Patriarchal Inscriptions and Inscriptions of Power: female bodies contested, invaded, defended and owned — Call for Papers

Within a broad spectrum of historical and cross-cultural violence against women, the female body is subjected to patriarchal inscriptions which range from fashion-driven body modifications to brutal mutilation – related practices situated on a continuum of acceptance and repulsion which obscures commonalities and erases distinctions. A proposal, still a work in progress, is now under way at the Art’s & Humanities Research Institute, King’s College, University of London, to establish a programme combining study, grounded theorizing and application (for uses in education and in outreach). Building on extensive scholarship and advocacy in the field of epistemic injustice and embodied gender performances, we will add new areas of interpretation and activism.[1] The Call for Papers for the Symposium links up with our on-going preparations for such a major research programme.

By inviting the wider community of scholars and members of relevant professions into debate surrounding issues over female-bodied texts and socio-political contexts, we pursue a two-fold aim: mapping the body singular and female, and mapping body politics as global and gendered. Only such cartography can facilitate in-depth intersectional and cross-cultural analyses of what we hold to be related interventions which encompass, moreover, highly contested FGM practices. We are here calling for debates that take on board the urgency created by human rights abuses specifically, but not exclusively, related to FGM, better understood within the wider systemic and normative unravelling of democratic governance at home and elsewhere, affecting all spheres of life.

[1] (working title) ‘Female Bodies and Patriarchal Inscriptions across Cultural Contexts and Girlhood/s; a multiple-voice, multi-media, cross-cultural research project on human rights violations, cultural traditions, female genital mutilation, body modification, self-harm and self-empowerment’ (by invitation of King’s College, Arts & Humanities Research Institute, London); initiated by M. Jaschok, T. Levin v. Gleichen, Comfort Momoh; in progress.


When, as some scholars hold, we are nearing the end of the era of democracy and democratic accountability, what are the implications for integrity of associated regimes that shape identities and entitlements to rights and resources? How will an anticipated weakening of the democratic body politics, especially given COVID-19,  weaken the protocols, legislations, and policies serving to protect ever intensifying gender-based precarities?

Faced with a volatile global political environment and intensifying migration crises exacerbating abuses of human and children’s rights, we are seeking critical questions and insights from a diversity of disciplines and methodologies. Our aim?  To problematize and enlighten on the complex linkages between newly masculinized ideologies and populist identity politics while also revealing prospects for protecting and creating context-sensitive human/women’s rights-based cultures of bodily integrity.

We are inviting contributions to the following proposed sessions:

Democracy, populism and enduring patriarchal traditions   The existence of loyalty to ‘female circumcision’ in most cultures that perform it raises the issue of democracy itself: its weakness lying in the possible ‘tyranny of the majority’. How do efforts to end FGM relate to democracy as it is presently under attack? To what extent has FGM been appropriated and instrumentalized to serve populist exclusionary aims and demonization of entire cultures on the basis that they perform FGM? How does the political will exemplified in passage of laws against FGM relate to failures of enforcement? Is this due to the tenacity of existing beliefs about gender, vested interest in the status quo, inadequate instruction and persuasion (in NGO speak, sensitization), meagre financial investment, suspicious resentment of ‘outside interference’ in anti-FGM efforts or a combination of these? And what role might the coronavirus pandemic play in all of this?

Hierarchies of liberation; women and the nation state   Opposing FGM interrogates motives anchored in affect and impervious, as emotions are, to reason, such as desire for beauty, (social) acceptance, and gender identity. In his first act as head of an independent, anti-colonial Kenya, Kenyatta argued for ‘female circumcision’ and vehemently against its abolition, naming it the mainstay of Kikuyu culture on which the moral edifice depended, and this in turn ‘legislated’ sex-assigned behaviours suitable only for males or only for females, i.e. forbidding gender ambiguity and thus logically criminalizing LGBTQ+.   Are we to understand this as a conservative stamp placed on inherited (unequal power) relations between women and men to benefit (mainly) the latter? What lessons can be learned from Kenyatta’s timing, declaring at the very birth of liberation a rededication of gender difference brutally enforced by violent suppression of female pleasure? (The fact that jouissance at times continues after cutting doesn’t obviate the amputation’s aim.)

