“That woman in Cairo,” I wonder as I stare at the dramatic photo in Washington Post, “the one with the Egyptian flag and the black headscarf… does she have a clitoris?”
According to IEET readers, what were the most stimulating stories of 2011? We’re answering that question by posting a countdown of the top 12 articles published this year on our blog, based on how many total hits each one received - and we’re now down to the Top Four.
The following piece was first published here on February 25, 2011, and is the 4th most viewed of the year.
Perhaps my question is intrusive and impolite. Perhaps discussing clitorises is a more taboo topic than if I, for example, announced that I don’t have a foreskin, or that I do have a hemorrhoid.
I don’t know. What I do believe (mutating stanzas from 1963’s Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss) is this:
What’s the point of the Egyptian Revolution
If it doesn’t stop female genital mutilation?
If girls are chopped bloody, sexually-deducted,
Was the 18-day struggle at all productive?
Egypt gave itself a Mubarak-tomy
Now its time to end clitoridectomy
Let us condemn
Is female genital mutilation (FGM) a transhumanist issue? Yes. “Enhancement” is championed by technoprogressives as a basic human right; this suggests that the opposite “reductions” like FGM deserve condemnation as a violation of the same entitlement. The H+ desire to be “more than human” should be linked to a protest against non-consensual amputation. The Transhumanist Declaration also strives for the “alleviation of grave suffering.”
Do I believe male circumcision of infants is also a non-consensual “reduction” that transhumanists should oppose? Yes, I do. In San Francisco, where I live, there’s a proposal circulating that would ban the unnecessary, sensory-reducing procedure. The measure intends to make it “unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.” The law, if passed, would punish the new crime with up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, and it’s getting my vote.
However, female genital mutilation is not circumcision—it’s a far more dangerous and debilitating attack on the flesh. Abolishing FGM unfortunately was not an agenda item that any Egyptian revolutionary spokesperson mentioned, and it was generally ignored as a subject of discussion by international media until CBS reporter Lara Logan was assaulted in Tahrir Square on February 11 by a mob of up to 200 men.
The Sunday Times reported that “sensitive parts of her body were covered with red marks… from aggressive pinching.” She was also “stripped, punched and slapped.” Suddenly, misogynist horror in the land of the Pharaohs was in the spotlight, and why not? The attack on Logan, who was rescued by Egyptian women and policemen after 20 to 30 minutes of abuse, serves as a potent reminder that even with Mubarak gone, it’s often a nasty men’s world in the Nile nation.
“Rampant sexual harassment, public fondling and groping of women… is used as a way to keep women indoors,” writes Asra Nomani in the Huffington Post. A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights says 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign visiting females experience sexual harassment, and the Arab Human Development Report (2009) claims 35% of all Egyptian women have been physically attacked, a figure they suggest is grossly under-reported. The 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, a Swiss study that rates progress towards women’s equality, places Egypt in the international cellar: #125 out of 134 nations surveyed. Egypt’s rank is abysmal because it excludes women from good jobs, especially managerial positions, and only 2% of parliament is female.
Abuse of Egyptian females often occurs early in life, with female genital mutilation. Although it was banned in 2007 by the Ministry of Health following the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker—who overdosed on anesthesia in an illegal clinic—its prevalence has only dropped from 97% to 91% in recent years, according to Nfissatou Diop, program coordinator of a joint project by UNICEF and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund).
The Grand Mufti of Egypt has said FGM is “prohibited,” the Al-Aabar Supreme Council of Islamic Research says it shouldn’t be practiced because it has no basis in Islamic law, and even the former first lady—Suzanne Mubarak—denounced it as “a flagrant example of continued physical and psychological violence.”
So…why does this barbarity persist?
