Monday, November 13

Fear of a Female Planet

Fear of A Black Planet is the name of an old Public Enemy album. Keep reading, it will make sense soon. Over the past week or so we heard from a usually sane friend of ours, an impassioned defense of the 'tradition' of female genital mutilation. Said traditionalist would of course never let such a thing happen to his own children but thinks that such 'traditions' are just fine for OTHER people.

Here is one of the headlines that started that most ridiculous debate: Dad sentenced in first female genital cutting trial in U.S.. The guilty party
was found guilty of aggravated battery and cruelty to children. Prosecutors said he used scissors to remove his daughter's clitoris in his family's Atlanta-area apartment in 2001.
During her father's trial, the girl, now 7, clutched a teddy bear as she testified on videotape that her father "cut me on my private part."
Imagine a two year old girl being held down by a loved and trusted parent armed with a pair of scissors or a knife who cuts off a perfectly normal and functional part of her anatomy. Obviously no anesthetic is used, there is no treatment with antibiotics but even more threatening than the threat of physical pain and infection is the violence caused to such an innocent soul.

We are talking about barbarism here which is just as vile when wrapped up in tradition as it is wrapped up in religion or patriotism. As one would expect mutilating millions of young girls is a subject that moral relativism and misplaced pride often hesitate and fear to define. We use the term barbarism without hesitation - sometimes you just have to call a thing what it is.

The press and scholars refer to female genital cutting while supporters or moral relativists use the term circumcision. A bit on the labelling debate from Wikipedia which also has a good brief on the subject along with appropriate links.
The use of the word “mutilation” reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, and thereby helps promote national and international advocacy towards its abandonment.

At the community level, however, the term can be problematic. Local languages generally use the less judgmental “cutting” to describe the practice; parents understandably resent the suggestion that they are “mutilating” their daughters.

In this spirit, in 1999, the UN called for tact and patience regarding activities in this area and drew attention to the risk of “demonizing” certain cultures, religions and communities. As a result, the term “cutting” has increasingly come to be used to avoid alienating communities.
So get this dear reader ... millions of little girls are being mutilated in Africa and the Arab world, such practices are being exported around the world ... but it all must be treated carefully because because of the risk of 'demonizing' some people.

The issue is not demonizing cultures, communities or religions - the issue is taking a civilized and humane approach to their practices. In the antebellum American South, slavery was a tradition and often branding slaves was too. Southerners certainly felt demonized by the unkind way Unionists and Abolitionists described their peculiar institution and we are sure that attacks on slavery hurt the feelings of the Confederacy in ways we can't imagine today.

So what? It took the Civil War and a bloody century of Reconstruction and Jim Crow to make the South see the light. Does that past tradition of slavery justified by scripture and culture somehow make slavery and its aftermath less ugly? We don't think so.

Slavery in Africa and the slave trade with the Arab world was a fact countless centuries before anyone ever heard of the Confederacy. That was also a matter of tradition and culture and certainly there were many communities very sensitive about the subject who did not want to be demonized about it. As you can imagine the slaves themselves weren't allowed to have much to say and no one considered their feelings.

Traditionally or culturally, or what have you, in Polynesia babies with any defect and all pairs of twins were thrown into the waves or volcanos. Such barbarity is as tragically human as laughter and mourning - but until we defined it as wrong we could not go forward.

Traditionally and culturally people from the wrong place or with the wrong beliefs or even the wrong hair color have been subject to oppression and even genocide. Do the labels traditional and cultural make any of it OK? Believe it for sure - every bit of human horror from the mass slaughter of slaves and captives atop ancient Incan pyramids all the way through to the execution of gays in modern Iran can be defended from the point of view of tradition, religion and culture.

Moral and cultural relativism are just fine when you are talking about spices and dances and clothes but when the subject turns to violence against other, especially helpless, human beings it it just time to call a thing what it is.

