Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This project considers issues of representation and how literature, personal testimony, popular culture, and African film script a narrative of change and/or participate in change in the female circumcision debate. Texts that currently shape the female circumcision debate are increasingly focused on viable methods of social change and couch issues of change in dynamics of discourse and representation, including Obioma Nnaemeka’s Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses, Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf’s Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives, and Oyèrónké Oyewùmi’s African Women and Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood, all of which I cite in the dissertation. These texts resist “othering” and focus instead on how African women self-identify in a world that often images them as helpless and devoid of agency and power. This project not only brings new information to bear about how female circumcision is transnationally discoursed, but also offers new ideas of how members of the global community view the “other.” In addition, Painful Discourses offers new readings of literary texts that have female circumcision as a major theme; positions literary texts as key in discourse-making about FC; emphasizes the necessity of women’s personal accounts of circumcision to educate nations about this practice; and privileges African perspectives about FC. The project details central issues in female circumcision discourse, particularly the dynamics that fuel how female circumcision and the millions of girls and women who have and will undergo the procedure are represented, as well as crucial moments, persons, and representations that have created a moment of “border crossing” in our transnational understandings about the practice, including “travelogues,” ethnography, autobiography, and US print media. The project also features the personal narratives of two women who were circumcised in East Africa. The project appropriately ends with the consideration of African novelist and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s 2004 film, Moolaadé. The film is a cinematic representation of anti-circumcision discourse as well as an aesthetic masterpiece that confronts the changing identity of an unnamed village caught between traditions of the past and “modernities” of the present. I conclude the project by offering new ideas for representation.



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Committee Chair

John Lowe