Re: infibulation/relativism/sexuality

Michael John Evans (g8726246@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Sun, 15 May 1994 12:47:00 -0400

Heather [notmike] writing:
Douglass StC, Seeker1/Mizrach et al. have been discussing
female infubulation as practiced in the North Of Africa, as an example of
a case in which ethical relativism breaches upon rocky shores. The
discussion has turned to the problems of discussing such a topic because
it is so bound up with notions of sexuality and patriarchal control. I
would like to suggest that some of the discourse itself has foundered on
the rocks of sexuality and point out another source for understanding the
recurrance and 'popularity' of infibulation as practiced by Nubian and
Sudanese women.
Janice Boddy published an article in American Ethnologist (15;1
1988) entitled "Spirits and selves". she says "Circumcision and
infibulation operate to establish in women a sense of self congruent with
the cultural image of woman as reproducer" (pg 4). I think that much of
the discussion of infibulation as horrendous and evil 'control' of women
through control of their pleasure circuits must be understood as coming
out of a *north american discourse* in which women (feminists) had lately
claimed the power to HAVE pleasure during sexual intercourse. And so, our
sex-fixated cultural perspectives predispose us to consider this issue
from one, dare I say, *ethnocentric* perspective. Janice Boddy makes us
consider that it is not sexuality or sexual pleasure, but FERTILITY which
drives the practice of infibulation, and she does it very neatly. Her
arguement is as tightly sewn as any neatly seamed Sudanese woman. When
one understands infubulation to be about protecting and preserving bodily
fluids (yes Dougi, in Africa Too!), and thereby ensuring fertility (women
as garden metaphor is applicable here), THEN the arguements about
patriarchal control merging with the interests of grandmothers makes much
more sense.
Heather Young Leslie

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Mike Evans, Anthropology &/ Heather Young-Leslie, Anthropology
McMaster University, Hamilton /or: York University, North York,
Ontario. (905) 525 9140 x23907 Ontario Canada (416) 736 5261
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