Female genital mutilation

It’s gone by other names, primarily female circumscision, as if it was nothing more than the male equivalent of removing the foreskin. It’s supposedly another one of those awful things that “can’t happen here.” Read the CNN report about the British, who may finally get serious about stopping the practice, and you’d never guess that tens of thousands of children suffer through the mutilation and its lifelong consequences right here in the good old U. S. of A.

Why the bizarre silence? Because it’s a “cultural issue,” you know. The approved term is now female genital cutting. Some people felt that the term “mutilation” was culturally insensitive.

In Shakesville, I know there’s nobody who needs convincing on which side the angels stand. But the truth is the deadliest weapon of all, so for those occasions when somebody starts suggesting that this is a “cultural” matter, I’ll arm you with the facts.

First, an anatomy lesson, developmental anatomy, to be precise. The tissues in males and females come from the same embryonic structures. They just follow a different path of development. The biologists’ term for that is homologous structures. The types of nerves and arousal present in the different male and female structures are much the same, with some differences I’ll note below.

Testes and ovaries are obviously homologous. The skin of the scrotum comes from the same embryonic tissue as the outer labia in women. It’s quite sensitive in both sexes. The inner labia is homologous to the skin on the urethral side of the penis (or do I have to say pinata?). That’s very, very, very sensitive. The shaft of the penis continues well back into the body, as does the equivalent structure in women. In women the two strands of tissue pass around and on either side of the vagina. They’re “erect” on arousal, but the erection consists of lots of blood flow without stiffness. (Probably needless to say, that not only enhances sensation for the woman but also for her male partner.) The head of the penis is homologous to the clitoris and both are covered in a foreskin. The obvious part of the “clitoris” is that covering skin, and the actual bulb of the clitoris, about the size of a large-headed pin, is within that.

This is where the biggest difference in sensations occurs. The number of nerve endings in the clitoris are about the same as the number spread throughout the head of the penis (the glans). Numbers of nerve endings per square millimeter matters a great deal. It’s like the difference in sensitivity between the surface of your eye and the inside of your mouth, except that nature’s idea for the clitoris and glans is an overload of pleasure rather than anything else. (For those interested in more information, any developmental anatomy text recaps the data. A table of homologies (Loyola Univ. Chicago), and a simple intro (U. Miami-Coral Gables) to the development of sexual organs.)

With that as background, everyone, regardless of gender, can get a fair idea of what the different kinds of genital mutilation mean.

There are different degrees of the practice. (See Wikipedia for a “culturally sensitive” but generally accurate summary.) In the least invasive, the homologue of the male foreskin is removed. The result, however, is anything but homologous. It’s like removing a person’s eyelids, not just, for instance, exposing the inside of the lip. This type can only really be done by doctors since others are generally ignorant of female anatomy. Most mutilations aren’t performed by doctors.

In the least invasive common form, the whole external structure of the clitoris is removed. This is equivalent to having the whole glans cut off. The next variety is removal of the whole clitoris and the inner labia. The fourth type involves removal of clitoris and inner and outer labia. The remnant tissue is then stitched together, leaving a small hole for urination and menstruation. If you think back to the list of homologies, this is the equivalent of cutting off the whole penis and most of the scrotum, and then stitching what’s left of the scrotum back together. This type of mutilation, as I understand it, is the commonest form. You can see why I find “cutting” an inadequate term.

There is a final level of destruction that goes beyond even this, and basically tries to make sure there’s nothing left, but I gather that is uncommon these days.

The practice tends to be associated with Muslims in the Western mind, but one of the epicenters is Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation. Andrew Heavens, who reported from Addis Ababa for years, and is now in Khartoum, Sudan, gives some glimpses of the results.

An Ethiopian friend described finding a hut in a village near the regional capital Jijiga a few months ago. Inside there was a row of little girls sitting close to each other with their legs stretched out and their ankles tied together. They had undergone the procedure earlier in the week and were having to sit dead still for days on end for the wounds to heal.

The other image was from my own visit to the town of Gode, not so far from the border with Somalia. A group of boys were playing outside their school, watched by a line of girls. I asked why the girls weren’t playing with them. The teacher next to me shrugged and said “We’re afraid that if they fall they may break their stitches.”

It is not hard to imagine what genital mutilation does to the ability to enjoy sex. (The hard part is not to imagine it.) Assuming no infections and perfect healing, any subsequent enjoyment of sex is limited to the undamaged vaginal lining and the erectile tissues that surround the vagina. It would be like trying to get off with nothing but the stub of a penis, and most of that scarred to the point where sex hurt. The biology of it makes me extremely dubious of claims by some people that sex after mutilation is just fine, thank you. It makes no biological sense, although it does make some psychological sense. It’s always easier, at first, to be in denial than to acknowledge the harm that’s been done.

