TW: FGM, rape, gender-based violence
Charlotte Lewis explores the way Bridget Christie uses humour to ‘lower the status’ of FGM and attempt to eradicate it altogether.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is rarely a subject tackled in popular entertainment. Bridget Christie, a Gloucester-born comedian and winner of the 2013 Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award bucks this trend. Christie is a vocal feminist campaigner and issues such as rape, domestic violence and FGM are a common feature in her performances. There is an immense danger with using these issues as subjects for comedy, seen in the work of Dapper Laughs and countless others- the victims so often become the butt of the joke and comedy helps strengthen misogynist attitudes.
Yet this doesn’t have to be the case. In 2014, Christie interviewed Leyla Hussein in a comedy short film made for and first shown at the Stand Up for FGM benefit in London. Leyla Hussein, prominent FGM campaigner, survivor and co-founder of Daughters of Eve, taught Christie that no subject should be off-limits, including FGM, but you must be clear who or what your target is. In Christie’s ‘Ali G style’ interview of Hussein, it is the ignorance surrounding FGM which becomes the subject of the sketch.
The film is based on Hussein’s own experiences of being interviewed, of people’s innocent ignorance of FGM in the UK and the reluctance to criticise it out of cultural sensitivity. In the sketch Christie plays the bumbling buffoon, mistaking FGM for FMG and in her ignorance, she both gives Hussein the power and allows the audience to learn about FGM with her. Through questioning ‘do you think that maybe British people are scared to criticise it in case the Taliban blow them up or something,’ the interview can dispel the mistaken belief that FGM is a religious practice.
Christie addresses the Western tendency dismiss issues such as FGM as ‘foreign’ and merge issues it feels belong to the ‘third world’ through mistaking Bono for an FGM campaigner, later realising ‘oh it’s AIDS he does.’
Fundamentally the interview centres on breaking down the belief that FGM, as a cultural tradition, is one that should be allowed to continue and that it is perhaps racist to criticise such practices. The ridiculous comparison Christie makes between FGM and Morris Dancing as cultural practise shows the absurdity of the argument that cutting girls can be validated as ‘culture’. FGM is violence, it is child abuse.
‘By laughing at FGM, you lower its status’, according to Hussein. ‘If you mock something that is considered so important, and sacred, you take away its importance. You make it ridiculous.’
Comedy, utilised in the right way, can be a vital tool for tackling FGM. Within the UK the majority engage in comedy in some form, whereas comparatively few campaign against or even have heard of FGM. As Christie comments on her own work, ‘it’s trickery, hiding the serious bits within a comic framework.’ Comedy must tackle the ‘serious bits’ to bring issues such as FGM into the mainstream and therefore provoke more individuals to enact change.
Since its production the short film has been used to educate police officers, GPs and children. Working within a comic framework allows the horrors of FGM to become more accessible to those with no direct relationship to the issue. Representing FGM in different forms, including comedy, allows for different demographics to be targeted and therefore educated.
Not only has the film by Christie and Hussein helped to educate on FGM, but has helped survivors in an entirely different way. Within Christie’s book, A Book For Her, she quotes Hussein who says she does not know a single person who has been affected by FGM who was offended by the interview.
‘Survivors I have spoken to said it gave them the opportunity to laugh at it, which a lot of them hadn’t before. A lot of them found it cathartic.’
Regardless of bringing the issue into the mainstream, if Christie’s sketch has helped women who have been made to endure the physical and emotional pain of FGM this can only be a good thing.
Bridget Christie believes we can not say we live in a civilised world until we have eradicated FGM. The aim to eradicate FGM within a generation is an important and difficult one and will be achieved through the support and actions of campaigners through out the world. Comedy such as Christie’s can be used to help create more such supporters, dispel myths and ignorance surrounding FGM, and through mockery can diminish its power, tacking important steps towards eradication.
Image by Clara Vlessing