Egypt bans female circumcision.

Yesterday, Egypt announced they are banning all forms of female circumcision just days after a 12-year old girl died from the procedure.
It was actually officially banned in 1997, but doctors were allowed to do the procedure for “exceptional cases.” Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali has now announced that every doctor or medical professional is banned from carrying out any form of circumcision, and if the act is committed, it “will be viewed as a violation of the law and all contraventions will be punished.”
But despite the “exceptional cases” rule from 1997, a 2000 study showed that the procedure was still carried out on 97% of the country’s women. So how much will actually change now?
Does anyone know more about the history of FGM in Egypt?

Join the Conversation

  • Ninapendamaishi

    For what it is worth, I do think that the Egyption case is different than the Kenyan case. The procedure also seems to be performed on much younger girls in Egypt. Also in Egypt fear of female sexuality seems to enter the debate a bit more.
    Here is a quick article by someone fighting FGM in Egypt about the ways she has to approach people from an educational standpoint:
    http://www.cceia.org/resources/publications/dialogue/2_03/articles/631.html

  • EG

    I know men who’ve made that argument too–and in this context, it’s very much a “What about the menz” argument. They’re not equivalent procedures.
    And I absolutely would consider a tradition accompanying elaborate cerimonies during which someone is considered to become an adult with greater responsibility and power in a traditional tribe part of their spirituality.
    Your definition of spirituality encompasses a lot–in fact, I just went through a a tradition accompanying elaborate ceremonies after which I was considered to have advanced to another stage of life with greater responsibility and power in my traditional tribe, but my graduation wasn’t spiritual. I’m sure that a few hundred years ago, definitions of spirituality and religion would have encompassed wife beating in England too, considering all the religious reasons they cited for the dominion of husband over wife.

  • EG

    I’m not sure why an inspector would have to be a medical professional, anyway–from the photos I’ve seen, the difference is pretty obvious. A training process, certainly. But an MD or an RN? Meh.

  • Mina

    “r culture how far women are willing to go to meet an internalized misogynist ideal–having pieces of their toes cut off, starving themselves, having their breasts cut open and bags of silicone put inside–and the ‘decision’ to do those things is not feminist.”
    Wanting to have breasts (even if she doesn’t have them naturally – which does happen to some women) is internalizing a misogynist ideal?

  • Ninapendamaishi

    I sure as hell wouldn’t want a random person inspecting my genitals, personally…
    When the Kenyan colonial govt first tried regular inspections, they discovered that their own inspectors did not know nearly as much about female anatomy as did the locals, some of them had difficulty knowing what was part of the clitoris and what was not.
    And there is some debate and research to be done about the health affects of FGM, like about how much affect it has on sexual function, depending on how it’s performed -even UNICEF concedes that much.
    “They’re not equivalent procedures.”
    The clitoris has more nerve endings, sure. But the part of the clitoris that sticks above the surface of the vagina is not necessary for women to reproduce or to experience some sexual pleasure, as far as my knowledge goes. So the main arguments against it are basically that A) depending on how it is performed it poses a hygenic problem or problems during childbirth and B) no matter how it’s performed it can affect sexual function, right? It might be more severe than male circumcision, but depending on how it’s performed I’m having trouble understanding how you can argue that the procedures are fundamentally different other than in matter of degree.

  • Ninapendamaishi

    Another thing as it seems to me: most of the women who have this down are working class rural people (the procedure is not so common in urban areas, and with wealthier people. I saw a statistic indicating the 97% might be wrong, it might be 80% of all Egyption women that still have the procedure), most of these poor rural women will enter male-dominated marriages, most of them will have a pretty tough life overall (very tough by American standards). Do you think being forced to drop the procedure will overall have a great affect on the life quality of these women?

