Its a subject I’ve blogged on before. Its possibly something that I’ll blog on again. It’s a pretty hard issue I guess, especially if you’re a westerner without an Islamic background…well that’s what most people say. I would agree with them because you get into the issues of interference and cultural intolerance and I think I have to re-examine my position once again, especially after my own, genital mutilation of sorts.
First the pedantry, my clitoral hood was pierced, that by dictionary definition was mutilation of my genitals. However I am not going to use the words (and I disagree with them being used about my clit) genital mutilation because first of all it sounds negative (and I am rather positive about the whole thing!) and secondly because female genital mutilation is commonly used to describe more accurately an operation that is prettified as female circumscision. So I want to keep the terms separate
I’ve been involved with and continue to be involved in protesting female genital mutilation. Now I’ve said that this operation is prettified as female circumsision, however, let me clarify. I do not believe that we can have the debate on whether female circumsision is right or wrong until we have ended the practise of genital mutilation that is called female circumsision. What I mean by female circumsision is the removal or partial snipping of the hood of the clitoris. What I mean by genital mutilation is the removal or cutting of the actual clitoris, removal of all or part of the labia majora and the sewing up of what remains leaving (in most cases) the tiniest of hole through which to pee and menstruate. Genital mutilation is in some cases so extreme as to require a groom to take a knife into the wedding chamber on his first night with the bride.
Right, so thats my terms sorted out.
I object to genital mutilation because the tendancy is to carry it out in younger and younger children, four, five and six year olds. This increases the chances of it going wrong and becoming infected as the child is is still growing. It also means that it is imposed upon the child; the problems she will have in having sex and bearing children were not of her choice. I object because the reasoning behind it is that it is the only way to tell if a woman is a virgin or not; now let me put aside all the cries of perhaps women want to be virgins before they get married, fair enough maybe they do thats ok but are you going to tell me that it is fair that a woman should be knifed open by her husband on her wedding night because she is obviously not to be trusted otherwise?
Now heres the objection that can get me into trouble; I object because it means that the penetrative act of sex is usually going to be very painful for women who have undergone genital mutilation. I believe that sex should be pleasurable, women and men are built (biologically speaking) so that sex is fun, nice and enjoyable. Infected, bleeding and lacking a clitoris is not going to be fun and if the sex hurts just take a while to imagine what giving birth is like.
Ok. Well I chose to have my clitoral hood pierced. I am twenty-two and in the legal eyes of my country responsible for my own actions therefore it was not something imposed upon me. My sexual history is my own business, but I did have a piercing that is supposed to increase the pleasure for me. So am I saying that because I believe as I do it was ok for me to put a hole through my clitoral hood? If a young woman of twenty two wanted to have herself chopped up as I have described for her religious beliefs is that ok?
Well there I have a problem. Because this is where it all comes down to cultural interference. Am I being hypocritical? I’ve heard the religious argument put at various events, protests, workshops and the like. But I do not have an Islamic background, my knowledge of the Qu’ran is limited (especially since I only read English), my knowledge of the Hadeth (is that spelt right?) more so. So by what right do I say that it is not right for a Muslim woman to be genitally mutilated? I’m a woman, does that give me the right to dictate to another woman? No, most certainly not. Am I dictating? No but I am saying that the practice of another culture is wrong. Ok, now if anybody wants to call me on this next bit they can: in most cases it is claimed that genital mutilation is a requirement of the Islamic religion (in some it is claimed that it is a Christian requirement). The Hadeth asks for circumscision to be carried out as a pre-cursor to getting married; I’ve previously stated that I don’t think we can have the debate on whether female circumsision is meant (although I think that there is a debate to be had) until the practice of genital mutilation is stopped. My point is that CIRCUMSCISION is asked for not cutting everything off. The Bible talks about male children specifically. So I, a non-Christian, non-Muslim am objecting to the interpretation of a religious text. Not only that but for an entirely secular reason I have had my own clitoral hood pierced.
Where is the right? It is a desire to protect I think and it is a question of degrees in my mind. I have not prevented myself from safely carrying out my biological function (to have children), I have risked my health but not at risk of my own life. I have not made somebody else undergo this ‘operation’, I have not demanded that somebody else be pierced because I do not trust them.
I am interfereing. I am being intolerant of cultural practices. And in my mind it is right that I should interfere, my gut is telling me that people are being hurt and put in danger by this interpretation of religious texts, therefore I must speak out.
And if that young woman of twenty two (or whenever her own country determines she becomes an adult) want to have herself mutilated? Then my beliefs on independence and personal decisions come into play and my heart is telling me that if she is told everything about the operation including the medical risks then, since this is a world where body dysmorphic patients can ask for arms and legs to be removed she should be allowed that operation but under anaesthetic and in a sanitary environment. And my head cannot decide if this is wrong or right of me.