Skip

Punishable Aggression
December 4, 2006 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Islam Outlaws Female Genital Mutilation "After listening to several international physicians, they pronounced the sensational decision to classify the custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) as punishable aggression and crime against humanity. As a result, the custom can no longer be practiced by Muslims. Now awareness of this decision has to be spread in the 33 affected countries." [+ WHO] and [+ wp]
posted by FunkyHelix (80 comments total)

 
It's great that prominent Muslims (how prominent, exactly?) are decrying FGM, but isn't this a bit like saying "Christianity outlaws the confessional"?

In that, a) most Muslims aren't of the sort that practice FGM, and b) those that are, aren't likely to listen to people who disagree with them on this matter?
posted by gurple at 11:35 AM on December 4, 2006


This is excellent news, and a true historical moment in global human rights. I look forward to seeing how effective this is, and how it is followed up.

I look forward to the day when similar fatwas are made against male genital cutting. It probably won't be for a couple hundred years, but I may be wrong - cultural consciousness has been shown to undergo radical and rapid shifts in the past.

Perhaps by that time, we'll have female mullahs who can add their voice without the bias of being cut themselves.
posted by spacediver at 11:37 AM on December 4, 2006


FunkyHelix: "As a result, the custom can no longer be practiced by Muslims." "

It would be great if that were true, but that's not how authority works in the world of Islam.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 11:38 AM on December 4, 2006


Yay. Who said all news is bad news?
posted by kozad at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2006


[- posting links formatted like this]

Has any legitimate news source picked up on this story yet?
posted by emelenjr at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2006


One, there is no grand organization that oversees Islam, so while it is good that some prominent Muslims have spoken out against this terrible practice, there pronouncements have no real ecclesiastical force on all Muslims.

Two, why is it that religions often seem about 100 years behind the times when it comes to morality? It is sad that prominent Islamic authorities are only now saying FGM is bad. Keep your fingers crossed: maybe banning the dropping of walls on gays will be next!
posted by Falconetti at 11:42 AM on December 4, 2006


Well the Pope said condom isn't admissable and look how many are following ? Few

Yet I guess "islam" will win this as the practice is probably already not welcome by many.

To draw a parallel, the day Saddam was condemnet to death his lawyers, if my memory serves, declared Saddam didn't want Iraquis to riot for this ! Please don't riot !

There was no riot, but it wasn't because of Saddam decree..rather because nobody gave a fucking damn, except few.
posted by elpapacito at 11:43 AM on December 4, 2006


Has any legitimate news source picked up on this story yet?

A simple Google search finds a few that should probably have been included in the original post.
posted by gurple at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2006


If I recall Islam doesn't work like the roman catholic church. There is no single hierarchy to make these decisions and propagate them down to the faithful (just like their isn't for Christianity).

Sounds like wishful misinformed generalization that probably should have a headline more like "Some prominent Islamic scholars have decided FGM is wrong"
posted by srboisvert at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2006


It's not a cure all, but it's a good step forward.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:48 AM on December 4, 2006


Along the lines of the skepticism just about everyone is expressing... from the ynet article I linked above:

Prof. Shamaa provided a disappointing explanation why this time, following Nehberg's intiaitve, it succeeded for the first time.

"We simply did not invite those who disagree with us," he said.

posted by gurple at 11:49 AM on December 4, 2006


What an absurd statement. "Islam" is not one organization, rather many scholars (ayatolas, mullas, etc) each have spheres of influence. Scholars can issue fatwas, but only people who follow those scholars would care.

I look forward to the day when similar fatwas are made against male genital cutting. It probably won't be for a couple hundred years, but I may be wrong - cultural consciousness has been shown to undergo radical and rapid shifts in the past.

/rolls eyes.

First of all, all Muslims and Jewish men are circumcised. It's been like that for thousands of years, I don't think that's going to change.
posted by delmoi at 11:49 AM on December 4, 2006


What will be the punishment for committing this crime? I read (in an article linked on Mefi) that the majority of people who actually commit the act (which is mandated by a society) are women who themselves underwent FGM. It would be terrible if this pronouncement led to escape-goatism and that particular violence against women often seen in developing countries.
posted by muddgirl at 11:49 AM on December 4, 2006


It's been like that for thousands of years, I don't think that's going to change.

You are implying they will survive. I doubt so.
posted by elpapacito at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2006


I for one welcome our new clitoris-friendly Islamic Overlords.

..and their sisters, with one hand on the Koran, the other in their salwar and a big grin under their niqāb.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:02 PM on December 4, 2006


FGM is a complicated matter and depending on the definition of it, let alone the double standard (a man can be circumcized in a hospital, but a woman who is having her clitoral hood removed, or a small clitoral incision, has to have it done with a piece of glass).

