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Embodied Imperialism: Culture, Agency and Female Genital Cutting

Sonya Fernandez


The publication of Mary Dalys Gyn/Ecology: the Metaethics of Radical Feminism in the late 1970s thrust female genital cuttings (FGC) into the (western) public limelight. The western worlds horrified fascination with the brutal practice has led to successive attempts to eliminate FGC on grounds of its barbaric and savage nature. Much of the socio-political and legal rhetoric on FGC accepts unquestioningly the need for its eradication without fully interrogating the premises upon which such an argument rests. This article engages with the discourse and explores the ways in which the voices of Other women have been effectively silenced. Instead, the power to speak has been appropriated and instead, colonial constructions of the agency-less Other are deployed, with the consequence of directly impeding Other womens access to their own conception of autonomy, personhood, and the good life. The central contention here, is that particular norms of appropriate beauty and femininity have been privileged over others. What then results is a discursive framework from within which culture becomes demonised as illiberal, and all Other women are situated as helpless victims.


Female genital cutting, imperialism, epistemic violence, law, sexuality

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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