Mutilation: Mutilation or maiming is an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body, usually without causing death.
I have encountered many people who state that they are vehemently against female circumcision but that they are ok with male circumcision. When we broach the subject of it being mutilation, they are aghast that I would use such a horrible term to describe their choice to circumcise their son. Some even point out that they have had it done to their child and their child is fine (or, if it is a guy I am talking to, he is quick to point out that he is completely fine, so what's the big deal?). This post is going to offend some, but let's open this can of worms, shall we?
Of FGM and MGM
Female circumcision - an issue that, we in the childbirth field, should be more active in. I was recently asked if I had ever attended a woman who had been circumcised. My answer was no, but the question posed a strong culture shock. In the U.S., female genital mutilation is not as common as in other countries, not by a long shot. But, many women and their husbands have been relocating to the US, the world is getting smaller, and I may very well find myself assisting one such woman sometime in my career.
Beyond that, as a shadowy part of US history that we are not often made aware of, as recent as the 1950s, partial or total removal of the clitoris was prescribed in western Europe and the U.S. in response to hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, masturbation, nymphomania, melancholia and lesbianism.
Beyond even that, as an advocate of women's birth and sexual health options, I (we) should be more active in defending and supporting these women. Thus, this somewhat non-birth related post.
This is an educational, but disturbing video that I would be remiss not to share. It involves both childbirth as well as female circumcision (no mutilation shown occuring).
If you can stomach it, there is a great powerpoint presentation (can open as PDF as well) here that outlines the different types of female circumcision and the impact it has on women's health as well as the demographics and issues surrounding the practice.
Mona Eltahawy writes, in the Huffington Post article "Smashing the Silence", about her intimate knowledge of FGM in her families history and how her family has, thankfully, overcome it.
The reasons given for circumcising women are for religious obedience as well as aesthetic appeal. Thankfully, Uganda just recently outlawed female circumcision as they don't believe that either reason is justification of such a painful and non-consenting surgery. It is really interesting to read the debate/comments below this article.
The reasons I am showing these are, one, as stated before, we as women's health advocates should make our voices heard and stand up for the health, safety, and rights of these women, and two, because, as we work with newborns on a regular basis, we should be educating families to the similar reasons and risks that U.S. couples continue to circumcise their sons.
Type 1 circumcision of females is the only one that is the same as male circumcision. In both instances, it involves removing part or all of the prepuce (hood). In males, it removes it from the glans (head of the penis), whereas in females, it removes it from the clitoris. In both cases, these anatomical parts are created to be mucous membranes that are protected, kept moist, and sensitive, by these fleshy tissues (prepuce or foreskins).
In both cases, it results in less sensitivity (sometimes no sensitivity) because these tissues are no longer protected by these natural hoods and thus, dry out and become less sensitive. Some people will say "well my husband/partner has no problems with sensitivity" or "well my son is circumcised and has no problems". Fact: he has less sensitivity than he would have if he were uncircumcised - just as you would.
In both cases, there is risk of infection, hemorrhage, botched surgeries, and are done without the consent of the individual. In both cases, it is done for religious (Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc..) reasons or aesthetic appeal (so the child will look like their same-sex parent and the others in their culture).
"In female circumcision, the goal is to ensure chastity by eliminating the girls' sex drive by removing the sensuous nerve endings in her external genitalia." ... "The loss of sensuous nerve endings and motion to the penis penile mobility is quite similar to this form of female circumcision. In some cultures one of the labia majora (outer labia) is also removed, the other outer labia is stretched over the wound, sewn, and holes punched through the now hidden female external genitalia for the passage of urine and menses. This is called infibulation.
Some girls have bled to death, died of infections or other complications. Some of our boys have bled to death, died of infections, gastric rupture or other complications. Damage is created in both cases.
Female circumcision is a custom. Circumcision of our baby boys is a custom. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy on circumcision concluded by saying "however, that it is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious and ethnic traditions..." I disagree. In countries where girls are circumcised because of those reasons we shudder at the thought and consider the practice barbaric, so why is it okay to take those into consideration here." - Female Circumcision. Male Circumcision. Is There a Difference?, Compleat Mother
So, with all that said, do you agree that both male and female circumcision is genital mutilation? Should routine circumcision be stopped?
ADVOCACY AND ACTIVISM AGAINST FGM:
BEFORE MAKING THE CHOICE TO CIRCUMCISE YOUR SON:
There is a great resource for parents that delves into the History of Circumcision as well as national trends, medical data, scientific scrutiny, and humanity rights.
Additionally, I have blogged about this issue in What About Afterward, and encourage you to read that post (video has been fixed), as well as Circumcision Organization, Circumstitions (although this is a rather strongly worded/biased site - be warned), and Claims Explained
Additional MGM education sites: