Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Definite Difference

A man in Georgia was convicted today for mutilating his two year old daughter's genitals. Khalid Adem from Lawrenceville in Gwinnet County, is believed to have removed his daughter's clitoris with a pair of regular scissors. Adem maintains that while someone has mutilated his daughter, it was not him.

The United States State Department estimates that 130 million women and girls have suffered genital mutilation since 2001 alone. We often think of this practice as being a third world phenomenon, and to discover it in our heartland is jarring to say the least. It will no doubt result in someone deciding to labeling it an immigrant issue; yet another reason to kick them all out. I am more interested in how frequently this sort of genital mutilation is called "female circumcision."

Circumcision is "the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis," according to Meriam Webster. While some believe that circumcision shouldn't be preformed on all healthy male infants, it remains that removal of the foreskin doesn't deny the child of anything. Nothing about this definition suits the reality of the tradition of removing a female child's genitals.

Firstly, the removal of a girl's (or in some cases, a woman's) clitoris denies her of sexual sensation, of pleasure, and sexual identity. It is a concrete step to strip a female body of what makes it female, as well as a move to turn the female body into a tool; sex with a body that cannot feel pleasure is sex with a body that is just a receptacle in which to plant offspring. Secondly, rarely is this process "surgical," surgery being a optional procedure done in a clean and safe environment which continues to regard the health of the patient after the procedure. Genital mutilation is often carried out on the floor of living spaces, using tools (small knifes, scissors, broken razor blades) that are used on more than one girl in a session. Those who carry out the mutilation, frequently local women, are not doctors, and the "patients" frequently are not willing participants. Thirdly, the ceremony doesn't always just entail the removal of the clitoris. It's not uncommon for the entire process to include sewing closed the vaginal opening, the outer lips of the labia are cut off, and the remaining labia sewn shut, often resulting in serious infection and death. Lastly, whereas male infant circumcision only happens once, many women undergo repeated procedures: if the woman gets pregnant, the stitches will be cut open, only to be re-sewn after the child is born, again often resulting in serious infection and death. Really, any step in the whole procedure can result in infection and death. It's a death-centric thing.

In summary: It's not a fucking circumcision. It's butchery.

I'm aware that there's an issue of First World feminists rushing into Third World countries and pronouncing cultural mainstays wrong (even the terms "first world" and "third world" are problematic.) (By the way, has anyone heard of a Second World country? If you have, do you have an example?) But surely there's a difference between an upper class agnostic American feminist commenting on Arab women wearing the veil, and anyone talking about what's happening to these girls. Leave your comments, thoughts, poems.

I'll refrain from adding a dinner recipe.

You can read about the case in Georgia here.