While much has been made of female genital mutilation it should not be forgotten that circumcision is also a form of genital mutilation which is widely practiced and widely supported throughout western culture. Of course, western culture, being deeply biased in terms of gender and religion sees nothing wrong with all Jews and many Christians performing male genital mutilation while condemning female genital mutilation in others.

Because female genital mutilation is suppressed it is usually done by nonprofessionals, which is a bad thing for any surgery. This, however, suits the suppressors, because it raises the chances of complications, lending more ammunition to those who want it suppressed.

Arguments about hygene are not self-evident to me. While I rarely am deprived of clean water in which to wash, there are clearly parts of the world in which clean water is in short supply, particularly in times of drought.

Arguments about consent are challenging, because genital mutilation is sometimes done at puberty, as part of an event willingly undertaken by an individual.

I find myself unable to speak to the arguments about the intent behind female genital mutilation, because I am seperated by thousands of kilometers, a language barrier, a cultural barrier and a class barrier from the body of those who practice it.


For the record: (a) I don't support female genital mutilation. The above writeup was an attempt to point out some of the hypocrisy in the issue. (b) this writeup was not originally the first writeup, not does it deserve to be.

If we were meant to have flaps of skin that felt good when rubbed, we'd have been born with them.

A bit of an update, September 3, 2006:

There is now an increasing amount of data to support both the traditional claim that circumcision carries substantial health benefits, and the more recent one that FGM is an unnecessary and dangerous procedure. It has been demonstrated by studies carried out in African and Western populations, that circumcised men are 60% less likely to contract HIV from a female infected partner (this is due to the fragility of the foreskin and its tendency to develop minute tears that allow for blood contact). This is a protection rate that easily matches those hoped for from any near-future vaccine.

In contrast, women who have undergone FMG are 55% more likely to give birth to dead or fatally vulnerable babies, on top of all the other well known risks to their own health (like an almost 70% higher chance of dying in childbirth, which in communities already weakened by HIV and poverty is endangering the baby as well, of course).

FMG is an abhorrent practice to Western eyes; but this is not why we should be in favour of abolishing it. Rather than waste time on academic disputes about relativism, cultural imperialism, Judaism and whatnot, let's just look at the facts and recognise that it is putting at increased risk a population which is already among, if not the, most vulnerable in the world.

A good article summarising the above data, as well as the histrionic excesses of the anti-circumcision movement, can be found at http://www.slate.com/id/2148034.


I think the main difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation is the intent behind the practice.

Although in these days of frequent bathing and high standards of hygiene it is not self-evident, the removal of the foreskin had, in different times and hotter climates, a distinct medical benefit attached to it. Dirt accumulated under the loose foreskin may cause infections and incapacitating diseases in the penis.

I am in agreement that this custom has no bearing on present day health concerns for young boys, however I think it is important to remember that female genital mutilation has nothing to do with health benefits to the woman undergoing it, and everything to do with a deliberate attempt to undermine her sexuality and ensure she has no pleasure in intercourse to safeguard her marital fidelity.

Much has been said about the damage circumcision does to the male sexual organ's sensitivity during sex, but it must be remembered that in female "circumcision", the entire centre of pleasure is removed, eliminating any possibility of pleasurable sexual intercourse. The labia are often cut off, laying the woman open for infection for the rest of her life. The urinary passage is often damaged. Many of these women will experience excruciating pain every time they have sex for the rest of their lives - the area is so rich in nerve endings that healing is seldom complete.

While I agree with viterbiSearcher's observation of the callousness with which we treat the genital modification of males in this society, I must stress that the two issues are by no means part of the same problem, nor should female genital mutilation be treated as a subset of circumcision. This is not a politicised attempt at manufacturing a gender issue - the fact is, there are no known parallels of female genital mutilation (a parallel would be something that eliminates sexual pleasure completely for the man) in any of the societies that practice the custom on either males, females or both. It is not a "gender issue", but it is an issue that touches almost exclusively on women - much like ovarian cancer, for example.

