It’s when the patriarchy cuts your clitoris off. Literally.
The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
It carries no medical benefits and many medical risks including severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, and infection.
It is identified by the United Nations as a violation of human rights and children’s rights, is performed somewhere between infancy and adolescence, and typically takes one of the following 3 forms:
I’m going to go out on a limb here in speaking for all the ladies, but I feel that the parts being removed here are important. Not because they hurt when you injure them, or bleed, or become infected (though that stuff is important), but because this is where our sexual feelings live. And that, for some reason, is the elephant in the room whenever we talk about FGM.
For the forces in this world that believe women have no business wanting or enjoying sex, but that their only real purpose is to bear children, it’s mighty convenient that it is possible to excise the parts that drive one function while keeping the parts that support the other. If you believe that women’s sexuality is not meant to be enjoyed by women, but to be used by men, then FGM is your ultimate solution. It is a perfect tool in the hands of the most callous patriarchy imaginable.
At least, that’s how I see it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the discourse around FGM, you may be surprised that many otherwise reasonable people will defend this practice under the banner of “respecting culture” and “cultural relativism.” They say “this is just part of their culture and who are we to object?”
The desire among people with liberal and progressive values to be non-judgemental and to respect other cultures is an important one, but in this particular case it comes into direct conflict with the critical moral obligation to protect real vulnerable people from actual physical harm.
Or, to put a finer (cruder) point on it, go ahead and tell that relativist bullshit to the people whose clitorises are actually on the line here.
Think about the role of your sexual function in your own life, of the value of arousal and orgasm to you personally, and ask yourself how far you would go to protect the vital bits of flesh and nerve endings that make that part of you possible.
Now think about the fact that the women with actual skin in this game are every bit as real as you. It’s true. Here’s how I know:
I worked in a school outside of Nairobi, Kenya that served a population of girls who were affected by issues like child marriage and FGM. Some of them had been spared the cruelty of FGM, some hadn’t been as lucky, and some were still in the process of trying to escape. I recall one girl in particular who was about 12 years old at the time and had been at the boarding school for months on end, never going home to her family for holidays. The reason was simple: if she went home to her village, she would be forced to undergo genital mutilation. She had to decide which is more important to her: seeing her siblings ever again, or keeping all the parts of her own body.
This girl is real. She is good at math and tells totally un-funny jokes and plays goalie every day at the lunchtime soccer match. She, and girls like her, are alive inside the bodies that are mutilated and scarred. They have thoughts and feelings and fears and desires that are every bit as real as yours and mine. They are at home in their minds when someone holds them down and someone else comes at them with a knife to take away something so precious as to be priceless. This is a thing that exists in our world and if that doesn’t fill you with an anger so hot that you want to scream or weep, then I don’t understand you at all.
We live in a world where a 12-year-old girl has to pick between her clitoris and her family. This world.