Female genital excision, or the ritual of cutting the external genitals of girls and women, is undoubtedly one of the most heavily and widely debated cultural traditions of our time. By looking at how writers of African descent have presented the practice in their literary work, Elisabeth Bekers shows how the debate on female genital excision evolved over the last four decades of the twentieth century, in response to changing attitudes about ethnicity, nationalism, colonialism, feminism, and human rights.
Rising Anthills (the title refers to a Dogon myth) analyzes works in English, French, and Arabic by African and African American writers, both women and men, from different parts of the African continent and the diaspora. Attending closely to the nuances of language and the complexities of the issue, Bekers explores 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. Following their literary discussions of female genital excision, she discerns a gradual evolution—from the 1960s, when writers mindful of its communal significance carefully “wrote around” the physical operation, through the 1970s and 1980s, when they began to speak out against the practice and their societies’ gender politics, to the late 1990s, when they situated their denunciations of female genital excision in a much broader, international context of women’s oppression and the struggle for women’s rights.