Zanzibari women’s discursive and sexual agency: Violating gendered speech prohibitions through talk about supernatural sex
AbstractThis article analyzes a conversation with two Zanzibari women about sex between humans and spirits. This research demonstrates how they navigate gender-based restrictions on discourse to discuss sex and desire, violating a hegemonic language ideology that would silence them. Whereas previous work has focused on how Swahili women subvert gendered speech prohibitions by nonverbally taking up discourse produced by others, this article examines how they produce resistant discourse themselves. The analysis is contextualized in terms of three social elements that shape women’s talk about (supernatural) sex: (1) a discursive culture that emphasizes equivocal interpersonal communication; (2) a language ideology informed by an Islamic emphasis on discretion; and (3) the extension of cultural transgressions allowed during spirit possession to transgressions during talk about spirit possession and other occult phenomena.