In the hope of instigating a little reflection on this emotive issue, i've done some on the subject. Hopefully, this will also prevent further accusations of ignorance from those whose opinions i value :) Here are three articles on Female Circumcision(sic) reprinted with permission from

http://www.ccsu.edu/afstudy/

Thanks, Josie.


Brief Reflections on Clitorodectomy


by Ifeyinwa Iweriebor


Black Women in Publishing, New York

There has in recent timesbeen a hue and cry about the practice of genital surgery on women in Africa. The prevailing perspective in America has been absolute condemnation. What is bothersome is not so much that people have a negative opinion of the practice, but that the issue is misrepresented as a form of child abuse or a tool of gender oppression. The language and tone of the outcry in most cases reflects a total lack of respect for the culture of other peoples. Even more bothersome is the false portrayal: the falsification of statistics and a successful demonization of the practitioners.

There may be an ongoing debate about the effects or necessity for the procedure, but the essential truth is that the practitioners do not perform genital surgery on their girls, (nor on their sons for that matter) to oppress them or do them any harm. For them the procedure is carried out for the noblest of reasons, the best of intentions and in good faith. The fact that it can be performed in public in the countries that permit it demonstrates that the practitioners do not consider it dirty laundry or a dark hidden secret.

All over the world, innumerable reasons abound for the practice of genital surgery of both sexes, a procedure that dates back to a least 5,000 B.C. Broadly, they can be categorized according to health, religion, social, political and cultural considerations. While there has always been debate about the hows, whys and effects of the procedure, in recent times the genital surgery of women and girl children has been embroiled in contentious controversy.

In Africa, the rationale for genital surgery are as diverse as the continent itself. However one overriding perspective is that it is conceptualized as a process that applies to both men and women. Hence a framework that differentiates according to gender is not a useful tool of analysis.

Be that as it may, here are some of the posited reasons for carrying out the procedure on women. For some cultures it is a component of a rite of passage to socially acceptable adulthood. For others it is a nuptial necessity. For yet others, it is a mark of courage, particularly where it is carried out on older people. For some it is a reproductive aid, increasing fertility. For others, it enhances sexuality. Many parents want surgery done on their daughters because it protects them from would-be seducers and rapists.

There are several countries in Africa where efforts are being made to discourage female genital surgery. They are doing this by providing up-to-date information to show its disadvantages, and why it may not be necessary to achieve whatever it is believed to accomplish. For example, with respect to infant mortality, when health workers explained to women that sexually transmitted diseases could be treated with medication and that it is possible to have healthy living babies without genital surgery, they were convinced to refrain from having their daughters undergo genital surgery. There is however, no question that like any other form of surgery, particularly for the delicate region of the groin, if carried out improperly, or under unsanitary conditions, the damage done can be absolutely terrible. That is why, as long as it remains a practice, little girls and women deserve to have access to the same quality medical care that little boys and men have.


Female circumcision in Africa


By Aisha Samad Matias


Director, Women's Studies, CUNY

I. Background and Scope
Over 80-100 million women in the world have experienced the custom first recorded over 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Because of its origin, it is sometimes, particularly in its variation as infibulation, referred to as a "pharonic custom." The ritual apparently spread from the Nile and its tributaries into adjacent regions such as Palestine. It spread through migration routes into the Magreb area (N.W. Africa), and across the Sahara and Sahel regions into the West African savanna. It also spread along The Red Sea Coast into The Horn of Africa and parts of East Africa. In some areas it is practiced by almost all groups, in other areas by some ethnic groups and not others, and in other African areas, such as Southern Africa, by only a few groups.

Traditional Spread Outside of Africa
Female circumcision (FC) is traditionally practiced in some other areas outside of Africa. In those areas, it is found among certain indigenous Andean and Australian ethnic groups (of varied traditional religious and cultural backgrounds) and among Bedouin groups in Israel and surrounding areas. It was practiced - before European colonialism - in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, although in these mainly matrilineal areas, it was done to enhance female sexuality rather than to control it as in most other places.

