Today F is for female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is practiced by several ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization categorizes 4 specific kinds of mutilation:
~ I. Removal of the clitoris
~ II. Removal of the clitoris and inner labia
~ III. Removal of the clitoris and inner labia and sewing together of the outer labia
~IV. Any other mutilations including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing
Variations 1 and 2 are the most common and 4 is the least common. The reasons for FGM are complicated. It is seen as a cultural way to reinforce their culture and its values. It is mainly seen as a way to ensure the women is a virgin until marriage and to generally reduce the female libido. In many countries women are considered unmarriageable if she is not mutilated. Most cultures that practice FGM also see it as more hygienic. There is also a cultural superstition that the clitoris will keep growing into a penis like organ, or if the baby comes into contact with the clitoris during childbirth, it will die. Cosmetic procedures like genital piercings for jewelry, or procedures done for sexual reassignment are not considered female genital mutilation. It is easy to say this is just blatant misogyny and trying to control women’s sexuality, but it is important to realize it is women who usually preform the mutilation and promote and continue the practice.
I have mentioned FGM on this blog before because it is often compared to intersex surgery. As I see it female genital mutilation and intersex mutilation have five major areas of similarities:
~They are both procedures done on children far too young to understand or consent.
~They are both done entirely for the sake of family and social norms
~They are both done to try to make future sexual relationships/marriage easier but…
~They are both done with no regard to the future sexual enjoyment of the patient
~They are also done with little regard to health, and often require follow up procedures to correct “complications”
For all these reasons I feel the comparison is apt. It is easy in the western world to decry female genital mutilations in Africa. What we need to realize is that surprisingly similar things are being done in our own countries. I hope someday all nonconsensual surgeries/mutilations will stop. The only way we will get to that point is to raise awareness and reach out to other, somewhat similar groups.