My personality is strong. I don’t filter my thoughts and freely deliver my opinions as I see fit. I’m not ignorant or disrespectful; but I am confident and I am stern. I have been guided numerous times on how to “soften” myself up, especially if I want to find a good man to marry. Let me start by saying that I would love to get married. I have always wanted to have a family of my own – a loving husband and beautiful children all around the house. And I feel like I still have time; I’m 26 years old. By Senegalese standards, that’s old. Most of my friends are getting married and having kids and it’s not that I don’t want that for myself. But it’s something that cannot be anticipated or forced. As cliché as it may sound, it will happen when the time is right. It honestly makes my eye twitch that I’ve gone down that rabbit hole.
Let me start over. My name is Aissatou but some call me Aida. I go by either or…no preference really. I am the oldest girl in a family of mom, dad, and five children. I have an older brother, two younger sisters, and one younger brother. I grew up in a household where you respect your elders, do as you’re told, and don’t pushback. It worked growing up but at some point in time, I started to go against the current. Not out of disrespect but out of curiosity for what else was possible and genuine belief that I was doing the right thing. I had big dreams and they were fluid – wanting to become a psychologist, gynecologist, lawyer, and business woman all at different points in time. I made the first step towards whatever the goal was at the time when I graduated High School to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My mom was hesitant about me going away for college and not living at home. This wasn’t typical. But I pushed through and two years later, my sister joined my at Miami where we kept each other company but each flourished in our own ways. That leads me to the next point of having the goal of setting an example for young women on what they could achieve with a little bit of direction and a lot of hard work. I’m by no means the epitome of success – I just strive for excellence, push the envelope a little, and encourage other young girls to do that same.
“Jigeen dafa wara doxe ndank, waxe ndank” translate to “a woman should walk slowly/light, speak softly” in Wolof. In other words, a women should be poised and quiet. I’ll spend a few moments talking about the positive aspects of this phrase but really spend some time dissecting why this phrase, like many others in this series, can be at the detriment of young girls’ empowerment and confidence.
In short, I think this phrase touches on the basic premise of how femininity is praised in Senegalese. “Saf djiguen” is another term that could be loosely coupled – meaning having that “female flavor.” It aims to emphasize that women are softer, more gentle than our male counterparts and as such, we should act accordingly. It is commendable – I think our femininity as women is one of our greatest assets and it leads me to the “negative” analysis I want to explore.
Being that our femininity is one of our greatest assets, I don’t think it should be tamed. It should be let free and encouraged to compliment other traits that don’t necessarily fall in line with molds that make us smaller, quieter, more obedient. This phrase ring-fences us in and prohibits us from straying too far. The way we act is tightly controlled so we don’t talk back, ask questions, or challenge the status quo. I believe the freedom should be there to be that quiet, soft-spoken woman or that outspoken and provocative woman or that walk in a room and everyone pays attention woman or whatever fits with the personality of the individual. The key here being that society should not prescribe how any one of us, man or woman, but especially women, should act. That defeats the very freedom we all hold near and dear to us.
I can be loud and chatty. I can be reserved and pensive. I can walk fast because I’ve got somewhere or nowhere to be. I can stroll down the street admiring my views. I can travel the world and get a different perspective on life. I can hide out in my room and listen to old-school music to find my center of gravity after a long day. I can choose to do what I want. I can be accountable for my own decisions and actions. I can choose. As a woman. Because I’m a woman.