The issue of female genital mutilization being practiced in Nigeria stems from a lot of views favoring men within the society. Many of the reasons that women still engage in this practice is due to society’s expectations for the women. Various cultures within Nigeria believe this is a rite of passage from being a girl to becoming a woman, and it has served as a long-standing tradition. Some people believe that female genital mutilization is a way to prevent women from participating in sexual acts before marriage, which is of importance because women in the society are not expected to express their sexuality at all, otherwise they’re seen as easy and disgraceful. The strong societal pressure on women to give birth to a male can also lead them to undergo female genital mutilization, due to the belief that this procedure prevents the death of male newborns. As one can conclude, majority of the reasons that Nigerian women still proceed with this dangerous operation stems from the greater appreciation for men in that society and the inequality between the two genders. For that reason, I believe it is best to approach this topic of female genital mutilization within Nigeria with the feminist theory.
Feminist anthropology can be separated into three categories. The first division lasted between the years of 1850 to 1920. Up until this point in time, most research was conducted by men for men, and the general idea was that one’s biological sex gave the basis of their roles within society. This served as a time for feminists to introduce their perspectives on experiences to the male population, since these male researchers never were able to know things from a woman’s point of view. From 1920 to 1980, we get the next division of feminist anthropology. Here, the meanings of and differences between “sex” and “gender” are created and starting to be acknowledged. While the sex of an individual is determined by biology, gender is defined as a cultural basis. The last division of feminist anthropology started from 1980 and goes to the present time. In this period, sex is starting to be considered as a social category, just like gender. Also, anthropologists begin to look at other characteristics that create diversity in the topic of “women”, such as race, socioeconomic status, religion, and others (Bratton, 1998). These three divisions have made great contributions to the feminist theory studied today, and are important to consider while researching.
As stated in the lecture video from week one, the feminist theory asks two big questions. One is how does gender impact the situation? The other question the theory asks is if there is inequality present specifically due to gender. These two questions can be addressed by the topic I have decided to research for my country. Among various cultures, many women would actually rather not experience some of the roles and expectations placed on women in society, but choose not to speak up because they feel this is “the way things are supposed to be”, maybe they are the ones that are wrong or “sick” for feeling otherwise, and that no one would ever be able to understand how they are feeling (Friedan, 1963). Addressing the issue of gender inequality within Nigerian culture and helping others see the dangers that have stemmed from this could be the first step in decreasing the rates of female genital mutilization.
- Bratton, Angela. “Feminist Anthropology.” (1998), http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/fem.htm
- Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. (1963).