feel like the film fell short. There are so many other themes that this film touches on. Immigration. Polygamy. Living in the projects. The influence of the media on today’s youth. Parent-children relationships. Importance of communication. Peer pressure. Sex Education. Generational perspective. Intersectionality of all of those things for a pre-teen that is trying to figure themselves/life out! I could go on and on about all the themes this film touches on and that’s exactly my point in this article. We are not talking about all of those things. We’re caught up on just one theme: the hyper-sexualization of young girls. This is a very important topic and should 100% be discussed. But the conversation is so much more nuanced than current conversations are letting on and I fervently believe Doucouré wanted us to have a complex discussion about it, not just a one-layered conversation or finger pointing.

Doucouré has said that Cuties pulls from her own experiences as a young, Black immigrant in Paris – paralleling her journey to that of the film’s protagonist, Amy. During her Sundance speech, Doucouré describes how a man made a comment after seeing her film Maman(s), stating that he was shocked a woman produced that movie. Doucouré emphasizes that it is a woman’s very femininity that allows her to be so powerful. The coming-of-age experience Amy goes through in the film touches on the theme of femininity and how it is influenced by her surroundings and the media. With Amy’s case, we see just how detrimental social media can be to a young girl’s development and that’s what Doucouré wanted us to talk about (in my humble opinion).

With the sexual dance moves in close range, I personally think the film focused on the wrong things. It gave us too much at once and left us wondering. I don’t buy into the “this film encourages pedophiles” mantra because pedophiles are sick in the head and we cannot put the blame or responsibility on anybody else. They need to get help for the illness they are dealing with. Point blank. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that American producer, writer, and director Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of Sundance, was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to six years to life in prison in 2019. This just adds fuel to the fire and people are using it as ammo for the pedophile argument. But BUT, this film was not made for the viewing pleasures of pedophiles with a Netflix account. It was made to give us a reality check, a wake up call, to what is happening to young girls around the world. This movie is a warning call to all parents to check themselves on the following: (1) you can’t raise your kids the way you were raised. (Un)fortunately, times have changed so it’s time to adapt. And (2) communicating with your children is important, more than ever! You have to be a vital part of your children’s development because the outside sure it.

The sex trafficking of young girls a major concern worldwide. The hyper-sexualization of young girls is rampant. The negative influence of social media is a cause of concern for every parent, every big sister, every big brother. Because this film touched on those things, I would give it a 10/10 for intent. But because all people seem to talk about is the obscene dance moves, I am inclined to say the movie failed on execution. 4/10.

September: Suicide Prevention Month

Let’s remember to be kind, gente, and compassionate towards people around us. We are all dealing with something, battling some demons, trying to get by. A little kindness goes a long way.

Mental health remains a priority, especially during these challenging times. The CDC reports that every 11 minutes, someone dies by suicide. Every. 11. Minutes. Knowing the warning signs can be crucial to saving someone’s life!

Resources to help:

National Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org

The Jason Foundation: https://jasonfoundation.com/get-involved/suicide-prevention-month/

Warning signs (according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website):

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

It takes courage to step up and help someone. Often times, the call for help is not verbal. It’s important to remain vigilant of those around us and if we need help, call the prevention hotline for guidance on how to proceed.