It hit the news recently that three individuals, including a female physician, have been arrested in the United States on charges of female genital mutilation.
Excuse me for going on a bit of a rant today, but one of the benefits of having a blog that a lot of people read is that I get to talk about things that are near and dear to my heart, and hopefully change some people’s minds about them.
This has been something that has weighed so much on my heart ever since I did some work in North Africa in the summer of 1989. To know what little girls go through, often at the hands of those who are supposed to love them, and with no anaesthetic, is absolutely heartbreaking.
And yet whenever it is discussed in public forums, there seem to always be people who will draw a moral equivalence to male circumcision. It’s just as bad to cut the foreskin off a baby as it is to remove the clitoris, remove the labia, and sew the vagina together.
So excuse me for veering off of my typical fare today, but I would like to make the case why female genital mutilation is NOT the same as male circumcision and warrants our special attention.
Female genital mutilation is widely practiced in the Middle East, North Africa, and other parts of Africa, primarily, though not exclusively, in Muslim areas. It involves cutting off much of the female genitalia when the little girl is 5 or 6 years old in order to prevent her from experiencing sexual pleasure. Because I have so many readers from Africa, I really do want to comment on this, because I want to raise awareness of what is going on with women, sexuality, and marriage in the rest of the world so that we can do our part to help.
As far as I’m concerned, when you’re talking about female genital mutilation, male circumcision should not even be part of the conversation.
It’s like comparing politicians to Nazis, which I frequently hear from both sides. It doesn’t really diminish the politician, because we’re so used to it. But it does diminish the evil of the Nazis.
After all, if Donald Trump is a Nazi, then we now know what Nazis are. They’re blowhards who attack the press and who are thin skinned. If Barack Obama is a Nazi, then we have another picture of Nazis. They’re appeasers who don’t mind if Islamic terrorists kill us.
Do you see what I mean? We’ve reduced Nazis to what we’re used to seeing, and it totally takes away from the horror of what actual Nazis actually did: they murdered 6,000,000 Jews and 1,000,000 Roma and Poles systematically. They tortured people. They tore Down Syndrome babies away from their parents and shot them. They literally incinerated human beings.
There is never any reason to compare ANYONE to Nazis, unless those individuals are actually trying to wipe out a whole human race.
That comparison makes that which is totally horrible seem less horrible.
I think we do the same thing when it comes to the male circumcision/female genital mutilation debate.
If we compare the two, we lose the horror of what female genital mutilation really is. That argument is dangerous and misogynistic, because to compare the two is to diminish and disregard the real harm that is currently being done to millions of little girls around the world.
Female Genital Mutilation is intended to ruin sexual pleasure forever
Activist and FGM survivor Aayan Hirsi Ali (one of my personal heroes) explains here the five different variations of female genital mutilation.
1. The ‘nick’: The girl is held down, her legs pushed apart and a needle is used to prick her clitoris. The incision is similar to a finger prick test for diabetes, blood comes out and the girl is considered ‘cleansed’. Often there is a ritual with a little party to celebrate the procedure.
2. ‘Female circumcision’: The second method in terms of severity is often compared to male circumcision. The hood of the clitoris is cut off, in some cases the tip of the clitoris is cut off, known as clitoridectomy. In this form, an otherwise normally functioning body part is sliced off and thrown out. Disfiguring a little girl’s genitals in this way cannot rationally be considered anything but mutilation.
3. Intermediate infibulation: In the third form of FGM, as much of the clitoris as possible is dug out and removed. The inner labia are cut off and the outer labia are sewn together leaving two small holes for urination and menstruation. In places where this is done without ‘medical intervention’ girls have been known to bleed to death. After infibulation is done it is imperceptible what has taken place when the girl stands up with her legs together, but in the obstetrician’s position it is clearly visible that parts of her genitals have been removed and sewn up.
Sadly, we are only just past half way and female genital mutilation gets worse. No doubt setting out these practices in detail is disturbing but it is crucial that we speak openly about what is taking place rather than shroud it in euphemism so as not to cause offence.
