Rural Sudanese Women Janice Boddy

The practice of female circumcision is often popularly understood in Western contexts as simply intended to enforce female sexual restraint resulting from "Islamic" beliefs. Indeed, many scholars have analyzed the practice of female circumcision, arguing that the operation is intended to curb female sexual desire (Boddy, 1989, p. 53). In an important analysis of the issue based on fieldwork in rural Sudan (1976-1977, 1983-1984), Boddy argues that understanding female circumcision as an attempt at controlling female sexuality represents a primarily male perspective and "confuses causes with effects" (Boddy, 1989, p. 53). While the procedure does effectively restrain women's sexuality, women assert that its intent is to prepare girls for womanhood by making them "clean" and pure. Further, women emphasize through circumcision their fertility potential over their sexuality. By removing parts of their genitalia, women demonstrate that their value stems from their ability to give birth rather than simply be sexual partners for men. In terms of the operation as an "Islamic" practice, its regional variability—including radical Pharaonic circumcision to an absence of its practice at all—demonstrates once again the necessity of exploring rather than assuming what is considered to be proper Islamic practice in specific contexts (Boddy, 1989, p. 52).

Boddy avoids any consideration of Islam as separable (in the vein of a Great Tradition) from the way in which a group of Muslims practice it. Indeed, Boddy points out that even within the village, opinion on appropriate Islamic practice was highly variable. For example, women view their practices of spirit possession and trance as absolutely compatible with their identities as Muslims, while local religious authorities and many village men understand women's interactions with spirits as "reprehensible and abhorrent," even if they are not entirely forbidden in Islam (Boddy, 1989, p. 142).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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