In Africa Today
This custom is practiced predominantly in the Nile, Sahara, Sahel and Horn regions, where in most areas the overwhelming majority of women have or will experience it. In those areas some groups who traditionally did not have this custom are adopting it when they move into regions or urban zones where it is practiced, for example in Khartoum. In adjacent African regions such as West and East Africa, many cultures traditionally have practiced this custom. Examples of such groups are the Kikuyu and Masai of East Africa and the Fulani, Ibo and Hausa of West Africa. The custom is also found, to a lesser degree, among some groups in central and southern Africa such as the Mashona of South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Most western seminars or media focus on FC as a Muslim custom or among African Muslim groups. This is interesting because this custom, not only originated in Africa during pharonic (pre-Judaic, Christian or Islamic times), but it is still practiced in the continent among African groups practicing traditional Judaism (in Ethiopia); traditional Coptic Christianity (Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt); some of those who became Christian during or after the European colonial era; and among some Muslim groups.

In some regions, FC can be seen to be practiced by certain socio-economic groups, for example, among those of a particular culture or lifestyle: nomadic versus settled, or farming herding; Muslim versus Christian or traditionalist. In other regions, one finds the custom practiced by those of varied cultural / socio-economic types, for example, among sedentary urban and farming groups and among migratory herding groups in the Ethiopian-Eritrean highlands and Ethiopian-Somali Ogaden regions. It is mainly found in predominantly patrilineal groups in Africa. Some groups circumcising females also circumcise males.

Many groups that now circumcise men but not women were influenced by missionary and other European colonial influences to stop circumcising women and to also stop or reduce the traditional long socialization period, rituals and ceremonies preparing boys to be men. In the colonial period (the British in Kenya, see Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya) and also today some modern westernized African States have sought to minimize, limit or outlaw certain traditional practices of some ethnic groups within their borders (which, of course, do not reflect traditional ethnic borders). Such governments apparently value colonial or western institutions (such as government schools and churches) and the socialization of youth toward the sedentary lifestyle, national unity, loyalty and "modernization" much more than traditional customs such as the migratory lifestyle, ethnic Anbal group unity, loyalty and traditionalism.

Today, for example, the Kikuyu of Kenya find their land and customs under attack. The Masai of East Africa find their traditional area divided into two nation states, Kenya and Tanzania. They find themselves being pushed into more and more arid areas as officials and tourist companies feel that their cattle are overgrazing on grass-lands that wild animals that attract tourists need. The traditional Masai socialization of youth (both male and female) that lasts several years involves travel in groups with elders throughout their traditional region. During this period youth are intensely socialized for adult life, including several ordeal rituals, which includes male and female circumcision. The initiations are firmly rooted in and dedicated to their Masai identity and reject modern westernized society, which they are taught is inferior to their own lifestyle. After completion of this period, they are considered Masai adults and able to marry. Male and female circumcision is an essential part of the Masai socialization into adulthood. It is also an integral and necessary part of many other African groups' socialization towards recognition as adults in their society. In circumcising groups, a person who is not circumcised is often considered unclean, not fully formed as an adult member of society, not prepared to marry and bear children and a perpetual child.

When modern African governments seek to limit or outlaw such traditional practices as female circumcision, the groups practicing them usually either cross borders and continue the practice in adjacent nations (their own traditional ethnic territory) without such limitations or continue the practice in secret (usually under less hygienic conditions or access to an outside clinic, hospital or professional aid).

These two brief examples are typical of the conflict between traditional groups, their land and social customs and the interests of colonial or modern western states and institutions. It is always difficult for a group to accept dictates from the group they feel is attacking their land, and turning their children away from their traditional lifestyles towards one they neither understand nor admire and which diminishes their sovereignty and power. In such cases their distrust of outsiders based on material evidence (the loss of group property, taxation without true representation, the forcing of youth into national armies instead of allowing them to stay with their own people, lack of respect, work exploitation, etc.) makes meaningful dialogue on female circumcision impossible. Their children are taken away to government boarding schools and their youth to the army. Before children or youth are taken away, during school leave periods or during furlough periods from the army, elders seek to socialize and circumcise their offspring in shorter more intense periods. Naturally, when the environment or the economy changes, the culture is also affected. In this case, more extended socialization periods and later customary circumcision rituals become changed to shorter, more intense socialization periods and often earlier (before school age) circumcision of boys and girls.

