The normal and the aberrant in female genital cutting: Shifting paradigms

Janice Boddy


In this lecture I consider preliminary results of continuing fieldwork in Sudan while revisiting my earlier observations on female genital cutting there in light of the growing practice of “female cosmetic genital surgery” (FGCS) in the West. Despite remarkable similarities in their aesthetic rationales, FGCS is becoming increasingly common in the West while Sudanese “traditional” FGC remains subject to censure and international abolition campaigns. At least one FGCS procedure, “The Barbie,” results in genitalia that resemble those produced by traditional FGC. Several Sudanese families with whom I conduct research no longer practice FGC of any sort. I parse the reasons for this along with those indicated for the rise of FCGS in the West, and explore the web of ironies that link the two contexts.


female genital cutting, labiaplasty, cultural aesthetics, normalization

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.008