Patriarchal Inscriptions and Inscriptions of Power: female bodies contested, invaded, defended, and owned


Call for Papers for an E-SYMPOSIUM in

OCTOBER 2020 under the auspices of the

Arts & Humanities Research Institute, King’s College, University of London

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 on a continuum of acceptance and repulsion which obscures commonalities and erases distinctions.

A proposal emerging at the Arts & Humanities Research Institute, King’s College, University of London, aims to establish a tripartite programme scrutinizing patriarchal inscriptions on female bodies 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 professionals 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 summon debates that address the urgency created by human rights abuses specifically, but not exclusively, related to FGM, an exigency linked to the wider systemic and normative unravelling of democratic governance at home and elsewhere, affecting all spheres of life.

When, as some intellectuals hold, the era of democracy and democratic accountability may be waning, what are the implications for associated regimes that shape identities? Will entitlements to rights and resources alter? How will an anticipated challenge to democratic body politics weaken the protocols, legislations, and policies serving to protect ever intensifying gender-based precarities? Faced with a corona virus pandemic, volatile global political environment and intensifying migration crises that exacerbate abuses of human and children’s rights, we summon critical questions and insights from diverse disciplines and methodologies to enlighten complex linkages among emergence of newly masculinized ideologies, populist politics and prospects for creating and protecting context-sensitive human/women’s rights-based cultures of bodily integrity.

We are inviting contributions to the following proposed sessions:

Democracy, populism, the corona virus pandemic and enduring patriarchal traditions   Loyalty to ‘female circumcision’ in many cultures raises the issue of democracy itself: its weakness lying in the ‘tyranny of the majority’. How do efforts to end FGM relate to democracy as it is presently under attack? To what extent have efforts to end FGM been vitiated by the quarantine and testing? How has opposition among immigrants been appropriated and instrumentalized to serve populist exclusionary aims and to demonize entire cultures because 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?

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.) Do debates around cisgender and gender dysphoria enter here?

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, and 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 have we 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 incomparable, the belief in their equivalence plays a role in the longevity of the former. 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; looks at each in relation to gender identities; takes into account personal narrative (memoirs) as well as creative writing (fiction); mines the shafts (pardon the pun) of ethnographic history concerning circumcision rites; 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?

[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, C. Momoh; in progress.

Suggestions for additional themed panels will be gladly accepted. We plan to publish papers in an edited book; in the peer-reviewed Journal of International Women’s Studies special issue; and to revive the Journal on Female Genital Mutilation and Other Harmful Traditional Practices. Scientific Organ of the IAC [Inter-African Committee] published at the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Maximum 250-word Abstracts of papers or strong signals of interest are due July 20th. Proposals are accepted for an entire panel or for an individual paper. Hosting the virtual gathering is King’s College, University of London, Arts and Humanities Institute directed by Professor Anna Reading.

A fee of £10 per person or £40 per charitable association (up to four participants) will be appreciated, but no one will be excluded for inability to pay. Please discuss individual needs with the organizers

Email abstracts to Dr Tobe Levin v. Gleichen or  Questions may also be directed to co-organizers Dr Maria Jaschok and Comfort Momoh MBE

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