  • EG

    First of all, degree matters. Degree is the difference between a 1st-degree burn and a 3rd-degree burn. It’s the difference between falling down the last couple stairs and falling off the roof of a building. It’s the difference between a fever of 99.5 degrees, which is unpleasant and irritating, and 106 degrees, which causes brain damage. It’s the difference between throwing up once and having to be taken the hospital for rehydration. Degree matters a lot.
    Second of all, FGM in its most common form involves cutting off the clitoris, and often involves cutting off the labia and sewing up the vagina. It’s not an issue of “affecting sexual function”–it is designed to remove sexual pleasure. Vaginal intercourse ends up causing intense pain and infections. Three-quarters of women who are victims of FGM are never able to have orgasms. The clitoris is the main organ of sexual pleasure in most women–saying “well, there’re internal parts to the clitoris, so they haven’t had all pleasure taken away” is disingenuous, especially when, I’ve read, the internal parts of the clitoris are often scooped out as well. The condition that circumcision leaves millions of men is simply not comparable. I have thoughts and opinions on male circumcision, but they’re not relevant to a discussion of FGM.
    I sure as hell wouldn’t want a random person inspecting my genitals, personally…
    Well, personally, I wouldn’t want my grandmother cutting off my clitoris, so this may well be a lesser of two evils situation.
    Wanting to have breasts (even if she doesn’t have them naturally – which does happen to some women) is internalizing a misogynist ideal?
    It’s pretty rare that woman naturally has no breasts, and certainly the vast majority of women who undergo boob jobs in this country don’t fall into that category. Risking general anesthesia and having someone cut you open in order to make your breasts big enough to meet some patriarchal standard of beauty is indeed internalizing a misogynist ideal, in my opinion.

  • EG

    Do you think being forced to drop the procedure will overall have a great affect on the life quality of these women?
    Do I think that not having to undergo completely unnecessary mutilation and being able to live with an intact body will have a great effect on the life quality of these women?
    Yes, yes I do. Just as I would think that not cutting off their ears would have a great effect of life quality.

  • Ninapendamaishi

    “Second of all, FGM in its most common form involves cutting off the clitoris, and often involves cutting off the labia and sewing up the vagina. It’s not an issue of “affecting sexual function”–it is designed to remove sexual pleasure. Vaginal intercourse ends up causing intense pain and infections. Three-quarters of women who are victims of FGM are never able to have orgasms. The clitoris is the main organ of sexual pleasure in most women–saying “well, there’re internal parts to the clitoris, so they haven’t had all pleasure taken away” is disingenuous, especially when, I’ve read, the internal parts of the clitoris are often scooped out as well.”
    Well, again I’m not that familiar with the case in Egypt, but this is certainly more extreme than what usually happened in Kenya. I have never heard of scooping out the inside part of the clitoris. From wikipedia, I see that sewing the parts of the vulva together is called “infibulation”. Perhaps that is what is most common in Egypt, do you know? If we are not to equate male circumcision with FGM, then I also don’t think we can equate all these different sorts of FGM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting
    Again, I’m not saying FGM doesn’t hurt life quality, I’m just saying I think improving the socioeconomic conditions of these women, or focusing on punishing husbands for raping their wives or something, would be just as important if not moreso, so I am suspicious of how much these women will be helped by a modern male-dominated govt trying to outlaw one particular tradition.

  • paradoxfalls

    Jeremy: Sites like BME (http://www.bmezine.com/) have shown that many women who VOLUNTARILY undergo some form of FGM are often (at least supposedly) pleased with the results, although people don’t usually go back for a 10th year anniversary interview, so who knows about long-term psychological effects. While I have trouble with body mods that go beyond the usual piercing/tattoo/etc. variety, I have to respect a woman’s choice – that sounds familiar! :) – to do what she wants with her body.
    Side note: ‘Possessing The Secret of Joy’ by Alice Walker first opened my eyes to FGM… I’m assuming most (if not all) of you have read it, but if you haven’t, it’s a must-read.

  • Kelly D

    The clitoris’ only function is bringing sexual pleasure and most women experience orgasm primarily through clitoral stimulation. Clitoral removal happens precisely to take away pleasure from women during sex. While I find that alone atrocious, add labia removal and/or sewing up the vaginal opening and you have a “culturally acceptable” form of mutilation. For me, culture is absolutely not an excuse. Put it on the books and ban it completely.
    While I can’t speak for Kenya specifically, the “extreme” forms of FGM most definitely happen in Africa, just the same as these stories from Egypt.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    “Well, except that I know men who also argue that male circumcision is an abbhorent practice that should be made illegal (it is equally unnecessary, and it does damage the genitals), so I was just curious how you felt about that position”
    I would say those men are silly!
    If FGM was just a little snip of the vulva or something ceremonial like that, then yes, I think that would be a valid point.
    But the FGM that I think people are referring to here is the slicing off of the clitoris or the sewing together of the vaginal opening, both of which can cause severe lifelong pain during sex.
    Not only are male circumcision and FGM different in degree, they are also different in function. The function of FGM is to control and restrict women’s sexuality and to enable greater male control of sexuality.
    Further, while the occasional botched male circumsicion can cause problems, it’s nothing like the lifelong health problems that can be caused by FGM. Here is a nice summary: http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/HIV/brady1/
    There was a conference talk on this issue at the last Human Behavior and Evolution conference, and some of the procedures they showed were really quite horrifying. Nothing at all like the little snip during male circumscion.

  • Ninapendamaishi

    “If FGM was just a little snip of the vulva or something ceremonial like that, then yes, I think that would be a valid point.”
    But the thing is, some forms of FGM /are/ just that. Or just removal of the clitoral hood (which is considered analogous with the foreskin… so, in those cases, is it right or wrong?)
    “Clitoral removal happens precisely to take away pleasure from women during sex.”
    You know, you can say you hate FGM in all forms, and that it should all be illegal, I respect that position. But many places in Africa, including those who practice varous sorts of FGM, allow young, unmarried, uncircumcised women to experiment sexually with male partners, and some also encourage male partners to learn how to please their women. (which before about 30 years ago, is more than you could say for most of western culture). So it seems to me that reading about Egypt, that is a large reason for female circumcision in Egypt. But that is not the case everywhere. And even still, Egypt is a largely Islamic country. Islam certainly does not encourage women to seek pleasure during sex -do you really think reasons for outlawing the practice have to do with helping women to attain greater sexuual autonomy?

  • Ninapendamaishi

    “The function of FGM is to control and restrict women’s sexuality and to enable greater male control of sexuality.”
    I just don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I do think that’s one reason in Egypt. But in many places, that argument is not used to support the practice at all. If people have false beliefs (such as those in Egypt, that the clitoris would not stop growing, or in Kenya, that babies born to uncircumcised mothers would be evil and would wreck disastor on their families, I think sometimes you have to take other people’s beliefs at face value, and not overanalyze it.) I just don’t like the colonial mentality (we’ve already had a couple hundred years of the western world thinking they know everything and that they have to impose it on the rest of the world, with force if necessary. How much good has that done? How much has that done for our relationship with other countries? Or the socioeconomic conditions of those people? A lot of historians try to argue that capitilism first hurts women’s life quality in a society, for instance). I do like education, and empowering people.
    I just have so many problems with the way this debate is being framed, and the way all FGM is being lumped together. (I mean between a culture that tells young women that their body and masturbation is disgusting (i.e. ours) and a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural, which one is more reprehensible?) I’m not so sure of the answer, personally. I think these are complicated issues. And whether or not it justifies it, I think people very often do things just because of their culture traditions, without much abstract thought or malevolent purpose behind it.

  • Ninapendamaishi

    “While I can’t speak for Kenya specifically, the “extreme” forms of FGM most definitely happen in Africa, just the same as these stories from Egypt.”
    Egypt /is/ part of Africa, you know.
    “”Well, except that I know men who also argue that male circumcision is an abbhorent practice that should be made illegal (it is equally unnecessary, and it does damage the genitals), so I was just curious how you felt about that position”
    I would say those men are silly!”
    Male circumcision is painful. It /does/ affect sexual functioning for the rest of a person’s life. Personally, I think if you’re going to make all types of FGM illegal, then by the same logic male circumcision has to be illegal. The only reason I can think of /not/ to do that is if you are Christian/Jewish. And then who is letting their silly “religious” beliefs control their behavior? I would question anyone who thinks FGM in all forms is abbhorent, yet has their young sons circumcised.