A good portion of women who perform genital cutting do so as an act of becoming more women like, not to please their husband (and many look down at the full labia sowing / closing, which everyone things happens when you say FGM). Of course, because of international aid and feminist organizations pushing for the banning of FGM outright, and pulling aid from areas that perform it, FGM is going underground more and more. Not to mention that the people who practice various forms of FGM see the banning of it outright as interference by western, christian, white people who have no understanding of the local culture and who just want things they don't like removed (but mail genital multilation, aka circumcision, is still performed).

And what is the biggest motivating factor for a lot of mothers or grandmothers to have FGM performed on their daughters? Financial stability and safety, because they believe their daughters wont find husbands without FGM performed. Many fathers are terrified and do not want the act performed on their daughters.

I'm not saying it shouldn't be stopped, but just banning instead of actually doing other things to help. The most common phrase heard by one of my professors while in africa was "they want to save our vaginas, but give us clean water first."

If you want to know more, google for Michelle Johnson, she's an Anthro professor at Bucknell U where I went to school, and she has studied and lived with the Mandinga, and has spent a good deal of time on FGM specifically.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:02 PM on December 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


Wow, this shouldn't piss off the extremists at all!
posted by davelog at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2006


actually it probably won't.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 12:24 PM on December 4, 2006


At last, proof of moderate muslims.
posted by A189Nut at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2006


Will they outlaw suicide bombing next, please? That seems to qualify as both female and male mutilation.

Also, [-wtf].
posted by found missing at 12:48 PM on December 4, 2006


First of all, all Muslims and Jewish men are circumcised. It's been like that for thousands of years, I don't think that's going to change.

Not that I'm drawing any specific parallels, but foot binding was a centuries-old practice that got wiped out pretty quickly.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:04 PM on December 4, 2006


And what is the biggest motivating factor for a lot of mothers or grandmothers to have FGM performed on their daughters? Financial stability and safety, because they believe their daughters wont find husbands without FGM performed.

Then take away financial stability and safety from those who practice it. And then point the finger at the women still following the practice and blame them for the loss. That should teach them within one or two generations.

The most common phrase heard by one of my professors while in africa was "they want to save our vaginas, but give us clean water first."

What and odd thing to say.
posted by sour cream at 1:05 PM on December 4, 2006


Unlike FGM, male circumcision does have some small potential medical and hygenic benefits to offer, without completely removing sexual pleasure from those who have undergone it. Not to advocate either practice, but I don't think it's fair to lump the two together like that.
posted by SBMike at 1:23 PM on December 4, 2006


Can we please not turn this into another rehash of the male circumcision debate?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:23 PM on December 4, 2006


That's about the most ignorant, self-centred and sexist comment I've read on Metafilter in a long time.

It's good news of course but religious edicts are unlikely to have any early effect on an ethnocultural phenomenon.
posted by peacay at 1:24 PM on December 4, 2006


So, another circumcision argument. I don't know why some out there are obsessed with other peoples cocks.
posted by bob sarabia at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2006


Well then they should outlaw all circumc.... What? Why is everyone looking at me that way?
posted by Balisong at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2006


I don't know why some out there are obsessed with other peoples cocks.

I do.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:34 PM on December 4, 2006


gah, mistype on the "The most common phrase heard by one of my professors while in africa was "they want to save our vaginas, but give us clean water first."

Should read "they want to save our vaginas, but we just want them to give us clean water"

A lot of effort and money is pushed towards these global wars against "FGM" when they could be put towards other causes, which could then cause a decrease of the FGM cases.

As for the financial sanctions against people who perform FGM, the very reason it is pushed underground is fear of the sanctions and intervention by westerners / outsiders about something that is consider, in some areas, core to the identity of a person (its the removal of the male flesh from a female body, as is circumcision the removal of female flesh from a male body). Providing clean running water is aid that the people have asked for, they aren't asking for us to come in and 'civilize' them in exchange.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:34 PM on December 4, 2006


Good news in at least the sense that the more this horrible practice is condemned, the better.
posted by agregoli at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2006


You know if we really wanted to fight radical Islam, I do believe this would be far more effective than blowing up large numbers of people who happen to be around places where terrorists are, or even worse places where no terrorists are.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2006


"they want to save our vaginas, but we just want them to give us clean water"

Serious question: do victims of FGM care that they are victims? Presumably they don't know what it's like to be unmutilated. If I was thirsty and someone told me, by the by, that I didn't have a quixoflange, I'd say "Huh? Gimme a drink of water."
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2006


Well obviously in the whole of Africa you cannot have clean water and intact clitorises at the same time, that'd be too much invasive western civilisation in one go. That argument is totally factual and not grossly patronising in the least, nossir!
posted by pleeker at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Serious question: do victims of FGM care that they are victims? Presumably they don't know what it's like to be unmutilated.

