The Psychology Department
The Final Paper
"Female Genital Mutilation"
'Long Term Psychological Effects'
Dr. F. Cramer
ID # 92-1356
Female Genital Mutilation, or Female Circumcision as sometimes called, is the partial or complete removal of the female clitoris immediately after birth, few years after birth (early childhood), or several years after birth (adolescence). Originally, female genital mutilation was practiced to ensure female virginity until marriage; as it was discovered that by the partial or complete removal of the clitoris, a female's sexual urge is minimized and, therefore, a girl could have more control over her sexual desires. Because virginity was and remains a very crucial factor in almost every society, circumcision was invented way in the past before any of the Heavenly Religions appeared. In fact, the most traditional and conservative type of circumcision is the Pharoanic type (Infibulation), where the complete removal of the clitoris occurs and the vulva walls are stitched together leaving a small opening for urination and menstrual discharge. Nowadays, however, it continues to be practiced in Africa and the Middle East mostly due to social forces. New reasoning developed through the years to keep the ritual going on. The many reasons given for the practice are bewildering and unfounded in any scientific or medical fact. They fall into four main categories: psycho-sexual, religious, sociological and hygienic. Among the psycho-sexual reasons is a belief that the clitoris is an aggressive organ that threatens the male organ and even endangers babies during delivery. It is believed that if a baby's head touches the mother's clitoris during birth, the child will be born with a low IQ. Hence, a girl who is not circumcised, is considered 'unclean' by local villagers and thus unmarriageable. A girl who does not have here clitoris removed is considered a great danger and ultimately fatal to a man if her clitoris touches his penis. Also, the circumcision issue is seen as a form of beauty. It is seen as aesthetically beautiful, as genitals are disfiguring and ugly in their natural state (Real Net, 2). In short, nowadays the practice isn't done to explicitly mean that girls are untrustable, but because, presently, the woman's clitoris is considered to be an ugly part in a woman's body and perceived to be harmful in many ways. And not long ago, Sigmund Freud wrote 'The elimination of clitorial sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity."
According to psychologists, the practice is known to be done in order to suppress women. A patriarchal society is what defines most of those African and Middle Eastern countries. It is argued that a man keeps his superiority over women by controlling every aspect in her life. And since sexuality is such a major part in a human's life, a close control over this specific aspect in a woman meant to keep here under a tight male control. Circumcision ensures that a woman will not have had any sexual intercourse before marriage and thus is subject to what she is told to do by her husband. That is, due to past inexperience and low internal sexual drive, she is totally ignorant of what she is supposed to do regarding this matter. According to an article in the Real Net Access, "Women have been persuaded to see their sexual impulses in terms that suit men.... man's pleasure is paramount and women are merely vehicles for procuring this enjoyment."(Real Net, 2). Thus, the husband entails what should be done and what shouldn't, according to his preferences. So, it is only when and how the husband needs; the wife here is reduced to nothing but an object of pleasure. Psychologists, thus, argue that to deny a woman the basic right to her sexuality, is to deny her the rights to having strength, power and identity. The inability of a women to regulate their lives inhabilitates them; "they remain under the heels of patriarchal structures."(Real Net, 1). Thus circumcised women, unable to have sex for pleasure's sake, are reduced to baby-makers. Without the driving force to desire, they lost much of the power of self-initiative and, as a result, are more dependent on male authority to define their lives.
As a result, a woman's integrity, worth and need in society is based on if she fits the sexual criteria. Many fear that an uncircumcised girl would be a social outcast whom no one will marry. In some societies, non-mutilated girls are "ridiculed and forced to leave their communities and fend for themselves."(Real Net, 2). Usually, these girls turn to prostitution in order to survive, because they cannot otherwise survive within the context of their societies. The women have utter conviction that mutilation is an essential part of a fulfilling woman's life. This notion was deep routed in their minds to the extent that when some women were asked why they have infibulated their daughters when they know themselves how much pain it causes them, their answers were: "...it is because we love them."(Real Net, 1). Women have been brainwashed by the dominating thought of the males in their societies to believe that pain and torture is their lot in life. These women have built and created their whole lives and identities, both as individuals and as part of a society, around the only image of reality they know. Ultimately, pain to these women is a better choice than to be alienated.
Even though Female genital mutilation is practiced mostly in Islamic countries, it is not an exclusively Islamic practice. Circumcision is a cross-cultural and cross-religious ritual. In Africa and The Middle East, it is performed by Muslims, Coptics Christians, members of various indigenous groups, Protestants and Catholics. However, Muslims try to justify continuing the habit by relating it to "Sunnah"; That is, following the steps and customs of the Prophet "Mohammed". It is argued that The Sunnah version of circumcision (where the foreskin protecting the clitoris is removed) is the recommended one by the Prophet. It is supposedly confirmed that "Mohammed said: "Circumcision is a sunnah for the men and a makrumah for the women."(Abu-Salih, 6). The term makruma is far from clear but we can translate it into an honorable deed. So, both Sunnies and Shiites follow this tradition as the latter say that Imam Al-Sadiq also stated that it is a makruma, and is there anything better than a makrumah?(Abu-Salih, 6). On the other hand, attackers argue that the practice is not a religious one in any way. It was never mentioned in the Quran or the Bible; moreover, it is not an act of God, "God does not mutilate."(Abu-Salih, 7). Says Doctor Nawal El-Saadawi:
"If religion comes from God, how can it order man to cut off an organ created by him as long as that organ is not deformed? God does not create the organs of the body haphazardly without a plan. It is not possible that He should have created the clitoris in a woman's body only in order that it be cut off at an early stage in life."(Abu-Salih, 7).
