Mutilating little girls just got easier right here in the US of A
Mama tied a blindfold over my eyes. The next thing I felt my flesh was being cut away. I heard the blade sawing back and forth through my skin. The pain between my legs was so intense I wished I would die.
Waris Dirie, UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador and spokesperson on FGM
When I saw on the news that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) had been made easier in the United States, I wanted to write a column about it. When I sat down to write it, it proved agonizingly difficult. It hurt too much. The grief was as raw as if my own daughters and granddaughters were at risk. I could all too easily imagine it happening to them — and had I been so acculturated, it might have been me who made it happen. It could even have been me who wielded the blade.
It would likely have been done to me.
A federal judge has ruled that Congress overstepped its authority when it banned the procedure, although it’s widely known to be harmful on incalculable levels. It destroys a woman’s ability to ever find sexual pleasure. In far too many cases, it causes complications and even death in childbirth because the woman’s body is incapable of passing a child through the scar tissue. The judges ruled that this was a local, criminal matter and not one of national concern. (Washington Post article on the case). They want it turned over to the states, which would make it likely that some states would have no problem with it, not unlike Ohio which has proposed a law that would make abortion a capitol offense (read more here) if Roe v Wade is overturned.
The bitter irony that a law protecting little girls’ bodies was declared unconstitutional is not lost on me.
Why am I not surprised? In an administration currently assaulting women’s rights and reproductive freedoms, why would I be shocked that an assault on little girls, who do grow up to be women, after all, would be a matter of judicial indifference. Girls — and women — are property to the patriarchy, which is the foundation of the Republican party’s philosophies. Nothing wrong with surgically altering property to suit the owner’s wishes. They do it to dogs all the time and isn’t that the same thing?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) happens all over the world, but mostly to women of color in Africa and the Middle East, although it went on in the US until the 1970s and to white, Christian girls, as well, if a lot less often (the Wikipedia article on FGM). In fact, according to the Wikipedia article to which this link will take you:
From the 1880s to 1950s, excision was often performed to prevent and treat lesbianism, masturbation, depression, hysteria, and nymphomania. These procedures continued well into the 1970s, and were covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance until 1977.
There are three kinds, and even in drawing form, they are enough to bring me to my knees in rage and grief. Brave souls can follow this link to see them: line illustrations of FGM.
This isn’t done on grown women who know what they’re signing up for — and are aware of what they’ll lose. This is done to little girls, some just babies. Even in the mildest form, the clitoris is removed. And let’s be clear, this is the analogous organ to the penis. Do tell me what man in the cultures that do this would volunteer to have his penis sliced off with a razor blade? Or have it done to his son?
I don’t much like male circumcision, although there’s evidence that, for men and for their partners, there are health benefits (circumcision on boys). And doing it when the boy is a baby is demonstrably easier than when the child is grown and morning wood makes an incision on the penis the stuff of nightmares. Still, I am against removing part of a child without their consent, which at that age, they cannot give.
But for girls, it’s not the same thing. Not at all.
The reasons are entirely cultural. It means the girl is part of the social norm. Part of the cultural motivation can be to control a girl’s impulse to have sex outside of marriage. It makes them seen as marriageable. In societies where women are not considered fully human, where they go from being the property of their fathers (or other male relative) to being the property of their husbands, controlling sexuality is part and parcel of the overall expectation that women will behave in ways prescribed by the patriarchy — or else. It’s quite directly related to so-called “honor” killings. A woman who is free to express herself as she wills is considered a threat to both family and society.
Pardon me if I don’t give a rat’s ass about their cultures if it means that little girls and women suffer a hideous assault that lasts for a lifetime. You might think they would care about the baby who is likely to die with the woman when she tries to give birth, but even in the face of these losses, the mutilation continues.
I remember reading about a young woman leading a documentarian into a village where FGM was common practice. I wish I could locate the reference because I want to cite it, but it was years ago and I might never be able to find it. I remember vividly what the young woman told the documentarian — that you could tell the little girls who had been mutilated from the little girls who hadn’t been yet. The little girls still whole hopped and played and danced like little crickets. The ones who had been cut walked slowly and painfully, like ancient women.
FGM is an abomination and there’s no amount of cultural relativism that can excuse it. The idea of an adult woman subjecting herself to it makes my hair stand on end, but a grown woman gets to make her own choices, even if they stem from cultural coercion. Little girls, who are traditionally told nothing — not prepared in any way, could not possibly consent. They are babies and they have no idea of the consequences. They just want to go to school and play with their friends and be loved by their families and grow up to be happy.
But they won’t. There will always be pain. Always the knowledge their bodies have been changed irreparably, that the joy and beauty of lovemaking will never be for them. Their own bodies will never quite feel like home. Millions of women have had this brutality perpetrated on them. Millions more are at risk. Who knows how many little girls suffer this every single day.
That we are now making it easier legally for misinformed and culturally deluded parents to perpetrate this monstrous assault on little girls is another symptom that our country is in trouble and a dangerous place to be, particularly if the US resident is female.