Mothers and daughters: continuity, love, fear and belonging   Feminism has made exploration of relations between mothers and daughters central to its project. How are these considered fraught, damaged, broken, or, in the eyes of FGM-supporters, strengthened by clitoridectomy? (The impairment, understood as universal to womanhood, is implicated no matter whether or not ‘rites of passage’ are explicitly celebrated). Given most nation’s adherence to global governance, human rights conventions, attainment of Sustainable Development Goals, how is FGM antithetical to macro-political aims by impeding women’s solidarity and smiting them with a range of debilities (negative health consequences)? How does FGM compare to other abuses women endure that fracture their inclination to identify and support one another?

The FGM Industry and its critics   How do NGOs, working in various environments to end FGM, differ or resemble other voluntary associations dedicated to ending comparable forms of abuse? (For clarity, the US Domestic Violence Movement convention included, at least once, a panel on FGM.) Which have been notable successes of NGO involvement and what explains their relative impact if compared to NGOs considered by critics both ideologically dubious and, when it comes to FGM survivors’ needs, ineffectual? The question to be explored: why the continued calls for more effective intervention to prevent FGM and penalize perpetrators when, in some critics’ eyes, the past decade has witnessed considerable political will and financial support for an abolition ‘industry’? For the UK, is this observation, that sufficient investment has been made, justified? For the phenomenon globally?

Circumcision: maketh the man, maketh the woman   If as Simone de Beauvoir said, women are made, not born and, by extension, clitoral amputation produces them, circumcision similarly makes the man. Although the aims of clitoridectomy and removal of the foreskin are in truth incomparable, the belief in their equivalence plays a role in the longevity of the former, argued by both men and women. And given that human and children’s rights are increasingly influential in discussion of both customs, avoidance of the ‘circumcision’ debate for anti-FGM campaigns is increasingly untenable. Therefore, contributions are invited that explore issues surrounding circumcision; consider circumcision in comparison to FGM; analyze efforts to sustain and/or abolish both; examine circumcision/FGM as enhancements/ detriments to sexual development or fulfilment; that look at each in relation to gender identities; take into account personal narrative (memoirs) as well as creative writing (fiction); mine the shafts (pardon the pun) of ethnographic history concerning circumcision rites; review historical and contemporary religious debates, etc.

Sexual pleasure withheld: contestations surround clitoral restoration   Since 1988, when Dr. Pierre Foldes uncovered how to restore the clitoris, the relatively simple, 20-30 minute operation has been celebrated by beneficiaries, distrusted by FGM’s opponents, and vehemently opposed by guardians of the status quo, one of whom, a male nurse in the Burkinabe hospital where the joyful after-effects of removing the clitoral scar were reported, threatened the clinician. “You can treat pain” – with which the patient had presented – but “not that,” Foldes was told. Yet, once he had been thanked by the former victim whose renewed clitoral sensation gave her pleasure, the doctor persisted, perfecting a technique from which, today, more than 5000 women have benefited. The census of trained surgeons able to perform clitoral restoration remains small, however, relative to the number of victims. Why? What efforts have been made in various venues to introduce discussion of sexual pleasure? What explicit impediments arise? How has the medical profession dealt with the pioneering technique? What protocols are followed? What do beneficiaries say about their newly-won status? How and where can FGM survivors find medical help and each other, in order to share stories? And how does the fact of restoration affect abolition?

Suggestions for additional themed panels gladly accepted. Volunteers for an advisory committee are also invited to signal interest. We plan to publish invited papers in a peer reviewed volume and have been invited by the Journal of International Women’s Studies to a prepare a special issue.

Maximum 250-word Abstracts or strong expressions of interest are due 30 JUNE 2020 but extensions will be granted. (Simply ask.) Proposals are accepted for an entire panel or for an individual paper. This fee is £10 per person/£40 per NGO (5 people), but no one will be excluded for inability to pay. For assistance, please contact the organizers.

Email to  Tobe Levin v. Gleichen or Inquiries welcome by co-organizers Dr Maria Jaschok and FGM Specialist midwife Comfort Momoh MBE


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s