Robbing women of sex is considered a non-issue, I guess because women don’t have sex (they have babies), and they don’t need pleasure. (Well, they don’t die for lack of it, do they?)

The medical consequences are getting some attention. Most of the mutilations are not done by doctors and are not under sterile conditions. Death can occur from shock (in the clinical medical sense that the body shuts down) and from bleeding. Infection is the biggest post-operative danger. Infection increases the already considerable tissue damage and the scarring. Diseases such as HIV can also be introduced by the cutting tools. The tissue damage alone is often enough to lead to serious urinary tract infections and diseases, reproductive tract infections, and infertility.

Planned sex, i. e. with a husband, requires the stitches to be taken away by some means. One method is for the husband to use a knife. Since he’s probably not a surgeon, this leads to yet further complications. After childbirth, the woman is stitched back up if the husband is absent for long enough periods of time.

There is also a lot of torture that uses sex going on in places like Darfur. (Rape is an “Integral” Weapon in Darfur) Consider that the sexual torture we hear about is being done on a population of women almost all of whom have been subjected to mutilation.

FGM is not limited to subsaharan Africa and parts of the Middle East. Ethnic groups that use the practice continue to do so when they emigrate. In the US, for instance, the African Women’s Health Center points out that 228,000 women and girls have been or are at risk for mutilation, and of those over 61,000 are younger than 18. (The African Women’s Health Center was founded by Dr. Nawal Nour, initially because immigrant patients had nobody who knew much about the medical problems faced by this population of women. They provide whatever medical assistance the woman wants, including reconstructive surgery.) These numbers of women at risk have increased in recent years. The problem is getting worse, not better.

This crime against humanity is starting to get some attention in Europe and the UK. (E. g. this BBC report.) Its criminality is starting to be recognized in the countries where it primarily occurs (e g. Egypt), although enforcement is so spotty as to be in the quantum dot range. In the US, there isn’t the concerted action you’d like to see against something so barbarian. (Of course, this is far from the only crime where we’ve slipped from civilized standards.) However, at least one heartnumbingly outrageous case was prosecuted. Other than that, I’m not sure where the outrage is.

Interesting, how human rights are only ever a “cultural” issue when women are involved. Was apartheid excused as the “culture” of the white Afrikaners? Does anyone pretend Chinese culture excuses the practice of selling the organs of executed prisoners for transplant?

It’s one more symptom of the inarticulate assumption that women aren’t really human. They just produce humans now and again. Sure, some of them are adorable, some of them are wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. But, when you get right down to it, they’re weird. You can’t understand them. Who knows what they want. I remember hearing a rancher say once that branding cattle doesn’t hurt them. Much, anyway. No doubt it’s the same with those strange flaps of skin those creatures known as “women” have.

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40 Comments

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40 responses to “Female genital mutilation

  1. oddjob

    (Not changing the subject or at all disagreeing with the general tenor of the post, but there’s also a real argument to be made that removing the foreskin without consent also constitutes mutilation, and child abuse.)

  2. I just watched a TV show last night about the Chinese navigator who many historians believe may have been the first to discover the New World in 1431.

    He was a eunuch and they described how he was held down on a table, his genitals smeared with pepper sauce, and his penis and scrotum cut off with a hooked knife. They had actors reinact the horrific scene.

    I was literally cringing in the corner of my sofa.

    It is horrible to think that the same thing that was happening to boys in China 600 years ago is still being done to girls today.

  3. there’s also a real argument to be made that removing the foreskin without consent also constitutes mutilation, and child abuse

    I agree with this; I would never circumcise a son were I to have one (unless it was medically necessary, which does happen in cases where the foreskin grows shut).

    But I don’t think Quixote’s post contradicts that conclusion. Even stipulating that male circumcision is mutilation, it is not remotely as catastrophic to the body itself or its functions as is what is commonly shorthanded as “female circumcision.”

  4. Oh yes, any form of mutilation is bad, oddjob.

    But FGM is one of the reasons I abandoned moral relativism as a legitimate point of view during law school.

  5. Even stipulating that male circumcision is mutilation, it is not remotely as catastrophic to the body itself or its functions as is what is commonly shorthanded as “female circumcision.

    It can only be compared to the type of castration I’ve written about above — the removal of the scrotum and penis. Can you imagine that being permitted anywhere on the planet today?

  6. Quixote, this is just an excellent, excellent post, and I’m so appreciative of it.

    Most of the mutilations are not done by doctors and are not under sterile conditions.

    In one of my college anthropology courses, I saw a video of a “female circumcision” in Ethiopia. It was done in a rickety shack by some random guy using a rusty tin can lid. It was one of the most horrific things I have ever seen in my life, and it haunts me to this day. Every time I read anything about it, the image of the nine-year-old girl screaming bloody murder at being mutilated while her own mother held her down comes to me as if I’d just seen it yesterday.

