Erasing the women »« Politics and the bloggish language

A timely article on FGM by Will Bordell

At ur-B&W. Here is a big excerpt.

In the time it takes you to read this article, over 50 young girls will have their clitoris hacked out. What are you going to do about it?

Each girl will be pinned down, with no anaesthetic, whilst 8,000 nerve endings cringe at the touch of an unclean scalpel. Each girl will scream and writhe and howl – but you won’t hear any of them. Each girl will be irreversibly, unbearably, agonisingly mutilated.

“I heard it,” described Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat. A piercing pain shot up between my legs”. Skin rips, blood pours, cries screech. But it wasn’t over for her just yet: next “came the sewing… the long, blunt needle clumsily pushed into my bleeding outer labia,” thread weaving through thread to leave behind only a miniscule opening for urination and menstruation.

The scars of this torture, butchery on a factory-line scale – and that is the only way to describe it – will never fade. Premenstrual cramps, traumatic periods, an interminable stench of soured blood (caused by menstrual difficulties), problems with pregnancy and childbirth, pain during sexual intercourse, psychological damage and the risk of fistula are but a few of the long, long list of health complications that will haunt every girl’s adulthood. That’s if they survive the immediate blood loss, infection and severe trauma. It’s an experience from which a child may never fully recover.

Conservative estimates suggest that over 100 million women worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Article Five of the UN Declaration of Human Rights decrees that no one “shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. And surely such human rights are universal; or else they are nothing.

Read on.

Comments

  1. says

    “But it’s a cultural practice,” I’m sure some number of benighted relativists will say. “Surely we must respect it, particularly since it’s non-western.”

    The saddest irony of all: it is an operation invariably carried out by (older) women on (youger) women. Any man, however sanctified and holy, who performed it would prabably be treated with great community suspicion.

    ‘Cultural’ or not, it is illegal here in Australia, as in many other countries. It is also illegal here to take a victim overseas in order to have it performed.

  2. says

    A question here for any Islamic theologians given to visiting this site:

    It was Allah who put the clitoris where it is on the female body. Why on Earth would He do that?

    Would not ‘clitoridectomy’ be a presumptuous act of blasphemy, in that it is an attempt to improve on Allah’s handiwork, carried out to boot by ignorant, unskilled and unsanitary ‘surgeons’?

  3. barrypearson says

    Ian MacDougall #2
    It was Allah who put the clitoris where it is on the female body. Why on Earth would He do that?

    Quite!

    I’m reasonably sure that FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is not mandated by Islam. It is largely cultural rather than religious. Here is my own post on the subject.

    But some Islamic scholars state that FGM is desirable (see the above link):

    “Circumcision reduces excessive sensitivity of the clitoris which may cause it to increase in size to 3 centimeters when aroused, which is very annoying to the husband, especially at the time of intercourse….

    “Circumcision reduces excessive sexual desire….

    “For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the Sunnah which encourages it. We all know the dimensions of Islam, and that everything in it must be good in all aspects, including health aspects….”

    If Islam didn’t formally and eternally treat women as 2nd class beings, it is hard to believe that such statements would be plausible. The link between Islam and FGM isn’t that Islam mandates it, but rather that Islam doesn’t consider women as worthy of enough consideration to eliminate such attitudes. This lets such contemptible views, often derived from pre-Islamic cultural influences, remain unchallenged.

    And I too said there: “If Allah is perfect, and Allah designed and created women, why is there such a motivation to modify his creation?”.

  4. Beatrice says

    *cringe*

    Unfortunately, when it comes to protection of human rights, women are still often excluded. Obviously, it’s not a problem worth fighting unless the more important part of human race is affected.

  5. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    @Ian MacDougall

    “it is an operation invariably carried out by (older) women on (youger) women”

    That is absolutely incorrect and I have no idea where you get such a notion. Men perform the practice in multiple instances across Africa. Further FGM has already been significantly medicalised, as in performed by medical professionals, in Egypt and Muslim nations outside of Africa.

    Westerners can focus so much on the sensationalistic aspects of acute trauma and immediate mortality that they unwittingly introduce a vile solution: sanitary, surgical genital mutilation under anesthesia.

    Once the acute dangers are removed, the practice may be even more entrenched. Anthropological data suggests women in cultures where FGM is the norm are very happy with their genitals post-FGM. In turn one only need see the aggressive, pseudo-medical defence of male circumcision in the United States to see where such a path leads.

    In fact I wonder if Jews and Americans alike prefer to keep FGM conceptualised as a brutal, primitive practice to pretend that our own cultural crimes are somehow markedly different.

  6. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    “Unfortunately, when it comes to protection of human rights, women are still often excluded. Obviously, it’s not a problem worth fighting unless the more important part of human race is affected.”
    — Beatrice

    Are you really that utterly ignorant?

