Polimicks

Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

Compromise on Female Genital Mutilation?

I usually agree with PZ Meyers. I do find his brand of atheism kind of asshole-ish at times, but for the most part, I agree with what he says, and read his account of his visit to Ken Hamm’s Creationism Museum with tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.

But this time, I think he, and the majority of his readers/commenters have really missed the boat: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/whatever_happened_to_first_do.php

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that when doctors are approached by parents who wish to have (Female Genital Mutilation) FGM performed on their daughters, that they first educate them about the harm, try to dissuade them, and then, as a last ditch effort, they would like it to be legal to offer a symbolic nick of the clitoral hood (Prepuce) in the hopes that the parents will be satisfied with that: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/125/5/1088 The idea is that if the doctor can say, “We can’t do what you want, but here is this other option, accepted by other Christians/Muslims who have the same basic values as you.”

I did a paper on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in grad school. The term FGM (or Female Genital Cutting FGC, for those who wish to be less confrontational, if also less accurate) covers a broad spectrum of practices from tiny ceremonial nicks (sunna) like that proposed by the AAP, to full excision of all external female genitalia, the resulting hole is then sewn closed around a straw or reed to allow enough of a gap for urination and menstruation. These procedures are often performed on girls by other women using whatever sharp(-ish) instrument is at hand, often including sharp rocks, pieces of broken glass or cans, scissors, as well as more surgical instruments. The girls are rarely, if ever, anesthetized.

The practice of FGM is NOT religious, it is cultural. Yes, several Islamic communities perform FGM, but so do many Christian communities. It may be, within those communities, linked to their local religious practices and view of morality, but there is nothing in the holy books of either religion that states “cut all the parts off your girls.” Mohammed is supposed to have said, outside of the Koran, that a nick or bloodletting of the genitals was somehow beneficial or pleasing to Allah, but the practice itself is not in the Koran.

I am as against FGM as one human being, who has not been on the receiving end of it, can be. I’ve read first-hand accounts of the pain and terror experienced by girls, who are usually somewhere between the ages of 4 and 14 when it is done. I’ve seen pictures of the results, and the whole idea turns my stomach. Even the idea of just a little, superficial nick makes me a little queasy and makes me cross my legs.

That said, I am for anything that keeps girls from being actually, full on mutilated. This is not the time for the “All or Nothing” stance advocated by Equality Now, PZ and his followers.

An article ignored by most of the commenters at PZ’s blog, http://www.cirp.org/library/legal/davis1/ (go to section 3. The Seattle Experience), discusses the case of a group of Somali women who did not want to have their daughters mutilated, but felt the need for some sort of procedure that would, even if just symbolically, ensure their purity and marriageability. They suggested to the doctors the option of the nick, performed with analgesics in sterile conditions, on the prepuce, not the clitoris itself, as a compromise. According to their contacts in the Somali community, up to 40 women were holding off on sending their daughters back to Somalia for one of the more extreme forms of FGM (pharoanic) until finding out if they could opt for the compromise. However, once the newspapers got wind of it, they started up a hue and cry, got the compromise procedure banned, and 40 girls most probably got sent back to Somalia and had their labia and clitorises completely removed.

Good job, guys.

Yes, education is part of the answer. As is outlawing the forms that do real damage to girls’ genitalia. But can we at least all agree that a tiny nick is better than parents shipping their girls off to where it IS legal to have it done or where enforcement of the laws is laughable, sometimes against the will of one or the other of the parents? While the US does grant asylum to women seeking to avoid FGM (http://www.irinnews.org/IndepthMain.aspx?IndepthId=15&ReportId=62462) the burden of proof for this and other gender-related matters is exceptionally difficult.

Should we be mutilating children? No. BUT, that said, if a tiny nick is going to keep a girl from having her entire genital region sawed off with a rusty knife? YES. Dear Gods, yes!! These are not abstracts of thought, people. These are real people, real girls, who are going to be really mutilated.

