Friday, December 10, 2010

On Forced Genital Mutilation

This post will inevitably lead to a spike in creepy search terms for my blog.

First up, the really, really good news. It seems there has been substantial progress made on combating female genital mutilation in the region of Afar. This is amazing news, particularly because combating fgm has become one of those seemingly intractable problems. Also particularly amazing because the type of fgm primarily practiced in Afar is infibulation, or Pharaonic circumcision, which is a particularly gruesome and extreme form of fgm. As Monkey of Feminist Philosophers describes, "which involves removing the clitoris, the labia minora, and then scraping the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then sewn together, leaving just a tiny hole for urination and menstruating." I think we can all agree that this is an important step forward, that both needs to be celebrated and supported.

Originally this was all I had to say on the issue, and had saved this for my next Post of Links, but another post on this post has caused me to want to take this discussion in some other directions, now. I want to move forward somewhat tentatively at this point, because I have had the tendency to offend even I did not mean to when I have talked about this in the past. Extending the post from Feminist Philosophers, was this post over at APPS. I want to expound on some things
Men, think for yourselves: could you sleep at night in peace if you knew that in some corners of the world men were being systematically castrated at a very young age? (Btw, male circumcision is also genital mutilation, but that's a different story.)

I don't want to say that there is anything we do that is worse than infibulation. I am pretty sure we don't, but I also think that sort of comparison are often fairly counter-productive. Besides what is simply called circumcision, there are whole litany of weird and often horrific things we do to genitals, even male ones (and not to mention ones of ambiguous determination). It has been nearly a decade since I did research on this topic, and I have lost all the research I did. I cannot speak in the particulars I would like, but there are many cases of men who are expected to scar their genitals and release blood in coming of age ceremonies (a sort of weird mimicry of menstruation). There are also places where there are even more extreme mutilation of male genitals (again, usually occurring during coming of age ceremonies), with at least a few places practicing partial castration. None of this is to claim that the rates are anywhere near the same of FGM (to be honest, I have no clue), or to take away the importance of fighting against FGM.

However, there is one other thing I need to note on:
FGM of any form, but in particular the most radical forms, entails that a woman will never be able to fully enjoy the right that every single animal has to their sexuality.

There are two ways to read this sentence, but I will go with the one that means: I agree, I believe that every single animal has the right to fully enjoy their sexuality. I think this is sometimes not addressed by animal advocates directly (maybe because we are uncomfortable doing so, or because we will seem like a laughing stock, or both): but one of the many harms we commit against animals in our care, be it pets, lab animals, or farm animals (both factory farm and family farm) is the removal over decisions of their sexuality. Frequently this is done through very invasive means, and often this is done through genetic manipulation. One of the frequent examples given are that modern turkeys have been breed in such a way they can no longer naturally reproduce, they are forever denied the ability to express their sexuality.