    1. Anthropologists have noted that every culture that practices female genital cutting also practices male genital cutting. I would be interested if you can name even a single exception to that rule.

    2. Women are protected from genital mutilation by law in all Western nations, whilst boys are not, in any nation. Reality is the exact opposite of how you characterise it.

  7. Beatrice says

    Westerners can focus so much on the sensationalistic aspects of acute trauma and immediate mortality that they unwittingly introduce a vile solution: sanitary, surgical genital mutilation under anesthesia.

    I never realized that this might be an unfortunate consequence, but now that you mention it… Ugh.
    But then again, how probable is this is in places where the worst butchery seems to be present now?

    Anthropological data suggests women in cultures where FGM is the norm are very happy with their genitals post-FGM.

    Those women who can’t properly menstruate and are in pain during every sexual intercourse? I would really like to know which definition of “very happy” you are using. I wouldn’t mind a link or two either.

  8. Beatrice says

    Except that circumcision is being discussed on every corner all the time, and FGM is barely worth a mention.

  9. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    “Except that circumcision is being discussed on every corner all the time, and FGM is barely worth a mention.”

    You could have apologised for an offensive display of ignorance, but no you double down with another bit of utter nonsense.

    The UN and WHO have been discussing FGM since the 1970s there multiple NGOs (two of which I am a part) fighting the tradition for the past two decades, people like Hirsi Ali and Waris Dire have been telling their stories for years, Alice Walker made it a pet cause…to say FGM is considered “barely worth a mention” either shows how delusional or shockingly ignorant you are, take your pick.

    And as a Jew who opposes male circumcision (a not very popular opinion I might add), I am hyper-aware of that discussion as well. Do not sit there and tell me it is a well-discussed subject when even having a serious debate is all but impossible. Any debate on male circumcision invariable involves various inappropriate jokes, every invective you can imagine against opponents and unsolicted statements of virility by circumcised American men. That is before you can get to a discussion of medical ethics, gender equality and the dubious HIV research in Africa that apparently validates cutting all boys in the States.

    Please do us and yourself a favour and go actually read about these subjects before offering any more painfully baseless opinions.

  10. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    “Those women who can’t properly menstruate and are in pain during every sexual intercourse? I would really like to know which definition of “very happy” you are using. I wouldn’t mind a link or two either.”

    People classify types of FGM for a reason. Not all FGM is infibulation. Hirsi Ali comes from a region where total excision and infibulation is practiced, which is actually a minority of FGM cases. It is infibulation that prevents normal passage of urine and menstrual flow and requires being torn open for sexual intercourse. Most FGM is clitoridectomy and that does not necessarily cause any on-going physiological problems, especially when done by a skilled surgeon (which is why medicalisation must be opposed vigourously).

    Again your ignorance is shocking to behold. Does it never occur to you go and read up on this subject instead of spouting of your opinion? Obviously not since, now I am supposed to spoon feed you information. Go research it yourself, you clearly need the practice. Everyone from the Egyptian government to noted researchers like Hanny Lightfoot-Klein have covered the issue of women’s self-perception of FGM.

  11. Rodney Nelson says

    I never thought I’d read anyone defending FGM on FTB. Just when I think I’ve seen pretty much every vile thing, someone even more vile comes around. Congratulations, Rebekah, the Wily Jew, you’ve become the new standard by which vileness will be measured.

  12. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Rodney, the only explanation for your post is complete and utter reading comprehension failure on your part.

    Actually read my posts, for example the part where I mention being part of not one but two NGOs fighting FGM, and then explain how you view me as “defending FGM”. Or you could profusely apoloigise.

    Correcting various factual errors made by other posters is called being intellectually honest, not defending FGM, in case you need that explained to you.

  13. Ian MacDougall says

    First, there seems to have been a disturbing development at B&W. I don’t know if others expperience this difficulty, but my old user name no longer works. So instead of signing Ian MacDougall, as I have been doing since God knows when, I must now use the ungainly cybergeekified user name of ianmacdougall.

    Not everything changes for the better.

    Now Rebekah:

    “[That FGM is invariably carried out by older women on younger women] is absolutely incorrect and I have no idea where you get such a notion. Men perform the practice in multiple instances across Africa. Further FGM has already been significantly medicalised, as in performed by medical professionals, in Egypt and Muslim nations outside of Africa.

    Westerners can focus so much on the sensationalistic aspects of acute trauma and immediate mortality that they unwittingly introduce a vile solution: sanitary, surgical genital mutilation under anesthesia.”

    And a merry Christmas to you, too.