II. Functions
Some practitioners of FC state its functions as: "It is our culture;" or, "It is our religious obligation;" or "All normal (our) people have done it," or "It makes you clean, beautiful, better, sweet-smelling," or "You will be able to marry, be presentable to your husband, able to satisfy and keep your husband, able to conceive and bear children."

Keep in mind that among practicing groups, everyone or almost everyone in the community is circumcised. Therefore, it is normal in such groups. In such communities, those women who are not circumcised are traditionally prostitutes or members of outcast or formerly "slave" groups. But even most of those women are circumcised in communities where this custom is practiced. The only other women not circumcised in such a community would be outsiders - African or other women from non-circumcising groups-the others. Intermarriage with non-circumcised men or women is usually not allowed or is extremely rare. When it does occur, the circumcising group usually only permits it if the non-circumcised future spouse becomes circumcised.

During conflict, one way of identifying "the other" (as in Europe during WWII) is whether or not he or she is circumcised. Sometimes, even during certain recent intergroup conflicts in parts of Africa forced circumcisions, (usually of men kidnapped or captured from the non-circumcising competing group) sometimes occurred.

Often the rationale for male and female circumcision is that it is necessary to make a child (neutral term) a real male or female. This leads to a further explanation that "men are hard and women are soft," and that the "soft" part of a man's genital, e.g., the pre-puce or foreskin and the hard part of the female genitalia, e.g., the clitoris (possibly erectile) must be removed in order to make them truly male-all hard, and female-all soft. As in many other instances, the "crossover"-soft foreskin and hard clitoris-is seen as dangerous to the formation of "completely" male and female adults, who in traditional societies almost always have an equal but separate and complementary rather than equal and overlapping sexual and social role.

The explanation of surgical procedures that temple drawings and pyramid carvings show, done 4000 years ago, indicates that early African societies: ancient Egyptian, Nubian, Ethiopian, as well as medieval and modern societies, were aware of the erectile nature of the clitoris and that it was an orgasmic area of stimulation. Research also indicates that the process of socialization with the usually patrilineal birth group of a male or female child was often physically marked. That mark could be circumcision or scarification.

Scarification was to protect children from kidnapping in war or slave raiding and to locate those so abducted. It was also in many traditional groups thought to make the child different from the child sent by the gods or ancestors and therefore, hopefully, keeping that child from being reclaimed or taken back to the gods or ancestors quickly because of an altered physique. Ear piercing would be done for similar reasons.

Female circumcision, like male circumcision in the same group, is often thought to purify and protect the next generation from dangerous outside influences, to bind all youth to their peers or age set. As part of intensive group socialization, it also firmly establishes age set relationships, generational respect and authority patterns. At marriage, the authority over the bride is transferred to the spouse's patriline. The respect and economic value of the bride to her patriline and to her spouse is dependent upon her unquestioned virginity as demonstrated by the intact circumcision.

Other obvious functions include the control of female sexuality and marital chastity. At or before marriage in many circumcising societies, brides-to-be were inspected by their prospective marked female inlaws. Their circumcision is often inspected by their mothers, aunts, and other older female relatives.

Another function is to insure marriage in a society in which men have been taught that only circumcised women make good wives. Yet another function of FC is to limit the possible enjoyment level of sex for women. It also serves to implant fear of pain and being shamed and cast out if not a virgin girl or chaste wife. The actual day of circumcision is one of fear and pain, but also accomplishment and recognition as a full adult marriageable member of society. Some have compared it in western terms to a combination of first communion, confirmation or bat mitzvah and sweet sixteen occasion. The girl gets more recognition, including attention, special beautiful clothing, special food and jewelry, after this coming of age ritual than at any other time in her life except on her marriage day.

