The female genital cutting controversy and the rhetorical implications of ‘culture’ : a review of campaigns against the practice
Bryn Margaret Elvine Hines
May 8, 2019
Department or Program
Responding to the concept of culture’s increasing prominence in public and political discourse, this thesis explores the ways in which the concept rhetorically serves international campaigns against the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). I anchor this analysis within primary source documents, examining the United Nations’ Harmful Cultural Practice framework, mainstream anti-FGM/C publications by feminist activists Fran Hosken and Alice Walker, and a 1996 incident in which American physicians actively upheld the practice at the behest of a Seattle, Washington immigrant community. First, in reviewing how ‘culture’ is defined and employed within such sources, I seek to bring forth and interrogate the rhetorical implications of the term’s varying manifestations. In doing so, I draw upon postcolonial feminist theory, identifying the relationship between the culture concept and processes of racialization which reify the Western and non-Western world divide and discursively construct the ‘Other.’ I also consider the manner by which appeals to culture obscure the political, economic, and structural realities in which FGM/C occurs, reducing the complex, historically situated interplay of these factors into a society's ‘cultural essence.’ Lastly, I identify how anti-FGM/C campaigns overlook the agency of the practicing women, defining such women as the helpless victims of culture rather than highlighting and validating the ways in which they actively resist oppression and empower themselves.