What the fuck? FGM isn't usually performed on babies but girls. It's usually done without anesthetic and is extremely painful. Often times the area does not heal properly. Sexual dysfunction follows.

Even if done on a baby, unlike male circumcision, it greatly reduces the chance a woman will EVER experience sexual pleasure.

I'd say I'd consider myself a victim when that much is taken from me, often against my will.
posted by agregoli at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2006


Meant to say: I'd say I'd consider myself a victim if that much is taken from me, especially if it was against my will.
posted by agregoli at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2006


Interesting that none of the advocates of body modification (scarification, branding etc) that marks the indulgent culture of the contemporary developed world goes for FGM
posted by A189Nut at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2006


Then take away financial stability and safety from those who practice it. And then point the finger at the women still following the practice and blame them for the loss.

I'm sure they'll be keen to initiate a policing process to verify who has "practiced" FGM so they can "take away" their financial stability and safety. Door-to-door surveys, perhaps?
posted by pardonyou? at 2:15 PM on December 4, 2006


What the fuck? FGM isn't usually performed on babies but girls. It's usually done without anesthetic and is extremely painful. Often times the area does not heal properly. Sexual dysfunction follows.

That's what I mean. Those girls never have a normal sex life, so do they fully appreciate what they're missing when they say they would rather have clean water?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2006


FGM is a complicated matter and depending on the definition of it, let alone the double standard (a man can be circumcized in a hospital, but a woman who is having her clitoral hood removed, or a small clitoral incision, has to have it done with a piece of glass).

Huh? It has to be done with a peice of glass? It seems like it could be done with a scalpel at a hospital just as easily as a male circumcision. If you're saying this edict will cause 'back ally' FGM, that might be true, but I suspect that for most women who undergo this, the procedure won't be much diffrent.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2006


I'd say I'd consider myself a victim when that much is taken from me, often against my will.

Well, it wasn't done to you. Also, if you did consider yourself the victim of a crime, you wouldn't turn around and do it to other people, would you? Yet for many women, that's exactly what they do: including mothers and aunts, etc.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2006


That's what I mean. Those girls never have a normal sex life, so do they fully appreciate what they're missing when they say they would rather have clean water?

Nevermind. You're a complete fucking idiot.
posted by agregoli at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2006


FGM is widely practiced by people of all religions in Africa: Christian, Muslim, Animist and so forth. There is no connection between any of the foregoing religions and FGM. It has never been sanctioned under Islamic law and while Islam is today perceived as anti-pleasure because of its many prudish norms, unlike the Christian faith, heterosexual sexual pleasure is encouraged by the religion. In fact, according the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the one religious leader two (who is supreme to all his adherents) who has not to date spoken out against FGM is the Pope.
posted by Azaadistani at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2006


Yeah, this has nothing to do with "Islam," no matter what the people who practice it (and ignorant non-Muslims) think—it's a cultural thing that happens to be part of a number of cultures that have undergone significant conversion to Islam. Moslems elsewhere are generally as repelled by the idea as thee and me. And (as others have said) "Islam" didn't outlaw anything; ten hand-picked muftis made a joint decision (which is binding only on those who follow those particular muftis). But it's still a good thing, obviously.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2006


Nevermind. You're a complete fucking idiot.

I'm responding to mrzarquon's professor's quip about water. I don't know who you're responding to.

Look at male circumcision: most circumcised men don't seem to care that they've been circumcised, even living in our culture of sexual ultra-perfection. They have no way of knowing what it would be like to live otherwise. I am in no way conflating "MGM" with FGM, but how would a mutilated woman know what had been taken from her, especially in a culture with abominable sex education? And especially in a culture with a 95% FGM rate where nearly all the other women live the same way?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2006


SBMike:

Unlike FGM, male circumcision does have some small potential medical and hygenic benefits to offer, without completely removing sexual pleasure from those who have undergone it. Not to advocate either practice, but I don't think it's fair to lump the two together like that.

Not all FGM's are equal (and not all MGM's are equal for that matter either). I would not dare to claim that standard male genital cutting is as damaging as the the pharaonic versions of FGM.

That said, the mildest forms of FGM are far less damaging than the standard forms of MGM, since the female prepuce does not house the same sensory hardware that the male prepuce does.

It is not up for debate whether or not male circumcision removes erogenous tissue. Since 1996, this has been well established in the literature.