    Death can occur from shock (in the clinical medical sense that the body shuts down) and from bleeding.

    In the instances where the girls’ vaginal openings are stitched shut, the people doing the stitching are meant to leave at least a small hole so that menses can be purged. In many cases, the holes left are so small that the skin seals, and girls die of sepsis from not being able to menstruate properly.

  7. Brynn

    Excellent post, Quixote!! And a topic that deserves a lot of attention.

    I have only one clarification, that will hopefully enhance people’s understanding of how insignificant the biological differences between males and females really are. We all start out with both testes and ovaries. Well, to be precise, we all start out with the tissue that will form both. That’s right: adult males have vestigial tissue from what would have formed ovaries, and adult females have vestigial tissue from what would have formed testes.

  8. Kate217

    This is an issue that my mother actually introduced me to about 20 years ago. Ironically, although we’ve developed Viagra and sent a probe to Mars in that time, we have made no progress in regards to female genital mutilation. Great priorities…

    they don’t need pleasure. (Well, they don’t die for lack of it, do they?)

    More to the point, most can conceive without pleasure, something that is generally not true of males. Mother nature sometimes has a sick sense of humor.

  9. There was an episode of Law & Order that covered this about 5-7 years back. (Obviously, despite the family’s “cultural values,” trying to mutilate their daughter was treated as a crime.)

    Even so, I think people are just ignorant of this practice. It is not, to my knowledge, indigenous to this continent.

    It is clearly mutilation and should be pursued and prosecuted with zeal. World-wide.

  10. oddjob: in an earlier draft I had a couple of sentences that male circumscision can lead to complications in some men, which, if you’re one of the unlucky ones, is nontrivial. (Then the sentence got too long, and out it went. 😦 ) And then there’s also the issue that circumscision causes the mucous membrane covering the glans to turn into a thin layer of skin. That reduces sensation. It also makes it harder to catch AIDS, although I would think there might be more sensible ways to avoid that fate. (Congogirl has a post about this, including some rather nasty consequences, such as an increase in rape by some men who no longer fear catching AIDS….) And I do agree that circumscision is a mutilation. As such, I think if people want it (the male or female versions) after the age of consent, that’s their business, but it’s a travesty to perform it on infants, children, or teenagers.

  11. oddjob

    But I don’t think Quixote’s post contradicts that conclusion. Even stipulating that male circumcision is mutilation, it is not remotely as catastrophic to the body itself or its functions as is what is commonly shorthanded as “female circumcision.”

    I agree that the procedures collectively and eupehmistically labelled “female circumcision” are more catastrophic. I was trying to get at that by starting my comment with my disclaimer.

  12. Brynn

    But FGM is one of the reasons I abandoned moral relativism as a legitimate point of view during law school.

    Thank you, blue!!! I once got into a 2 hour argument with this asshole over the “moral relativism” of FGM. Then afterwards, he was so angry he almost killed me, my girlfriend at the time and his future wife driving like a maniac on the mountain roads above Santa Cruz.

    Not to muddy the waters nor detract from FGM among “foreigners”, I feel it’s important to mention that intersexed infants are still being surgically mutilated, sometimes to the point of total clitoridectomies, throughout the western world—including the USA. The conditions may be sterile, but the so-called “medical” procedure is just as life-altering and done without the consent of the underage patients. (The parents decide.)

  13. I’m reminded of the book “Snowflower and the Secret Fan,” which features detailed descriptions of foot-binding practices in (I forget which century) China. Also a reprehensible practice which could result in death.

  14. Pardon the OT, but, quixote (and all other science type Shakers), I just responded to a commenter on this post, and I would appreciate some trained scientific minds looking it over and letting me know if I just made a fool of myself.

    On topic, excellent post on a very disturbing topic.

  15. Surgical alteration of someone’s body without his or her consent should be illegal in all cases, male and female alike. I agree fully that most genital mutilation of females is more extensive and damaging and painful than the standard foreskin removal performed routinely on boys in this country, but then, male circumcision is a “cultural” issue, too: just mention that it’s a barbaric practice and see the sort of defensiveness-fueled attacks that come your way.

    All American boys get “the snip”
    I want him to look like his Dad
    You’re insane to suggest it’s barbaric

    To which apologists I can only reply, Have you ever witnessed it? Ever seen how they take a newborn baby who’s only recently emerged from the womb (itself a terrifying experience, one can only imagine), strap him down spread-eagled on a “circ board” (a very unbaby-like and frightening position) away from the smell and warmth of the only human he’s ever known and flooded with bright light and strange sounds, and without even anesthetizing him, slice off the nerve-rich tissue protecting one of his most sensitive parts? Google it if you want to be horrified. The baby will howl in agony; many vomit, some go silent and whimper. This is an experience you want burned into the neural pathways of your son’s growing brain? Seriously, male circumcision is barbaric, and absent medical necessity (as Liss pointed out)–for which anesthesia should be given–it’s utterly immoral and should be utterly illegal, too.