    My ‘absolute incorrectness’ apparently stems from my use of the word ‘invariably’. OK. Mea culpa. I should have been more academic and guarded, with liberal use of escape clauses. My only ‘experience’ of FGM has been seeing a couple of documantary films, and reading about it in anthropological literature. IN MY EXPERIENCE (all as secondhand as a back street used car lot) I have only ever seen films or accounts in the literature in which women did the ‘surgery’. Not a sterile blade, swab, anaesthetic, drop of antiseptic or smidgin of antibiotic either in sight or mentioned.

    Now “sanitary, surgical genital mutilation under anesthesia” may be a ‘vile solution’ in your view, but I put it to you that it is less vile and therefore preferable to UNsanitary, NON-surgical genital mutilation under NO anesthesia, carried out on the bare ground somewhere. With subsequent complications.

    Personally, I would like to see FGM classified as a crime against humanity, with those performing it liable to do porridge in The Hague, the Lubyanka, or some other suitable centre of deterrent incarceration.

    Surgeons involved should be invited to take a holiday in one of the abovementioned establishments, with their only available reading matter being notices that their registration is hereby terminated.

    In your courteous response to Beatrice @ #6 you said:
    “Anthropologists have noted that every culture that practices female genital cutting also practices male genital cutting. I would be interested if you can name even a single exception to that rule.”

    ‘Cutting’ by the way is PCspeak for ‘mutilation’. Wherever in my non-omniscient experience I have seen the term used, it has been part of an attempt to give the practice a more respectable image than it would get from the more accurate and implicitly critical term ‘mutilation’.

    Exceptions to your ‘rule’ may or may not exist. However I put it to you that the operation which would be the male equivalent of standard FGM would be amputation of the penis, coupled with removal of part of the scrotum (cutting a piece out of it) and sewing up the gap with whatever is handy, to make the scrotal sac smaller.

    That does not happen. If you can figure out why, there’s possibly a doctorate there for the taking. Maybe even a Nobel Prize.

  14. Bjarte Foshaug says

    We all know it’s coming, so we might as well get it over with:

    But what about TEH MENZ?!

  15. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Ian, you could have just issued a mea culpa and moved along, but no, you remain defensive and aggressive. And why? Because you made a factually incorrect statement and got called out on it.

    I cannot help but note the irony that you get pissy with me over correcting you (a correction you cannot contest) on a blog whose author wrote “Why Truth Matters”.

    It is not my fault you were factually wrong. Nor do I care why you are factually wrong.

    You seem so embarrassed that you just had to find something to quibble about so as to attack me and lo and behold you do:

    “Wherever in my non-omniscient experience I have seen the term used, it has been part of an attempt to give the practice a more respectable image than it would get from the more accurate and implicitly critical term ‘mutilation’.”

    Firstly the way you use the word “non-omniscient” just shows again how immature and petty you are in the face of being proven wrong. Your comments frankly show almost no substantive knowledge of this subject.

    The UN, WHO and many NGOs now use “cutting” in many instances because we have found “mutilation” sparks too defensive a reaction among women of FGM status and harms our efforts. I love how you, someone with a bare sprinkling of knowledge and no involvement in the fight against FGM can so imperiously decry our decision as an attempt to make it “respectable”.

    Using “mutilation” with women and “cutting” with men raises the immediate issue of gender inequality and hypocrisy. I prefer FGm, but switch to FGC/MGC when speaking of them together.

    Most active opponents of FGM I know oppose all forms of ritual/routine male genital cutting as well, because of this crazy notion called equality under the law.

    “However I put it to you that the operation which would be the male equivalent of standard FGM would be amputation of the penis, coupled with removal of part of the scrotum (cutting a piece out of it) and sewing up the gap with whatever is handy, to make the scrotal sac smaller.”

    Again your ignorance shows:

    1. Some FGM is identical to male circumcision (i.e. excision of the prepuce and labia minora). Again as I told Beatrice, we classify FGM for a reason. That information is readily available and for all the words you manage to spill on this topic, it is shameful I have to explain such a basic fact to you.

    2. All FGM, whether analagous to male circumcision or not, is illegal in the West. I assume you are some sort of liberal and gender equality under the law would be on your agenda, but maybe I am ignorant in this case to make that assumption.

  16. jb says

    Man, I am about as ignorant as ian mcougall and beatrice are regarding FGM. I have mostly heard about the brutal practise, not the sanitary, medical side – though I did read one article about how young women from Europe go to doctors for it instead.

    Perhaps I should shoot myself in the head, as Rebekah cannot stand people like me who are justifiably outraged over such treatment of women!

  17. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    “Perhaps I should shoot myself in the head, as Rebekah cannot stand people like me who are justifiably outraged over such treatment of women!”

    Attacking me for introducing facts and a broader perspective on this topic is basically saying you consider ignorance a virtue.

    Again you are doing this on the blog of the author of “Why Truth Matters”. I apologise for erroneously assuming people here were educated, thoughtful and liberal by and large. You, Beatrice, Ian and Rodney have thorough disabused me of that notion.

