Michael Gove has finally agreed to write to schools in England about FGM after the recent campaign led by 17 year old Fahma Mohamed. I recently read Alice Walker’s novel ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’, 1992, and will attempt to discuss some of the horrors of FGM, and thoughts on fighting it, through a reading of this powerful text.
Possessing focuses on a fictional African tribe, Olinka. The fictional element enables Walker to explore the results of the most extreme form of female circumcision, infibulation, enacted upon her protagonist Tashi without blaming any one real tribe. Thus, Walker can be as outspoken as she likes, heavily criticising Olinkans’ reasons for female genital mutilation (FGM) and rallying for collective responsibility to stop it. Olinkans ‘validate’ their reasons for FGM by using religious myths and presenting the procedure as initiation into adulthood and eligibility for marriage. Particularly, Olinkans use the tale of God and the termite hill, which represents female sexual organs, to affirm God’s wish for FGM and naturalise male control over female sexuality. This is because God mastered the earth by “[cutting] down the termite hill, and [having] intercourse with the excised earth”. Therefore, in the eyes of the Olinkans, as God has initiated it, FGM is justifiable and an eternal phenomenon. In this way, as the writer Gourdine has noted, Walker positions FGM as “a brutal ritual so tied to culture and tradition that for thousands of years women have been powerless to stop it”. Continue reading →
Sensation, landscapes of the past, and the female Muse
Antonia is less of a character than she is a sensation or feeling. We feel her presence rather than see or understand her, and we do not interpret her character but use it to interpret other experiences and characters within the novel. This is similar to the way the landscape is described and experienced by narrator and male protagonist Jimmy. He describes “there were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia […] There was only – spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere…” (97). This emphasises that My Antonia is not about outward appearances and concrete representations, but is about feelings. These are feelings of loneliness, rootlessness, nostalgia, and fear of others, from people struggling to retain their passions and inspirations in the face of different sources of oppression and prejudice within the hostile landscape of Nebraska and surrounding towns. Continue reading →