Associate Professor Juliet Rogers
University of Melbourne
In June 2019 the High Court of Australia heard arguments on the question of what constitutes mutilation and as a corollary, whether the clitoral hood constitutes the clitoris or is a separate part. The separation of the clitoral hood from the clitoris is a crucial element of considering whether female genital cutting is akin to circumcision; that is, is the clitoral hood to the clitoris what the foreskin is to the penis? If so, is male circumcision a mutilation? The ramifications of this decision will be felt across many countries in relation to calls, particularly in the US, for prohibition to male circumcision. The focus on the parts and pieces of the clitoris by the High Court is, of course, a Freudian and comedic delight, particularly the question of how analogy functions in this location. My concern in this paper is with the language used in this case, by the High Court, the legal advocates and the judges in the two cases leading up to this deliberation and how these discussions operate to produce the area, known as the ‘female genital organ’ in this case, how that flesh is mobilised, in a Lacanian psychoanalytic sense, and how it comes to speak for women, for (Lacanian) Woman and for racial difference on this issue. Drawing on broader discussions from anti-FGM activist I will explicate and examine the perverse quality of the focus on the genitals of “mutilated women” (as described by the Family Law Council) and particularly the imagination of what a clitoris is and does.
Dr Juliet Rogers is an Associate Professor in Criminology in the School of Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She previously taught at the Melbourne Law School. From 2012-2016 she was an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow undertaking an examination of the ‘Quality of Remorse’ after periods of political and military conflict. Juliet has recently been a Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute, Italy; Yale Law School, US; University of Cape Town Law School, South Africa, at Queens University Law School, Belfast and at the University of Bologna, Italy, and a Research Fellow at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, UK. She is a member of the editorial boards of Law, Text, Culture and the Australian Feminist Law Journal. In 2013, she published Law’s Cut on the Body of Human Rights: Female circumcision, torture and sacred flesh, with Routledge: Glasshouse. She was previously a trauma therapist, youth worker and community service manager.