UNICEF claims that FGM’s primary raison d’etre is to “reduce the sexual desire of a female…[to] maintain a girl’s virginity prior to marriage and her fidelity thereafter.” Traditions insist that FGM makes girls “clean,” “beautiful,” and “pure,” because it removes the “ugly” and “dirty” genitalia. Superstitious propaganda also contends that men become impotent or sick if their penis contacts a clitoris, that a mother’s milk will be poisonous if she’s uncut, that her face will turn yellow and she’ll get vaginal cancer without FGM, and (perhaps most frighteningly) she’ll masturbate excessively or become a lesbian.
My sociological opinion is that FGM’s intent is to terrorize young females into lifelong submission to male authority.
Archeologists believe FGM’s origins probably lie in the pyramids’ shadows. Unraveled mummies were found with FGM, and a Greek papyrus from 163 B.C. notes that Egyptian girls were given the operation when they received their dowries.
Today, an estimated two million girls per year are excised. Here’s a list of high percentage nations, tabulated by Rosemarie Skaine in her book, Female Genital Mutilation: Legal, Cultural, and Medical Issues—Burkina Faso (71.6%), Chad (60%), Cote d’Ivoire (44.5%), Djibouti (90-98%), Eritrea (90%), Ethiopia (69.7-94.5%), Gambia (80-90%), Ghana (40%), Guinea (98.6%), Liberia (60%), Mali (92%), Mauritania (71%), Sierra Leone (90%), Somalia (95%), Sudan (91%), Togo (50%), Iraqi Kurdistan (72.7%), and Egypt (78-97%).
Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi—who had her clitoris excised when she was six—became a doctor who regularly observed the “terrible physical damage female genital mutilation could cause.” In 1972, when she was director general in the Egyptian Ministry of Health, she wrote a book, Women and Sex, that criticized FGM. She subsequently lost her job.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali/Dutch/American writer, is probably the most famous chronicler of her own genital mutilation experience. In her biography, Infidel, she describes her cutting, followed by infibulation:
Women held my legs apart. The man… picked up a pair of scissors… The scissors went down between my legs and the man snipped off my inner labia and clitoris, like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat. A piercing pain shot up between my legs, indescribable, and I howled. Then came the sewing: the long, blunt needle clumsily pushing into my outer labia, my long and anguished protests…”
Many girls die during or after their excision, from infections. Other complications cause enormous, more or less lifelong pain… My once cheerful, playful little sister [Hawaya] changed… never the same afterwards. She became ill with a fever for several weeks… horrible nightmares… she just stared vacantly at nothing for hours…
Later, her sister dies young, after years of psychosis.
Hearing this stuff drives me, personally, crazy with rage and bewilderment. How can anyone who claims to love their children simultaneously subject their innocents to such ghastly abuse? To care for one’s children is to keep them from harm, not dissect their young bodies with filthy tools.
The civilized outcry against FGM is not 100% universal, due to “cultural relativism” infecting some circles of feminism. The Village Voice reports that in 2006, Patricia Clough, director of the Center for the Study of Women at CUNY, “declined to call female genital mutilation wrong.” Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf of Brown University has also defined FGM as “a site of identity formation.”
But generally, condemnation of FGM in the Western world is substantial, led by many European women’s groups, such as GAMS FRANCE, GAMS BELGIUM, END FGM, FGM- HILFE (Austria), Female Integrity (Sweden), FSAN (The Netherlands), FORWARD (UK), and others.
If FGM persists in Egypt after democracy (we hope) is installed, it will be an embarrassment in the pages of their progress. Ignoring FGM at this time would resemble the shame American people of conscience feel when they regard the year 1870, when black men were given the vote via the 15th Amendment, but women of all colors were denied—for another 50 years (the 19th Amendment).
Egyptian feminist Nawla Darwiche has stated that “all the men were very respectful during the revolution… sexual harassment didn’t occur during the revolt.” Let’s hope, and insist, that this cessation of abuse becomes a permanent feature in the new, ancient nation. The words “Egyptian Revolution” have a glorious sound, but not if we simultaneously hear the screams of girls.