Other people have said that if a doctor is approached by people wanting ANY version of FGM/FGC they should immediately report them to the police and their children should be taken away. How do you prove it?

And great, so you’ve just created another class of people who are not going to go to the doctor for anything, including immunizations, since they’ll have to worry about their kids being taken away. Seriously, do you people ever think this shit through? Besides, say they do ask the doctor about it, what’s his/her proof? What’s to keep racist dickheads from just accusing immigrant parents of this because they ASSUME they’ll do this to their kids, even if they aren’t from a region that engages in it? What’s to keep parents from lying through their teeth, and taking the kids back to the old country for the procedure anyway?

Are you going to tell immigrants from these regions that they can never go back home to visit? How the hell do you prove that they intend to have FGM performed on their daughters? This is the kind of crime that it’s hell to prove intent for, and is usually only caught after the fact, when it’s too fucking late.

Look, as barbaric and awful as I find the whole custom, I know that these parents who do this to their daughters aren’t cackling in evil glee and rubbing their hands together in malicious joy. They are doing what their culture says they have to to ensure their daughters can get married and be accepted by society. Women who have not received FGM in their homeland are ostracized, shunned and often times brutally punished by the community for being loose licentious women, regardless of whether or not they are. The parents who practice FGM are, in part, trying to protect their daughters from rape, beatings and murder.

Are there days when I read reports of this and just think, “Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.”

Yes. Oh, hell yes.

Do I think allowing FGM in the name of cultural tolerance is complete bullshit?

Yes, I do.

Do I think a tiny nick is the equivalent of having your entire genital region, or even just your clitoris sawed off with a piece of broken glass?

No.

And yes, education is going to help, and is helping, slowly. And outlawing it is going to help, and is helping, slowly. But if there is yet another solution, even if it only saves 40 more girls, then I’m all for it. That’s 40 girls who won’t be mutilated.

I think some people need to take their absolutist heads out of their absolutist asses, and take a look at all the shades of grey populating the world.

Fuck your ideological purity. These girls are not abstracts of thought, they are not ideas. They are living, breathing, feeling beings who deserve better. And if better is a small nick on the prepuce, or hell, even the clitoris itself, rather than having everything taken from them,then so be it.

It is also important to note that there are women out there who have received FGM, and don’t view it as a mutilation, but as a valid tradition of their people. I don’t know if I can get behind that, but it also isn’t my place to tell these women they’re wrong.

Additional references:
UW Anthropology Paper on FGM: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBF-42813MH-4&_user=582538&_coverDate=04%2F30%2F2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1334241667&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000029718&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=582538&md5=c4adcb059feb51dda3362086356a2eb2 This paper also has the reference to the Seattle times article on what happened here.

This entry originally posted at http://polimicks.dreamwidth.org/

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15 comments on “Compromise on Female Genital Mutilation?

  1. dianthus
    May 14, 2010

    Thank you for this! I wasn’t sure where I stood on the symbolic cut permission, and now I’m set enough to speak out for it. (My feelings about the comparability of the western norm of circumcision kind of confused things.)

    Like

    • polimicks
      May 14, 2010

      The thing is, ideological absolutes may be great in debate class, but in real life? Not so much.

      Like

  2. poptart1017
    May 14, 2010

    I don’t know, I’m still a little bit torn about it. I think it is good for the girls who would, like you said, be completely mutilated otherwise. But it also could validate the procedure in the medical community, which would then make people think “Well, if doctors do this, there must be a good reason for it” and maybe slow the transition/progression of ridding the world of this practice. Kind of like circumcision in the US (although I hate comparing the two, I don’t think there really is comparison between *real* FGM and male circumcision, but I think there is a comparison between male circumcision and what is being advocated by the AAP).
    But that said, I’m mostly leaning in favor of it. It’s not the solution I would LIKE (as an atheist/PZ Myers fan, lol), it isn’t an ideal solution, but it is a realistic solution and if it saves even one girl from going through FGM, then it is worth it.

