western constructs,and genital mutilation in women and girls
|The Mutiliation Of Female Genitalia in the 21st Century
The practice of female circumcision in many cultures is designed to minimise and even remove all possibility of the girl experiencing normal sexual desires. In radical forms of this practice the clitoris and labia minora and labia majora are removed enitrely.
This operation is generally carried out without any anaesthesia and no medical supervision when the girl is between the ages of two and eight, though, can be done at any time between birth and puberty.
It is an horrific and life threatening procedure with no purpose other than to minimise or remove all sexual pleasure from the girl as she grows through puberty and womanhood.
In the western world we can see and understand the horror of such practices as being abusive and torturous on the victims on the physical level, and we can understand the emotional trauma that must come with such radical surgery.
We need to see beyond that to the beliefs behind the practice that permeates not only through the cultures that practice genital mutilation but also throughout our own societies and cultures.
These beliefs are:
a) It is wrong, dirty, evil or less acceptable for a girl or woman to enjoy sexual stimulation than for a man or boy.
b) It is wrong, dirty, evil or less acceptable for a woman to initiate sexual intimacy than for a man to do so.
c) It is wrong, dirty, evil or less acceptable for a girl or woman to experieince sexual desires.
d) A woman or girl's sexuality is the property of her family, community or partner.
We continue to permit, nay, encourage the mutilated perceptions of a girl or woman's body and sexuality to permeate through our communities.
I propose to take the definition of female genital mutilation even further and include not only physical mutilation of a girl or woman's body but also the mental and emotional alteration of her experience of and perception of her body.
Practices of manipulating girls to believe that masturbation is wrong, sinful, or will cause some tragic event in their life is one such mutilation. It has been to varying degrees accepted and even encouraged that boys will and do masturbate but somehow girls are led to believe that self stimulation and satisfaction is wrong. Giving themselves pleasure is wrong.
Perhaps this is related to the idea that if a girl can sexually satisfy herself she will not want or need a man in her life and this would perhaps upset the equilibrium of society. For whatever reason that lies behind the manipulation or control of girls and women, and their right not only to masturbate but to fully enjoy the activity, it is this skewed view of their sexuality that can and does have long term effects on how they view their own body and sexuality.
In fact girls who masturbate are more likely to be able and willing to satisfy their partner. They are not more or less likely to become lesbian, asexual, bisexual, or be different to the accepted societal norms in any way with the exception that she may be simply more relaxed about her body and sexual matters.
Girls and young women forced to hide their developing womanly bodies by the use of restrictive undergarments, poorly fitting outter garments or overly loose garments for fear of being seen as sluttish, loose moralled, or too forward are also having their perception of themselves, their body, and their sexuality mutilated.
Girls and women subjected to sexually demeaning jokes, conversations and wolf whistling are made to feel guilty, shamed or afraid of their developing bodies and are stifled, and even mutilated in the natural development of their sexuality.
Media images of wafer thin women parading on catwalks is a mutilation of the females that are urged to trasform themselves into these impossible to match images. It creates for girls and women an impossible standard that can only be reached by a very few women in our society.
Constant bombardment of weight loss advertising, clothing advertising that only allows the tiniest of models to be seen wearing the lastest fashions and the general perception that fat in every form is bad pushes and presses our precious girls and women into impossible to win battles with their ow bodies.
Fat on the female body is seen as an indication of lack of discipline or control. Fat on the female body is natural and a certain percentage of fat is required for peak health and normal performance of the body.
Women and girls subjected to sexual abuse including rape, unwanted touching, being coerced or forced into sexual activities, being manipulated into thinking their choices of sexual partner are not their own are all mutilated by the society that harbours these activities.
Societies that accept unwanted touching, sexual contact of and manipulations of females regarding sexual matters are societies that cause girls and women to feel they have less or no ownership of their bodies, less say in what is best for them, and mutilates the sense of the sexual self in its victims.
While appealing for changes in the practices of female genital mutilation in other countries and cultures we must begin on our own shores to give girls and women back the right to manage, own and enjoy their growing bodies and sexuality.
The World Health Organisation defines Female Genital Mutilation in this way:
Female genital mutilation (FGM), often referred to as 'female circumcision', comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons. There are different types of female genital mutilation known to be practised today. They include:
Type I - excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris;
Type II - excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora;
Type III - excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation);
Type IV - pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue;
scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice (angurya cuts) or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts);
introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it; and any other procedure that falls under the definition given above.
The most common type of female genital mutilation is excision of the clitoris and the labia minora, accounting for up to 80% of all cases; the most extreme form is infibulation, which constitutes about 15% of all procedures.
1)Female Genital Mutilation Fact Sheet
WHO Media centre
Telephone: +41 22 791 2222