The Cruel Cut

Channel 4’s excellent documentary on female genital mutilation was an eye-opener. You can find out more about the programme here and it’s due to be re-broadcast on Channel 4 at 0105 GMT on Monday 11th November 2013. I found it variously shocking, beautiful, exhilarating, life-affirming and unwatchable. I’ve become increasingly aware of the issues of FGM over the last couple of years through feminist and humanist bloggers and attended a campaign meeting in London earlier this year.

A friend of mine in the village saw the documentary herself, and took to Facebook. This post is about what happened next. Names have been changed …

Anne on Facebook:

Watching (or trying to) a programme on FGM (female genital mutilation). I feel sick. I cannot believe that these practices still take place in this day and she, let alone in the UK! How can anyone regardless of religion or culture, see this as anything other than child abuse!?!

Brenda in response:

It’s another of those practices brought to this country by the mainly (I think) African immigrants, we wouldn’t have the problem if we closed the doors!!

Me

Brenda, that’s not an immigration argument, that’s a racist argument, pure and simple. Some facts from the documentary (and of which I’ve been aware for over a year having followed the scandal with interest/horror and been at lectures from major campaigners):
* 66,000 BRITISH women have had FGM
* 24,000 BRITISH girls are currently AT RISK of FGM
* Cutting is taking place in the UK and children are being brought into the county for that specific purpose
* It’s not just Africa, it’s endemic in the Middle East and Asia as well
* It’s always about controlling women and treating women and girls as property
* FGM leads to infertility and UTIs
“You’ll always have that image of you standing over your own pool of blood and looking at your own flesh” – a direct quote from a victim of this child abuse.
Tackling this abuse in UK and the rest of Europe will send messages back to other countries; enlightenment and human rights for all are never advanced by cultural relativism.
P.S. We are ALL Africans; some of our families just left at different times.
P.P.S. That was a beautifully-shot film, and I will never forget the effect of learning on those young men – there’s real hope for the women of their communities in their responses.

Anne and I then took the conversation into the sidebar, and I have her permission to re-post it here on the blog.

Anne

Thank you for that comment on my post about FGM. I was actually fuming and quite upset last night with Brenda’s comment, but decided it was best for me not to respond further. I just can’t believe the attitude of ‘shut the door’ and then it’s not our problem! It doesn’t stop it from happening!Why should we only care about humans in this country? Ugh! I’m getting all wound up again now! Just can’t believe some people’s attitude!!!

Me

A pleasure. It’s been an issue I’ve been increasingly aware of over the last couple of years from reading various feminist bloggers, including women who’ve been mutilated themselves. I was very impressed with that C4 documentary; it was thoughtfully handled, witty, shocking and powerful. I knew most of the statistics and details about practice from reading, and attending campaign lectures in London, but that was a timely film, and shaming for the Home Secretary. Feel free to put your anger in a letter to your MP.

Anne

I’m still trying to process it all myself. I’m ashamed to say that it’s something I had given no thought to as I knew nothing about it before seeing that documentary. I agree that it was a very powerful and well put together programme and effective going by the young men’s reactions. Still thinking about the street petition though, can’t believe those people that signed the sheet for the belief that FGM should be legal!

Me

Don’t beat yourself up about something that was completely out of your awareness. What matters is what you choose to do now that you are aware of what is going on. And it’s OK if you do no more than be outraged and let other people know that you are – these are the things that change our cultural climate and make such practices look more and more anachronistic, vile, cruel and driven by male privilege. As for the street petition, most people really don’t think beyond being nice to someone who’s enthusiastic …. and the vice of cultural relativism is deeply-embedded in British social generosity, masking white privilege, or, as we can call it, racism.

Anne

All true I know, but finding out something as horrific as this just makes me worry about what else is happening out there that I’ve not even considered before! My brain is just about going pop with it all. Then there’s the whole cultural side wondering if we have any right to interfere (obviously this is abuse and therefore I feel we all must do something) but where should we as a society draw the line? How about the binding if women’s feet as babies, I would see that as abuse as it has damaging effects on lives, but what about cultures that stretch necks or earlobes? The children have no choice in this, but is it abuse if it has no detrimental affects on living? Hmmm my head hurts. As for action, I’ve already signed the petition and will be writing letters too. I can’t choose to stand by and do nothing or close the door and ignore it!

Me

The fundamental issue here is one of freedom of choice. Look at the body-modification movement, going way beyond piercings into tattooing, branding, scarification and beading (and if you’ve never heard of some of those practices, don’t google them). The difference is that these are adults making their own decisions about what to do with their own bodies as a means of empowering themselves. Female genital mutilation is about the opposite – it’s about oppressing girls and women, forcing them into subservient roles as the playthings and property of men, denying them autonomy and fulfilment in their lives and excising their own sexual identities. There is even an idea amongst men in communities that practice FGM that the aroused clitoris becomes something grossly enlarged and interferes with *male* pleasure! It’s not only women’s bodies that demand emancipation, it’s also men’s minds, because they, too, are victimised and disempowered by FGM – just remember how those young men’s views changed as they learned what really went on.
What is really good news is that there are surgeons in UK and elsewhere who are conducting clitoroplasty operations to restore sexual function as part of restorative surgery for women with FGM. I’ll try to dig out a link or two – there are some really emotive stories about women learning to give themselves orgasms for the first time in their lives and rediscovering their identities as women and members of humanity.

Here’s one story (slightly strange motivation!)

And an academic paper from South Africa – WARNING: with graphic surgical photographs – on clitorolabial reconstruction in circumcised females.

Anne

Thanks for that, really interesting, I’ll read through these (and probably research some more, over the weekend) I absolutely agree that it’s all about freedom of choice, and my problem with FGM (and with any other mutilating practices) is that it is not a choice made by the person as an adult. This is what my biggest issue with it is, that’s it’s inflicted on children, and the choice is taken away from them. I found it incredible to believe that that one young guy was quite happy to accept what he had been told that it calmed women down (I need bloody calming down!) and that it was cleaner for the woman. They all seem to want to have sex before marriage, yet want to make sure they marry a virgin. They obviously would not be able to just accept a woman’s word that she is a virgin, so why are they marrying someone they cannot trust!?!The oppressing of females is a terrible thing and in my view all humanity should be viewed equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation or race etc. but this is a physical abuse issue. I’d be equally appalled by it were male mutilation.

Me

Check out Ophelia Benson on the topic  – she blogs as Butterflies and Wheels. Also good stuff at skepchick.org if you search on FGM. As I’ve said a lot this year, there is no more important social project than feminism. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

And finally, if you are a UK citizen, you can sign an e-petition to stop FGM in the UK.

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