4. Total infibulation: In the fourth type of FGM the clitoris and inner labia are cut off and the outer labia are cut or scraped off too, then sewn up. When the girl stands, even with her legs closed, her genitals clearly look different.
5. Vaginal fusing: In the fifth type of FGM, which is rarely discussed, all of the fourth type is done and then the inner walls of the vagina are scratched to cause bleeding and the sewing is again done. The girl’s feet are tied together in an effort to fuse the two sides of the vagina with scar tissue to close it up. Children can die undergoing this.
While the first one doesn’t sound so bad (although it would still be terrifying, shameful, and tremendously painful), the other four are designed to make sure that the girl never experiences sexual pleasure in her whole life.
I’ve heard some activists against male circumcision arguing that circumcision diminishes sexual pleasure in men. There’s scientific debate about that. But whether or not it affects sexual pleasure, it certainly does not erase it or cause intercourse to be horrendously painful for the rest of his life. Even if male circumcision meant that orgasms only reach a 9/10 (which, again, I’m not saying that’s true, and I don’t believe that it is), that’s totally different than something which means that you can never even feel aroused, and instead will only ever feel pain.
Female Genital Mutilation states that a girl’s sex drive is dangerous and shameful
The whole reason behind the procedure is to prevent girls from wanting to have sex. Their sex drives are seen as dangerous; they may choose to have sex before marriage or choose to have an affair. This prevents that.
However, a man having sex before marriage or a man having an affair is not seen as anything bad. It is only girls that must be controlled.
When a boy is circumcised, especially a baby boy, it is has nothing to do with his sex drive, and has no effect on his sex drive whatsoever. It is not saying that his genitals are shameful or that he is wrong to have sexual feelings.
Female Genital Mutilation is an attempt to control girls and treat them like property
The whole reason that some doctors justify doing the procedure on these little girls is that otherwise, in their culture, the girls would have no hope of marrying, because no one will marry a girl who is not mutilated. She is seen as property, and the relatives have the right to do this to her. They say it is out of love to protect her future, but the fact remains that it is simply a culture which says that she has no worth if she is not subordinate to her husband’s desires.
Instead of there being mutuality in marriage where each gives to the other, FGM sets up a woman to only ever give to a man while taking nothing in return. It is not intimacy; it is slavery. And it is ever so wrong.
Female Genital Mutilation is Actual Mutilation
Yes, male circumcision involves taking off a piece of his body–his foreskin. But that is not a vital part of his body, and he can function very well without it. FGM, on the other hand, is actual mutilation, and in many parts of the world it is done with sharp pieces of glass, a rusty razor blade, and no anaesthetic.
There is never a medical reason for Female Genital Mutilation
A girl’s clitoris is never a medical problem. There is never a need to remove it. Many adult males, however, do need to be circumcised because of repeated urinary tract infections, phimosis or paraphimosis (where the foreskin is tight and won’t stretch around the head of the penis, or when it retracts and won’t go back), or other reasons. The foreskin is not necessary to a full, healthy life, and indeed, many men live healthier lives without it. That can never, ever be said about FGM.
I understand that many people think that male circumcision is horrible and should not be done on little boys
And I believe that every parent should think long and hard about whether they want to do this to their sons.
But just because people are increasingly turning against male circumcision, and think that it is cruel, does not mean that we should compare it to female genital mutilation. Millions of little girls will undergo this procedure around the world this year alone. For many, it is the beginning of a lifetime of pain, constant infections, painful menstruation, and even dangerous childbirth. And it puts an end to God’s beautiful plan for sex to bind us together. Only the devil could think of something this truly evil. And only the devil would target the most vulnerable among us: little girls.
So even if you disagree with male circumcision, please do not compare it to female genital mutilation. Let’s recognize true evil for what it is. And let’s do all that we can to stop it, and to stand up for the least of these among us, and on the other side of the world.
What Can You Do to Fight Female Genital Mutilation?
Aayan Hirsi Ali has set up the AHA Foundation to fight honor killings and FGM here and abroad. Learn more and donate here. (not a specifically Christian organization).
Thank you for listening to my rant today. I really appreciate it.