  • Ninapendamaishi

    Another thing I would be curious to know, I guess, is how the rates of women who orgasm in places that practice Type I and Type II circumcision compare with the rates of women who orgasm in cultures that are oppressive to female sexuality in general but that do not practice FGM. If a significant percentage of women orgasm after the procedure, how can you know for sure that the rest of the women are /incapable/ of orgasming because of the procedure.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    “Another thing I would be curious to know, I guess, is how the rates of women who orgasm in places that practice Type I and Type II circumcision compare with the rates of women who orgasm in cultures that are oppressive to female sexuality in general but that do not practice FGM.”
    That’s a good question.
    But, I think we can assume two things:
    1. Many forms of FGM don’t just reduce pleasure during sex, they increase pain, infection, and risk of mortality. So even if orgasm rates are equal, I think a safe bet is that they experience more pain and less physical pleasure than women without FGM.
    2. I see where you are going with your question – that maybe no women or few women orgasm in those cultures (close your eyes and think of Egypt). But if we are to assume that for about 70% of women orgasm primarily through clitoral stimulation rather than vaginal, than I would guess the rates of orgasm would have to be lower for women with FGM.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    “I would question anyone who thinks FGM in all forms is abbhorent, yet has their young sons circumcised.”
    If FGM was just a little snip, like it was for male circumscicion, then I don’t think many people would care very much. There isn’t much evidence either way that male circumscision has a positive or negative effect on sexual experience, despite some large studies asking the question. FGM on the other hand can have dramatic effects. Given how dramaticaly different FGM is from male circumscion, it doesn’t seem like a contradiction to me to be strongly opposed to one and not the other. If people were engaged in a comparable form of MGM where, say, they scalded the glans of the penis so that it was extremely painful to have sex from then on, I’d be against that just as much.
    “Personally, I think if you’re going to make all types of FGM illegal, then by the same logic male circumcision has to be illegal.”
    I think most people are referring to forms of FGM that:
    A. Permanently alter one’s ability to feel pleasure (and, in fact often to feel pain during intercourse) AND/OR
    B. Come with significant risk of death or serious health risk.
    Again, if people want to do a little snip snip, I’m not necessarily pro-snip, but certainly it’s a very different phenomenon with different consequences.
    “And whether or not it justifies it, I think people very often do things just because of their culture traditions, without much abstract thought or malevolent purpose behind it.”
    I agree that is likely often the case. But, regardless of the explicit motivation, it still has the very practical function of restricting women’s sexuality as well as the various negative outcomes we’ve discussed.
    Imagine a society where there was a tradition that a man was supposed to beat a woman every time she became angry with him as a way of beating out the spirits that have possessed her. Even if the explicit reason for wife-beating isn’t “let’s control women”, it still has the same effect. Same with FGM and women’s sexuality.
    I see the lens you are looking through – centuries of westernization haven’t necessarily made things better in other places. And I agree that education is a useful tool. But I think in this case, because of the negative health and sexuality consequences for women, I it’s useful to carry a big stick (enforceable ban), some carrots (incentives to give up the practice), and education to change people’s views.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    “The only reason I can think of /not/ to do that is if you are Christian/Jewish. And then who is letting their silly “religious” beliefs control their behavior?”
    I’m neither.

  • UCLAbodyimage

    “And even still, Egypt is a largely Islamic country. Islam certainly does not encourage women to seek pleasure during sex -do you really think reasons for outlawing the practice have to do with helping women to attain greater sexuual autonomy?”
    I think it would be useful start.
    Worst case scenario, it doesn’t change women’s positive experiences with sex, but at least fewer women will die or live in significant pain.

