Female Genital Cutting

Before reading Fadumo Korn’s memoir, Born in the Big Rains, I had struggled with my stance on female circumcision.  Initially, I was shocked by what I heard and completely disagreed with the entire practice.  After putting some thought to this, I challenged my own views to understand how and why I think this way.  Many people argue that speaking out against female circumcision is wrong because it is a cultural practice deeply embedded in history.  I took this into great consideration but was unable to accept this as simply a cultural tradition.

"I stand against female genital mutilation." Are shirts like these effective or do they further bridge a divide between cultures?

The origin and significance of this is completely misogynistic.  As Korn states in the text, “Whatever reasons are deployed – aesthetic (the folds of skin of the labia and clitoris are gigantic and disgusting); hygienic (after infibulation, it’s so much easier to wash); medical (stitching precludes noxious excretions) – the goal is clearly the control of a woman’s sexuality” (Korn 140).  The idea that a woman’s sexuality needs to be controlled is very problematic.  This assumes that women are not able to control themselves and need the guidance of others to succeed in life.  This practice is also very detrimental in regards to a woman’s sexuality.  Although Korn explains that sex can be pleasurable after being opened up and growing to love one’s body, female circumcision can potentially destroy a woman’s sexuality.  The clitoris functions to provide a woman with pleasure.  When this part of her body is cut or removed, her sexual pleasure will diminish or be gone forever.  Aside from the effects on sexuality, female circumcision is detrimental to a woman’s health and well-being.

Even after considering the opposing viewpoints, I cannot help but disagree.  Female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, is (usually) a complete violation of human rights.  I say this for multiple reasons.  One of the major problems with this is that it is performed on young girls who are not given a say in the matter.  They are not allowed to make the decision that will completely change their life and could potentially end their life.  They lose autonomy over their body and are treated as property.  However, even if these women did consent, I do not think I could agree with the practice.  There is no evidence that indicates that female circumcision is at all beneficial.  In fact, the evidence proves it can be very detrimental.  The idea that women should not be able to fully experience their sexuality and need to be controlled is deeply disturbing to me.  It is indicative of a much larger problem that I feel is evident in every country in the world.  The idea that women are inferior to men is constantly being reinforced in society.  Why is it that only women need to have a diminished libido?  Although men are also circumcised, it does not have any effect on their sexuality and has actually proven to be beneficial for their health.  In males, a procedure that would be similar to female circumcision would be amputation of part of the penis or amputation of the entire penis.  I am positive that if this idea was suggested there would be an enormous backlash, because it is completely ludicrous.  Why is it that the world can understand the absurdity of that procedure but not of the comparable procedure in females?  I feel that sexism has become so commonplace that often we do not even understand it as sexism.  Female circumcision is a completely sexist practice.  As much as I want to believe that one would actually want this to be done to them, I cannot do so because I am aware that the this to be done to them, I cannot do so because I am aware that the are often convinced with misogynistic ideas about women, false truths about health and sexuality, and social pressure to conform.

This is a young girl while being circumcised.

I am especially uneasy about the fact that girls are presented with false information about female circumcision.  For example, Fadumo Korn believed that she would be dirty if she was not circumcised.  She was not informed about the steps involved in the procedure or the potential consequences.  Although there are certain situations in which parents need to make decisions for their children, it should always be with their best interest in mind.  This becomes complicated in these situations because often parents consider this to be the best thing for their daughters.  Because of cultural significance, women that are not circumcised are considered inferior.  They are considered unattractive to men and risk not being able to start their own families in the future.  When presented with these facts, parents will naturally consider circumcision the best option.  However, as Korn explains, some parents will change their minds when presented with the truth of the matter.  This proves that education can be very beneficial in communities where this practice is widespread.  Although some families will still value their culture more than this new information, it is important to use this type of education to alter perceptions.

I still struggle with my opinions because I do not want to come off as a Western woman trying to impose my beliefs on others.  I am very glad that women that have undergone this procedure are speaking out in their communities and raising a global sense of awareness.  I feel that this activism is ultimately much more effective than any other method because it is so personal.  However, it is also important that governments, practitioners, and humanity in general join this movement.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mohammed Adawulai
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 03:44:18

    i appreciate your stance on this issue, female circumcision is BAD,and there is no one to dispute that. but there are two things i would like to respond to. first is the issue of sexism. it is simply inaccurate to label female circumcision as sexism, for if you do, then i want to ask you insofar as the book is concerned, that who took korn to the site of circumcision? who performed the circumcision? the answer is very obvious, WOMEN. it is women who have been through it as tradition demands, that are ensuring that their daughters go through the same otherwise inhuman process. and i find it very difficult to accept that “There is no evidence that indicates that female circumcision is at all beneficial”. well as korn said, that the main reason behind FGM is to reduce women’s sexual desire before marriage. the idea behind FGM is GOOD, but how it is ensured is entirely BAD. 80% of HIV/AIDS is transmitted through sex. this is something FGM could prevent. it could prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce infant mortality. but this could be ensured in a very different but healthy way, and i’m glad you brought up the importance of education in eradicating this outmoded cultural practice. sex education is a very effective replacement for FGM: parents should have sex conversations with their wards. children must be informed, at an early stage, of the dangers of pre-marital sex and most of all, unprotected sex. this i believe could be helpful, healthier and happier for all. i agree with you on that, good job


  2. Trackback: Women in the Qur’an « my life as a feminista
  3. adam
    Apr 14, 2011 @ 20:22:07

    people are very quick speak out against fgm and for good reason.However,it sickens me the amount of people who say it is wrong in one breath and say male circumcision is acceptable in another.It’s wrong in all circumstances regardless of sex.


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