  18. jb says

    Wrong Rebekah.

    I applaud your efforts to educate people. The problem? We are not ignorant out of malice. Many of us oppose ALL forms of mutilation, on boys or girls.

    The problem is that you were mean and condescending to start with. That is what people are objecting to, I believe. I love to learn, and you have contributed a lot. But you turn people off when you are rude and condescending.

    These people care, and they want to help. Perhaps they have not researched everything, but that does NOT make them bad people.

    We are all on the same side, and arguing and abusing people over their incomplete knowledge does *nothing* to help anyone.

    And yeah, just reading your comments made me feel like a worthless pile of crap for my lack of expertise on the subject – and I hadn’t even said anything!

  19. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    jb, I have never said any of you are ignorant out of malice, well maybe Rodney Nelson, who has yet to apologise.

    But being “justifiable outraged” is not a substitute for accurate knowledge. Look at where justifiable outrage led America after 9/11. I am not noting Ophelia’s work to be mean. The Truth bloody well matters.

    Now with Beatrice I meant to be mean, because a) we had exchanged words earlier this week and b) I truly found her statement not just wrong, but offensively, detrimentally incorrect.

    FTB has a lot of bloggers whose entire schtick, to borrow a term from my American cousins, is being perpetually angry. I am not rying to emulate them, but I may inadvertently do so on this topic, since I am an active member of NGOs organised to fight FGM in the UK and abroad.

  20. jb says

    I am relatively new to these blogs and this is my first time posting. I have noticed that people do tend to be ‘perpetually angry’ a lot of the time, which is a total bummer!

    I learned a lot from your posts here today, and I do feel better for it. I just don’t like feeling worthless b/c I did not research FGM enough in the past. I have really only read what is available on various links here and there, and have not researched it in more depth.

    I will point out that the articles that are available to many of us through western media DO tend to only talk about the sensational aspects of it. But imo, that is better than not talking about it at all. The Reasonable Doubts podcast also had an excellent show on FGM, and they did touch on some of what you have said today.

    I also oppose male genital mutilation. I was listening to the non-prophets podcast one day and was astounded to learn that one of the hosts thought that parents had the *right* to mutilate their male babies before the age of consent. I am sorry but, removing a portion of someone’s body is NOT something that should be done without their consent. It is just so culturally entrenched that people never think about it. It is one of the great injustices perpetrated on baby boys, and I really hate how ‘health reasons’ are always used to justify it.

    As if boys are too stupid and lazy to clean their own pee pees? That is no better than assuming that all women are too stupid to know that abortion kills a fetus!

  21. says

    Woops, I haven’t been keeping up with this thread.

    Hey, Rebekah, dial it way down. Stop calling people ignorant. Offer new knowledge without shouting at people who aren’t aware of it.

  22. jb says

    /wave ophelia

    I *heart* you

    You and Taslima!

    Both your blog and no country for women are my go to blogs since i discovered FTB a few months ago!

    p.s. I am from Canada, and we are having our own abortion debate. sigh. pro-lifers are working hard to restrict womens rights all over the world and in every nook and cranny they can find!

  23. octopod says

    It seems to have gotten a bit heated around here. I think Rebekah simply wished to note that there were factual misunderstandings on the following points:

    1) FGM is not always, or even usually, performed by older women.
    2) The more common forms of FGM involve removal of the clitoris and/or labia minora, rather than complete removal of the exterior genitalia and sewing-shut as described by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. These forms have sexual dysfunction as a result, but do not have any particular sequelae in menstruation or childbirth.
    3) Places in which FGM is illegal are a strict superset of places in which the male equivalent is illegal.
    4) “Cutting” instead of “mutilation” is a useful phrasing in that most people do not like to be described as “mutilated” whereas they’re totally OK with the objective and straightforward “cut”.

  24. says

    Thank you, but Rebekah didn’t “simply note” those things. She shouted at people for no earthly reason. Repeatedly. That’s why I told her to dial it down.

    And while we’re at it, I strongly disagree that “cutting” is “a useful phrasing.”

  25. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Thank you, thank you octopod, for understanding my intent.

    My only clarification is on point No. 3. Male circumcision is lawful everywhere in the world, whilst female genital mutilation is overwhelmingly illegal, even in nations where it is practiced. I noted that to correct Beatrice’s totally unfounded claim that this was a case of male privilege and/or women’s rights being ignored.

    In fact this is a rare issue where women have more protection under law and more broad condemnation of the associated abuse than a parallel abuse directed at males. As a feminist, I cannot abide gender inequality under the law, nor abandon the universal right to bodily integrity just because male circumcision is indeed less harmful than most cases of FGM.