  • libber

    I just read that FGM was pretty common in America 60 years ago. I wouldn’t have guessed. Here’s the link. And the quote:
    “Less known is that FGM was common in the United States and United Kingdom until the 1950s, prescribed as a cure for such ‘female deviancies’ as lesbianism, masturbation, nymphomania and even epilepsy. In 1996, after decades of feminist lobbying, Congress passed legislation making it crime to perform FGM on a minor.”

  • libber

    I just read that FGM was pretty common in America 60 years ago. I wouldn’t have guessed. Here’s the link. And the quote:
    “Less known is that FGM was common in the United States and United Kingdom until the 1950s, prescribed as a cure for such ‘female deviancies’ as lesbianism, masturbation, nymphomania and even epilepsy. In 1996, after decades of feminist lobbying, Congress passed legislation making it crime to perform FGM on a minor.”

  • libber

    I just read that FGM was pretty common in America 60 years ago. I wouldn’t have guessed. Here’s the link. And the quote:
    “Less known is that FGM was common in the United States and United Kingdom until the 1950s, prescribed as a cure for such ‘female deviancies’ as lesbianism, masturbation, nymphomania and even epilepsy. In 1996, after decades of feminist lobbying, Congress passed legislation making it crime to perform FGM on a minor.”

  • Mina

    “I just don’t like the colonial mentality (we’ve already had a couple hundred years of the western world thinking they know everything and that they have to impose it on the rest of the world, with force if necessary. How much good has that done? How much has that done for our relationship with other countries?”
    Who said anything about foreign force? Remember, the post topic is the Egyptian government banning FGM in Egypt.
    Meanwhile, what’s so colonial and Western about thinking FGM is a horrible thing to force on someone else?
    What about people who are Ashanti, Iranian, Rwandan, Swahili, or whatever instead of wholly white and who still disapprove of cutting a girl’s clitoris off?
    “I mean between a culture that tells young women that their body and masturbation is disgusting (i.e. ours) and a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural, which one is more reprehensible?”
    That’s why it makes more sense to judge customs than entire cultures.
    It’s entirely possible *both* for culture A to have a less reprehensible custom than culture B regarding topic X *and* for culture B to have a less reprehensible custom than culture A regarding topic Y *at the same time*.

  • Mina

    I got a 500 Internal Server Error last time I posted this, so here goes:
    “I just don’t like the colonial mentality (we’ve already had a couple hundred years of the western world thinking they know everything and that they have to impose it on the rest of the world, with force if necessary. How much good has that done? How much has that done for our relationship with other countries?”
    Who said anything about foreign force? Remember, the post topic is the Egyptian government banning FGM in Egypt.
    Meanwhile, what’s so colonial and Western about thinking FGM is a horrible thing to force on someone else?
    What about people who are Ashanti, Iranian, Rwandan, Swahili, or whatever instead of wholly white and who still disapprove of cutting a girl’s clitoris off?
    “I mean between a culture that tells young women that their body and masturbation is disgusting (i.e. ours) and a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural, which one is more reprehensible?”
    That’s why it makes more sense to judge customs than entire cultures.
    It’s entirely possible *both* for culture A to have a less reprehensible custom than culture B regarding topic X *and* for culture B to have a less reprehensible custom than culture A regarding topic Y *at the same time*.

  • Mina

    I got a 500 Internal Server Error last time I posted this, so here goes:
    “I just don’t like the colonial mentality (we’ve already had a couple hundred years of the western world thinking they know everything and that they have to impose it on the rest of the world, with force if necessary. How much good has that done? How much has that done for our relationship with other countries?”
    Who said anything about foreign force? Remember, the post topic is the Egyptian government banning FGM in Egypt.
    Meanwhile, what’s so colonial and Western about thinking FGM is a horrible thing to force on someone else?
    What about people who are Ashanti, Iranian, Rwandan, Swahili, or whatever instead of wholly white and who still disapprove of cutting a girl’s clitoris off?
    “I mean between a culture that tells young women that their body and masturbation is disgusting (i.e. ours) and a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural, which one is more reprehensible?”
    That’s why it makes more sense to judge customs than entire cultures.
    It’s entirely possible *both* for culture A to have a less reprehensible custom than culture B regarding topic X *and* for culture B to have a less reprehensible custom than culture A regarding topic Y *at the same time*.

