There is always a problem when people do compare things that should not be compared. In this case I mean FGM and MGM and I am realising each time I say FGM must end, then someone would say how about MGM. I never said MGM is good but comparing the two, FGM mutilation is the worst and here is why.
Frankly, the commonly performed version of male circumcision isn’t as serious as many of the widely performed FGM practices. Yes, removal of the foreskin causes harm and, despite claims to the contrary, has no detectable medical benefits, but FGM often goes far further. Leaving aside the horrible pain that the severe mutilation of a structure as sensitive as the clitoris causes (to have anything approaching a point of comparison, don’t think of removal of the foreskin, think instead of someone cutting a chunk out of your glans) The scarring of the woman’s genital tract can easily result in Obstetric fistula and complications in pregnancy or birth, assuming that the victim does not die soon after the initial mutilation occurs due to blood-loss or secondary infection.
In some forms of FGM, the entire clitoris and most of the labia are excised in their entirety, and the vaginal opening sewn shut except for a small aperture left for urine and other bodily secretion, until the victims wedding night, when the stitching is either cut or ripped open. The level of physical and emotional trauma the victims suffer is hard to imagine.
Then there is the social context of the respective behaviours. Removal of the male prepuce, while painful, disturbing and entirely unnecessary, is viewed primarily as a form of rite of passage – a means of identifying the victim as part of the in group. While these elements also feature in FGM, the symbolism goes far further. The labia and clitoris are removed in a bid to destroy the victim’s ability to experience sexual pleasure, as an expression of the utter contempt that the cultures and religions that perform this horrific abuse hold women and female sexuality in. It is believed that by removing these structures, women will not be ‘tempted’ to take charge of their own sexuality. Further, some cultures believe that by excising the seat of female sexual pleasure you also remove a component of the woman’s free will, thus rendering her more biddable. It is a twisted attempt at sympathetic-magic-based mind-control.
Finally, there is in some ways the most horrific and repugnantly misogynist component of all – in no small degree FGM is performed in pursuit of the aesthetic preferences and perceived convenience of the men of these cultures. It is a concrete expression of the idea within these societies that women aren’t actual people at all – that they exist as mere chattel for men, to be used for the pleasure and gratification of men and discarded at the whim of men.
Given all these factors, comparing male circumcision and FGM as somehow equivalent is highly inappropriate, and may easily be interpreted as an attempt to dismiss the suffering, and silence the voices, of women by means of a wilfully facile comparison to a superficially similar cultural rite that doesn’t cause anything approaching the same level of physical harm or carry the same toxic social baggage.
Think again and help us end female genital mutilation.