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Transcultural Bodies

Transcultural Bodies: Female Genital Cutting in Global Context

Ylva Hernlund
Bettina Shell-Duncan
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Transcultural Bodies
    Book Description:

    Female "circumcision" or, more precisely, female genital cutting (FGC), remains an important cultural practice in many African countries, often serving as a coming-of-age ritual. It is also a practice that has generated international dispute and continues to be at the center of debates over women's rights, the limits of cultural pluralism, the balance of power between local cultures, international human rights, and feminist activism. In our increasingly globalized world, these practices have also begun immigrating to other nations, where transnational complexities vex debates about how to resolve the issue.

    Bringing together thirteen essays,Transcultural Bodiesprovides an ethnographically rich exploration of FGC among African diasporas in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. Contributors analyze changes in ideologies of gender and sexuality in immigrant communities, the frequent marginalization of African women's voices in debates over FGC, and controversies over legislation restricting the practice in immigrant populations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4138-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Transcultural Positions: Negotiating Rights and Culture
    (pp. 1-45)
    Ylva Hernlund and Bettina Shell-Duncan

    In an earlier volume,Female “Circumcision” in Africa: Culture, Controversy, and Change(Shell-Duncan and Hernlund 2000), we sought to examine multidisciplinary perspectives on practices of female genital cutting (FGC) in Africa and how this topic has become a nexus for debates about gender, power, and cultural autonomy.¹ In the present work we are broadening this scope with the aim of adding to a growing literature that examines these practices in a global context (see also, for example, Boyle 2002; James and Robertson 2002; Shweder et al. 2002). The empathetic and ethnographically grounded contributions in this volume illustrate an expansion of...

  6. Chapter 2 Gender Crusades: The Female Circumcision Controversy in Cultural Perspective
    (pp. 46-66)
    Janice Boddy

    In the mid-1990s, an Internet message entitled “An Open Letter to a Middle-Class White Woman” circulated widely among feminist interest groups. Its author, identified only as “Waiyego,” confronted a gulf of privilege and authority that presumably divides Western from African women over the issue of female circumcision. Waiyego’s words were caustic, but salutary: “I am writing this letter to you to thank you very much for the compassion you have been showing lately for the hardships I have to go through as an African black woman. . . . If it was not for you, I would still be thinking...

  7. Chapter 3 A Refuge from Tradition and the Refuge of Tradition: On Anticircumcision Paradigms
    (pp. 67-90)
    L. Amede Obiora

    Some years ago, I presented some arguments that were featured as the centerpiece of a symposium about the limitations of the campaign against female circumcision (Obiora 1997). In a companion piece, I chronicled the chain of events that coerced my involvement in the debate and triggered my critique of abstract anticircumcision rhetoric (Obiora 1996). These endeavors reinforced my appreciation of the paramount need to implement concrete measures to substantiate the gender equity agenda in respective African contexts. Having shared the views I deemed expedient to articulate on female circumcision, I resolved to disengage from extensive scholarly ruminations about the matter...

  8. Chapter 4 Female Circumcision in Africa and Beyond: The Anthropology of a Difficult Issue
    (pp. 91-106)
    Aud Talle

    Female circumcision is a cultural practice that has not concerned anthropologists a great deal in the past. Even anthropologists who did research in areas where circumcision was widespread chose to ignore the issue. One relevant example of this is I. M. Lewis’s studies from Somalia in the 1950s. In his celebrated monograph on nomadic politics,A Pastoral Democracy,female circumcision is not mentioned at all, and in the slightly later publicationMarriage and Family in Northern Somalilandcircumcision is referred to only once in a footnote (Lewis 1961 and 1962). Lewis’s work is, however, not an isolated case. When I...

  9. Chapter 5 Persistence of Tradition or Reassessment of Cultural Practices in Exile? Discourses on Female Circumcision among and about Swedish Somalis
    (pp. 107-134)
    Sara Johnsdotter

    There are several possible scenarios if one wants to speculate about what is going on with the practice of female circumcision among immigrant groups in Sweden. One extreme view is that no female circumcision takes place among African immigrants in exile. The other extreme is one that sees female circumcision as widely practiced among immigrants in their new environment, leading to the alarming conclusion that thousands of girls risk having to go through the procedure.

    In Sweden, not a single illegal case has, as yet, been authenticated and brought to court. Yet the general understanding among the actors in the...

  10. Chapter 6 Managing Cultural Diversity in Australia: Legislating Female Circumcision, Legislating Communities
    (pp. 135-156)
    Juliet Rogers

    In 1993, the practices of female circumcision appeared in Australian newspapers as an issue to be attended to on Australian shores. In 1996, “female genital mutilation”¹ was legislated as a criminal act in Australia under the Crimes (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 1996. In this chapter I will argue that the move to legislate, and the process that resulted in the implementation of the legislation—known to some as “consultation”—enabled the representation of particular cultural groups in Victoria as people who were socially and politically mutilated in terms of their capacity to speak for or about issues related to female...

