On Female Genital Mutilation, Femininely

When I was younger, I was a voracious reader. I read everything I could get my hands on. (At one point, I started in the A authors of the mystery section at the library….I read all the way through the Cs before stopping…Agatha Christie enthralled me, as did Lilian Jackson Braun and Rita Mae Brown.)

My mom would give me the monthly issue of Readers Digest, which I would digest immediately. I loved the tiny print and compact nature. When she switched to large print, I was somehow quite disheartened. It wasn’t the same. The pages weren’t as glossy; the text didn’t have the same glimmer and appeal as it once had.

Much like the romance novels I’d read when I was out of reading material, my mom would mark certain things as “off limits” for me. Generally, I’d read those first, my fingers holding the places eagerly, while all the while trying to play the part of the obedient child who swore she wouldn’t read stuff. (This got me in trouble once, actually. They gave me a book of murder mysteries when I was like 12 that terrified me. I read one that involved something horrible and I had to hide the book in a drawer because I couldn’t bear to look at it; I was so freaked out. To this day, I remember that cover. I couldn’t sleep.) (Side note: the first romance novel she gave me may have ruined me for life; it was such a beautiful love story and I remember crying and crying. Now, when I think about love, this one phrase is just burned into my brain: something something “never have enough of her.” Ugh, even now, I go on dates and I’m like, damn, I want to feel to feel that way about someone.)

I was 11 when she got the issue with an article about female genital mutilation. It was the horrifying story of Waris Dirie, a Somali model who had undergone female genital mutilation when she was a child. I can remember it now: the description of her being led to a field, a rock, a woman, her passing out from the pain. I’m cringing internally as I type this.

The way in which her body was treated appalled me. At 11, I was struck by the visceral descriptions of the mutilation itself; now, as a 27 year old woman, I remain struck by the implications of the act. That you can lose all sources of pleasure and incur such physical pain and recurrent reminders of the act during your monthly cycle remain horrifying to me.

I was brought up in Catholic schools with quite conservative values, and even with those, I understood the innate vulnerability of the women and young girls who lived in the African countries where Female Genital Mutilation was a common practice. I’ve since grown, studied gender studies, and become far more liberal in my approach to female sexuality, and I’ve come to realize that while these institutions were a social norm, they were not a social norm that served anyone; rather, they served to cultivate a subservient attitude and served to reinforce patriarchal control over the women in the affected communities.

This is not an act that can continue in any society for any length of time if that society wants to contort and present itself as a modern society. For any economy to prosper, they need to embody at the very least semi-modern values and those values certainly don’t incorporate the mutilation of women. We’ve come a long way, but we certainly haven’t gone far enough. This law serves to enable women to feel safe in their own societies; to feel protected by their own government; to feel as though they value, they matter, they are important. These are things that aren’t debated, shouldn’t be debated, and yet are, everywhere. We struggle with abortion rights (for our own bodies, for birth control, for the decisions we MAY want to make) in the United States and we often forget that elsewhere, bodies are condemned, regulated, and violated in worse ways than we could ever imagine.

I’m about to go for my second round of the Mirena IUD….I get to do that, legally. And I’m beyond grateful. It has changed my life. I’m so pleased, blessed, and humbled that I have that opportunity. I can’t wait to see how the world opens up for these young girls who are about to be spared from female genital mutilation….I can’t imagine my life if I were to have to have had to endure the procedure, and quite frankly, I’m glad I never had to. I’m blessed. And we need to fight for the women who aren’t so blessed. We need to struggle for the ones who don’t have a voice; we need to protect the fragile bodies of the young.

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