  • Mina

    I got a 500 Internal Server Error last time I posted this, so here goes:
    “I just don’t like the colonial mentality (we’ve already had a couple hundred years of the western world thinking they know everything and that they have to impose it on the rest of the world, with force if necessary. How much good has that done? How much has that done for our relationship with other countries?”
    Who said anything about foreign force? Remember, the post topic is the Egyptian government banning FGM in Egypt.
    Meanwhile, what’s so colonial and Western about thinking FGM is a horrible thing to force on someone else?
    What about people who are Ashanti, Iranian, Rwandan, Swahili, or whatever instead of wholly white and who still disapprove of cutting a girl’s clitoris off?
    “I mean between a culture that tells young women that their body and masturbation is disgusting (i.e. ours) and a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural, which one is more reprehensible?”
    That’s why it makes more sense to judge customs than entire cultures.
    It’s entirely possible *both* for culture A to have a less reprehensible custom than culture B regarding topic X *and* for culture B to have a less reprehensible custom than culture A regarding topic Y *at the same time*.

  • SassyGirl

    Wow! What a great discussion!
    I have two sons, both of them have “intact” penises. I read and read and read whatever I could about male circumcision and felt that it was not in their (or anyone’s) best interest. I watched one being done and it looks extremely barbaric! I had always said that it should be my sons’ choice to have a part of their body amputated and that if they want it done when they older, then we would pay for it if insurance won’t.
    I had always felt that female circumcision was barbaric and should not be tolerated in any form. Then I thought about it and wondered if it would be ok for these women to have it done when they are adults and have made that decision for themselves, but then again, it probably wouldn’t be a decision of pure free will.
    I also wonder if maybe we aren’t overstepping some boundaries here. I mean, it is THEIR culture and if they want to do that, then who are we to dictate what they should or shouldn’t do? We have some pretty barbaric traditions in our own culture that others think are horrible. A friend of mine from Germany was thoroughly disgusted over male circumcision and she said that it isn’t common in European countries. Women in our culture are encouraged to torture their bodies, sometimes to the point of death, to fit some stupid ideal of beauty. Women in this country die from plastic surgery. We have people going in and having parts of their stomachs removed to lose weight. We have people who die from taking drugs to obtain the ideal body, ie, steroids and diet pills.
    Isn’t it oppressive to deny these women a procedure that ties them to their culture, if that is what they want? And, wouldn’t it be better if it were performed in sterile conditions, such as a hospital or doctor’s office by a trained professional?

  • SassyGirl

    Wow! What a great discussion!
    I have two sons, both of them have “intact” penises. I read and read and read whatever I could about male circumcision and felt that it was not in their (or anyone’s) best interest. I watched one being done and it looks extremely barbaric! I had always said that it should be my sons’ choice to have a part of their body amputated and that if they want it done when they older, then we would pay for it if insurance won’t.
    I had always felt that female circumcision was barbaric and should not be tolerated in any form. Then I thought about it and wondered if it would be ok for these women to have it done when they are adults and have made that decision for themselves, but then again, it probably wouldn’t be a decision of pure free will.
    I also wonder if maybe we aren’t overstepping some boundaries here. I mean, it is THEIR culture and if they want to do that, then who are we to dictate what they should or shouldn’t do? We have some pretty barbaric traditions in our own culture that others think are horrible. A friend of mine from Germany was thoroughly disgusted over male circumcision and she said that it isn’t common in European countries. Women in our culture are encouraged to torture their bodies, sometimes to the point of death, to fit some stupid ideal of beauty. Women in this country die from plastic surgery. We have people going in and having parts of their stomachs removed to lose weight. We have people who die from taking drugs to obtain the ideal body, ie, steroids and diet pills.
    Isn’t it oppressive to deny these women a procedure that ties them to their culture, if that is what they want? And, wouldn’t it be better if it were performed in sterile conditions, such as a hospital or doctor’s office by a trained professional?