    Back to girls: Quixote, this is indeed a valuable post, and I hope you write about it regularly, despite how difficult it is to ponder, despite how resistant people are to stopping it for reasons that simply escape me. Why won’t the US give political asylum to young women who flee here to escape genital mutilation? Saying it’s “cultural”, not a form of torture or persecution, and sending them home to certain abuse, pain, and suffering seems so counter to everything this nation believes in. Right?

  16. oddjob

    Saying it’s “cultural”, not a form of torture or persecution, and sending them home to certain abuse, pain, and suffering seems so counter to everything this nation believes in. Right?

    I think so. I also think it can be both cultural and yet still torture.

  17. Seriously, male circumcision is barbaric, and absent medical necessity (as Liss pointed out)–for which anesthesia should be given–it’s utterly immoral and should be utterly illegal, too.

    Back in 1960, my twin brother and I were the first boys in our family to be born in a hospital.

    My parents were horrified when they were told by hospital staff that my brother and I had been circumcised. None of the other men in out family have been. It isn’t something that a typical German family would even consider. Back then, they didn’t even obtain permission to from the parents. They just did it as a routine procedure.

    So, my brother and I grew up being “different” from our dad, our uncles, and our cousins. I have to say that it did cause some childhood anxiety.

    My nephew is not circumcised. My brother saw to it that his son wasn’t mutilated at birth.

  18. i have read of this on and off for years. the only way to stop it is to make it culturally unacceptable.
    laws can be passed but if the mothe not only accept it, but participate in it there is not much hope of stopping it in smaller towns especially.

    i can not remember but how did the indian/hindu culture finally stop the burning of widows on thier husband’s funeral pyres?
    i know laws were passed but for years it was still carried out.

    perhaps people could start there?

  19. Gah. This is full of fail.

    FGM itself may be inheriently harmful to women, but it sure as hell IS a cultural issue.

    Mandolin lays it out here.

    If you are serious about reducing harm, and eventually stopping FGM, you MUST see this as a cultural issue. Making this about Western moral superiority is the number one way to ensure that FGM continues to happen and in the worst conditions possible.

    But self-righteousness sure tastes good, don’t it?

  20. Pingback: Rinse, Wash, Repeat » Sly Civilian

  21. Benjamin

    First, start here:
    Amirah’s Voice
    For everything that follows: scroll past if you have a weak stomach. The link above provides much of the same information in a more tolerable form.

    Last warning. Start scrolling now.

    Quixote has covered many of the essential points, but a few more need to be covered to understand the nature of this desecration. Whether it is spiritual sanctity, human dignity, or personal rights you hold sacred, ALL are violated by these practices.

    Stitching is performed using everything from catgut (as is used in medical stitching) to baling twine. While the goal of the procedure is to seal the outer labia, the movement of the victim and imprecision of the procedure often involve the inner labia and surrounding soft tissue as well. The elasticity of the groin is often compromised in such a fashion that walking, which involves a great deal of skin movement, becomes difficult, and an outright run risks tearing the stitches free. Remember that these stitches often penetrate the inner labia and deep tissue around the groin. Some women, examined by western doctors under X-ray, had chipping on the pelvic bone from needle strokes that went too deep. A woman who tears these stitches will, at the least, likely go into deep shock, and very often bleed to death in a matter of minutes.

    The procedure involving the severing of the clitoris is often performed at home, by an elder female of the family. The instrument of choice is a pair of sewing scissors, the procedure itself performed with less care and precision than we would generally use in removing a splinter. The woman subjected to this may in their 20’s (in which case male members of the family are expected to restrain her), or as young as 3 months. The trauma involved, largely brought about by the bluntness of the scissors, the movement of the victim, and the lack of medical knowledge of the practitioner, often results in staggering urethral damage. Many women are left with permanent bladder incontinence as a result (not to mention the neurological damage brought on by untreated trauma). Retaining consciousness once the procedure begins is almost unheard of.

    Regardless of the form of mutilation, the lack of proper medical attention during and following the procedure makes long-term infection all but certain.

    Horrified yet? Wait for it. Think about it.

    An incontinent woman cannot leave her home. A woman who cannot move at even a light jog cannot flee her husband.

    These practices are a sexual violation, and absolutely a mechanism of sexual control. They are also about shame, shame CARVED into the flesh, and hobbling. The end result of a particularly traumatic mutilation is permanently limited mobility.

