Female genital mutilation
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Female genital cutting (FGC), female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision (FC), is the excision or tissue removal of any part of the female genitalia for cultural, religious or other non-medical reasons. It is not the same as the procedures used in gender reassignment surgery or the genital modification of intersexuals.
History and cultural context
FGM is considered by its practitioners to be an essential part of raising a girl properly—girls are regarded as having been cleansed by the removal of "male" body parts. It ensures pre-marital virginity and inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces women's libido. Women fear the pain of re-opening the vagina, and are afraid of being discovered if it is opened illicitly.
The term "pharaonic circumcision" (Type III) stems from its practice in Ancient Egypt under the Pharaohs, and "fibula" (in "infibulation") refers to the Roman practice of piercing the outer labia with a fibula, or brooch. Leonard Kouba and Judith Muasher write that genitally-mutilated females have been found among Egyptian mummies, and that Herodotus (c. 484 BCE – c. 425 BCE) referred to the practice when he visited Egypt. There is reference on a Greek papyrus from 163 BCE to the procedure being conducted on girls in Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, and Strabo (c. 64 BCE – c. 23 CE), the Greek geographer, reported it when he visited Egypt in 25 BCE.
Asim Zaki Mustafa argues that the common attribution of the procedure to Islam is unfair because it is a much older phenomenon.
Judaism requires circumcision for boys, but does not allow it for girls. Islamic scholars have said that, while male circumcision is a sunna, or religious obligation, female genital modification is not required, and several have issued a fatwa against Type III FGM.
Sudanese surgeon Nahid Toubia—president of RAINBO (Research, Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women) —told the BBC in 2002 that campaigning against FGM involved trying to change women's consciousness: "By allowing your genitals to be removed [it is perceived that] you are heightened to another level of pure motherhood—a motherhood not tainted by sexuality and that is why the woman gives it away to become the matron, respected by everyone. By taking on this practice, which is a woman's domain, it actually empowers them. It is much more difficult to convince the women to give it up, than to convince the men." Boyle writes that the Masai of Tanzania will not call a woman "mother" when she has children if she is uncircumcised.
According to Amnesty, in certain societies women who have not had the procedure are regarded as too unclean to handle food and water, and there is a belief that a woman's genitals might continue to grow without FGM, until they dangle between her legs. Some groups see the clitoris as dangerous, capable of killing a man if his penis touches it, or a baby if the head comes into contact with it during birth, though Amnesty cautions that ideas about the power of the clitoris can be found elsewhere. Gynaecologists in England and the United States would remove it during the 19th century to "cure" insanity, masturbation, and nymphomania. The first reported clitoridectomy in the West was carried out in 1822 by a surgeon in Berlin on a teenage girl regarded as an "imbecile" who was masturbating. Isaac Baker Brown (1812–1873), an English gynaecologist who was president of the Medical Society of London in 1865, believed that the "unnatural irritation" of the clitoris caused epilepsy, hysteria, and mania, and would remove it "whenever he had the opportunity of doing so," according to an obituary. Peter Lewis Allen writes that his views caused outrage—or, rather, his public expression of them did—and Brown died penniless after being expelled from the Obstetrical Society.