I’ve known about female circumcision, or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for a long time. When I was a college student, my hate for the practice was solidified when it was coincidentally discussed in two separate classes on the same morning.
After the talk in Geography gave me an upset stomach, the detailed written account in Child Psychology pushed me to the brink of faint. Even as my vision went black and my hearing faded, all I could think about was how wrong FGM is. If it could have such an impact on a 22 year-old white girl in hyper-Christian West Michigan, imagine what it does to the underprivileged Muslim women in Egypt.
Without going into too much detail, let me clarify what female circumcision is. Like male circumcision, it removes part of the genitalia. Unlike typical male circumcision in the west, female circumcision is often intended to preserve virginity, and perpetuate what you and I might see as oppressive and sexist tradition. More information is available on this Equality Now PDF.
Yesterday, a friend shared an article that reignited my outrage over FGM. Recounting the death of a 13 year-old Egyptian after the procedure, and the possible ramifications for the doctor, the article is a stark reminder of how common and accepted FGM is. Worse, this isn’t just something that impoverished old women do in back rooms – Suhair al-Bata’a died under the care of a doctor in a medical facility.
And you know what? This happens in the United States too. Maybe not as often or plainly as in Egypt, but it happens. Here.
Some have risen in protest. The Vagina Monologues uses the female voice (and, often, humor) to banish the taboo enshrouding discussions of female genitalia, and V-Day is a movement to raise awareness and resources for fighting violence against women and girls. The current conversations about rape and harassment are also helping to bring this most important issue to light.
Of course, extensive discourse on female circumcision might lead us to ask about common western male circumcision. Large groups of people accept FGM as a cultural, medical and religious norm. They think they have to do it to avoid being persecuted or thought odd. Parents are not given complete information, and simply do what they believe should be done. Sound familiar? Now, I’m not saying the two situations are the same – not at all. Still, it seems valid to question medical practices based more in tradition than necessity. If I ever have a son, he will likely not be circumcised as an infant, and make his own decision in his own time.
Back to FGM. It’s horrific; it’s unthinkable. I appreciate every day that my daughter was born where and when she was, and is surrounded by people who want the absolute best for her health, mind and future. She will probably encounter sexism at some point, and feel objectified by men and shamed by women. But she and I have a man who treats us like gold, and face little chance of our bodies being so mistreated by those supposed to love us.
There’s a lot of talk on Facebook and elsewhere about rape culture and how men are “taught” to treat women like objects. I completely agree that the problem exists and that women should be speaking out. I also feel like we need to step back and remember where we stand relative to other women in the world. Cat calls can be unpleasant, but I’d tolerate it if it was the worst abuse women endured. Sadly, this seemingly harmless “boys will be boys” behavior is only one end of a very dark spectrum, and can’t be completely severed from things like FGM.
Respect a person, respect their body. Don’t be afraid of words like “vagina” or “clitoris” because they are just parts – awesome, wonderful body parts. Love your body, because leaving a vacuum of shame only makes room for hateful things like FGM. Remember Suhair al-Bata’a, and fight back.