June 1, 2009, Gender & Society, Vol. 23, No. 3, 293-314 (2009)
Defining Gendered Oppression in U.S. Newspapers: The Strategic Value of "Female Genital Mutilation," by Lisa Wade, Occidental College
According to the logic of the gendered modernity/tradition binary, women in traditional societies are oppressed and women in modern societies liberated. While the binary valorizes modern women, it potentially erases gendered oppression in the West and undermines feminist movements on behalf of Western women. Using U.S. newspaper text, I ask whether female genital cutting (FGC) is used to define women in modern societies as liberated. I find that speakers use FGC to both uphold and challenge the gendered modernity/ tradition binary. Speakers use FGC to denigrate non-Western cultures and trivialize the oppressions that U.S. women typically encounter, but also to make feminist arguments on behalf of women everywhere. I argue that in addition to examining how culturally imperialist logics are reproduced, theorists interested in feminist postcolonialism should turn to the distribution of such logics, emphasizing the who, where, when, and how of reinscription of and resistance to such narratives.