It is said that the three most difficult and yet joyous times in a women's life are at her circumcision, marriage and on the birth of her first child. Each marks a liminal period or transition from one stage of life to another, from the authority of one patriline to another. Female circumcision thus physically marks the female as belonging to a male family whose rights over her will be violated and whose wrath will be faced if she is sexually invaded.

Another of its functions is to symbolize the stability, respect and continuation of the group as expressed in the obedience, docility, faithfulness and maintenance of tradition of its females (the transmitters customs and maintainers of home and family - the basic social unit).

In summary, all of these functions emphasize the superiority of group needs over those of the individual and tie the individual to the group of birth. They also emphasize and support group solidarity and tradition over modern changes and male authority over female. However, they also emphasize and symbolize the male and group responsibility for females who accept group norms.


Female circumcision in Africa and the problem of cross-cultural perspectives


R. Adeline Apena


History Dept., Russell Sage College, Troy NY

Female circumcision, described as female genital mutilation in Western discourse, has been actively addressed in recent years. The conclusions of these discussions seem to redefine the nature of African womanhood, objectifying African women as ignorant and powerless.

Female circumcision has been perceived as an act of barbarism, savagery, torture and maiming which deprives African women of their feminity, especially with regard to sexual sensitivity and pleasure. These views are articulated by Alice Walker (1992, 1993), Lightfoot-Klein (1989), Awa Thiam (1986) amongst others.

Further, it is argued that the act represents violation of human rights of children and women (Dorkenoo and Elsworth, 1992, Rodney and Dorkenoo, 1992).

These conclusions are affected by two major factors. One, is the use of Western cultural perpectives in assessing an African cultural experience. The second, is the discussion of the experience in isolation of its full cultural context. Assessing cultural values of people through different cultural frameworks have often led to distortions, misinterpretations and misrepresentations. This has been the case of female circumcision and the African woman.

The objective of this paper is to present an African based perspective for an insight into the discourse of female circumcision. It will discuss the cultural dynamics which affect female circumcision, fill gaps in existing anlysis, and assess some of the conclusions in Western literature.

Female circumcision is an intrinsic part of a total cultural experience. Its discussion can only be effectively undertaken as part of an entire cultural experience.

It is important to note that not all groups in Africa practice female circumcision. It is practiced in twenty-eight out of fifty-three countries (Lightfoot-Klein, 1989). Female circumcision is a cultural ritual whose nature varies among the different groups which practice it. As an essential part of cultural values, it affects the integrity and survival of communities.

Specifically it relates to the essence of womanhood, family system and religious beliefs; age, class and power; social identity and responsibilities. It is part of the corpus of female education and health care. A more comprehensive discourse of female circumcision should include all of these issues.

Is circumcision an abuse of individual rights?
African societies exist as networks of mutually interrelated and dependent groups, emphasizing community rather than self and the individual. This value is evident in the family system characterized by polygamy and extended household, ancestral veneration, comunual land ownership and residential systems. The rights of individuals are not isolated questions and are not normally asserted against group interests because, traditionally, the group protects the individual.

Therefore like other cultural rituals, female circumcision is a collective experience. But, Western cultural perspectives, which emphasize the individual and self, see female circumcision as an individual experience and concludes that it is a violation of individual rights. If it is violation of rights, it should not be perceived strictly in relation to individual women or girls but it should be considered as a violation within a group or societal perspective.

Consequently, the young girls and women who undergo circumcision do not have individual legal status and rights apart from those of their communities and cannot challenge the collective wisdom of their communities. Such an exercise amounts to serious deviation from the norms of society. This study argues that circumcision is an issue that goes beyond gender, being affected by age and class and power. Therefore, for more effective analysis and interpretation of circumcision, youth culture in Africa needs to be examined in relation to the practice. African tradition does not ascribe equal status to both the young and elderly.

Desensitization and deprivation of sexual pleasure.
The perspective that female circumcision necessarily robs women of sexual pleasure presupposes that only the clitoris ensures sexual urge and guarantees sexual pleasure for women. Therefore, all women who are not circumcized should experience sexual urge and sexual pleasure. If having the clitoris alone does guarantee sexual satisfaction and pleasure, it implies that all women with clitoris should always have sexual pleasure. But if that is not the case then there are other parts of a woman's body and dynamics yet to be made known and emphasized which affect female sexuality and responses.

