Female circumcision, better known as Female Genital Mutilation, 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 the 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.
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 a 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 which 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 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 threatenng
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, abcesses,
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 backa nd 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 witha 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 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 androgynous 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. I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell it, but someone had
to. WORKS CITED Barrie, 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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