    @Ophelia

    “Hey, Rebekah, dial it way down. Stop calling people ignorant. Offer new knowledge without shouting at people who aren’t aware of it.”

    That is grossly unfair. Firstly the problem here is not just adding “new knowledge”, but correcting some pretty egregiously false statements. Statements that in some cases would not be made with even the most rudimentary knowledge of this topic (e.g. differing types of FGM).

    In turn I have not one, but two people (Ian, Rodney) actually accusing me of defending FGM to different degrees, absolutely outrageous personal attacks, against which calling someone “ignorant” is a trifle frankly.

    And as for having “no earthly reason” Beatrice was doing a bit of unnecessary anti-imperialist posturing just the other day in the foot binding thread. She earned a smack down as far I am concerned.

    And as for the usefulness of “cutting”, do we go with our idealism (i.e. “mutilation”) as feminists or what actual field experience has taught people fighting the practice is more productive?

  26. says

    No, it’s not a bit unfair. Your first remark to Beatrice in this thread was “Are you really that utterly ignorant?”

    I do allow a certain amount of mutual brawling here (and engage in some myself), but not that kind of thing just out of nowhere. It’s not a request. Dial it down.

  27. jb says

    Rebekah’s posting style would be invaluable on those yahoo threads I troll:P

    She would be good at smacking down all the ignorant hateful misogynist pigs who proclaim that a fertilized egg is of more value than the slut who spread her legs.

  28. williamshart says

    Rebekah,the Wily Jew:

    Ophelia is right to ask you to dial it way down. Firebombing people’s egos to soften up the target ironically only hardens resistance. I’m personally grateful to you for the information you’ve shared, your impressive research and activism. Your reasoned arguments delivered within the parameters of civility will answer the purpose. Just lose the napalm.

  29. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Ophelia, my response to Beatrice was certainly not “out of nowhere”. As I said above, it was built upon her needless ‘anti-imperialist’ lecture from just a few days ago, when the rest of us were rightly condemning foot binding and FGM and mocking the moral relativist stance.

    You frequently express exasperation with her exact sort, the types that disrupt threads and/or bully the rest of us with accusations of imperialism, racism, Islamophobia, etc. when human rights abuses in the non-Western world are at issue.

    With that fresh in my mind, I find her here, snarkily invoking ‘male privilege’, a both false and insensitive comment given the reality of FGM (as I took pains to explain).

    So I get a chance to justly deliver a right and proper smack down, on your blog no less, and suddenly I’m the villain. I find it farcical that you of all people not only take me to task, but ignore far more vicious and patently false personal attacks on me as highlighted.

    I was envisioned you the sort to support defence of fact over error without apology, but apparently I have to treat utter ignorance with a certain amount of deference.

  30. says

    Rebekah – well maybe the smackdown would have been appropriate on that thread, then. On this one it was a good deal too much! Not everyone will have read the previous thread, and not everyone who did will have remembered who said what on it.

    I do defend fact over error, but I hope I don’t jump all over people for being wrong. I probably do, being less than perfect, but I don’t think being wrong all by itself is criminal.

    You’re not the villain. Nobody’s the villain. Just don’t come out of the gate swinging, that’s all.

  31. ianmacdougall says

    Rebekah:

    I think that every commenter on this site (bar the occasional troll or drive-by shooter) would be against FGM and any religion or creed that tolerates it. You are indignant that others are allegedly trespassing on your own area of alleged expertise. Simultaneously you maintain that before others can comment, they should trawl through the same amount of literature on the subject that you allegedly have.

    This has a certain familiar ring to it. It is a syndrome that I first encountered in the antiwar movement in the 1960s: attack those who are closest to you ideologically.

    Why did they do it? Guess.

    So at the risk of starting you up again, I ask you some pertinent questions.

    1. In the countries where it is religiously fashionable for parents to inflict it on girls, what proportion of female genital ‘cutting’ (read mutilation) is performed by men? 50%? 5%? 1%? What? Does anyone know? Do you have any statistics? If so, please share them. And their source.

    2. What proportion of these operations are performed by qualified medical professionals? Do you know? Does anyone you know of have any idea?

    Circumcision of male infants is wong in my view, though I have seen medical arguments in favour of it in the media. It was performed on me (and most of my male contemporaries) as a newborn, but I cannot recall anything of it. In my teens, I found a mild satifaction in that it gave me something of a cultural identity as a ‘Judeo-Christian’. I never felt any regret that it had been done, or the slightest jealousy towards that minority of my schoolmates who had managed to remain uncircumcised.

    But its function in boys has been mainly as a mark of tribal identity, or in some cultures a rite of passage performed at the start of adolescence. (The historically isolated Australian Aborigines practiced it this way.) It is also obvious, even to a casual observer at a distance, if a naked man has been circumcised or not. Whatever social or hygienic function it serves is arguably reduced to the extent that the circumcision is partial.