What has not been studied is whether removal of tissue affects the male sexual experience.

In response to this, I would ask all involved to consider whether one would need studies to prove whether removal of female erogenous tissue affects the female sexual experience.

Of course it does - with less sensory hardware there is less sensory complexity involved in stimulation.

As for hygenic and medical benefits, there are also benefits of routine neonatal mastectomies. Removal of the vulva would reduce incidence of cancer of the vulva, and reduce the amount of female smegma accumulation (yes females also produce this substance).

I think it is important to reflect upon the features of female genital cutting which are minimally sufficient to cause moral outrage, and see if they map onto male circumcision. (e.g. if FGM was carried out in sterile conditions using state of the art surgical and anaesthetic technologies, and only involved partial removal of clitoris and labia (which is, btw, roughly the neuroanatomical equivalent of what is removed in male circumcision), should one consider it ok?


It's also important to note that female circumcision is a practice driven by the female elders, and most females consider this a desirable thing. Very few females, even those cut as adults, will complain about loss of sexual function.


I recommend viewing this video, which, drawing upon peer reviewed literature, outlines the anatomy and function of the male prepuce, a very poorly understood part of human anatomy. Alternatively you can download the file directly from here.

More info here here.

As for a historical account of the modern medicalization of male circumcision into the West, I recommend this peer reviewed paper from the Journal of Social History.

Male circumcision has a sordid history, and many are surprised to learn that medically sanctioned assaults on the female genitals were also espoused by the North American medical establishment.
posted by spacediver at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


sorry, here is the correct direct wmv link.
posted by spacediver at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2006


This is a sensible step in the right direction.
posted by furtive at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2006


I'll give you a few more sensational, wonderful headlines:

"Pope Denounces Child Molestation"
"President Outlaws Heroin"
"Murder now Illegal!"

I wish it would, but sorry, this won't change a thing. The sick, sick women who do this to their daughters are set in their ways.
posted by tehloki at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2006


but how would a mutilated woman know what had been taken from her

You could also say that of people missing entire limbs from birth, or from an early age. Humans have this uncanny ability to adapt to any circumstances they find themselves in, be they aware or unaware of what they're missing.

So... what was your point actually?
posted by pleeker at 4:14 PM on December 4, 2006


Having recently learnt (and very unfortunately seen) the meaning of the word "smegma", I'm convinced if I hadn't been circumcised as an infant, I'd have it done later anyway, for aesthetic reasons alone...

Just sayin'.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2006


I was born with wings but they were amputated at birth.

I have never flown. Though, I'm not sure what it would be like to fly un-aided, I can see the birds doing so. And to me having wings seems better than not having them.

I wish I had my wings back. Because I can see the birds.

Should they have removed the eyes as well? If they did I could still hear the birds sing.

Only things with wings sound like that.
posted by tkchrist at 4:40 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


That said, the mildest forms of FGM are far less damaging than the standard forms of MGM, since the female prepuce does not house the same sensory hardware that the male prepuce does.

Oh really. Thank you for enlightening me on this.
posted by jokeefe at 4:50 PM on December 4, 2006


So Ossama won? They've reestablished the caliphate? Why didn't anyone do a FPP about that?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:15 PM on December 4, 2006


Jokafee, I'm not sure I understand your comment. Are you suggesting that it's a presposterous idea that the milder forms of female genital cutting are less damaging than standard forms of male circumcision?
posted by spacediver at 5:19 PM on December 4, 2006


StrikeTheViol :

Having recently learnt (and very unfortunately seen) the meaning of the word "smegma", I'm convinced if I hadn't been circumcised as an infant, I'd have it done later anyway, for aesthetic reasons alone...

smegma actually derives its meaning from the greek word for "soap".

Females produce smegma, and through regular hygienic maintenance, stop it from becoming an issue.

As for aesthetic reasons, I consider the intact female genitalia to be quite beautiful. Unfortunately millions of women and men in somalia and other parts of the world disagree with me.

I also consider the intact male genitalia to be beautiful, especially when appreciated for its neuroanatomical and functional complexity. Unfortunately, millions of north american men and women, along with billions of muslims and jews, disagree with me.

It's truly a sad state of affairs when cultural preferences will drive men and women to have their own genitals, and those of their offspring, mutilated.
posted by spacediver at 5:23 PM on December 4, 2006


spacediver: "It's truly a sad state of affairs when cultural preferences will drive men and women to have their own genitals, and those of their offspring, mutilated."

I'd feel more confident in my judgments on this matter if I had any sense at all what the cultural preferences are that lead to female genital mutilation. Is there somewhere I can read some articulate defender of this practice? (I don't mean someone who defends the right of alien cultures to be alien, but who actually defends this particular practice?) In relation to what larger picture does (or perhaps did) this practice make sense?

