Tuesday, 27 January 2015

(Fe)male Genital Mutilation: Calling the Kettle Black?

            I started to write this post a long time ago when I came across this article from the Guardian about a landmark trial in Egypt on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Yesterday, that doctor was convicted and I felt the need to pick this up again. For those of you who don't know, FGM is characterized as, "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," by the World Health Organization. I'll let them explain to you why it's such a big deal (emphasis mine):
Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. First and foremost, it is painful and traumatic. The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences.
            There are a few different types of female genital mutilation out there. I will let you Wikipedia it yourself because it's not really what I'm going to talk about here.

image by Amnon Shavit

            While this is a cause that has gained quite a lot of momentum in the past few years, I only knew it existed when my high school sex-ed teacher told us about it, which went about as well as you would expect. Westerners are terrified when we hear about FGM. "Why would you do that? What purpose does it serve?" These are reasonable questions to ask, and in truth it does not serve any purpose. However, for a country with an almost 60% prevalence of male genital mutilation, otherwise known as circumcision, it feels a bit hypocritical.

            Now let's analyze the cultural differences behind why we do what we do. FGM is most present in many central African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as several Asian countries and immigrant communities around the world.  In these places, the female genitalia are widely regarded as "dirty" and "corrupt." Proponents believe that this practice produces young women who are less likely to commit adultery or sexual sin, and indeed, for many it is a prerequisite to marriage.

            Male circumcision is also widely practiced in Africa and the Middle East. The interesting thing is that it is extremely prevalent in North America as well. It is common in most Jewish and Islamic communities and is often a determinant of socioeconomic status and social standing among nonreligious practitioners. The biggest difference between male and female circumcision is this: there have been recent findings to suggest that male circumcision does prevent STD contraction and has other health benefits, though these studies are flawed and have discouraged condom use.

            Despite these possible health benefits, male circumcision is prevalent nowadays in the United States mostly because it was introduced in the late 19th century as a means to curb masturbation: something "dirty" and "corrupt."

image by Something Awful

            For something as shocking as slicing genitalia, you'd hope we'd think twice before doing it to our children. Male circumcision does not make the penis cleaner. Male circumcision does not reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease in western countries. So why are we still not letting our children choose for themselves? We've made the same arguments against FGM, but do not question our innate decision to modify our men.

            And before you say, "But FGM is way worse!" That's not what this is about. We're adults and this is not a pissing contest. What this is about is promoting our children's right to choose, waiting until our sons and daughters are old enough to make their own decisions (and people do often make their own decisions), and raising awareness to the fact that we should start treating FGM as seriously as male circumcision.


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