    There has never been to my knowledge any serious attempt made to make a medical case for any extent or level of female genital ‘cutting’, ‘circumcision’ or mutilation.

    Some ‘female circumcision’ I am sure is minimal: just enough to fulfil social mrequirements. But whether it has been done or not would require in most cases either determination by a medical professional or a direct report from the victim. The other aim is control of female sexual behaviour: specifically, to ensure that the victim can never have an orgasm or find any pleasure in sexual activity. I have seen an imam argue this as one of its virtues in a TV interview.

    3. So what, in your view, is the purpose of the operation performed on female children?

    If use of the sanitising euphemism ‘cutting’ is done to appease religious sensibilities (mainly Muslim) around the UN and its agencies, then I put it to you that this can only help perpetuate the problem.

    Call it what it is. Truth matters.

  32. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    Ian, I jumped on your initial comment for one reason and one reason only: it was factually incorrect and further constituted a significant distortion of the reality of FGM. There was no political motive, nor even hostile intent as you suggest with your rather non sequitur anti-war movement reference.

    If you are that old, then you ought to be mature enough to accept you were wrong and move on. You could have read an article on the various types of FGM in the time it took to respond. Instead it is clear you want to quibble with the hope that your various claims will somehow be made to seem defensible.

    For example, if I were to say that only a small minority of cutters were men, you would seize upon that and defend your claim of “invariably” as reasonable. I am sorry to disappoint you, but while I have no specific number at hand, I would say that men are a significant majority of cutters in Egypt, easily the largest FGM-practising nation/culture. Their barbers, an exclusively male occupation, do a goodly portion of the non-medical cutting, and doctors, a male-dominated profession, are involved with much of the medicalised FGM. And I know Egypt is not the only region where men do the cutting.

    Words like “invariably” are not just a matter of being “academic and guarded” but a matter of truth versus falsehood when dealing with objective details. Accept that and move on.

    As for the word “cutting” I shockingly enough do not set UN or WHO policy, nor even that of the NGOs of which I am a part. I can say we are all mindful of the compromise being made with the language. It is cutting. That is a true statement for everyone involved. The added value judgment of “mutilation” is much more subjective.

    Some right-wingers think sex changes are “mutilation”. I defer to medical experts and the actual suffers of gender identity conflict who say otherwise. Right there though is the problematic nature of “truth” with certain labels.

    Years of field evident suggests that the actual victims of FGM do not see themselves as mutilated, especially those not subject to the minority extreme of complete excision and infibulation. Further I am hardly an appeaser of Islam like some on the liberal-left and I assure you the term is employed because of the barriers “mutilation” triggers, not to coddle any specific ideology. Ending the practice is simply more important to many of us than always using the most damning term in our quiver.

  33. Ian MacDougall says

    Rebekah:

    “…Instead it is clear you want to quibble with the hope that your various claims will somehow be made to seem defensible.”

    No. But good try.

    Well, passable.

    As you seemed so definite and certain, I asked you for your sources of information, and for the stats on which you based your assertions. You have responded with yet more assertions (about Egyptian barbers) and suggestions that the time I have used in asking for this information would be better spent asking the Net or a library for… information (!!); which you in this instance may have (though as it happens, you don’t) and it/they may not.

    If I wasn’t such a perfect gentleman I would accuse you of shooting from the hip. While bluffing.

    Muslims in my experience are quite prudish people. It surprises
    me that you say Egyptian women take their daughters to male barbers to be genitally mutilated. (It is none the less possibly true.) Given the relatively large rural population of Egypt (~60%, and about the same for Africa as a whole) most FGM Africa-wide probably occurs locally. The rural population is likely more religious and conservative, and I would guess reluctant to expose their daughters’ genitals to men (even with their daughters’ unlikely agreement) for any purpose at all: particularly when the operation is widely carried out in Islamic countries by rural women in (presumably barberless) villages.

    (BTW: when I saw one of the films showing women doing the ‘cutting’, feminists in the audience were shocked. In their perspective, here were women mutilating other womens’ bodies to fit in with a predominantly male interest and agenda. How could this phenomenon be reconciled with any strand of the feminist theory they were all familiar with?)

    This I would think also creates business opportunities for experienced rural women ‘cutters’ to set up shop, trading on the fact that they are women. So does this occur? If not, why not?

    I suggest also that you get your terminology right. The FGM anagram you use stands for ‘female genital mutilation’. The ‘female genital cutting’ that you favour (for its charm ability) would be ‘FGC’. My preference for FGM is largely because its proponents, and those in their thrall, favour FGC.

  34. Ian MacDougall says

    Also, Rebekah, I would really like your answer to my question (3) on the function of FGM (or if you p0refer, FGC) as your see it.