I feel about this story like I do when news reports out of Iraq describe "sectarian violence". I'm pretty damn sure that, whatever Iraqi suicide bombers think they are doing, it is not accurately described as "engaging in sectarian violence".
posted by peeping_Thomist at 5:40 PM on December 4, 2006


*zaghareet!*
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:47 PM on December 4, 2006


Hi peeping_Thomist:

Here is one example.

Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, a researcher who spent almost a decade steeped in communities that practice female genital cutting, and who is a pioneer in both the study of the practice and in raising awareness about it, has compiled a chart, showing disturbing similarities in attitudes around female and male genital cutting.

What you must understand is that the reason that it is so hard to eradicate fgm is because the majority of women who are cut are unwilling to acknowledge that this is a bad thing. They will then go on to have their own children cut. To do otherwise is to acknowledge that something terrible was done to them, and this entails intense psychological suffering. The mind goes to great lengths to avoid suffering. Precisely the same holds for why it is so hard to get circumcised males to understand the fundamental harm of male circumcision.

The pillars that support female genital mutilation are precisely those which support male genital mutilation:

hygiene, prophylaxis, aesthetics, status, religion, and chastity.


Most people are unaware that until recently, male circumcision was explicitly endorsed for reasons of chastity: see the paper I provided earlier to get a glimpse into the modern manifestation of this rationale, and see what
maimonides had to say back in the 12th century about the practice. It is only in very recent times that we've forgotten that part of the wisdom of circumcision is precisely because it was understood to reduce sexual pleasure.

As for the origins of these customs, a fair amount of anthropological work has been done, and both practices trace back many millenia - there is a common link in the sun god amon ra, who was often depicted as mutilating his own male and female genitals. If you would like further links on this, I can forward you the work of Ashley Montague, and James Prescott.
posted by spacediver at 6:06 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ok i used the word "precisely" a few too many times in that last post. :)
posted by spacediver at 6:22 PM on December 4, 2006


In relation to what larger picture does (or perhaps did) this practice make sense?

If you start from a larger picture wherein children are born into the world not as distinctly male or female but rather as something of a mix (mostly-male with some femality, or vice-versa -- perhaps better put (since this is after all something of an originally animist outlook) as of spirit not yet completely male or completely female) the circumcisions can be seen (as is mentioned upthread) as removing the loci of the other gender's presence and thus preparing the child to develop into a fully -- and distinctly! -- gendered individual.

It's not in fact all that unreasonable to infer something of this sort from the human life process: children are born with diminutive, immature sex organs (each genders's containing in the unaltered state sections resembling the other gender's organs) and lack the secondary sexual characteristics -- the near-androgeny of young children is obvious to the eye; at some point something triggers the development of secondary sexual characteristics and all those formerly-quite-similar children turn into very different-looking, sexually-mature adults. If you're used to the now-commonsense view that children are born of a particular gender -- fixed at birth! -- and possess a biological clock that automatically triggers puberty somewhere within a particular age range the above phenomena is obvious, natural, certainly not a mystery, and certainly nothing that needs helping along; if you're of the view that children are born with gender all confused -- as described above, even their unaltered genitals not yet entirely male or female, but rather some sort of superpositions of both -- it might easily make sense to you to have your child's genitals mutilated (whether as a necessary part of helping them become male or female, or merely as a way to avoid being a "girly man" or "manly girl" of no pure gender).

So in that context you'd have some of the motivation being to ensure one raised one's offspring to be full, proper men and women, and to ensure that puberty's engenderization goes smoothly...or so I've heard to be the relevant cultural context, from an anthropologist summarizing the relevant literature, if I'm recalling correctly (the other reasons being largely retrofits -- when either the outlook outlined above has been supplanted or forgotten -- or social concerns (will my daughter be unable to find a husband?)).

I've not yet ever seen an articulate written defense of this practice by a contemporary practitioner -- and if it exists there's no guarantee it's in English. If anyone has one it'd be interesting to see how it compares to the secondhand recollection of an anthropological conversation outlined above.
posted by little miss manners at 6:35 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


spacediver: can you post links or titles here tracing this back to the sun god amon ra, who was often depicted as mutilating his own male and female genitals. If you would like further links on this, I can forward you the work of Ashley Montague, and James Prescott.

