Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
I recently encountered the idea of excision, also known as “female circumcision,” or, more appropriately, “female genital mutilation” in some readings for a philosophy class. It is performed around the world, most commonly in Africa, but also in places like the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. 85 to 115 million of today’s women have been excised, according to the World Health Organization, and up to 98% of women in places like Somalia and 93% in Mali have undergone the procedure (May 17).
The process involves removing the clitoris in less intrusive forms of FGM and removing as much as the inner and outer lips, leaving the vagina partially exposed, in its more extreme forms.
The results are a permanent loss of sexual pleasure for the woman. In the short term, women sometimes experience hemorrhaging, tetanus, septicemia, and possible death. In the long term, chronic infection can occur, as well as long-term pain and scars that hinder walking, not to mention the psychological and emotional effects that come as a result of removing a woman’s most personal and fragile organs (Rachels 25). So, the benefits of FGM must be pretty good, right?
Arguments in favor of FGM are that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies when women experience no sexual pleasure, an idea that suggests that it is women who provoke men to sex and not vice versa, that women will be less inclined to cheat on their husbands, and that they will therefore be more attentive to their families, becoming better mothers and housekeepers. These benefits depict women as unable to control of their desires and incapable of caring for their families and husbands if they are distracted by sexual pleasure. Furthermore, according to supporters of FGM, the importance of sexual pleasure is overly emphasized in western media and society. Obviously, this means that women’s sexual pleasure is overly emphasized, seeing as male excision is not a common practice. (This would involve removing most of the penis in less intrusive forms of FGM and removing the entire penis as well as some of the scrotum in its more extreme forms. Think it’s the equivalent of male circumcision? Do you know any men who would be willing to give up their penis? I don’t.)
I knew before reading these articles that FGM is performed throughout the world, but I had no idea how prominent a trend it is. FGM is another way to break down and control women. After all, to take away a woman’s sexual pleasure, which is a liberating experience, is another way to keep her in submission. Removing one of the organs that biologically defines her also removes a part of her identity, which in turn lessens her ability and will to try to overcome the patriarchal structure. Does this make anyone else as angry as it makes me?
Michele’s Note: For those in WMST100, we will be reading more about FGM in Week 11.