Sexual Insult and Female Militancy in Côte d'Ivoire

Wed February 5th 2020, 12:00 - 1:00pm

Sexual Insult and Female Militancy in Côte d'Ivoire
Sexual Insult and Female Militancy in Côte d'Ivoire
For centuries, West African societies have borne witness to variations of the same feminine ritual: a practice where women strip naked, coat themselves in kaolin clay, and sing and dance to exorcise malevolent spirits from their villages. Gesturing to their genitals as they pound their pestles into the ground, these women draw on their moral authority as women to critique wrongdoing in their communities. From a disrespectful husband to an unscrupulous government administration, no social crisis is wholly immune from women's rebuke. Côte d'Ivoire has been the site of countless instantiations of this profoundly gendered critique. 
Known as adjanou among the Baule, this practice of female sexual insult was famously deployed during the 1949 women's march, in which two thousand Ivoirian women marched on the prison at Grand Bassam in protest of French officials’ detention of anticolonial activists. More recently, women performed the adjanou during the Ivoirian civil crises of 2002-2011, manifesting their displeasure with the political, economic, religious, and ethnic tensions that had fractured Ivoirian society.
Drawing on interviews with practitioners of adjanou as well as with women in local and national politics, my talk will explore not only how Ivoirian women have performed their political critiques over the course of the 20th century, but also how such critiques have variously been celebrated, disdained, and sometimes violently repressed. 
Elizabeth Jacob is a historian of francophone West Africa, focusing on histories of gender, labor, and violence. Her dissertation, currently titled "Militant Mothers: Gender, Family, and Politics in Côte d'Ivoire," is a study of the relationship between gender and sociopolitical change in Côte d'Ivoire from the late 19th century to the early decades of independence. She has received grants and fellowships from Stanford's Center for African Studies, the Europe Center, and the French Colonial Historical Society. In academic year 2018-19, she conducted archival research in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, and France with the support of the Susan Ford Dorsey Field Research Fellowship and a Fulbright-IIE U.S. Student Program Research Grant.