More on genital wounding and child brides under patriarchy

In 2016 in the Chapel of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, an exhibition of Nigerian paintings and sculpture enticed viewers to learn more about FGM through a dignified medium — art. Mainly by male artists, the pieces honor the teaching by Joy Keshi Walker who coached art students in Lagos to understand clitoridectomy. The picture you see displayed third from the left, “What If I Refuse?” by Manasseh Imonikebe, evokes social pressure to conform and fantasizes an option to resist.

But I ask: can anyone resist? Can a child refuse marriage? Can a girl evade ablation? Only with unusual courage, at significant cost, and a wellspring of maturity far beyond her years.

After all, even if insisting on delayed consummation until the first menses, societies that permit pre-pubertal female marriage don’t believe in childhood, not unlike medieval Europe where childhood didn’t exist either, nor did rape. We need only remember the “droit du seigneur” or “the right/rite of the first night” when the baron could ‘deflower’ brides before serf-grooms could. I mention this to obviate Entfremdung, that is, alienation impeding empathy that requires similarity. To be clear: customs in phallocratic African societies resemble patriarchal traditions elsewhere.

Thus, childhood, the concept of an innocent, protected, and naïve phase of life, is a modern invention that emerged in embryo post-Renaissance in Europe. Boys, too, remained under the patriarch’s thumb, and all the more so, girls.

Why? Due to the gift of a vulva and its ability to create life. In my view, the patriarchy’s fear of autonomous female sexuality magnified by conflation of females with property under the usurped governance of males underwrites both customs – child marriage and FGM.

INFIBULATION STONE by Alloysius Osagie. Marble and metal.

 INFIBULATION STONE evokes in no certain terms a European ‘tradition’ whose remnant can be seen in official Museums of Torture, namely the ‘chastity belt’. The whiteness of the stone highlights gender as a concept while it mutes race, thereby striving to include all women independent of differing hue. Classified by WHO as type 3 FGM, infibulation is the most severe form of genital assault and makes sense only in a context of gender inequality. Although vaginal stitching is the dominant form of FGM in the Horn of Africa, it is practiced by certain minorities in Nigeria.

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