Female Genital Cutting in the United Kingdom: A feminist phenomenological study of perceptions and lived experiences
Female Genital Cutting (FGC) more widely known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is thought to affect 66,000 women and girls in the United Kingdom (UK) (Kueppers, 2013). Whilst there has been a vast amount of research on the physical impacts of FGC, there has been less research on the wider social and embodied impacts of FGC. This thesis aimed to address this by exploring the lived experiences of FGC in the UK. This thesis explored the views of both women with and without FGC, and men from affected communities in the UK. The study used a qualitative approach, and a total of 30 semi-structured interviews were conducted. The theoretical and conceptual framework draws on and combines elements of: phenomenology, in particular Merleau-Ponty; feminist studies, with a focus on the work of Butler; and intersectionality, coined by Crenshaw. Merleau-Ponty’s spatial frameworks in conjunction with intersectionality has proved to provide a unique lens to view FGC and further strengthens the feminist phenomenological approach. It has showed how FGC could be added to the dimensions of intersectionality to acknowledge the equal role it plays in shaping women’s identities. The central findings to this thesis include how FGC shapes and impacts women’s gendered identities; which were further impacted by their cultural identity and living in the UK. Many women did not feel complete or able to ‘perform’ what they perceived to be like ‘real’ women due to FGC. The majority of men in the study showed support for the discontinuation of the practice and claimed that they preferred to marry women without FGC. This thesis shows that FGC is a complex and fluid practice, which is mediated and experienced through both gendered and cultural identities, in particular in relation to roles such as being a wife and mother. Migration and navigating multiple gendered and cultural identities added to the complexity of FGC as women ascribed meaning in multiple ways dependent upon the topic in relation such as the law, justifications and implications; suggesting different ways of embodying and making sense of the practice. This was evident in the ways that the terms ‘mutilation’ and ‘circumcision’ were used interchangeably depending on the topic. In addition, the community of origin abroad appeared to still have influence on people’s decisions and feelings towards FGC, despite being in a country that does not routinely practice FGC. Despite this, there was a change in ideas around ownership of the body, from the body being viewed as communal to individual. Furthermore, being in the UK triggered internal conflict around FGC and its impacts on gendered identity, as there were more women without FGC in the UK which influenced a change in their views on gendered identity and subsequently the need for FGC. This acted as a catalyst for tensions and resistance of FGC to rise, in particular through embodied forms of resistance which were framed as taking back ownership and control of one’s own body.
- PhD