This presumption suggests common reasons for women to engage in sexual relations and that all women should react to sexual stimulation in the same way regardless of cultural differences and social backgrounds. Sex in most African societies serves procreation, not necessarily the satisfaction of emotional needs. It is conceived as a sacred act and a spiritual experience with emphasis on spiritual compatibility of partners.

It is believed that sexual urge depends on the nature of existing relationship between women and their spouses to a large extent. Is the man caring, is he protective, emotionally and morally supportive? These are some of the concerns which affect the state of mind of many African women in their responses to sexual stimulus and satisfaction.


You will note that none of the above is noticeably "anti" female genital mutilation. This is because of the apparent lack of published work by qualified experts stating reasons why it is a bad thing - rather this seems to be taken as read. Therefore, i was uneasy about posting what may seem to be a slanted writeup. However, given that no one on E2 had yet stated any relevant view (sorry viterbiSearcher, but comparison with male circumcision is a bit beside the point here) other than FGM being a bad thing, i felt that some balance couldn't hurt.

Other than that, since the term female circumcision seems to be so greatly objected to in this context, i apologise for it's quoted use.

And personally, having read through these articles, i don't feel entitled to an opinion. To my Western mind, it's horrific and barbaric but i am neither a woman nor African or from a culture which practises genital mutilation. Who am i to judge? Who am i to impose my views on theirs, to assume that my perspective is superior? Who are you? If the women who undergo FGM actually want it, what makes it any different from, for example, body piercing?

It's a difficult topic, and although it may be tempting to believe that we could educate those cultures so that they regard FGM in the same way that we do, would that not be undermining their cultural validity? If we can change this, should we change the treatment of women under strict orthodox Islam or Judaism? Should arranged marriages be the next target? Campaigning against FGM is a very attractive option but it cannot be denied that it would entail the forced alteration of a different culture because it doesn't suit our Western moral codes. That's called Cultural Imperialism and is something many people find objectionable.

So what should be done? Anything? Nothing? I'd welcome suggestions, but if nothing is to be done, then it seems unproductive to engage in a debate about how horrible something is, however revolting we find it.

Just one further note: Contrary to information i've been given, reseach indicates that the Zulus do not practise female circumcision and neither do their sister-tribe, the Matabele although the bushmen and the Mashona do.

For medical details, go to
http://obgyn.pdr.net/obgyn/static.htm?path=content/journals/g/data/2000/0300/gnour.html

TheLady: May i refer you to
http://www.fgmnetwork.org/intro/world.html
for a long, but not exhaustive list of those countries where FGM is practised.

/Rant mode ON

Please allow me to be simplistic for a moment.

When I looked at this issue, it wasn't patriachal control of women's sexuality that upset me. I didn't start pondering the nature of gender oppression, postmodern cultural relativism, the meaning of communal vs individualistic societies, colonial repression of traditional cultures, or spirituality in sexuality. My response was a bit more basic than that. It was to gag. Why? No, not because it's a practise of an alien culture that doesn't like Americans and is made up of faraway people with lots of melanin. ( < - sarcasm!)

Allow me now to go out on a limb and propose that a normal human being will agree with the following statements:

To deliberately cause agonising pain in another person is a bad thing. You should not do it.

To deliberately cause traumatic, chronically painful, debilitating and potentially life threatening injury in another person is a bad thing. You should not do it.

Now what exactly is the complication in this issue?

I would be intruiged to hear the rationale held by anyone who disagrees with the above, incidentally. I suspect it would be along the lines of "Oh, it's part of their culture, and everyone knows black girls from weird cultures are so supported by their community/spiritually enlightened (read: totally unlike us in every respect, they're not in any way the same species and don't deserve the same consideration) they don't feel agonising, traumatic pain when you slash the most sensitive part of their body with a knife"

/Rant mode possibly off...

