Somali-born model Waris Dirie, a victim of childhood FGM, uses her celebrity status to campaign against FGM through the Waris Dirie Foundation. She’s doing noble work, but I’m struck by the over-simplification of the debate by this sentence on the main page of her foundation’s website.
If genital mutilation were a problem affecting men, the matter would long be settled.
Of course it affects men, and I mean only FGM. The statement is too simplistic to be anything more than a biased piece of feel-good cheerleading. It’s a sound bite without substance. Saying it dismisses the fact that FGM affects men. Many men see this as positive. They are wrong, but we will not convince them by isolating FGM’s harm as exclusive to the women who’ve been mutilated.
Still, there is an argument to be made using that statement in reference to male genital cutting. To get there, consider this quote from Ms. Dirie:
“Every day I still struggle to understand why this has happened to me – this cruel and terrible thing for which there is no reason or explanation – whatever they tell you about religion or purity. I can’t tell you how angry I feel, how furious it makes me.”
I could’ve said that. I will say that. Every day I still struggle to understand why this has happened to me – this cruel and terrible thing for which there is no reason or explanation – whatever they tell you about religion or purity. I can’t tell you how angry I feel, how furious it makes me.
I am not minimizing what happened to Ms. Dirie or any other victim of FGM, although I know some will read it that way. I do not care. Forced genital cutting without medical indication is barbaric and unacceptable. The violation and horrific injustice is not unique to females just because the damage is more significant.
Male genital mutilation is a problem affecting men (and women). The matter is not long settled, except that it continues without restriction. Most men are fine with that. Many women, too. They are all mistaken, whether or not the genitals being cut belong to a girl or a boy. I will never consider a societally-dependent gender bias before I consider the act of genital mutilation itself. The latter is wrong, so the former is irrelevant.
In a related story, read this quote by a nurse from Nigeria, a victim of female genital mutilation. She disapproves of FGM, but her quote is useful (from this article):
You see, there are times that I want to agree with the people that are advocating for female circumcision. By virtue of my profession, I have been opportuned to see the vagina of a lot of women, and I must confess that some of them can be very ugly. Some of them are so big and long, as if competing with the men’s penises. Sometimes it is the labia that looks funny. Some even come with colours different from that of their body part. For some women, there is nothing that can be done to it, it cannot close up. Once she unfolds her legs, that is it. The thing will just be open like that. Like a big sore between the thighs. But just as you have the ugly ones, so you have the beautiful ones. Someone once told me that a beautiful woman will definitely have a beautiful vagina. So, once you see a beautiful woman, be sure that her vagina will look beautiful too. Maybe it is because of this ugliness that they actually started circumcising women. One can never tell.
It is not because of that ugliness, but the thought process is informative. In greater detail, this analysis mirrors a common theme found in deciding to circumcise male infants. The natural genitals are ugly, so it is society’s duty to eradicate this problem, to “fix” them. Presumably the child will not do so if given the choice, even though it allegedly means he’ll be resigned to a sex life that does not involve another person. So we must do it for him or her. Of all the possible opinions, only the child’s opinion is irrelevant.
That is no way to make a medical decision for any child.