Mokk Pooj: gender, interpretive labour and sexual imaginary in Senegal’s art/work of seduction
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This thesis examines the evolving gender relationships exposed by and contested through the Senegalese art of seduction, mokk pooj. The Wolof expression encompasses a set of feminine attitudes and actions (culinary prowess, docility, eroticism) that reflect values such as teraanga (hospitality), sutura (discretion), and muñ (patience, endurance). These beliefs and the discursive practices that perpetuate them are central to the reproduction of a gendered, normative, patriarchal, polygamous Senegalese sexual imaginary, but are framed within the playful and pleasurable realm of seduction and sexuality. Indeed, mokk pooj implies a satisfying sexual life based on a religiously-‐informed sexual ethics: in a country where 95% of people identify as Muslim, marriage and procreation are divine recommendations, and sexual pleasure is said to make a married couple feel closer to Allah. In consequence, objects and strategies that enhance sexual satisfaction are an integral part of the Senegalese seduction toolkit. Each chapter pays attention to a specific element of the material culture of seduction and explores how it exposes larger gender dynamics. By taking potions and amulets, money, aphrodisiacs, food, and lingerie as the starting point of each chapter, I explore how these objects relate to concepts of social conformity and normativity, love, anxiety, complementarity and agency. In doing so, I analyse the gendered labour – the art/work of seduction – that goes into mokk pooj. David Graeber (2012) suggests that within hierarchical relationships, individuals in an inferior position (women) have to constantly imagine, understand, manage and care about the egos, perspectives and points of view of those on the top (men) while the latter rarely reciprocate. While Graeber contends that this ‘interpretive labor’ or ‘imaginative identification’ reproduces an internalised structural violence, I analyse mokk pooj as an affective economy in which women’s emotional, interpretive labour, becomes an agentive, albeit conservative, tool of negotiation and power (Mahmood 2005). In imagining and interpreting men’s needs and desires, Senegalese women uphold the Senegalese sexual imaginary that portray them as docile and submissive. However, it is through the apparent conformity and subdued demeanour that mokk pooj requires of them that Senegalese women manage to portray themselves as good women and consequently enhance their agentive power of negotiation.