Female Genital Mutilation is barbaric. The quicker everyone is made to understand that fact and to stop making polite excuses for it, the quicker shame and fear of the law will save millions of girls and women from a perverse worldview centered on their own essential 'sin' of being born female.

For countless centuries, countless widows in South Asia were forced psycologically or physically to join their dead husbands on the flaming funeral pyre while still alive. That was certainly traditional and cultural. When the British Raj outlawed the practice a group of elders complained to that notorious arch-colonialist Sir Charles Napier.

His rather politically incorrect response follows
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom. When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.

You may follow your custom. And then we shall follow ours
Was Napier culturally insensitive? Certainly. Was he a racist? Most probabaly. Did he have a right to be there to begin with? Nope. Was he arrogant and did he demonize the communities he dealt with? Obviously.

But outlawing the burning of widows was a good thing. No notion of respect for tradition or culture or proud resentment can make us pretend that burning widows is a good thing.

Men are often enough brutal towards other men but it is for women that men reserve their very ugliest nature. Usually it is in the name of protecting women that men visit every manner of violence against women. The very same men deeply resent and fight when other men try the same things on them. Fear of other men makes men desperate for absolute control of women.

Biologically this stems from the need of men or their genes to make copies of themselves. Lions who take over a new pride kill all the cubs they did not father so that only their own genes survive. Such control also requires killing or keeping off all adult male rivals lest some alien genes catch a free ride and get an edge in the battle for survival.

Your average lioness doesn't fight this. In the universe defined by her instinct that is just the way things are to her and about as much a matter for worry as the price of tea in China. The lion is stronger than she is, sure, but the reproductive strategy of the male of her species has become internalized in her own programming so deeply that she accepts it like she accepts the rain.

In any other situation a lioness would fight to the death to protect her cubs. The same is true of the women who would defend their children with their lives but who turn around and demand that their little girls become victims of genital mutilation.

Actually, fathers themselves doing the deed is a remarkable rarity. Usually women define the ceremonies and the practice of that inter-sexual barbarism while acting all proud and solemn about their crimes. In the universe defined by such traditions and culture those women believe they are doing the right thing.

What they are actually doing is getting revenge on their daughters for what was done to them in a long line of suffering and pain going back generations. To justify the horror done to them as girls, women feel doing it to children in the name of tradition and culture makes it all somehow alright. Taking up the knife to cut their daughters is like a slave taking up the overseer's whip.

Like countless other wrongs, the general idea that suffering (even to no purpose) is somehow character building is like the dated idea that medicine should taste bad, a piece of traditional idiocy. Women of genital mutilating cultures turn their own powerlessness before their men into victimization of those weaker than themselves.

Why the clitoris anyway? How has a clitoris ever hurt anybody? For sure though, men who have made up the rules are scared to death of it. Once you get far past the Freudian business about vaginal and clitoral orgasms it remains true that the clitoris is very helpful although not essential to the female orgasm while remaining overall a genuinely fun thing to have.

For the sick minded men who first decided that severing the clitoris was a good idea - the real target was the female orgasm or the idea that women could enjoy sex or even seek it out independent of the desires and whims of the particular men who own them. By demonizing female sexuality, men were getting revenge on other men who they feared by taking control of the bodies of their own women.

Like the murderous lion, such men though they were getting extra bits of assurance about paternity as well as submission for the price of mutilation. Male circumcision on the other hand is thought to have a neutral result on sexual pleasure and if recent reports are to be believed a positive result regarding sexually transmitted diseases.

Would men have put up with a traditional or cultural or community practice that denied them any sexual pleasure at all or that left them more tuned to the basic act of insemmination alone without regard to their will or pleasure? Hell no.

If sex did not feel good none of us would be here. Without that pleasure and the cocktail of brain chemistry that turns such intimacy into the reality of romantic love not a one of us would be here either. An intellectual understanding that something had to be done to simply procreate would never have been enough.