  • EG

    a culture that practices type I and sometimes type II of FGM (see wiki entry) but accepts female bodies in many shapes and sizes as well as sexuality as natural
    Type 1 FGM is very, very rare, and I’ve read that when it is used at all, it is largely in response to intensive anti-FGM campaigns. A culture that practices clitoredectomy is clearly not accepting of female bodies in all shapes, nor of sexuality as natural.
    SassyGirl, your recital of all the crap that our culture does to women just leaves me wondering what one thing has to do with the other. I find it remarkable that it seems almost impossible to have a conversation about FGM. Within a few comments, there’s WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ circumcision and the completely unrelated nasty crap that American patriarchy does to women. But what does any of that have to do with FGM?
    some people would say that it’s neither feminist nor morally acceptable for her to get an abortion and that it’s a self-destructive choice she’s making because of her context.
    But Mina, those people would be mistaken, because there are no pathological consequences to abortion. One doesn’t wind up with the many health problems cited above, or unable to endure sex without massive pain, etc. The fact that some people misuse an argument doesn’t mean that the argument is inherently invalid in other situations.

  • EG

    My point is, the fact that something is a cultural tradition says nothing to me about whether it’s acceptable. We have threads running into hundreds of posts on this blog where we castigate each other for wearing high heels and changing our names, explaining in great detail how “choices” to do these things are delineated by patriarchal thinking. All of a sudden, when women and girls are routinely mutilated, their clitorises amputated, and their vaginas sewn up, well, we shouldn’t judge, because it connects them to their culture? No. I won’t accept that. Misogyny is endemic to all cultures I have heard of. There are misogynistic practices, practices designed to abuse women in whatever culture you look at. Marital rape is a common cultural practice, and you will find women who accept it because of their culture. That doesn’t mean I will. There are plenty of women from cultures that practice FGM who campaign tirelessly against it–don’t they deserve the support of western feminists?

  • EG

    In fact, it seems to me to be rampantly colonialist to say “Ah, well, it’s their culture.” It reifies the idea of, in this case, Egyptians as some kind of monolithic Other–so alien as to be beyond our ken, whose practices are set in stone, and whereas we find sexuality important, those poor brown folks have other concerns, and the sexual well-being of those women is just a luxury, not like ours. But clearly it is not so monolithic. The Egyptian government is opposed to the practice; there are plenty of women from these regions who work to stop the practice; and quite frankly, all feminist political aims start out as minority resistance against an entrenched traditional position. Clearly, also, human cultural practices are immensely malleable. And I have real problems with Westerners sitting around devaluing the importance of the sexuality of non-Western women.

  • Mina

    Now this all reminds me of part of Mr. Cranky’s review of the movie Talk to Her:
    http://www.mrcranky.com/movies/talktoher.html
    “…And before you jump on me for failing to sympathize with a bullfighting casualty just because I don’t understand bullfighting, let me clarify: I *don’t* understand bullfighting. This is because bullfighting is idiotic and cruel, and I’m not about to let that slide just because it happens to be idiotic and cruel in another language. Do we really need to respect everything another culture does just because it’s another culture? Well, then, bring on the clitorectomies, dog-barbecues and Pakistani tribal justice! Conversely, I don’t expect the rest of the world to automatically respect U.S. culture, which is currently dominated by a reflexive totalitarian march to destroy every other nation, creed and species on Earth just so our unelected leader can enrich his prep-school butt-buddies. (Bush should try that at the next press briefing: “Bombing hapless third-world nations for profit is just part of our culture, and I’d like the U.N. to be a bit more sensitive to that.”)…”

  • Kelly D

    Sorry! I have to admit my drunken ignorance and recognize the person who called me out for talking as if Egypt wasn’t on the continent of Africa. My bad.