Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses

Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses

Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses

Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses

Synopsis

Heated debates about and insurgencies against female circumcision are symptoms of a disease emanating from a mindset that produced hierarchies of humans, conquered colonies, and built empires. The loss of colonies and empires does not in any way mitigate the ideological underpinnings of empire-building and the knowledge construction that subtends it. The mindset finds its articulation at points of coalescence. Female circumcision provided a point of coalescence and impetus for this articulation. Insisting that the hierarchy on which the imperialist project rests is not bipolar but multi-layered and more complex, the contributions in this volume demonstrate how imperialist discourses complicate issues of gender, race, and history. Nnaemeka gives voice to the silenced and marginalized, and creates space for them to participate in knowledge construction and theory making.

The authors in this volume trace the travels of imperial and colonial discourses from antecedents in anthropology, travel writings, and missionary discourse, to modern configurations in films, literature, and popular culture. The contributors interrogate foreign, or Western, modus operandi and interventions in the so-called Third World and show how the resistance they generate can impede development work and undermine the true collaboration and partnership necessary to promote a transnational feminist agenda. With great clarity and in simple, accessible language, the contributors present complex ideas and arguments which hold significant implications for transnational feminism and development.

Excerpt

Obioma Nnaemeka

Le barbare, c'est d'abord I'homme qui croit à la barbarie / The barbarian is first
and foremost he who believes in barbarism.

CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS

Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.

MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE

"W"hen Africans get in trouble, whom do they call? Everybody. They call on
people they shouldn't even talk to. … So they can accept what I—someone
who loves my former home—am saying. They don't have a leg to stand on, so
they better not start hopping around me!

ALICE WALKER

The contributors to this volume draw from a wide range of fields, including gender/women's studies, cultural studies, law, film studies, literary studies, history, feminist studies, African studies, and anthropology, to engage from "the other side" the hot-button issue of female circumcision. All the contributors condemn the practice and have, through their scholarly writing and publishing, fieldwork, and collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, registered their opposition to the practice and worked vigorously to end it. Although collectively we are concerned about the worldwide abuse of the female body, whether culturally sanctioned, aesthetically inspired, or politically motivated, we do not intend here to defend the offended part in female circumcision as my African female friend once urged me: "Sister Obi, now that they have placed our tola on the curriculum, we have to defend it." It is not necessary to defend it; not after Alice Walker dedicated an entire book to it!

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