Ok. Sorry about the anger and the sarcasm. I have been told to try reasoning. I am afraid that some people will still find the idea that every person is entitled to safety from deliberate physical injury to be noxious cultural imperialism. There's nothing I can do about that. But ok, here's an attempt at reason in a very unreasonable issue.

I am labouring under the understanding that we are dealing, here, with an activity that risks the health and lives of, and causes serious trauma, in both the medical and psychological sense, to intelligent, self-aware members of species homo sapiens.

It would also seem fair to state that this activity in fact is a contradictory exception to the basic idea that underpins human moral codes, including the ones on which these societies are based. This basic idea is that to cause suffering and injury is wrong. Otherwise, what is the problem with murder, rape, assault and other such charming activities? If the individual is not worthy of protection from harm, such things would perfectly allowable. No society I am aware of feels this way.

So why is genital mutilation an exception still carried out? Nobody can contest that it does not cause medically provable harm, not only to the victim but sometimes her children. You will note that no comparable injury is inflicted on men. Many people have a problem with male circumcision, but were the equivalent of an infibulation carried out on a man he would be left with no penis or scrotum whatsoever.

However the practise started, it continues because its subjects are those who do not have the ability within their society to speak out and challenge its ideas. It is now being continued purely because it has been done for a long time. Why does this excuse violence? People of my ethnicity and culture were persecuting and discriminating against Jews for hundreds of years. Does this make it a valued cultural tradition that should be continued? For that matter, are traditional tribal racism and genocide valuable traditions? Would a culture of human sacrifice be ok? Does the fact their society not value the individual make that individual worthless? Does objecting to violence and brutality in any culture, including your own, make you a bad, imperialist person?

Back to the people who practise the violence under consideration, I am not concerned with the bulk of their culture. I am not concerned with traditional community structure. I don't believe they are evil and wrong, and that I am better. I believe they are normal human beings with respect for others, with one strange and distressing exception being perpetuated merely because it has always been done. I don't want these women to eat Big Macs, have five boyfriends and reject their religion. I don't what them to believe what i believe and live like I live, although I wouldn't mind them having the choice. I do object to them being hurt.

Violence is violence, no matter what the excuse. Suffering should not be perpetuated just because it was caused in the past, to people who had no real option of protesting. People who are individual human beings worthy of the same respect and compassion as any Westerner. They are not just subjects of some interesting cultural practise, the are people as worthy of safety from violence and harm as anyone else. To suggest otherwise is no better than racism.

Female Genital Mutilation

Maybe I'm a caveman, but...

The apologist bullshit that we hear accusing cultural imperialism makes me sick.

There is one and only one correct stance on this issue. I am right and you are wrong. The mutilation of children is evil. Not just naughty, not just distasteful, not even culturally relative. Evil!

The three articles above provide a refreshing read. Not only are they not opposed to forced genital mutilation, they present it as a viable option -- something that's OK...just different. One of many possible modes of cultural expression, if you will. The primary reason that these are good to read is that they demonstrate what kind of asinine thinkers are defending human right violations in academia. After displaying those articles, though, K9 asks "who are you to judge?" Well I'm exactly the person to judge. I'm the one who is willing. But I'll take it a step farther than that.

Any culture that is so dependent on violence perpetrated against the innocent for its very identity would be better off annihilated than suffered to continue.

Support for these practices is based solely in ignorance. Even where supporters call on aesthetic, these preferences arise culturally, not in isolation, for reasons with cultural context. If mutilating the genitals is believed to (e.g.) increase fertility, the aesthetic favoring the mutilated genitals is based on ignorance as we can cleanly assume that it arose under mistaken notions. Regardless of the angle, ignorance is the root and makes a piss-poor excuse for such practice.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights calls female genital mutilation a "harmful tradition" and has issued: "States should...ensure the enactment and effective enforcement of laws that prohibited female genital mutilation..." That's the UN, folks. Not just some western-centric organization. The fact is, only a pretty small number of people across the world are savage enough to promote this kind of abomination. Most of the human experience thinks that mutilating children is wicked.

