The Princess, the Witch and the Fairy Godmother: Colonial Legacies in 'FGM'

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This article analyses the discursive construction of what has become known as ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) in colonial-era debates in the UK Houses of Parliament. The author shows how, in order to bring the topic into the realm of political legitimacy and to be heard in an institution that had only recently allowed women to stand for office, (White) women MPs emphasised their superiority to the African cultures they were talking about. They fought for inclusion as parliamentarians by re-articulating and aligning themselves with Whitely virtues, positioning themselves as noble, respectable and civilised in contrast to the ‘evil’, ‘abhorrent’ and ‘barbaric’ natives. By delineating the moral distance between themselves and non-White men and women, and by (re)stating female parity as the measure of civilisation, they asserted their own right to full inclusion in the nation-state, using the master’s tools to trouble the master’s house. Ultimately, they gained ground for feminism through the re-articulation of racism. Through historicising and deconstructing the narrative as iterated in the seat of government in colonial times, the author furthers the tentative moves towards decolonising the global campaign against FGM. The article sheds light on the coloniality in the present-day hegemonic narrative of ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ and questions whether there might be less harmful ways to articulate opposition to the practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRace and Class
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Institute of Race Relations.


  • Coloniality
  • White feminism
  • Rathbone
  • Fairy tales
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • narrative analysis
  • Sudan


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