    This is NOT a side effect. This is part of the intent behind these practices.

    Comparing FGM to even total member castration is, in my view, an appalling understatement. The goal of FGM is to cripple a woman, both in the sexual and conventional sense.

    This is not an obscure practice limited to far-flung distant lands. The link I gave above is the website of a woman I know, Fortunate Adem. She tells her story on the website, and I honestly can’t type it without falling apart at the keyboard. Short version (as much as I can manage): Her husband was an African immigrant. These practices had not been discussed. Her husband took their daughter to visit his mother. Fortunate didn’t find out what happened during that trip until the family physician told her (at great legal risk to himself: his license to practice was called into review as a result).

    She immediately began divorce proceedings. Based on numerous financial factors, the Georgia courts granted custody to the father. She eventually won custody of her daughter, only to enter another court battle to deny the father visitation and weekends.

    You would think that the custody suit would have been open and shut, yes? That’s the real problem: FGM is illegal by federal mandate, but the federal law has absolutely no enforcability. There are no whistleblower clauses attached to it. Discovery of the mutilation is still sealed under doctor-patient privelage, unlike gunshot wounds or distinct signs of physical abuse. A child with a palm-shaped bruise has some protection from their abuser under the law, a child whose genitals have been cut off with a pair of scissors does not. The federal law provides prosecutory options for a procedure in progress, but none for a mutilation that has already happened.

    There are laws at the state level with more “teeth”, including provisions for legal protection of the child, a parent who was unaware of the procedure (both men and women have found themselves in this horrible position), and the doctor who reports it. Few state laws are this specific, and many states have no specific legislature on the matter, relying on the largely unenforcable Federal statute.

    It was on the matter of the proposed Georgia law that I met Ms. Adem. Georgia already had a law, phrased so poorly as to prohibit prosecution if the procedure occured outside of Georgia, as was the case with her daughter. A child could be taken across a state line to render the procedure effectively legal (and inadmissable in court during her custody proceedings). Long story short: A Georgia senator appended the bill so that it also applied to female genital piercing, i.e. consensual procedures wholly unlike those the bill was intended to prohibit. Worse than the private rights impingement, the bill only applied to women. Rather than let it pass (and almost certainly be overturned in whole in court, making the proposal of a new, properly phrased bill a political impossibility), I worked with Ms. Adem to lobby to have the language of the bill clarified to better express its intent (and add better options for investigation and enforcement). The bill got tied up in two rounds of subcommittees before the congress deconvened, effectively sinking the entire bill. It has not been reproposed, and the majority of the senators attached to it are no longer in office.

    To date, no progress has been made on this matter in the state of Georgia, and most states haven’t even proposed legislature regarding FGM. As more and more people immigrate to the U.S. from regions where FGM is such a common practice as to be above question, we will see it happening more and more often.

    Or, more likely, we won’t be seeing it.

    Talk to your representatives. Let them know that this DOES happen, especially in dense urban regions with a high rate of immigration. Even though the mutilation of women is a practice often carried into our borders like so much luggage, it also happens at the hands of American nationals. A part of why this is so difficult to prosecute is the swiftness with which it can occur: 10 minutes, and a womans life is changed. If we are to see an end, or even an ebb in the frequency with which this abomination is inflicted, doctors, teachers, and law enforcement officials MUST be given legal protection and a legal mandate to report every incidence of mutilation that they find. We need not ask for provisions of “suspicion”: even allowing a pediatric gynecologist to make a phone call without fearing for his livelihood would be a tremendous step forward.

    Fighting it on a cultural level may be necessary to eliminate FGM from our world, all nations, but we need to start by offering some shred of legal protection to the children already living within our borders. Discussing this in hypothetical sociological terms is very difficult for me. I can’t help but remember seeing a 6 year old girl with blood on the front of her dress because she forgot she shouldn’t run.

  22. Benjamin

    SAFE TO READ

    Let’s make sure this never happens in Atlanta again before we get bogged in the difficulties of making sure it never happens in Africa again.

  23. Yeah, Benjamin. That’s one of the points I was trying to make. It does happen here. More the unending shame for us.

    To the person who says it is too a cultural issue: only if you also think that cannibalism is a cultural issue. (It was part of Fijian culture for at least over a thousand years.) Only if you think slavery is a cultural issue. (That’s been part of many human cultures since people began farming.) If that’s how you’re defining it, then you can say that.

    This isn’t a Western vs non-Western issue. This is basic human rights versus barbarism. (I grew up in another culture. I’ve lived on three different continents, including the Far East. I speak five languages. I know some about where culture starts and where our common humanity is all there is.) If you’d like a more “practically” oriented view, then check out Congogirl on the topic. I consider her way too “culturally sensitive,” but she’s an actual health worker who actually dealt with the issue.