  11. Chapter 7 Representing Africa in the Kasinga Asylum Case
    (pp. 157-166)
    Charles Piot

    This essay focuses on the landmark 1996 case in which Fauziya Kasinga (Kassindja¹), a Togolese woman, sought and won political asylum in the United States in order to escape genital cutting and forced marriage in Africa. The arguments advanced by the lawyers involved in the Kasinga case and the images in the media reporting on it circulated widely and came to define much more than Kasinga’s travails or the practice of female genital cutting itself. Like Robert Kaplan’s demonizing piece in theAtlantic Monthlyin 1994, “The Coming Anarchy,” they evoked and inserted themselves into a genealogy of racist stereotypes...

  12. Chapter 8 Seeking Asylum, Debating Values, and Setting Precedents in the 1990s: The Cases of Kassindja and Abankwah in the United States
    (pp. 167-201)
    Corinne A. Kratz

    International debates have swirled around practices of female genital modification for decades, since early last century, variously calling the practices female circumcision, female genital cutting (FGC), or FGM—female genital modification to those seeking a neutral descriptive term, female genital mutilation to activists opposing the practices.¹ The contests burgeoned particularly in contexts that entail intercultural encounters and cultural pluralism. In such situations, fundamental values and interests often conflict, raising questions and debates about the judgments inevitably made about the practices, people, and communities that clothe abstract values in daily experience. When these disputes land in the courts, decisions must define...

  13. Chapter 9 Making Mandinga or Making Muslims? Debating Female Circumcision, Ethnicity, and Islam in Guinea-Bissau and Portugal
    (pp. 202-223)
    Michelle C. Johnson

    Bafata-Oio, Guinea-Bissau (1997). We finish the last round of tea, and everyone leaves but Binta. She and I sit together on a woven mat in the shade of a mango tree. Binta tells me that her eight-year-old daughter has been asking her when she will be circumcised, lamenting that all of her friends have already been through the ritual. Binta smiles and says, “I just tell her to be patient, that you can’t rush this thing. When your daughter is circumcised, you have to work hard so you can buy her cowry shells, nice cloth, and food—the girls must...

  14. Chapter 10 Infibulation and the Orgasm Puzzle: Sexual Experiences of Infibulated Eritrean Women in Rural Eritrea and Melbourne, Australia
    (pp. 224-247)
    Mansura Dopico

    Anti–female genital mutilation (FGM) advocacy literature and the global discourse on circumcision and sexual satisfaction portray women who have undergone female genital cutting (FGC) as “mutilated,” “frigid,” or “unsatiable” (Shweder 2000, 210). Thus, there is an assumption that almost all women who have undergone FGC have sexual problems or are unable to achieve pleasure from sex. Many opponents justify their views on the basis of core assumptions and beliefs about the female anatomy and the role of the clitoris in achieving sexual pleasure (Ahmadu, chapter 12 of this volume). Nevertheless, many women who have undergone FGC generally report achieving...

  15. Chapter 11 Experiencing Sex in Exile: Can Genitals Change Their Gender? On Conceptions and Experiences Related to Female Genital Cutting (FGC) among Somalis in Norway
    (pp. 248-277)
    R. Elise B. Johansen

    During a meeting in Norway for immigrants from communities practicing female genital cutting (FGC), a Somali man proclaimed from the stage that his main grievance against the practice was that it leads to divorces, because it causes sexual frustration in both men and women. The women present were upset and furious: “How can he talk like that?” “Why do they remarry another circumcised virgin then, if it is so bad?” “How can women be satisfied in two minutes? Who will teach our two-minute-men how to treat women?” “FGC does not affect sexuality, it just takes longer.” “I have no feeling...

  16. Chapter 12 “Ain’t I a Woman Too?”: Challenging Myths of Sexual Dysfunction in Circumcised Women
    (pp. 278-310)
    Fuambai Ahmadu

    When circumcised women are asked whether they enjoy sex or experience orgasms, some laugh at what seems a naïve question with an obvious answer—of course they enjoy sex, why shouldn’t they?¹ Others complain that sex is something they endure for the sake of marriage and contend that they feel nothing except, often, pain. For some writers who are opposed to female circumcision, this second response serves as further evidence that genital cutting has an adverse effect on female sexuality. For most of these observers there is an automatic, often unconscious, equation of female genital cutting with sexual dysfunction. Many...

  17. Chapter 13 The Failure of Pluralism?
    (pp. 311-330)
    Henrietta L. Moore

    We might agree that culture matters, but how much should it matter, and to whom? Arguments about culture are always fraught, because they are perennially entangled in a debate about transcendence versus recognition. Should we live our lives according to principles that apply to the whole of humanity, or should we be guided by the historical specificity of lives lived? The circularity of these debates defies simple narratives or solutions.

    In one familiar version, culture as tradition is figured as the antithesis of modernity. Colonial politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries claimed a civilizing mission based on portraying the...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-364)
  19. Index
    (pp. 365-374)