FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN LITERATURE: THE WRITER AND THE BURDEN OF [RE] PRESENTING CULTURE AND HISTORY.

AUTHOR: OSAGBEMI, OLUMIDE

FROM: THE DIGNITY OF A FRENCH TEACHER: CELEBRATING PROF. JULIE AGBASIERE

Many literary works have been written on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a culture and gender-based practice common amongst Arabs, Africans at home and in the Diaspora. However, despite the reality of an increasingly globalised world, FGM remains a controversial and polarizing issue, with two distinct camps of those who support and accept it as an important signifier of culture; and others who view it as nothing but a barbaric tradition imposed on women’s sexuality and reproductive health by a patriarchal world order. In this paper, I attempt to situate the historical and cultural nuances behind FGM; and how writers, as committed members of their societies, have been drawn accordingly into indicating in their works, on which side of the divide they stand. I posit that African writers especially Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Flora Nwapa show a better understanding of the underlying issues by portraying FGM in their works, as an embodiment of the people’s cultural beliefs necessary for societal order. However, Diasporan writers like Alice Walker seem to have fallen into the much-criticized stereotype of viewing other peoples’ cultures as the “exotic other” by deconstructing the practice as barbaric. In conclusion, I submit that since no culture can stand in isolation in this era of globalization, the divergence of opinions on FGM and the attention it receives may be the ultimate tools for undermining it as a cultural practice.

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