Nowadays, circumcision is under a huge debate to whether accept it or ban it. In Western countries Female Genital Mutilation is regarded as a form of child abuse.(J. A. Black, 3). In African and Middle Eastern countries, on the other hand, it is seen as a protection for the child. One African American woman, however, says that "it has nothing to do with religion, and it damages women's health and socio-economic life."(Mansavage, 1). This woman continues to remember the pain she suffered during her excision; she even remembers the sound of her flesh being cut, bleeding and being sick for weeks. She considers circumcision an act of child abuse. However, when broadly discussed, circumcision differed from other forms of child abuse in that it is done with the best intentions for the future welfare of the child, there is no possibility of its repetition during childhood, and it is approved by sections of the communities in which it is practiced.(JA Black, 3). "Harm that is done to women is seen as personal, private or cultural matter. Genital Mutilation has not been seen as a type of harm."(Cole & Snell, 1). The problem with those people who are with circumcision for females is that the belief and traditions of the ancestors is deeply grounded in them. Whether there is a strong reason for continuing the practice or not, an African woman who comes from a community where all females are unquestionably mutilated, will always approve of it for her children, because simply she doesn't perceive of them being uncircumcised. The psychological routings of such a custom are very effective and are not subject to any kind of persuasion of the opposite. Most African and Middle Eastern people now only know that girls should be mutilated, but exactly why this should be the case isn't even discussed. Walker sees it as a "heinous form of patriarchal oppression, characterized by 'the feeling of being overpowered and thoroughly dominated by those you are duty bound to respect.'"(Cole & Snell, 1).
Efforts are being made to try and make people of those countries understand the disastrous effects of mutilation on women and their children in the future. The problem is that you create a social problem within those communities because you make their women stand up for their rights as being abused. One organization for Human rights stated: "Until now you could burn, torture, or mutilate a woman, and it was never counted. We finally made them see that abuse of women is a human-rights issue, not a cultural issue."(Cole & Snell, 2). However, some organizations went the wrong way dealing with the issue. The Colorado Democrat favors economic sanctions against countries that undergo female mutilation. But this idea was opposed by many people, including African born doctors living in the States, claiming that economic sanctioning is not the right way to deal with such a subject. Says Dr. Asha Mohammed: "The practice is not being done intentionally to harm anyone. Mothers do it in good faith for their children. If you cut funding to theses countries, you are hurting the people you want to protect."(Cole & Snell, 2). The problem is that people usually do not conform under threatening or dictation, especially on such a subject. This problem should be dealt with smoothly, it is not going to stop overnight.
Recently, programs are being made to educate village women of Africa and the Middle East in an effort to make them grasp the idea very well and assess and compare between the harms and benefits, if any, of circumcision. Programs are done in such a way to convey the message in the least offending, but yet the most effective, possible manner. Chosen women of the native tribes and villages are educated abroad and persuaded to return back home and start teaching and convincing the women of those villages and tribes of the long term psychological, mental and health problems. Although, some of those missions returned successful results, some other were a complete failure. While some people could have a more subtle grasp of the subject when they learn about it in an academic way, some others are just resistible and would not conform easy. Perhaps, overcoming the problem would need a little bit of psychological training as well as scientific education.
Finally, I would like to present a debate conversation on the issue to clarify that it doesn't just take scientific education to refuse the female circumcision practice. In an article by George Geib (on the internet), he posted a picture of a young girl and wrote the following: "Take a good look at the girl in the above picture and tell me if you think she would be better off later in her life 'circumcised.' If your answer is 'yes,' you are just another sicky like those found in the understandably screwed up countries of northern and western Africa. And if you come to the west and do this, they'll throw your ass in jail (hopefully) forever." In defense for such an offensive article came out an article from an Arabic Doctor, who refused to reveal his identity, saying that of course he approved of that girl being circumcised. And here are some of the things that he wrote where the girl gains from being circumcised: "* It raises her status in her community, both because of the added purity that circumcision brings and the bravery that initiates are called upon to show. * It confers maturity and inculates positive character traits, including the ability to endure pain and a submissive nature. * The circumcision ritual is an enjoyable one, in which the girl is the center of attention and receives presents and moral instructions from her elders. * All impure tissue is removed and the girl is sewn up until her wedding night." This is how significant the psychological part of it is. No matter how much descent education people get, if they have routed traditions they will always find ways to approve of them even if they are clear disasters.
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