Female Circumcision Lou Barbero Barbero 1 Professor Garber Hm 46 March 5th The Argument against Female Circumcision Female circumcision is an operation done in many of the Arab countries and is an example of how woman change their bodies in order to conform to society. There are many aspects to this practice such as medical, religious and psychological. Very few people in these countries will ever say anything on the matter, even if they object. Speaking of issues regarding women and sex in these countries is a taboo. One woman, Nawal El Saadawi, a medical doctor who later became Egypt’s Director of Public Health was brave enough to come forward.
The fact that she did ultimately lead to dismissal from her position and actual imprisonment. Her writings are forbidden from many of the Arab countries that practice female circumcision. In a selection from The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (1980), she explains her argument against female circumcision and retells some interviews she had with women who underwent the operation. El Saadawi goes into detail telling about the procedure that the girls underwent in her culture, usually around the age of seven or eight. The local midwife called the daya, would show up to perform the operation.
In most cases two women members of the family would hold the girl by her thighs to expose her genitals and to prevent struggling. Then the daya would proceed to cut of the clitoris of the girl with a sharp razor. One of the women El Saadawi interviewed explained “the daya sat between these two women, Barbero 2 holding a sharp razor in her hand which she used to cut off the clitoris.” (Nawal El Saadawi 170) Although El Saadawi claims there are no advantages to this operation, many people tend to disagree. One claim made by people in favor of female circumcision is that by minimizing sexual desire, a girl is more likely to stay a virgin. Studies show that by removing the clitoris, sexual desire is drastically decreased.
“A married woman admitted that during intercourse with her husband she had never experienced the slightest sexual enjoyment” El Saadawi recounts about a women who was circumcised at six years old. (172) In most customs, circumcision is a religious procedure. Many Religions practice both male and female circumcision. El Saadawi disagrees saying “If religion came from God, how it order man to cut off an organ created by Him as long as that organ is not diseased or deformed”. (178) The author explains the many negative effects that can be caused by this operation, both physical and psychological. Some of these effects even led to death.
Hemorrhaging is caused by deep cuts made by the daya. The daya cuts deep to maintain that none of the clitoris is left behind and no sexual pleasure can be found. There are also many inflammatory problems caused because the daya does not know of asepsis. As for short-term effects, the women will undergo severe pain for at least a few days after the operation. In an interview with El Saadawi a women recounted: “I had severe body pains, and remained in bed for several days, unable to move.
The pain in my external organs led to retention of urine. Everytime I wanted to urinate the burning sensation was so bad I could not bring myself to pass Barbero 3 water” (171) There has also been much in El Saadawi’s work to prove that there is much psychological damage done, especially in the area of sexual shock. This sexual shock lead to great fridgety making it almost impossible for a woman to ever enjoy sex. Neurosis is another long-term effects of the operation. (El Saadawi 171) Egyptian women undergo such a strict upbringing that no one will object, or admit to anything related to sex. The girls are told all their lives that this operation will preserve their honor.
One women recounted “It was said that a girl who did not undergo this operation was liable to be talked about by people, her behavior would become bad, and she would start running after man” (El Saadawi 171) It has also been argued that the clitoris is unimportant to reproduction and therefore unimportant to women. “The clitoris however, is an organ neglected by medicine, just as it is ignored and disdained by society.” (El Saadawi 171) It seems according to El Saadawi’s research that educated families are beginning to understand the dangers of this operation. A study she did showed that 97.5% of uneducated families have their daughters circumcised while only 66.2% of educated families do. (174) She goes on to explain that the uneducated families had no idea of the harm caused and understood it was done for the purpose of purity and cleanliness of girls. Others besides El Saadawi have done research on this topic, but not many. When she looked into finding someone to share views with and came across Dr.
Mohmoud Koriam and Dr. Rushdi who wrote Female Circumcision and Sexual Desire and also Complications of Female Circumcision. These doctors did a study on 651 women whom Barbero 4 had been circumcised and came to five conclusions, most of which coincide with El Saadawi’s. One is the reduction of ability to orgasm, another is that educated parents tend to refuse the operation and that it can cause inflammations, hemorrhaging, urinary infections and cysts. These are all facts that El Saadawi also stated.
Another conclusion that I found interesting was that female circumcision does not prevent any kind of cancer or have any medical benefit. When El Saadawi got together with Dr. Mahoud Korian she found that he also had many difficulties going public with his findings. He was criticized by colleagues along with religious leaders. In a discussion together they agreed that female circumcision has no benefits and results in physical and psychological shock.
According to Saadawi it does not appear that female circumcision will be done away with anytime soon. This is based on the fact that the Arab countries still believe it is essential to virginity. The author continues to tell that although it is still practiced, it is not practiced as vulgarly as it once was. Now even in Upper Egypt the tend to only be doing partial circumcisions. Nawal El Saadawi did an excellent job on illustrating how these injustices are done to women and people must speak out if we expect them to stop.
I believe that if her works were more widely read, and the people of Egypt better educated, that the percentage of female circumcision would drastically decrease. When reading this article it came to mind that if the procedure is purely done for religious reasons that maybe there could be some sort of ritual done without the actual mutilation. I found the authors argument to be very persuasive and based on the facts she has illustrated I believe female circumcision should be done away with. Barbero 5 Works Cited El Saadawi, Nawal; “Circumcision of Girls”, Complements; McGraw – Hill Inc. New York: 1995, 169 – 179.