I'm beginning to question the accuracy of what I've heard.
posted by little miss manners at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2006


Islam outlaws YOU!
posted by oxford blue at 6:47 PM on December 4, 2006


little miss manners:
If you start from a larger picture wherein children are born into the world not as distinctly male or female but rather as something of a mix (mostly-male with some femality, or vice-versa -- perhaps better put (since this is after all something of an originally animist outlook) as of spirit not yet completely male or completely female) the circumcisions can be seen (as is mentioned upthread) as removing the loci of the other gender's presence and thus preparing the child to develop into a fully -- and distinctly! -- gendered individual.

It's interesting you say this, since it very closely echoes the practice of male and female circumcision in some african cultures:

The following text is a passage written by Montague, from here:

Now let us see how circumcision is typically regarded among some African peoples like the Dogon, Bambara, and Lobi of Mali (northwest Africa). Among these peoples the fundamental law of creation is twinship. At birth, each infant is "twin," - doubled, equipped with twin souls of different sex. In the girl the masculine soul resides in the clitoris, which is considered her male organ. In the male, removal of the prepuce, in which the female soul resides, confirms the boy in the sex for which he was destined. Excision, which ablates the clitoris, rids the girl of the male element. However, as Pierre Erny, writes in his book, Childhood and Cosmos:

"Even after these operations have been imposed by social life, duality remains the fundamental law of beings. The soul of the opposite sex, diminished in the body, remains present in the double. The person will find his twinned unity again only at the time of marriage. Through the union of husband and wife, the doubles join like bodies in the act which actualizes the ideal union of twins. After circumcision it is the man's duty to go after his lost femininity and find it again in his wife. And the woman who was freed from her masculinity at the time of excision finds it again in the person of her husband."11

posted by spacediver at 6:50 PM on December 4, 2006


From that same linke:

In any event, what makes Egyptian circumcision especially interesting is that the scholarly evidence indicates that, no matter where and upon whom it was practiced, it represented a sign of affiliation to the cult of sun god, Amon-Re, chief deity and creator of all things. Part of the Egyptian cosmogonic myth suggests that Amon-Re mutilated his genitals in some way. From Classical Greek sources, we know that the surgery appears to have been a privilege of the priestly castes.

I'm trying to dig up that reference where the depiction of the sun god mutilating his own genitals (both female and male) is described. I thought it was in the above link - perhaps I have a confused memory.
posted by spacediver at 6:54 PM on December 4, 2006


spacediver: thanks, it looks like I'm not misremembering as badly as I thought -- this conversation was well on two decades ago and mostly centered around varying concepts of gender (with someone specializing broadly in "african anthropology", seems a much broader field now). If in fact the tradition had a clearly-recorded Egyptian origin I'd feel a bit cheated, but it now seems like I was not so much misinformed as underinformed, which is more tolerable.

Montagu and Prescott (found a summary) both look like interesting reads.
posted by little miss manners at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2006


You take your analogies a touch too far, Spacediver. .

So I'll kick it up a notch...

I consider the average sized male penis to be quite beautiful. Unfortunately millions of women and men in tribal cultures using jelquing and sheaths, as well as insecure middle-aged professional disagree with me.

I consider the unmarked African male face to be quite beautiful. Unfortunately millions of women and men in African societies who maintain rites of passage disagree with me.

I consider the body devoid of piercings and tatoos especially with reference to the genitals, be quite beautiful. Unfortunately millions of celebrities, hipsters, pseudo-badasses, actual badasses, prostitutes, exotic dancers, and bohemian writers and artists disagree with me.

Be careful, that last group is most of Metafilter...
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:49 PM on December 4, 2006


hehe, Nyquil, bane of spelling and grammar...
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:51 PM on December 4, 2006


Thanks for the reply StrikeTheViol.

I don't think that comparing aesthetic attitudes towards the intact female genitalia in cultures where FGM is the norm, to aesthetic attitudes towards the intact male genitilia in cultures where MGM is the norm, is taking an analogy too far.

And with respect to jelquiing and tatoos, these are typically done by adults on themselves, not by adults on their children. There's a world of difference.

Much of our cognitions around the male prepuce are derived from our culture. Many of us consider it a symbol of uncleanliness, spiritual impurity, and ugliness. Similarly, much of the cognitions around the female labia and clitoris are derived from culture, and have similar symbolic meanings.

This is prejudice, plain and simple. In cultures where male circumcision is rare, this anxiety around the aesthetics of an intact penis does not exist.

My point, in responding to you, was that I find it quite sad that you consider a natural part of your sexuality so ugly that you'd be willing to have it surgically removed. This is even more terrifying when such an instinct drives people to have this form of sexual destruction imposed upon their children.

Sometimes, beauty is appreciated through function. I urge you to watch the video I linked to earlier.
posted by spacediver at 9:02 PM on December 4, 2006


Sometimes, beauty is appreciated through function.