    “I can say we are all mindful of the compromise being made with the language. It is cutting. That is a true statement for everyone involved. The added value judgment of ‘mutilation’ is much more subjective.”

    Cutting. That’s OK. We all know about cuts. Everybody gets their share of them in life. They heal. What’s all the fuss about?

    Some cuts are trivial. Others are mutilations. Is it better to cal all mutilation ‘cutting’ or all cutting ‘mutilation’?

    I put it to you that the mutilations called ‘cutting’ are trivialised. They should not be.

  35. jb says

    I have probably read 4-5 articles on FGM over the last year.

    Not one has mentioned the work of male barbers.

    Not one has mentioned that ‘cutting’ is preferred terminology over ‘mutilation’. But again, does that matter unless Ian and Beatrice and I are going to travel to Africa to work with these people? And if it was framed as mere ‘cutting’ over here in the west, I sincerely doubt people would pay any attention. “oh its just cutting move along here’.

    Perhaps the people behind these articles are writing for their intended *western* audience, and in doing so, they talk about the most shocking aspects b/c otherwise, who is going to care?

    So stop hating on us for our ignorance. Just because we are ignorant of all the knowledge that you have, does not mean we are proud of it! sheesh

  36. jb says

    or that we are terrible people

    which you seem to be implying rebekah

    otherwise, why so angry?

  37. says

    Yes. It’s not as if “cutting” is completely value-free and neutral. It’s not. Hair is cut, beards are cut, toenails and fingernails are cut. Cutting can be entirely benign, necessary, useful. Grass is cut. Flowers are cut. Grapes are cut, with fancy little implements called grape-cutters. Calling FGM “cutting” seems to imply that the female genitalia left uncut are an overgrowth, like toenails. It’s hard not to think that infibulation is based in just that idea – in thinking the female genitals are weirdly cluttered and deformed and slopping out of the obvious boundaries. Ew, gross, those big sloppy labia – shave them down.

    And a few women (I hope it’s a few) go in for “cosmetic” surgery now in the US and elsewhere in response to porn.

    One more point: the UN and WHO may call it cutting but certainly not all opponents of FGM do. On the contrary, many of them – including organized opponents, groups, activists – are adamant about calling it mutilation.

  38. Select says

    My only clarification is on point No. 3. Male circumcision is lawful everywhere in the world, whilst female genital mutilation is overwhelmingly illegal, even in nations where it is practiced. I noted that to correct Beatrice’s totally unfounded claim that this was a case of male privilege and/or women’s rights being ignored.

    Comparing FGM to male circumcision is bit like comparing having your ears pierced to having them cut off.

    There isn’t any equivalence between the two procedures Rebecca.

    Attempting to foster an equivalence where there isn’t any is how wily islamists draw the wagons in a circle around barbaric FGM practices.

    The male equivalent to the vast majority of FGM cases would be the complete ablation of the penis.

    But that’s not at all what male circumcision is about.

    And in any case, even an uncircumcised penis looks circumcised when in *schwing*

    That said, I condemn both practrices, but with a lot of extra emphasis on FGM, simply because it’s so much more barbaric

  39. Rodney Nelson says

    Rebekah, the Wily Jew

    You want me to apologize? The chances for that are between slim and none.

    Perhaps I misread you. Your manic, spittle-flicked rants were so incoherent that it appeared you were supporting FGM, not condemning it. This I lay at your door, not mine.

  40. Beatrice says

    Rebekah,

    You know, I admit that I posted some things without thinking them through.
    And I can’t really chastise you for being an asshole while also giving facts because that would make me a hypocrite (I still disagree with some of your opinions, though [yes, I'm showing my utter, inexcusable, unforgivable ignorance]).
    Regarding being an asshole to me because of the last thread… *shrug* I’ll probably get upset at some point (yay for you), but right now I really don’t give a fuck. Knock yourself out.

  41. ianmacdougall says

    Nick Cohen has an excellent piece relatiung to FGM at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/07/nick-cohen-jimmy-savile-child-abuse?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038

    ‘Chaps who look after other chaps make easy targets for a liberal newspaper. But let me move on from judges and clerics to the many versions of child abuse the politically correct protect. Peter Rippon proved that he wasn’t a complete duffer when Newsnight aired a report in July on how thousands of British girls had Type III “infibulation” inflicted on them. Their mothers or grandmothers, or maybe an imam or some other variety of priest or “traditional healer”, cut off the inner and outer labia and clitoris with scissors or a knife to form a wall of flesh and skin across the vulva, leaving only a hole the size of a matchstick.

    ‘Not one representative from the teaching or medical professions would go on air to explain why they never protested. We live in a country where the law prohibiting genital mutilation has never been enforced; where the authorities go wild when a 15-year-old white girl runs off to France with her teacher but stay silent when Asian girls are yanked out of school and forced into marriage.’

