24 July 2013

Extenuating Circum Stances, Pt. 4: FGC

FGC has a significantly less widespread occurrence, particularly in the West. In the early 1970s, during the second wave of feminism, FGC began to garner a lot of public attention. It became a cause for many in the West to rally against as a completely violent form of oppression for women. According to the WHO, “female genital mutilation is universally unacceptable because it is an infringement on the physical and psychosexual integrity of women and girls and is a form of violence against them” (WHO 1997). As some activists point out, FGC is similar to MGC in that it involves violence in the form of genital mutilation without consent. However, the language in Western literature and media concerning FGC is far more expressive in terms of violence, mutilation, and negative effects of the practice.

Historically, neither male nor female genitals have been fully understood and the question remains whether or not they are fully understood today. Female genitals, in particular the clitoris, have been assigned a wide variety of attributes, many seen as negative by authoritative bodies, and, as a result, have been victimized through a wide variety of practices. Throughout time, the clitoris has been considered equivalent to the male glans, the seat of female sexual pleasure, the root of female sexual impurity, the residence of immature female sexuality, the source of many emotional and psychological disorders in women, necessary for procreation, and not at al necessary for procreation, amongst other things (Bell 2005; Rodriguez 2008). Curing masturbation was a particular focus for the practice of FGC in the U.K. and the U.S. The act of masturbation was seen as unnatural because “the object of desire was not real but rather a product of the imagination; masturbation was not socially engaged… and the desire and ability to masturbate was potentially endless” (Rodriquez 2008: 331).

Most literature on FGC revolves around the practice as it takes place in Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia. Western feminists largely support the WHO and other organizations that describe the practice as violent towards women and a violation of human rights. However, the practice is largely supported and performed by women who have either had the procedure done themselves or who support the practice within their own culture. Western ethnocentric ideals lead many to ignore the cultural and social histories of the various forms of FGC in certain regions of the world, making it difficult for them to view the practice as anything but mutilation. As a result, Western imperialism in the form of intellectual and informational authority and activism are forcing a changing of cultural values in the non-Western world. This topic alone can warrant a entire thesis, let alone a separate research article, and has been discussed and debated by many already.[1]

[1] See Obermeyer 2003; Gruenbaum 2001;Shell-Duncan and Hernlund 2000; Dirie and Miller 1999; Dorkenoo 1994; and El Sadaawi 1980 for reference.

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