Essay, Research Paper: Female Circumcision


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Female circumcision, better known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is an ugly
monster finally rearing its head from out of the depths of time. It can attack a
girl at any age, with a little prompting from her society, and the aid of an
unsuspecting human wielding a knife. Usually, it is performed from a few days
after birth to puberty, but in some regions, the torture can be put off until
just before marriage or the seventh month of pregnancy (Samad, 52). Women that
have gone beyond the primary level of education are much less likely to fall
victim to the tradition ("Men's...", 34). The average victim is
illiterate and living in a poverty-stricken community where people face hunger,
bad health, over-working, and unclean water ("Female...", 1714). This,
however, is not always the case. As one can see in the following story of Soraya
Mire, social classes create no real barriers. Soraya Mire, a 13-year-old from
Mogadishu, Somolia, never knew what would happen to her the day her mother
called her out of her room to go buy her some gifts. When asked why, her mother
replied, "I just want to show you how much I love you." As Soraya got
into the car, she wondered where the armed guards were. Being the daughter of a
Somolian general, she was always escorted by guards. Despite her mother's
promise of gifts, they did not stop at a store, but at a doctor's home.
"This is your special day," Soraya's mother said. "Now you are to
become a woman, an important woman." She was ushered into the house and
strapped down to an operating table. A local anesthetic was given but it barely
blunted the pain as the doctor performed the circumcision. Soraya was sent home
an hour later. Soraya broke from her culture's confining bonds at the age of 18
by running away from an abusive arranged marriage. -2- In Switzerland, she was
put in a hospital emergency room with severe menstrual cramps because of the
operation. Seven months later, the doctor performed reconstructive surgery on
her. Now in the U.S., Soraya is a leading spokeswoman against FGM (Bell, 58). In
addition to being active in the fight against FGM, she is an American filmmaker.
She has come a long way. Being well educated about the facts of FGM also brings
to light the ugly truth. "It is happening on American soil," insists
Soraya. Mutilations are occurring every day among innigrants and refugees in the
U.S. (Brownlee, 57). Immigrants have also brought the horrifying practice to
Europe, Australia, and Canada (McCarthy, 14). Normally, it is practiced in North
and Central Africa ("Men's...", 34), the Middle East, and Muslim
populations of Indonesia and Malaysia ("Female...", 1714). Although it
seems to have taken root in Muslim and African Christian religions, there is no
Koranic or Biblical backing for FGM ("Men's...", 34). Many times
female circumcision is treated as a religion in itself. It can be a sacred
ritual meant to be kept secret forever. As a woman told poet Mariama Barrie,
"You are about to enter Society {sic}, and you must never reveal the ritual
that is about to take place." (Barrie, 54). The ritualistic version of FGM
is much more barbaric than the sterile doctor's world that Soraya Mire passed
through. Mariama Barrie had to endure the most severe form of FGM at the tender
age of ten. Mariama's torture is known as infibulation. There is also excision
and sunna. Infibulation consists of the removal of the entire clitoris, the
whole of the labia minora and up to 2/3 of the labia majora. The sides of the
vulva are sewn or held together by long thorns. A small opening the size of the
tip of a matchstick is left for the -3- passage of menstrual blood and urine.
Excision is a clitoridectomy and sometimes the removal of the labia minora;
Sunna is the only type that can truthfully be called circumcision. It is a
subtotal clitoridectomy ("Female...", 1714). To put this in
perspective, infibulation would be like cutting off a man's penis completely,
cutting the testicles to the groin, and making a hole in them to have the semen
siphoned out (McCarthy, 14). But still, it can get worse. The instruments that
can be used to perform the operation are usually crude and dirty. They can
include kitchen knives, razor blades, scissors, broken glass, and in some
regions, the teeth of the midwife. Because of this, there are many dangers
threatening the victim. The most immediate danger is exsanguination: there is no
record of how many girls bleed to death because of this operation
("Female...", 1715). Other physical consequences include infection,
gangrene, abscesses, infertility, painful sex, difficulty in childbirth, and
possibly death ("Men's...", 34). No matter how much we learn, the pain
will still be the same as when the first female circumcision was performed in
the fifth century, B.C. (McCarthy, 14). The number of women affected by this has
risen steadily since then. The average per year is now 2 million (McCarthy, 15),
and it is their "female friends, mothers, and grandmothers who urge them to
lie back and think of traditional culture" ("Men's...", 34). The
reason women are promoting this practice is because "circumcisions are
often carried out by select older women, whose profession provides them with a
degree of public esteem rarely enjoyed by women in male-dominated
societies" (Brownlee, 58). A better, but still not logical reason for women
to promote FGM is life. Soraya Mire remarks, "[It] is proof of your -4-
virginity, and men only want to marry virgins. A Sudanese woman without a
husband is not only an outcast, she is likely to die of starvation because she
has no way to make a living on her own." (Bell, 59) Many cultures support
female circumcision because of ancient native beliefs. For example, some believe
that bodies are bisexual at birth. To enter adulthood, girls "must be
relieved of their male part, the clitoris" (Brownlee, 58). Others believe
that the clitoris contains poison or will eventually grow to the size of a man's
penis ("Female...", 1716). However, the tide is turning. Men, who
probably created FGM for their benefit, are turning against it. Most men found
out that prostitutes are more fun if the woman isn't in pain. It's not the best
reason, but it's better than none at all ("Men's...", 34) This has
been a tragic and horrifying story to tell. It made me sick to my stomach to do
this research and I am sorry I had to tell this story but someone had to.

BibliographyBarrie, Mariama L. "Wounds that never heal." Essence, Mar. 1996:
54. Bell, Alison. "Worldwide women's watch." TEEN, June 1996: 58-59.
Brownlee, Shannon and Jennifer Seter. "In the name of ritual." U.S.
News and World Report, Feb. 7, 1994: 56-58. "Female genital
mutilation." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 6,
1995: 1714-1716. "FGM: A universal issue." Humanist, Sep. 1996: 46.
McCarthy, Sheryl. "Fleeing mutilation, fighting for asylum." Ms., July
1996: 12-16. "Men's traditional culture." Economist, Aug. 10, 1996:
34. Samad, Asha. "Afterword." Natural History, Aug. 1996: 52-53.
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