Good point. There is a fundamental difference between, say, tattoos and piercings, and circumcision. Circumcision doesn't just make someone aesthetically different, it alters the function of some pretty vital organs. There's a difference between putting a piercing through your tounge and cutting your tounge out. Getting a tattoo doesn't affect the way your body operates - your fundamental biology. But on the other hand you would be hard pressed to convince me that voluntary amputees aren't suffering from a pretty destructive mental illness.

Now of course, one could argue that male circumcision doesn't alter the biological function that much. Fair enough. But I believe it's still on a different plane than getting a tattoo.
posted by Jimbob at 11:07 PM on December 4, 2006


Just stop cutting people -- and thinking that it will fix something is just plain wrong. If it had to be done, chances are that it would have been done through evolution already.
posted by NewBornHippy at 11:21 PM on December 4, 2006


That said, the mildest forms of FGM are far less damaging than the standard forms of MGM, since the female prepuce does not house the same sensory hardware that the male prepuce does.

When you find a way to explain how any of this (NSFW) is far less damaged than this (NSFW), you can talk to me about how the female equivalent of a male foreskin just isn't as sensitive a bit of skin.
posted by Orb at 2:10 AM on December 5, 2006


Thanks to mrazarquon, spacediver and little miss manners for raising the level of debate here.
posted by asok at 2:53 AM on December 5, 2006


Orb, none of those pictures depict the milder forms of FGM which I was referring to, namely solely the removal of the clitoral hood. In fact, many clinics in africa actually carry out these operations with little incident or risk of injury/infection. The pictures in that first link are likely the result of village circumcisions - if you were to see pictures of south african village male circumcisions, you'd see similar horrors.

The male prepuce houses some incredibly sensitive tissue, in the form of highly organized arrays of meissner corpuscles. This rare type of tissue allows for an incredibly high sensory resolution, and is very sensitive to light touch, as well as stretching. It is, in fact, the most sensitive tissue on the human body, a fact attested to both by functional neuroanatomical and phenomenological observation.

If you inspect your own circumcised penis, you will note that you may have remnants of this tissue left (depending on how tightly you were cut, as well as the style).

If you're lucky, you'll also have remants of your frenulum left (as the male in your second picture), which is by far the most sensitive part of the intact penis, and a great source of pleasure for intact males.

The female prepuce, on the other hand, is nowhere near as functionally or neurophysiologically complex as the male counterpart - my understanding is that they are homologous from a gross anatomical perspective, but not from a neuroanatomical one.

Just inspect your own genitals, and ask yourself where the most sensitive parts are, and where you primarily derive orgasm from. For many, this is a tiny area right below the scarline (frenar delta area), where frenar and ridged band tissue remnants reside.

Notice how the sensitive tissue stops abruptly past the scarline? Well, for intact males, it doesn't abruptly stop - there's a lot more of that sensitive tissue, and it is contiguous with the frenulum, which becomes more and more sensitive as it goes towards the tip of the glans (meatus).

There is actually some work being done right now which examines the reflex relationships between the glans and the ridged band - it is clear that circumcision destroys much of this functioning.


In fact, the video which I linked to doesn't go into these areas, but rather only focuses on peer reviewed research. One of the main authors of that research is behind this more current research, however.

On a related note, foreskin restoration can restore much of this function. There are a few benefits:

1) restored foreskin can cover glans, and in many cases will result in a significantly more sensitive glans. The glans houses nerves which contribute to orgasm, and can provide for an extra dimension of sexual sensation. Many restored males cannot bear the sensation of a hot shower directly on the glans, and the same holds true for intact males.

2) there is evidence from skin regeneration studies that mitosis (due to stretching) results in new skin cells which share the functional features of the neighbouring cells. This may mean an increase in meissner corpuscles, although I haven't researched whether this is possible in the prepuce.

3) More foreskin means that during erection, the skin which houses the corpuscles will be less taut. The lower tension on the corpuscles means that they will be ready to be innervated. Because of the structure of a corpuscle, it can only fire once it returns to its original form after being deformed. Having a loose foreskin during erections means that these nerve endings will fire optimally.

4) Much anecdotal evidence points towards the fact that the glans and the prepuce interact synergistically. The rubbing of a loose prepuce over the glans provides for a qualitatively different experience than can be achieved through independent stimulation (again, this is an anecdotal account from many intact and restored males, and probably needs theoretical refinement - nevertheless, it does jive well with Dr. Taylor's latest research.

