Cognition & Reality

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Time For A Vagina Dialogue

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Sex & Love — drtone @ 3:00 pm

I suggest that it is possible to read The Vagina Monologues as a hegemonic discourse that embodies a particular Western, white, heterosexual notion of female bodies/vaginas and values, even while appreciating its effort to bring to the public a discourse that in the United States is usually treated as unmentionable and unspeakable. From “One Vagina To Go” by Wairimutilde Ngarutildeiya Njambi

I have long wondered if I’m the only person in the world who sees something wrong with the international campaign against “female genital mutilation” (FGM). To me, it has a fishy smell (so to speak) reminiscent of the 19th century missionary movement, similarly launched by do-gooders in the First World to benefit inhabitants of the Third World. In this structure, the latter are conceived as ignorant savages who need to be saved from the primitive perversity of their own culture. That the campaign against FGM is about vaginas and sexuality does not alter the essential fact that it has been conceived (again, so to speak) in the West as a “solution” to something not necessarily experienced as a problem by those targeted to be “saved.”

A central flaw in the campaign, as Njambi points out in “One Vagina To Go,” is that it treats a wide range of practices relating to female genitalia as equal. In much the same way, differences in and among the “native” cultures to which they were bringing Christianity did not matter to members of the missionary movement. With few exceptions, missionaries were uninterested in values of the dark peoples they visited, nor in the relative sophistication or unsophistication of the religions they intended to supplant. To them, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Islam and the various forms of “animism” they encountered were the same because they were not Christianity, and the practitioners of these religions were all, furthermore, superstitious “heathens,” lucky to come in contact with superior Western ideas and modes of worship. The campaign against FGM operates from similar racist, ethnocentric assumptions, concealing contempt for the dark people it is supposedly helping behind a smokescreen of ideology and propaganda.

For example, the FGM movement dismisses the term “circumcision” for the practices it condemns, comparing those practices with the amputation of the penis, and making much of the “crude instruments” supposedly involved, comparing them with the razor blades used in brawls. As Njambi suggests, it is impossible to defend an activity labeled “mutilation.” In addition, the relative absence of factual evidence regarding the tools actually used by the people involved, rather than calling into question the blanket condemnation of the practices in question, simply emphasizes their apparent barbarity. This is a perfect example of how propaganda can capitalize on the absence of evidence for the claims it makes. “…associating female genital practices with penis amputation and street fights is an important rhetorical strategy because it invokes the image of torture and attack on women’s sexuality, which is then taken as an undisputed or uncontested ‘truth’.'”

Consequently, once FGM was presented in the 1970s as a form of oppression from which African women must be rescued, the movement against it acquired a momentum that mows down any objections, characterizing those asking questions as defending barbarity and unspeakable savagery. Therefore, the existence of local opposition to anti-FGM programs provides proof that the ignorant women in backward countries  passively accept the values of their male oppressors, and that those same male oppressors are uncaring monsters. Likewise, as Njambi suggests, all claims that the supposed “mutilation” does not interfere with sexual pleasure are taken to demonstrate that the oppressed women do not know what is good for them.

Armed with purportedly certain knowledge, just as their 19th century predecessors were, modern-day anti-FGM missionaries have spread a gospel they have not recognized as rooted in their own parochial concerns. Women in the US and other Western countries, absorbed in a new consciousness of their own sexuality, not perhaps fully reconciled with their own culturally defined discomfort regarding the vagina, fixed their attention on the vaginas of women living far away, under conditions incomprehensible to most Westerners. Thus a movement was founded that has a lot more to do with the lives of those who founded it than with the lives of those it is designed to save. Reproducing in another form the sins of colonialism, which invariably brought oppression in the name of liberation,  Western women have carried their own “monologue” to a context where it does not fit, clumsily forcing their own values onto people uninterested in those values or actively hostile to them.

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