Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cultural interpretations, positions, politics

Cultural interpretations are both occasioned by and enter arenas of ideological conflicts. As is evident from the initial readings and the different blog posts, its also about horizons and perspectives. Its about ontologies and epistemologies and what the person subscribes to or has been schooled in or maybe has found a comfort zone in, to live his/ her life. 

Spivak brings out some aspects in her essay on politics of interpretation. Her account of Said's mothers' experience with the British authorities highlights a critical point...of interpretation, of your ideology and where you stand. Further, the comments made on her possible reasons for her inclusion/participation, in the Chicago symposium on "The politics of Interpretation" also underscores the cultural politics.

In last semester, I mentioned very confidently about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in front of my African faculty who exploded in a burst of anger and corrected me passionately saying that I had no right to advance such opinion without considering the context. I was totally taken aback as my education and experience all said that FGM is bad, FGM practices should be wiped away from Earth and that Feb 8th is the "International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation". But she (my faculty) had different views. I came across this dialogue again in Ngugi Van Thiong's and Achebe's stories. 

Darby et. al., have focussed on this in rethinking the similarities and differences between Male and Female Genital cutting. The debate goes from defining both practices, trivialising one with respect to the other, medical science and its claims to cultural assumptions. Apart from that they do ask a valid question, that is: Are both practices not violating the basic human rights and is international focus on FGM/FGA not refusing to raise the issue of MGM/ MGA. 

Darby et.al., very correctly wrote that "It is perhaps inevitable that one's opinions about male and female genital mutilation will be conditioned by one's own socialization and culture." (p. 15). Interestingly enough in the next lines they group female infanticide under childhood mutilation. What is critical for us here as health communication scholars is the ethics, our position/ stand. From a ethical, cultural and human rights standpoint do we condemn or condone the practice. 

Still I am learning and do not what will be my response if somebody questions me and am mentioning FGM/ MGM in this blog with considerable trepidation. I accept my ignorance and my one sided knowledge with humility and realize that for such a practice seeped in the culture and tradition of many communities around the world, one cannot have blanket assumptions. 

So, in this environment, (as Mohan has mentioned in another posting), I have to interrogate my own position of privilege and my own subscription to epistemology. Further, I have to listen, discover the voices from the other perspectives, those women who being educated, articulate, know the process is risky and yet give their consent. I have to listen to the voice of the girl in Thiong's story who constructs her act of resistance by submitting herself to the risky process and dies as a result. I have to try to understand the accounts of the many girls who in meetings organized by NGOs campaigning against FGM share their worries because they do not know how they will get a husband if they refuse to be circumcised .  And with all this, I have to take a stand.


Raihan Jamil said...

Good one Lala. I like it how you linked Darby et. al with the other readings and focused on FGM. I felt similar about this.

Darby does raise some points about the biases society has about FGM and MGM. But I feel such ideologies are so ingrained in society that we may be casting stones in an ocean and hoping to see the ripple all across it.

Lala said...

as I said Raihan..it depends on our subscriptions and whether we are willing to take a stance..