Imagined Legal Subjects and the Regulation of Female Genital Surgery



Publication Details

M. Iribarne & N. Seuffert, 'Imagined Legal Subjects and the Regulation of Female Genital Surgery' (2018) 44 (2) The Australian Feminist Law Journal 175-201.


In this article we analyse the regulation of female genital surgery in Australia with a focus on New South Wales. We argue that the categorisation of some surgeries as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and others as Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS) participates in the production of a constellation of gendered legal subjects, produced in language and law, that contribute to maintaining the raced and gendered status quo in Australia. Our analysis demonstrates that there is not one legal subject (or object) position for women produced through these laws; a range of legal subject positions are produced in and through this specific set of legal provisions, and these subject positions may shift over time. We analyse three legal subjects, produced relationally. First, anti-FGM feminists and female parliamentarians, who, through campaigning for and participating in passing these laws, enter into a partnership across gender with male lawmakers, become authors of law and full legal subjects of western liberal democracies in that process. Necessary to the emergence of these women as full legal subjects and authors of the law are those subjected to these legal provisions. The creation and prohibition of the category of FGM, through the definition of a wide range of varying cultural practices of female genital cutting, or female circumcision, as ‘mutilation’, creates the image of the ‘mutilated (brown) female’ as subjected to the law. Finally, a new subject of FGCS also emerges through these laws: the figure of a relatively privileged (white) woman who is saturated with sexuality and defined through the decision to mutilate her body in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. This figure, which we call the ‘new hysteric’, is the third gendered legal subject that we discuss.

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