A Brief Foreword
Before engaging in this conversation, we must first understand that the terminology surrounding the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has traditionally presented challenges for those engaging in its discourse. Debates have been hosted in an effort to determine the legitimacy of the term “mutilation” in comparison to the term “circumcision.” It has been suggested that the term “mutilation” implies severity and, therefore, is biased against the practice; in contrast, “circumcision” has been submitted as a term that seeks to lessen the tones of brutality associated with the practice, paralleling it to male circumcision. However, throughout this particular conversation, I will employ the acronym “FGM” (understanding the use of the term “mutilation”), accepting fully its implications and nuances. This is done in an attempt to relay the true severity and violence of the practice. I have contended the necessity of this terminological consideration elsewhere (Beasley, 2014).
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has long existed as an issue of human rights among various communities of the world. Specifically, high prevalence has been identified in countries such as Somalia, Egypt and Mali (EndFGM, 2009). However, research has also identified the prevalence of the practice in industrialized settings, as well (i.e. U.S., U.K., etc.). As the battle to end this practice continues to wage, it has been made apparent that women – more often than not – stand at the front line of the struggle. Various explanations for this occurrence may exist. First, granting consideration to the notion that FGM is largely a product of patriarchal influences on the terms of cultural identity, it is perceptible that men (in those particular settings) have defended such practices as a continuation of cultural identity. Uniquely, FGM has been claimed as a practice existing to readily identify women of certain communities. Scholars have also noted the sexist, (arguably misogynistic) role of FGM as well, functioning as a way for men to control sexual stimulation, pleasure, and infidelity among women. Ethnographic work has demonstrated that, in many instances, FGM varies between ethnic groups and communities within the same regions; this may be in an effort to continue that element of cultural identification. Because of this position, men are often viewed as a hindrance to the processes involved with removing and replacing FGM with safer, healthier rights of passage for womanhood–some communities have introduced educational models to replace the traditional rights of passage (see, Ending Female Genital Mutilation – Why Education Works).
A recent piece in Reuters, Female Genital Mutilation Is A Man’s Issue Too: Kenyan Maasai Activist, notes that men in some settings are being brought to the front lines of the battle, as well. The significance of such an effort resides in the aforementioned thought–that such practices are rooted in patriarchal influences on culture identity and rights of passage. Speaking out against FGM alongside of women reinforces the necessity of reform for such aged, dangerous rights of passage. As the culture surrounding such ideas shifts, men must remain vocal in their support of such shifts. In societies where patriarchy prevails, men acknowledging the invalidity and danger of such practices further emphasize the need for abolition. Among the Maasai, for example, women who were “uncut” would not be married, and their children would be seen as illegitimate within the community. Men, now showing their support for the abandonment of the practice, implicitly (and hopefully, explicitly) address the legitimacy and acceptance of “uncut” women. Of course, this will help future generations. Yet, we must also consider those individuals who have been shunned or displaced in the past because of their unwillingness to undergo the cutting. I am interested in your thoughts on this: Do you believe that we will see these communities welcoming previously shunned women back into their fold?
Batha, E. (2018, February 6). Female Genital Mutilation is a Man’s Issue Too: Kenyan Maasai Activist. Retrieved from Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-fgm-maasai/female-genital-mutilation-is-a-mans-issue-too-kenyan-maasai-activist-idUSKBN1FQ2QY
Beasley, T.M. (2014). The Station of Female Genital Mutilation in the Yorubaland Belief System. East Carolina University: Greenville, NC. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Wodon, Q., & Leye, E. (2017, February 6). Ending Female Genital Mutilation – Why Education Works. Retrieved from Global Partnership for Education: https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/ending-female-genital-mutilation-why-education-works