Quid Rides? De te Fabula Narratur

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Cowardice and Appeasement: The AAP and Female Genital Mutilation

Posted by Anthony on May 8, 2010

By Anthony J. Aschettino

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sometimes referred to euphemistically as “female circumcision”, is a cultural practice in which young girls have parts of their genitalia removed in order to “tame” their sexuality. The practice ranges in its severity from a simple “trimming” of the genitalia (hence the reference to “circumcision” allusion) to a wholesale cutting and shaving of both the labia and clitoris. Often performed by unlicensed individuals in unsanitary conditions, and without any form of anesthesia, it is horribly painful both physically and emotionally.

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has decided to endorse this heinous cultural practice by suggesting that doctors be allowed to inflict a small “nick” on the genitalia of those baby girls whose families come from cultures where this practice is prevalent in the effort to discourage the parents from having the “real” act performed on their daughters. It is a complete and utter abomination that such an organization would even contemplate appeasing such a thing, and it fails on multiple fronts to deal with the reality of the forces behind the act of FGM.

Primarily, FGM endures because of cultural beliefs that center around the “problematic” sexuality of the female. The blame for promiscuity in patriarchal societies is often laid at the feet of the female; the west has only to look back to the days of chastity belts and (more recently) the practice of shuttling off unwed mothers to nunneries to see the effects of such a belief system.

The purpose behind FGM is to destroy the ability of the female to derive pleasure from sex in the belief that it will make her less likely to “stray” either as a single woman or later as a wife. It is not symbolic, and this fact alone makes the AAP’s “accommodation” ridiculous. What kind of “nick” or “cut” on a female’s genitalia will have the desired effect of removing any possible sexual pleasure from future contact with her genitalia? It is possible, though extremely unlikely, that in some families this may be a way (as the AAP intended) for such families to lay claim to the fact that their daughter was “circumcised” for communal considerations, such as when shopping a daughter for marriage in a community where it is a prerequisite, but for the vast majority of families it simply will not have the desired effect. In any case, even if it were to save a “few” girls from their otherwise horrible fate, the downside to the AAP’s tactic is far more destructive overall.

First, it justifies the very belief behind FGM by accepting it as a relevant cultural practice. True, they do not advocate for the full scope of FGM as is practiced in places such as Africa, but at the same time they validate the belief that such a practice is both legitimate and possibly necessary. Second, it undermines the ongoing efforts of groups who are actively trying to eradicate this practice by reaching out and educating both men and women within the very communities where it is most prevalent. If the AAP condones it, why should these parents listen to arguments about its destructive effect on young women? After all, they may well reason, the practice is acceptable even if there is debate on the degree to which the procedure ought to be carried out.

The real way to deal with this scourge is the way most issues can be dealt with but so often are not: education. Members of the communities where these practices persist must be dealt with not in a condescending manner (though the procedure itself is an abomination), but rather with an effort to educate both men and women about why the practice is particularly harmful to young women. Individuals and families who feel that western mores are not being forced down their throats in an “our culture is superior to yours” style are more amenable to considering the harsh reality that FGM brings upon its recipients. Also critical is efforts by religious leaders in the communities (many of which are Muslim) to reinforce the fact that this practice has no basis in Islam; ironically, of all the major religions save for perhaps Hinduism, female sexuality is most highly valued in Islam. It is a slow process, and there will be hiccups along the way, but it is only through a sustained effort at showing these communities why the procedure is wholly negative that change can be effected.

There must be a continued condemnation of FGM, and a steadfast resolve never to appease those who practice it, but that attitude needs to be coupled with an understanding of why these communities practice the act. Getting to the root of the problem, and addressing the causative beliefs, is the only way to truly change the mindsets that allow for it to continue.


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