  42. Rebekah, the Wily Jew says

    @ian

    Ian, I clearly cannot compete with white males of a certain age. Your boundless ability to be right even when wrong is the driving force of conservatism in the anglophone world. From climate change to abortion, your expertise shines on the rest of us. I bow to you expertise of “seeing a couple of documantary films” and leave this issue in your capable hands.

    @Select

    “There isn’t any equivalence between the two procedures Rebecca…That said, I condemn both practrices, but with a lot of extra emphasis on FGM”

    It is usually best to not contradict yourself in the exact same post. The fact you ultimately condemn male circumcision shows that you admit the basic equivalency of medically unnecessary amputation of part of a child’s genitals. Why you even bothered responding is beyond me.

    @Rodney Nelson

    You win the door prize for petulant immaturity. A half-dozen or more other people managed to comprehend and respond to the substance of my allegedly “manic, spittle-flicked rants ” in detail. In light of that “incoherent” is just you admitting that you are not clever enough to understand (or that you were lazy, now understand, but are too immature to just apologise).

  43. ianmacdougall says

    Rebekah,

    Your generalised spray is noted.

    [Re Select} you say: “… The fact you ultimately condemn male circumcision shows that you admit the basic equivalency of medically unnecessary amputation of part of a child’s genitals. Why you even bothered responding is beyond me.”

    That is the whole point. Between the two, there is no ‘medical equivalency’, basic or otherwise, in results, rationale or procedure. However I can see why you have consistently evaded answering my third question as to why in your view FGM is carried out at all. You don’t want to answer it, I suggest, because male circumcision is NOT about preventing the patient’s ability to develop sexual arousal or achieve orgasm. However, I have put it to you that in the female case it IS entirely about that: as a means of controlling women, particularly unmarried juveniles and young adults. I interpret your silence on the subject as concession of that most important point.

    The presence of a male foreskin looks like significantly increasing the risk of contracting HIV infection, particularly in Africa. (See for example ‘The Medical Benefits of Male Circumcision’ by Aaron A. R. Tobian, MD, PhD; Ronald H. Gray, MD, MSc

    ( http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1104451 )

    No such medical case is or could be made for FGM. Excision of the clitoris and ‘infibulation’ confer no protection against infection (EXCEPT insofar as they serve to create sex-aversion and prevent intercourse happening at all) and probably increase it.

    Google ‘medical case for male circumcision’ and then ‘medical case for female circumcision’. When I did, I found a dramatic difference between the two results.

    The English word ‘mutilate’ derives from the Latin ‘mutilare’, meaning ‘to cut off’. In English it means ‘(1) to injure, disfigure, or make imperfect by removing or irreparably damaging parts: eg Vandals mutilated the painting. Also (2) to deprive (a person or animal) of a limb or other essential part.’

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mutilate

    It is the only riposte to the deliberate (generally Islamic) obfuscation of ‘cutting’. Hence the ANT-FGM womens’ organisation FORWARD says

    “FORWARD chooses to use the term ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ as we believe it most accurately depicts what women affected by FGM have undergone, emphasising the gravity of this abuse of women’s human rights. For these reasons, worldwide and especially amongst anti-FGM activists, there is an increasing tendency to use the term FGM.

    “FORWARD is particularly opposed to use of the term female circumcision, which implies that it is the female equivalent of male circumcision. Whilst FORWARD is opposed to genital mutilation or circumcision of any kind, FORWARD rejects the term female circumcision as it does not depict the true nature of FGM and implies that the practice and the consequences of FGM are far less severe than is the case.”

    http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/key-issues/fgm/definitions

    *From ‘About Us’ on that site:

    “The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development – FORWARD – is an African Diaspora women’s campaign and support charity (registered in the UK).

    “We exist to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights as central to the wellbeing of African women and girls. We work with individuals, communities and organisations to transform harmful practices and improve the quality of life of vulnerable girls and women.

    “FORWARD was established in 1983 in the UK, in response to the emerging problems caused by female genital mutilation being seen by health professionals. Since this time FORWARD has been working to eliminate the practice and provide support to women affected by FGM. At our twenty year review FORWARD formally incorporated into its mandate other issues allied to Female Genital Mutilation, in particular vesico-vagina and recto-vagina fistulae and child and forced marriage.”

  44. jb says

    Rebekah said “A half-dozen or more other people managed to comprehend and respond to the substance of my allegedly “manic, spittle-flicked rants ” in detail. ”

    yeah, we did comprehend
    and we did appreciate the information

    but we still felt you were unnecessarily mean and nasty

  45. jb says

    imo, it comes down to this

    if you want to convince people that your way of thinking is correct, it helps *not* to alienate them from the get go

    its that simple!

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