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Female Genital Cutting in Africa: A Second Layer of Cultural Meanings

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Presentation on theme: "Female Genital Cutting in Africa: A Second Layer of Cultural Meanings"— Presentation transcript:

1 Female Genital Cutting in Africa: A Second Layer of Cultural Meanings
Monday, October 23, 2000

2 Second papers to be handed back this week
Will be ready to be picked up this Thursday October 26th, after 10 am Please pick up your paper from the box marked “ANT 185” in front of your TA’s office

3 Two questions Question about Islam, from article by Janice Boddy (about infibulation) Question on sexual response -- to be addressed on Wednesday!

4 Summary of FGC’s cultural meanings touched on so far
Rite of passage to full personhood and adulthood Rite of passage to becoming marriageable (because believed to contribute to ability to bear children) Way of claiming honor for self and family Way of ensuring respectful treatment by husband’s family

5 Cultural meanings I will touch on today
FGC and women’s mystical and social power FGC and the power of fertility (going further than we did last week) FGC, beauty and purity FGC and feelings group superiority

6 FGC and women’s mystical and social power; or, what gets Leunita mad
in her 30s a Kono of Sierra Leone initiate into secret Bundu society when she was 13 gave long interview to anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu

7 What gets Leunita mad “What gets me mad, is when people say we are ‘victims’. And I say, victims of what? The women of the Bundu [cut women] are not victims! For us, the one you would have to pity is the woman who is not of the Bundu!”

8 How being an initiate of the Bundu society gives Kono women power and authority, 1
The role of soko Leader of the all-female secret society Intermediary between women and spiritual realm guardian of medicines respected as advocate of village women’s interests

9 How being an initiate of the Bundu society gives Kono women power and authority, 2
The value of obedience -- but which obedience is emphasized? Qualities of good woman taught by Bundu society The right to public speech

10 Leunita weighs in on a special kind of female power
“The secret power we exercise -- and why men fear us -- is our ability to have children. Without being cut, the ancestresses will not want to release to you the powers of your own body.”

11 FGC and a special kind of female power: fertility
Soko is custodian of secret rituals to ensure and maximize women’s fertility Initiation into Bundu takes place in dry season Initiates bathed in river Symbolism of path into the forest clearing (at initiation) The powers of soko over male potency

12 Luanita on beauty and FGC
“I think one of the most beautiful things is after a woman is cut. There can be no question that she is more beautiful that way. Very beautiful.”

13 FGC and aesthetic values
Survey of 55 Sierra Leonean women: 90% said that cutting rendered the woman more beautiful Survey of 290 Yoruba women: 76% said the operation made the woman more beautiful

14 Beauty and bodily modifications
Worldwide, dramatic modifications of body as means of beautifying Neck-lengthening in SE Asia Lip-stretching in Amazon Cosmetic surgery in “West”

15 Bragging about the beauty of infibulations in Somalia
Women’s oral poetry: “My scar is a flower/It is smooth and perfect as a petal/Can you see it? Am I not beautiful?/Look at my flower, look at my flower.”

16 The other side of the aesthetic: repulsiveness of the uncut
Woman anthropologist in Guinea-Bissau: “Women politely tried to conceal their disgust when they learned that I, a married woman, was not excised.” Sandy Lane in Egypt: “They were thoroughly disgusted. Didn’t I just completely gross my husband out? Didn’t my mother love me?”

17 Luanita again “In the area where the Kono live, it is just us who perform the ceremony, who have Bundu. Our neighbors are the Krio, and they do not cut women. Imagine that! They are very dirty [disgusting] people.”

18 FGC and feelings of group superiority
Superior to non-cutting groups Kono The Mandinga and the idea of Muslim purity

19 FGC and feelings of superiority to “the West”
Interview with Sondra Hale (anthropologist) in Sudan: “I am proud to be a cut woman. People from Europe lecture us about this, saying it is not good. What do they know? The young people in the West hop on top of each other like rabbits. That is not good.”

20 On Wednesday: FGC and the eroticism of barriers
Comparing FGC and cosmetic surgery

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