  24. Sherry: the problems for widows in India are still acute. See eg this BBC report among a far too many others you can find just by searching on “India” and “widows.” And they’re still burning brides who don’t bring enough dowry and other “useless” women. They just call it an accident these days. (link about dowry deaths, but it’s the same idea for other categories. Thousands upon thousands of women die every year this way.)

    Brynn: minor point re testes and ovaries: we don’t actually all have both. We all have the same embryonic organs that eventually follow different developmental pathways to become one or the other. In other words, ovaries and testes are essentially the same thing, in different shapes and each producing specialized hormones.

    Fritz: it’s not just China 600 years ago. There are several hundred thousand to a million eunuchs in India now, called aravani (or formerly hijra) forming their own niche in society. Many are now transgender, and voluntarily have operations as adults. But, at least until recently and maybe even now, some are forcibly castrated as children.

    And people ask me why I care so little for traditions.

  25. Thank you, Quixote, for this article, and Benjamin, for the important link and info.

    I want to make an apology. Last week, I posted a comment about a “body-mod” that I have, in response to a QOD from Brynn. My mod was consensual, but I tossed off a story that, while amusing to me (because I had a choice in the matter) I now found myself cringing at, as I read this post and the comments — because I had tossed that story off so lightly, not thinking of how offensive it might be to those who have dealt with the horrors of FGM.

    I had not known the details of “sewing practices”, even though I’ve been aware of FGM issues in the past. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my comment last week in light of this, and I find myself brought to new awareness, thanks to the efforts of Quixote and those who have commented here.

  26. Benjamin

    Thanks, Quixote, and thank you for bringing this up in the first place.

    This is something that people CAN do something about, and in a very practical way. Look at it from as cynical a perspective as possible:

    Your representatives WANT their names on something with a lot of popular support. They WANT bills that most everyone agrees on, bills that no one in their right mind would stand up and oppose. They WANT to pass laws that look good as sound bites and that don’t need a budget allotment. That’s a key selling point: enforcement of this sort of bill doesn’t require a department, a new budget item, etc. A social justice issue that conservatives, moderates, and liberals can all agree on that doesn’t cost the government a dime can be a very easy sell.

    The Georgia situations was a SNAFU. A senator with an electoral constituency of less than 10,000 tacked the word “piercing” into the bill (because he honestly had no idea that people voluntarily get this done), got backed into a corner, and a few people made the mistake of very publically talking about the bill as a “sexual freedom” issue (always a bad idea in the Bible-belt if you want a bill to pass unopposed). The political stink it raised in this state will make progress difficult here, but in other states it will be much easier.

    Here’s the bottom line: the easiest way to get the federal statute modified is to point to something already on the books at the state level, and it doesn’t really matter which state.

    Again: talk to your state-level representatives. Send an email. Talk to friends and encourage them to do the same. The main reason that this is still an issue is that most people don’t know that it actually happens. Once the facts are laid out, and the very little that a bill actually has to do to be effective (let doctors report it if they find it), most people will agree with what you propose. Circulate the link I posted above. Tell the story.

  27. OOh! Cannibals! Those brown folk sure are scary!

    You really think that the law in georgia has anything to do with the freedom and dignity of women? Who sponsored it? Were immigrant communities contacted and involved? You know the second hit for that piece of news when i google fgm and georgia is from Vdare? You know, the ultra nationalist right wing hate site? And you think this is a good idea?

    Rhetoric like yours is fueling the fire. You’re part of the problem.

  28. Benjamin

    PortlyDyke:
    Kudos for following the issue! Regarding your apology, well, that’s kind of the point: your body, your choice (though it’s the responsibility of the pro’s to give you what you need to make an INFORMED choice). As someone else with more than my share of “after-market modifications” (I’m still trying to figure out where to put neon and spinners), I can appreciate an amusing anecdote on the subject. It’s worth mentioning that many of the people who were our strongest voices in the lobbying campaign were strongly against FGM practices and strongly in favor of a woman having the right to chose where a ring might hang from.

    sly civilian:
    The original lobbyist for the bill in question was Ms. Adem, as described above and in greater detail on her site. The first senator to sign off on it, draft the original language, and propose it on the floor was an african american woman who understood the issue from the perspective of the medical practitioner, having retired from 15 years of practicing as a nurse prior to seeking public office on a platform of women’s health issues. The lobbyists who rallied around Fortunate ranged from immigrant women’s groups (representing the full spectrum of immigrant demographics), the local counter-culture community (half the skin present at the capital meetings was inked), the Atlanta Masjid, Emory university, a Morehouse student group, studentthe Association of Professional Piercers, the ACLU (who volunteered legal council in the event the matter would be tested in court), the Southern Belle committee (an ALGB affiliate), PRIDE, a women’s rights lobby group based in Japan whose name escapes me at the moment, a few dozen other activist organizations and countless unaffiliated but concerned residents… as diverse a group as I’ve ever seen gather under a single banner.

