Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

The Depiction of Female Circumcision in Selected Memoirs by Female African Writers and Novels by Female African American Writers

Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

The Depiction of Female Circumcision in Selected Memoirs by Female African Writers and Novels by Female African American Writers

Article excerpt

Between 100-140 million babies, girls, and women have undergone female circumcision. This practice occurs in approximately 30 African countries, some countries in the Middle East and Asia, and the countries to which migration occurs from these countries. There are several types of female circumcision, which is frequently referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (1997), three of these types are as follows:

Type 1

In the commonest form of this procedure the clitoris is held between the thumb and index finger, pulled out and amputated with one stroke of a sharp object. Bleeding is usually stopped by packing the wound with gauzes or other substances and applying a pressure bandage. Modern trained practitioners may insert one or two stitches around the clitoral artery to stop the bleeding.

Type II

The type of severity of cutting varies considerably in this type. Commonly the clitoris is amputated as described above and the labia minora are partially or totally removed, often with the same stroke. Bleeding is stopped with packing and bandages or by a few circular stitches which may or may not cover the urethra and part of the vaginal opening. There are reported cases of extensive excisions which heal with fusion of the raw surfaces resulting in pseudo-infibulation even though there has been no stitching. Types I and II generally account for 80-85% of all female genital mutilation, although the proportion may vary greatly from country to country.

Type III

The amount of tissue removed is extensive. The most extreme form involves the complete removal of the clitoris and labia minora, together with the inner surface of the labia majora. The raw edges of the labia majora are brought together to fuse, using thorns, poultices or stitching to hold them in place, and the legs are tied together for 2-6 weeks. The healed scar creates a hood of skin which covers the urethra and part or most of the vagina, and which acts as a physical barrier to intercourse. A small opening is left at the back to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The opening is surrounded by skin and scar tissue and is usually 2-3 cm in diameter but may be as small as the head of a matchstick. (Classification of FGM (2008) section, para. 6-8)

This study examines how selected African women whose memoirs have addressed the topic of female circumcision, specifically Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her memoir Infidel, Waris Dirie in her memoir Desert Flower, and Fauziya Kassindja in her memoir Do They Hear You When You Cry as well as how selected female African American novelists, specifically Kuwana Haulsey in The Red Moon and Alice Walker in Possessing the Secret of Joy, have depicted female circumcision in their works. It reveals that female circumcision adversely affects the lives of real and fictional African women who undergo it as well as those who have not undergone the procedure. This study further suggests that these two groups of women writers see the practice in very similar ways.

There are a number of reasons why female circumcision is practiced, but frequently a number of justifications (not just one) are provided. For example, Ali (2007, p. 30) writes in Desert Flower, "In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made 'pure' by having their genitals cut out." She also notes that the practice originated before the birth of Islam:

Not all Muslims do this, and a few of the peoples who do are not Islamic. But in Somalia, where virtually every girl is excised, the practice is always justified in the name of Islam. Uncircumcised girls will be possessed by devils, fall into vice and perdition, and become whores. Imams never discourage the practice: it keeps girls pure. (p. 31)

In Ali's case, her father, whom she describes as "a modern man" (p. 31) did not want his daughters to be cut. However, her maternal grandmother, a traditional woman who lived with her daughter and her family, took advantage of her father's incarceration due to protesting the government and her own daughter's absence to ensure that her granddaughters underwent "the necessary and proper dignity of purification" (p. …

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