I can attest to the benefits of restoration from personal experience. I was fortunate in that I wasn't circumcised too tightly, so after only a handful of manual tugging sessions in a hot shower, I grew a fair bit of skin (though I still don't have even partial glans coverage). The difference in sex is astonishing - when my girlfriend manually stimulates me, there is no need for lubrication, and she can use slow sensual strokes. Foreplay is a much richer experience. I can only imagine what it would be like with all the sexual hardware available.

I also find it tragic that similar restoration opportunities do not (yet) exist for females. Perhaps stem cell therapy can be of service in the future, though I hope by the time that medical technology is around, our species will have outgrown this practice.
posted by spacediver at 3:31 AM on December 5, 2006


spacediver: "Here is one example. [...] As for the origins of these customs, a fair amount of anthropological work has been done, and both practices trace back many millenia - there is a common link in the sun god amon ra,"

What I am missing, and nothing in the discussion so far has given me, is an account of how this practice has meaning in these women's lives today. Talk about the sun god amon ra isn't going to help me with that. In the article you link to, these women say that those seeking to suppress the practice "don't understand how important or positive the procedure is for Somali women." "The majority said it was the most valuable thing (they) ever experienced in (their) life." It is so important to them that they are willing to risk prison terms in order to continue the practice.

I do not understand. Clearly I am missing something.

Until someone can give me an account of how this practice has meaning in these women's lives right here and now, and not some anthropological talk about the sun god amon ra, I don't feel like I'm in a position to have opinions about what they are doing and whether I should endorse the use of political violence to suppress it.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 6:57 AM on December 5, 2006


And big up peeping_Thomist for his enquiring mind.

While we have some people with a bit of knowledge in the area, I remember reading that the sensitivity moved to other parts of the genitalia in circumcised women (those with the clitoris removed). Am I remembering correctly?
posted by asok at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2006


Jokafee, I'm not sure I understand your comment. Are you suggesting that it's a presposterous idea that the milder forms of female genital cutting are less damaging than standard forms of male circumcision?

My comment (okay, snark) was a kind of reflex action at reading a man's pronouncements on female sexual experience and sensation. That kind of thing has a long and inglorious history, as I'm sure you'll agree.

I also tend to get defensive whenever I read comments which attempt to create an equivalence between FGM and circumcision (and for the record, I am no supporter of routine circumcision; I fended off some pressure from my son's father in that regard, and I'm glad I did so).
posted by jokeefe at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2006


For the record, for those who seem to talk of African women as if it was one single entity (or Africa as one single entity for that matter) for whom the practice is passively accepted because they just don't know better or have other more pressing concerns, and the opposition and pressure to stop it is coming only from some kind of western capitalist feminist colonialist conspiracy - everything I've ever heard on the topic before also talked about opposition well within the society in the areas where FGM is still more practiced, so I must wonder where does that peculiar view of the state of affairs comes from. Here, for quick reference, a simple search to start with.
posted by pleeker at 8:53 AM on December 5, 2006


jokeefe, if you want to get more than defensive, then read this... it goes through every single imaginable justification trick: comparison to male circumcision; thinly related or totally unrelated (acupuncture??) practices by other countries; attacking feminists, the US, Saudi Arabia, legal abortions, you name it; finally, coup de grace, blame globalisation...
posted by pleeker at 9:02 AM on December 5, 2006


Much anecdotal evidence points towards the fact that the glans and the prepuce interact synergistically.

Possibily, but others will point out that there are parts of the body like the appendix that no longer have very significant functions in the human body, but they still are present in the majority of population. YET this isn't a good reason to remove the appendix unless it becomes untreatably inflamed.

Similarly , one could argue that the foreskin serves little or no purpose or that there is some evidence of adversly affecting some patient, yet that doesn't prove that it didn't have a function (protection primarily) or that still doesn't have.

I think that we could argue circles around biology and function of genitals forever, what still remain _completely_ unaccetable is that the mutilation is imposed upon babies that can neither refuse nor accept the mutilation or the moral beliefs behind the mutilation ; clearly apologist of these practices will try producing interesting evidence in favour or mutilations.

Such evidence is not to be ignored, assuming it is actually evidence and not mere allegations or hearsay ; yet even if it is found to be valid and relevant, it still remains unacceptable to impose a practice on the infant unless it is done in an attempt to save the kid life fron an actual, nor merely potential threat to life.
posted by elpapacito at 10:51 AM on December 5, 2006


elpapito: I agree that mutilation of the genitals is wrong, regardless of proof of function, but out of curiousity, did you watch the video i linked to, which outlines the known anatomy and function of the prepuce?

It's quite educational, although quite scientifically dense.
posted by spacediver at 12:18 PM on December 5, 2006


« Older We personally recommend you don't buy this.   |   "A piece of furniture" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post