Mother nature knows exactly what she is doing but it is up to mankind to take progress a step further than the natural world.

By taking away even part of the pleasure that women feel from the process, men and collaborating women have been engaged under cover of religion, culture and tradition in unspeakable horrors whose sole purpose is ultimately to make insecure men feel better about themselves.

The 'tradition' can range from a symbolic cut on the hood of the clitoris all the way to the removal of the clitoris and labia. In some places the butchered labia are then sewn together leaving only an opening large enough for menstruation and urination.

The value placed on virginity is similiar as symbolized by the red sheet waved about after weddings. Mensturating women aren't even officially welcome in traditional churches. Tradition and culture too often leads us to believe that there is something generally 'dirty' about being a women. Ultimately the whole point is that female sexuality is the property of men and men alone while being only an object of potential shame for women.

An extension of this whole concept is the larger cultural world where the always brittle honor of men is wrapped up in the behavior of all women they are related to. Actually, related to is not the operative concept here - when it comes to 'honor' and women what is really meant is not family or relative but a relationship of real ownership.

Lions don't know better but to kill as their insecurities and instincts tell them to. Humans should no better but too often don't. Women apparently can't be trusted with men and men can't be trusted with women without the necessity of sex.

What if they want to though? No society can survive without some constraints on sexual behavior but denying half of humanity any rights at all while limiting the subject to the sphere of violence for the other half is not a good thing.

Do the wrong thing around that subject in certain cultures and traditions and folks get killed for not only marrying without male permission but even for flirting or any kind of disobedience.

Are honor killings OK? No, and it is evident that all such practices are all wrapped up together with every manner of violence towards women from beatings to genital mutilation. All because men are afraid of women because they are first terrified of other men.

We remember a bitter cartoon from years ago that pictured a man on a donkey dreaming of owning a car one day while his wife walking behind him dreamed only of not being beaten.

That so many women embrace practices that take away their human rights and humanity only shows that victimization can be so deeply internalized that everyone thinks or imagines that wrong is being done for their own good. People, communities and cultures should be ashamed for crimes like genital mutilation and governments should take the responsibility to make them stop.

We deeply thank any world government that outlaws such mutilations and we thank that jury in Atlanta, that just like Napier, was not having any of that traditional and cultural nonsensical justifications for wrong.

When little girls are getting hurt in the name of the insecurities and psychoses of their parents the fact that those insecurities and psychoses have been shared by millions of others for a long time does not make them proper in even the most vanishing sense.

The crime of female genital mutilation cuts across all of Ethiopia's religions, regions and ethnicities. It is a matter of collective shame and deserved guilt that should no longer be tolerated in any form anywhere. It is good that it is no longer a dirty little secret in at least one corner of the globe.

Ethiopia certainly has far far to go before there is equality between the sexes but it is frankly odd that female mutilation has such a place in Ethiopia. Compared to her cultural neighbors to the south if Africa and to the north in the Arab world, Ethiopian women are remarkably liberated overall and Ethiopians in general are notably more comfortable with the (albeit usually unspoken) subject of sex.

Hopefully that will mean that mutilation will be that much easier to get rid of. Just imagine how many little girls will be spared trauma and who will experience every joy of life just because one mother and one prosecutor and one jury said NO.

In a universe where right and wrong aren't always considerations or where morality is perverted or where judgement is relative - fear of the law can work wonders.

Where the 'traditionalists' sharpen their knives against little girls all societies should build gallows right next to them as real threats and symbols of civilized progress.

The issue here is but not only an issue of women's value and rights. Any man who has ever respected, loved and valued a woman in any way - she may have been a mother, a sister, a friend, a wife or a lover - should not want to see any of them mutilated for any reason.


For more on Female Genital Mutilation, the Wikipedia entry is quite good particularly including the list of links towards the end. This map from that page shows high rates of female genital mutilation throughout Ethiopia.

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