    But we’ll all defer to your capable use of Google on this matter. If there’s a distinct stumbling block introduced in the work of social justice in the last decade, it’s the prevalence of the search-engine expert. Had you performed that same search when the matter was still getting active press, you would have found very different search results. I should know: I was providing copy for the site getting the most traffic (piercing.org was getting more than 10,000 hits a day). I’ll be interested in seeing how you’re going to construe THAT site as an ultra-right sock puppet.

    For that matter, have you the foggiest notion what either Quixote or I look like? Given your concerns about our chromatic phobias, such information might well prove relevant. Are we going to get into a game of “noble savage”? The point Quixote made is that cultural relativity has limits, and nowhere are those limits clearer than when a cultural priority is applied involuntarily in an irrevocable way.

    You’re perfectly welcome to continue to treat issues like this as an abstract academic exercise. You’re more than welcome to engage in the process of promoting awareness and legislative action to promote the changes you see as necessary.

    Everyone:
    It is worth noting that while the bill failed, the public awareness raised DID have a very practical effect. Fortunate Adem’s ex-husband was charged, and convicted, for criminal neglect (the strongest prosecution the existing law allowed) and at this time has no legal custody or visitation rights to the child that he victimized.

  29. Okay Sly Civilian — I want to understand what’s happening here.

    As I understand it, you’re saying that what Quixote has posted is racist or culturist?

    This is a sincere question — I’m trying to understand this — I’ve looked at your blog and I see that you’ve characterized Quixote’s post as “going neo-con”, and you close the post with the phrase “White supremacy is not a feminist act.” Why? I honestly don’t understand. Do you think Quixote’s post was white supremacy?

    It seems to me (although it’s not entirely clear from your comment or your post at your own blog) that your problem is with Quixote’s statement: “Because it’s a “cultural issue,” you know. The approved term is now female genital cutting. Some people felt that the term “mutilation” was culturally insensitive.”

    Is that the core of your problem, Sly Civilian?

    If that’s the case, it could be argued (actually, it was argued) that apartheid was an important part of Afrikaaner culture, or that the keeping of slaves (and branding, whipping, auctioning) was part of (too-many-to-be-counted) cultures, and that these cultural traditions should have been preserved and upheld.

    It could be argued (actually, still is argued) that homosexuals should be oppressed, because that has been the cultural tradition in many countries.

    I respect cultural traditions, but any tradition that abrogates the rights of a person (woman, man, or especially, child) to choose that tradition becomes immediately problematic for me.

    Abraham got to choose whether he was circumcised. He was ninety-nine years old at the time, according to “cultural records”. Now that’s a commitment to your cultural identity.

  30. pd- My problem is thus…if one is serious about harm reduction and eventually curtailing and ending FGM, one must go to strategies that are more than moral posturing.

    The scare quoted material reeks of a right wing mindset that chafes at being told that the Western moral isn’t the be all end all of the universe. FGM seriously warms women adn girls? True. And so does US foreign policy. From what high ground, other than racist imagination, do we get to say that this is the brightest line int he universe and thou shall not cross? Changing American use of power is gonna be a cultural change, and needs to come from inside. Changing perceptions of women in the communities that practice FGM is going to require cultural change from inside.

    Poopooing “cultural sensitivity” is a grave mistake, and does nothing more that harden the lines, and make FGM even more central to the cultural identity of those who practice it. It becomes an act of resistance, of unique virtue, and critical in defining the ingroup in a hostile world.

    And the “it’s happening right here in Amurika” junk is old hat too. It’s rhetoric designed to expell the outsider, not integrate them meaningfully. You know what making FGM a reportable issue for doctors would really do? Make sure women in these communities didn’t get taken to the doctor, even when gravely ill. Of course, one could prosecute after the fact, when these women have already died. I suppose that’s good enough, right?

    You don’t have to be a cynic, but it helps here. What i’m pointing out is that the real vs. intended effects of such “bans” is the continued practice of FGM in the worst possible conditions as it gets driven underground.

    It feels good to take a strong, uncompromising stance. Real good. But in this case, it’s about as effective as gasoline is at fighting fires. I’m not being academic or abstract in the least. I’m looking at a ground level. What’s gonna happen if one were to take this course? The answer is not a reduced practice of FGM or a reduction of harm for the women who are subjected to it.

  31. Sly Civilian, you sound like those talking heads who continually warn Democratic party politicians not to speak out about republican lawlessness, not to try to change any abusive corporate practice, because maybe if you open your mouth you might make someone mad and loose out in the next election cycle. So, safer to just stfu and close your eyes.

    What’s needed here is more sunshine, more oversight, more truthfulness.

  32. Ah, i knew i’d get “concern troll” in response. Thanks.

    I’m not saying to do nothing. I’m saying to do something that works.

  33. Being part of a culture which routinely circumcises, and having been circumcised as an infant, it is hard even to discuss with family. I refuse to attend Bris ceremonies though I have been invited to several, it is a hard thing to say to someone you don’t approve of what they are doing when they have been brought up to believe in it, and it was done to them, and they don’t see the harm.

    But yes, FGM is worse than this.

  34. Pingback: Concern Trolling, In Three Movements » Sly Civilian

  35. Benjamin

    Jesus wept. Listen to yourself.
    Rhetoric “designed” to expel the outsider?
    You DO understand that there are people participating in this conversation who do NOT rely on the Internet as their exclusive source of information and perspective, yes?

    I’ve got a pretty good idea what the “rhetoric” above was “designed” to do, because I’m the one who designed it. I wrote the copy for that campaign. Did it work? Not as well as we’d hoped due to the aforementioned problems with keeping the press on message.

    Again, listen to yourself. Take a moment and spin some description around the scenario you mentioned: enforcement means that women won’t go, or be allowed to go, to doctors? Where, exactly, do you think this sort of thing happens? Where do the people who practice it live?
    There’s a reason I mentioned “noble savage”: the notion that a culture is sacrosanct and possessing of a purely internal authority went hand in hand with Victorian imperialism. Assuming that another culture has LESS capacity for inherent evil than our own is but a subtler form of conquest.

    People who describe human rights violations as purely cultural do so with a weighty amount of cynicism, conscious or otherwise. There is, first, the notion that they understand the conceptual interdependancies of the culture in question adequately to appreciate the context of the issue at hand. This is rarely the case, far more likely applicable to the reformer than the concerned outside party. This, in turn, breeds confusion as to what IS related context and what is not.

    For example, much of your language regarding cultural sensitivity was coined in the context of comparative religious dialogue, a context where it has merit. If Female Genital Mutilation was in any way related to specific religious doctrine, we would be well advised to investigate, tread with caution, and understand the theological context in which it operates, as in THAT case it would be an integrated part of a system with formal methods of internal accountability, public dissemination, and a necessary connection to other cultural concepts and practices.

    But that isn’t the case here. These practices have been formally condemned by Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, the predominant religions practiced in the regions where FGM most commonly occurs. FGM doesn’t continue as an integrated part of a culture (as most north african cultures are religious in a way that the western world, long comfortable with athiesm, can scarcely imagine), but as an exemption from that culture.

    Discussions on the issue often get very muddled because of this. We make comparisons to circumcision, forgetting that there IS an orthodoxy presented there (which at the very least makes it a more difficult problem to address). We often mix it up into a generic stew of “womens rights issues OVER THERE”, forgetting that many of those also operate in a context of orthodoxy and men and women who think of the burhka as a protection are horrified by these practices as well.

    Aristotle made it very plain that the foundation of clear thinking is the capacity to recognize unlike things. I would add that it is also the foundation of effective response.

  36. Benjamin

    heheheheh. Pingback to sly:
    Scare quoting “cultural sensitivity” is what people say when they believe there is a higher moral good than getting by without offending anyone. “It happens right here at home” is something that people who have met the victims say.

    I’m a Xenophobe? Wow. That’s a new one. I’ve been called just about everything under the sun, but that is truly original. I wish I could adequately explain the irony that a few seconds of face time would better explain, but I’ll just leave it by thanking you for the best belly laugh I’ve had in a year.

    Careful, Quixote: you’re obviously speaking for the upper-middle class caucasian american. All those piddly little details about, you know, the entirety of your life, cultural upbringing, and background are clearly irrelevant to your life, culture, and background.

    I think there’s little left to say on this ridiculous tangent, so I’ll sign off with another thanks to Quixote (keep it up, mate!), a big thanks to all the people following and working on awareness and effective prevention of Female Genital Mutilation, and another encouragement to contact your legislative representation to let them know your thoughts on the issue.

  37. “The point Quixote made is that cultural relativity has limits, and nowhere are those limits clearer than when a cultural priority is applied involuntarily in an irrevocable way.” (Benjamin)

    That was the point I was trying to make, but made much more elegantly. Thanks, Benjamin!

    Key words: INVOLUNTARILY, IRREVOCABLY

  38. Pingback: Wonderland or Not » Blog Archive » As Bikini Kill so aptly put it: Suck My Left One

  39. Pingback: Kudos to British Authorities for Fighting Against Female Genital Mutilation : Girls Can’t WHAT? Kudos to British Authorities for Fighting Against Female Genital Mutilation

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