This is not to say that Western feminists ought to ignore FGC, or never examine patriarchal tendencies in societies outside of our own. This is not to say that all examinations of FGC by Western feminists are innately imperialist. What I am saying is that we ought to be very careful of the judgments we make in the name of feminism, when that feminism can be used to obscure our own complicity in imperialism.
To return once again to Razack, she quotes from Isabelle Gunning to list some basic necessities for feminist analyses of international human rights: “1) seeing oneself in historical context; 2) seeing oneself as the “other” might see you; and 3) seeing the “other” within her own cultural context” (97). These steps do not give us a complete guide on how to avoid perpetuating imperialism through our feminism – but they’re a start.
Interesting post from last year pointing out that many women who have had FGC don’t consider themselves “victims.” As I wrote in ThinkNaughty’s comments last year, though, I think this post, in trying to point out that the issue is more multifaceted than Western critics acknowledge, goes too far in the opposite direction by not quoting local female activists who oppose FGC.
This essay by academic Gerry Mackie describes “pledge associations,” a strategy that historically worked to end footbinding in China — and is working to end FGC in some communities today. Mackie’s argument is that FGC, like foot-binding, is to a great extent perpetuated by the need for marriageability; the practice continues because parents and daughters fear that an uncut daughter will not be able to get married. Even parents who don’t themselves approve of FGC often still practice FGC, because to do otherwise is to risk ruining their daughters’ chances of marriage. But when a critical mass of people in a community jointly pledge to end FGC, that allows people to quit practicing FGC with reassurance that their daughters will remain marriageable.
If Mackie is to be believed, pledge associations — group, public declarations that a practice will be ended — were critical to ending Chinese footbinding, and are now working to end FGC.
Here’s a brief quote from Mackie’s essay that I’m including mainly because it dovetails with Mandolin’s posts:
Nondirective education works. Harsh propaganda backfires. The example of footbinding suggests, however, that it is appropriate in some circumstances for outsiders to state their opposition to FGC, but only if such opposition is factual, understanding, and respectful.
Suppose that a law professor is charged with the task of eliminating automobile usage in Los Angeles, and proposes this strategy: legal prohibition enforced by serious penalty. Because the professor has provided no alternative method of transportation, no one can stop driving. Because no one is able to stop driving, police and prosecutors will not waste their time picking out some poor Joe Blow for punishment. But there will black marks on a white page to satisfy the irate Oregonians and Bangladeshi who demand that the Angelenos stop their destructive driving habits. Criminal law works because thieves and murderers are a minority of the population that the state can afford to pursue with the cooperation of the majority of the population. It is not possible to criminalize the entirety of the population, or the entirety of a discrete and insular minority of the population, without the methods of mass terror. Reactance complicates the problem. The example of footbinding shows that legal prohibition comes at the end of the process of abandonment, not at its beginning. Legal prohibition that is not the expression of local popular will on the subject is ineffective if not undemocratic. Europe and America have every right to prohibit FGC among their inhabitants, however, because FGC is a mistaken practice, and also because the children of the immigrants aspire to participate in their uncut host societies…
Kim at Larvatus Provodeo is looking for a few good comments on FGC — and she’s willing to pay for them.
For every comment on this post which discusses the issue seriously without turning it into a political football, attributing motives to bloggers or indulging in disputation about religion, politics, culture wars, or clashes of or within civilisations, I will donate two dollars to The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development up to a maximum of two hundred dollars.
As far as I can tell, Kim hasn’t reached her limit and her offer hasn’t been closed, so go leave a comment.
The point of these discussions, in my opinion, is not to say that there’s nothing we can do to bring about a major reduction in FGC. Rather, the point is that what’s most effective may be different from what seems most uncompromising and hardcore. It’s right that Western feminists feel anger and horror at FGC, but we have to be careful that our approach to FGC remains effective, aware of the problems of colonialism and racism, and serves women — rather than serving our own need to feel like we’re doing something.
As I wrote in comments of Mandolin’s post, it’s mistaken for Americans to think that we have the ability to change whatever we want about other cultures, if only we’re determined enough. (See: Iraq.) Very often there is no beneficial solution the US has the ability to implement. Even in cases where US motives are not imperialistic, we still have only limited power to make real improvements.
When it comes to FGC, if there’s any alternative in which we can prevent untold numbers of girls being mutilated and dying, then obviously that is what we must favor. But I don’t see any sign that such an alternative exists; and as Mandolin argued, there’s good reason to think that western pressure on the Egyptian and other governments to institute bans makes things worse, leading to more mutilation and death.