But I don't really follow the discomfort that people have in drawing analogies between FGM and other practices such as male circumcision and body piercing. There are certain undeniable similarities. Why isn't it obvious to all that mutilating any child is evil? Circumcising the foreskin of baby boys is wicked. having the flesh of babies cosmetically pierced is wicked. Any of the practices described can be allowed to adults so long as that decision is made in an atmosphere free of coercion and enforced ignorance. I have no problem with consensual bod-mod. But children can not reasonably provide informed consent -- particularly when under a constant barrage of disinformation. So what if there are similarities? I agree.

This isn't rocket science, people.

The really salient reason that child-mutilation of any kind is wicked is the denial of freedom -- current and future. The fact that there are tremendous negative physical and psychological complications and repercussions is also bad, but not my particular vexation. But these complications are still worth mentioning. Here's a list of what can happen to girls and women upon whom these procedures are inflicted:

Having done an adequate job of presenting my strong opposition to these procedures, I think it only responsible to note that there are occasional medical circumstance that justify surgical practices that would otherwise be most reasonably called mutilation. But that's not what we're talking about here.


I have read numerous sources over the past thirteen years that have informed my knowledge and opinion on this matter. For purposes of looking up facts for this write up, I consulted:

  • http://dictionary.reference.com/
  • http://www.contemporaryobgyn.net/
  • http://www.unhchr.ch/
  • http://askdrsears.com/

Historical Note: This WU was written in a node called Female Genital Mutilation. On 9 October 2006, paraclete -- as a content editor arranged to have the articles moved to Female Genital Cutting as a less villainous name. I couldn't disagree more with this change, but it was made and I'm not a god.


Historical Note 2: On 1 November 2010, JD moved this node back to the original name and now the cutting name redirects. I'm no longer active at E2, but I'm happy to find this change made.

Female genital mutilation is an umbrella term used to describe any procedure performed on the female genitalia for cultural or religious reasons rather than because there is a medical indication or need, e.g., gender reassignment surgery. It is now frequently referred to as 'female genital cutting' because of cultural sensitivity of the emotive word of 'mutilation'. Not only does the word demonise the practice in the eyes of those outside of that culture, but also practitioners of female genital cutting dislike the implication that they are mutilating their daughters.

'Female circumcision' has fallen out of use as a term to describe female genital cutting as it places a parallel with male circumcision (the removal of the foreskin from the penis). While genetic integrity groups will argue that both are genital mutilation, male circumcision is a commonly accepted practice across most cultures, while female genital cutting is not.

It is practiced in many countries across the globe, but is more commonly associated with the African continent. It is a cultural practice, not a religious one. There are different forms of female genital cutting; some are more acceptable practices than others, but unfortunately all are perceived with the same negativity as the more extreme versions of female genital cutting. Sometimes the act of female genital cutting is merely symbolic, with a knife held over, but not touching, the genitalia; or a drop of blood from a needle allowed to fall onto the clitoris.

The World Health Organisation has classified the various types of female genital cutting into four categories:

Type I: Excision of the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris. Often this is limited to the clitoral hood being cut, which is analogous to the removal of the foreskin from the penis. This is particular procedure is called a clitoridotomy. If some of the clitoris is also removed, then it called a clitoridectomy. Both clitoridotomies and clitoridectomies (and sometime infibulation) were commonly practiced in western cultures, including the UK and the US, until the 1970s as a treatment for masturbation and nervous disorders. Clitoridotomies are now once again becoming popularly performed as part of body modification practices in the west.

Type II: Excision of the prepuce and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora.

Type III: Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening. This is called infibulation, and is viewed as the most extreme version of female genital cutting.

Type IV: This contains the unclassified forms of female genital cutting, including:

  • pricking, piercing or incision of clitoris and/or labia
  • stretching of clitoris and/or labia
  • cauterization by burning of clitoris and surrounding tissues
  • scraping (angurya cutting) of the vaginal orifice or cutting (gishiri cutting) of the vagina
  • introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding or herbs into the vagina with the aim of tightening or narrowing the vagina
  • any other procedure which falls under the definition of female genital cutting.

       

Please refer to the individual nodes for more information on these practices.

Reference

 

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