He3: Masculine Beauty of the Wodaabe Men

Wodaabe tribe is a branch of the fulani/falatta ethnic group. This is a video of the Wodaabe traditional Gerewol dance which is an elaborate male beauty contest to win the hearts of females! Many people will find this performance rather unusual; not for the cultural difference in dance performance, but for the fact that it features men dancing to impress women not with their muscle but with their beautiful eyes and smiles.This is because beauty of the sexes has become gender-specific.
Unfortunately, beauty is now limited to femininity. Some argue that this is the case because, inherent to the human psyche, it is only natural for humans to associate beauty with women and not men. In other words, praise a woman for her looks and a man for his strength and character. This is why we normally don’t call men beautiful. But I don’t support that.
I will only speak about the gendering of beauty in Sudanese society.
I once described a man as ‘good looking’ to his male cousin who was appalled by my statement. Here’s the story:
A friend was once talking about how all girls fall head over heels for his male cousin. My natural reaction was to take part in the conversation, seeing that I can’t contain my self and fight the urge of being a 3odo fa3al in all discussions. I told him , with my limited knowledge of the man whom I have only seen photos of, that the guy is sami7 which explains why the girls are into him. “Gasdik shino?! Ma 3indo shanab wala shino y3ni?! Ho shino alsami7?! I7na awladna rojal! (What do you mean?! He doesn’t have a moustache or what?! What is good looking?! We are men!)” said the offended uber masculine friend of mine.  Kindly note that I did not call the cousin jameel (beautiful). I honestly don’t know what he would have done had I called his pretty cousin so. And this is exactly why I was careful with my choice of words, which was still not to his liking. Meh.
So why did I just ibri you with this story? It’s because it perfectly reflects the Sudani phobia of male beauty. A man should not be praised for his looks, because looks are not essential to the manhood of males. You see here, manhood (gender) versus male (sex). The two are closely related, but not the same. Sex being a biological feature, it is set; you’re either male or female. Gender, feminine and masculine, on the other hand, is a socially constructed concept of sex. The feminine and masculine are our perceptions of the  attributes of the female and male. So in this case beauty is a gender-specific term, in the sense that it is commonly understood, in Sudan to say the least, as a female attribute. Therefore, when I go running my big mouth calling a male beautiful it is expected that the rest of his kind would stand against and refute such an accusation. Seeing that beauty is threatening to male masculinity!
And this is exactly why I love the Gerewol dance! These men are so masculine, ain’t no beauty gonne threaten their masculinity! Their social construction of masculinity, hence manhood, transcends the normative boundaries of male vs. female beauty. In this respect, there is no shame in a man trying to impress a woman with his looks. Being beautiful, and showing it off, doesn’t make him any less of a man.

1 thought on “He3: Masculine Beauty of the Wodaabe Men

  1. hi there –

    this is coooool , and as a sudanese man it was totally new 2 me , to find out such traditions exsist, I thought it was a great topic I haven’t seen covered anywhere. MOBALGHA 🙂

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