Maybe all circumcisions should be outlawed

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2007, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

The email from Frances in Fairfield begins, “Dear Debra, would you explain more about FGM, since conversations that I have had with readers of newspapers are that they don't get it! That is, (they) compared FGM with male circumcision; and does it happen in US? If not, then (they’re) not interested, or (they show) apathy. I have read about FGM before various times during the past few years. It seems many people do not think of female circumcision as a cruel practice! I do hope that you can write about the practice in the U. S. as well now.”

Well, Frances, it’s like this. Former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder authored a bill in 1993 that outlawed female genital mutilation (FGM) in the U.S. Although it’s illegal, this doesn’t guarantee that it doesn’t occur under the radar amongst immigrant communities. The bulk of known FGM occurs on the African continent, where it’s done without anesthesia, usually with unsanitary, crude tools and even rocks.

I met with a Davis woman last week who’d traveled to Kenya on a mission to aid women, and she showed me a photo of a poster that hung on the office wall of a local sheriff. It made the hair on my arms stand up.

This sheriff is trying to end FGM in Kenya, and he drew a poster ranking the following African countries wherein FGM is practiced, correlated with the percentages of women who’ve had it done: Somalia – 98, Djibouti – 98, Eritria/Ethiopia – 90, Sierra Leone – 90, Sudan – 89, Mali – 80, Gambia – 80, Burkina Faso – 70, Nigeria – 60, Cote d’Ivoire – 60, Chad – 60, Liberia – 60, Guinea – 50, Guinea Bissau – 50, C.A. Republic – 50, Kenya – 50, Benin – 50, Togo – 50, Ghana – 30, Mauritania – 25, Cameroon – 20 and Tanzania – 20. (Egypt, where FGM is also known to be practiced, was not included on the list.)

The Kenyan sheriff estimated that 6,000 girls are mutilated worldwide every day, translating to 250 every hour. Your hair standing up yet?

Frances also mentions the confusion between male and female circumcision, likely because “circumcision” is an inaccurate word for FGM. The removal of the clitoris and inner labia is an amputation. The male equivalent would be to amputate the entire penis. When a male circumcision heals, there’s still a functional organ. Not so for a female. When she heals, there’s no organ left at all, only a thick scar.

In addition, in the U.S., males are circumcised under sterile conditions by physicians when they’re too young to remember. Females are brutally “circumcised” in early to mid-childhood by village women, without anesthesia. And they’ll never forget.

Is it horrifically vicious? Don’t take my word for it, read “The Hidden Face of Eve” by Nawal El Saadawi or “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And multiply it by 6,000. And that’s just today.

All this delving into FGM prompted me to mull over male circumcision as well. When I had my son, 24 years ago, it was routine to circumcise male infants. I felt wrenched as I handed over my tiny, precious baby to have his foreskin sliced off.

“Will it hurt?” I asked the doctor. He replied that a newborn’s nervous system is immature and they’ll shriek over any new sensation. Besides, he won’t remember. Moreover, if he’s not circumcised, he wouldn’t look like the other boys in the locker room and he’ll get teased. And then there’s hygiene. Boys just can’t keep all those skin folds clean.

To which I reply -- much too late -- hogwash, hogwash and more hogwash! My own experience with newborns indicates that their nervous systems aren’t immature, they’re hypersensitive. Every sensation is amplified. As for getting teased, that would be a moot point if we stopped circumcising male infants unnecessarily. And hygiene difficulties? Girls have skin folds in their genitalia they must learn to keep clean, and do. The same can and should be expected of boys.

Twenty-four years later, I’m ashamed that I succumbed to cultural pressure and allowed my child’s body to be altered. I’m no better than those African mothers who allowed their daughters to be mutilated -- it’s all a matter of degree. More pertinently, I had no right to authorize the alteration of my son’s body. That should’ve been no one’s decision but his.

Maybe Pat Schroeder’s bill should be expanded to outlaw circumcision of all infants and children, of both genders. Except when it’s medically necessary, make it illegal to alter anyone’s else’s body without their permission. Particularly when they’re too young to give it.