    Like

    • polimicks
      May 14, 2010

      The thing is, there is no ideal solution, because real life doesn’t lend itself to “ideal.”
      I’d be perfectly content if we could just educate people and DING! they’d knock it off. But they’re not going to hell. Hell, clitorectomies were routinely performed in this country well into the 50s, and possibly the 60s.
      I don’t think it will legitamize it in any meaningful way, but I think it will go a long way toward winning the trust of immigrant populations for the US medical system if they feel at least a little respected, which could (stressing could), in turn lead to more immunization better health for kids in these families in the long run.

      Like

      • literateshrew
        May 16, 2010

        I think you summed up the arguments very well, and I don’t really have anything to add, except…
        Can I just say that the word “clitorectomy” makes me freak out a little in my soul?
        “makes me a little queasy and makes me cross my legs”
        YES.

        Like

      • polimicks
        May 16, 2010

        Yeah, me, too. Honestly, when I found out they were still performed into the 50s here, I think I screamed.
        Then I found out that Dr. Kellogg regularly prescribed them, and had a screaming fit. We used to GO there on field trips when I was a kid in Michigan, to the Kellogg’s factory, and the sanitarium is RIGHT THERE!!!!!!

        Like

  3. garpu
    May 14, 2010

    I’m conflicted. On the one hand I feel like we should be beating people with 2×4’s until they get the hint that it’s not OK to mutilate girls. On the other hand, I know it takes time to change peoples’ opinions.

    Like

    • polimicks
      May 14, 2010

      Indeed. I have, on occasion fostered the fantasy of “doing unto others…” However, the operation (regardless of what that episode of Law & Order said) is usually performed by women, who had it performed on them as children.

      Like

      • garpu
        May 14, 2010

        Yeah, how do you educate something like that? Should outsiders educate people within a culture? How do people outside of the culture promote activism from within? (Because that’s how things change.) I’m still hedging towards the 2×4, myself, and I’m a pacifist.

        Like

      • polimicks
        May 14, 2010

        You can find video on the web of young girls/women saying that they don’t want to be mutilated, but… They also don’t want to be beaten, raped or murdered for it either.

        Like

      • zabieru
        May 15, 2010

        My great-grandparents were medical missionaries in China. They did quite a bit of work with foot-binding, as this was around the time the practice ended. By family tradition (I haven’t really done much research on this, so consider this anecdotal) one of the most important factors in ending foot-binding was grandmothers having their feet unbound.
        My understanding is that generally, women didn’t think foot-binding was awesome, but many mothers given the choice between possibly cursing their daughters to spinsterhood and just going with tradition chose to bind their daughters’ feet. Grandmothers had a bit more perspective and also a bit more insulation from husbandly pressure (since it wouldn’t be their husbands but rather their sons or sons-in-law who would have to support any unmarried daughters).
        Of course, Chinese culture assigns a lot of respect to age, and I’m not particularly aware of that in, for instance, Somali culture. But I still think it’s an encouraging sign that these changes can come from within (and I don’t particularly think those grandmas were overly influenced by Western opinions. I think they were just fed up.)

        Like

      • polimicks
        May 15, 2010

        In this case, frequently, it is the mothers who are looking for an alternate solution. They don’t necessarily want to mutilate their daughters, but they know they have to do something, if they wind up getting deported (and with the talk of deporting people over traffic violations now, and considering the mass of Somali cabdrivers in this city…) they don’t want their daughters facing the brutal sanctions of their homeland.

        Like

    • dianthus
      May 14, 2010

      Are you also anti-circumcision?

      Like

  4. spitphyre
    May 15, 2010

    Bravo! Excellent post and compelling argument. I haven’t strayed into this conversation because I didn’t know enough about the reasoning behind the ruling. Thank you for this.

    Like

    • polimicks
      May 15, 2010

      Like I said, if I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away, I would. The nick may not be an ideal or complete solution, but it will help.

      Like

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