Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Alert as I am to every opportunity to redefine negative stereotypes and champion the culturally despised, I was yet surprised to find that Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland can be icons of liberal society.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia born feminist writer was interviewed by Johann Hari.

Somali culture began to demand that Ayaan too become a submissive woman who scrubbed away her own personality and sexuality. When she was five years old, she was made "pure" by having her genitals hacked out with a knife. It was a simple process. Her grandmother and two of her friends pinned her down, pulled her legs apart, and knifed away her clitoris and labia. She remembers the sound even now - "like a butcher, snipping the fat off a piece of meat." The bleeding wound was sewn up, leaving a thick tissue of scarred flesh to form as her fleshy chastity belt. She could not walk for two weeks.

Ayaan soon realised that in a culture so patriarchal it could not tolerate the existence of an unmaimed vagina, "I could never become an adult. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me. But I wanted to become an individual, with a life of my own." She heard whispers of a world where this was possible by reading novels. For her, even poring through Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland seemed transgressive, because they depicted a world where boys and girls played together on the basis of equality, and where women chose their own husbands, rather than having them forced on them by their fathers. Imagine a world so patriarchal that Barbara Cartland seems like a gender revolutionary.

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