In All Figures of Style: Rendering the Changing Perceptions of Female Genital Excision in African Literatures

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This paper discusses the changing perceptions of female genital excision in African and African-American writing, mainly novels and short stories, but also drama and poetry, written by men and women in English, French, Arabic and Dutch. Analysing lesser-known writers side by side with such recognizable names as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Flora Nwapa, Nawal El Saadawi, Ahmadou Kourouma, Calixthe Beyala, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor, I will discern a gradual evolution in the strategies that literary authors have used to explore female genital excision - from the 1960s, when writers mindful of its communal significance as an initiation ritual are carefully 'writing around' the physical operation, through the 1970s and 1980s, when images of slaughter and death are used to expose female genital excision as a misogynist practice that physically inscribes in women's bodies the asymmetrical gender structures of their patriarchal societies, to the late 1990s, when women writers of African descent are situating their denunciations of female genital excision in a much broader, international context of women's oppression and the struggle for women's rights, but complicate their argument by raising the issue in an intercultural context and depicting the West as a safe haven.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication(In)Visibility in African Cultures conference stream, ASAUK Biennial Conference 2010 – UNIVERSITY OF OXFord – 16–19 September 2010.
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2010 → …


Period1/01/10 → …


  • female genital excision
  • African literatures
  • African American literature


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