Posted on | January 12, 2010 | 16 Comments
A recent reader of one of my blogs agreed with my position against male circumcision but objected to any comparison between the male foreskin and the clitoris, explaining that women without a clitoris couldn’t have an orgasm, where a man without a foreskin can. I myself thought this to be true six months ago, so I was sympathetic with her objection. Only my researches at the UCLA biomedical library have proven this to be entirely untrue, so I gently passed on the information that this wasn’t the case: Cutting of even the severest type results in women who can and do have orgasms. Seems strange to us but it’s true.
But can’t you just advocate against male circumcision without discussing female circumcision? another reader asked me, Why oh why do you insist on discussing the two side by side? It’s gross. It sounds halfway like you’re OK with female circumcision.
For those readers of my blog who have not read my book (shame on you, do it immediately), let me inform you that I have spent the happiest hours of my life face-first in an intact vulva, so the idea of anyone excising part of or injuring in any way my favorite part of the human form makes me throw up in my mouth. (That is the refreshing moral clarity of being against all genital cutting. You oppose all of it so don’t have to spend soul-sucking moral capital justifying the kind that your own society practices while demonizing the kind practiced by others.)
Having made myself clear on that point, there are two reasons that I am interested in directly attacking this myth about genital cutting ruining a woman’s opportunity for sexual pleasure, a myth that our own genital-cutting culture clings to like a baby blanket:
1. There are around 130 million women who are circumcised worldwide. These women all have a right to sexual pleasure, can achieve sexual pleasure, and I don’t believe that it’s appropriate to call them sexually dysfunctional or mutilated or definitionally anorgasmic just because they have undergone some procedure in their infancy that we don’t happen to do in our culture, so are quite naturally opposed to. On this topic, a reader aptly pointed out to me that a Western doctor counseling a woman who was getting a clitorectomy for vulval cancer would never in a million years tell her that she’d never have an orgasm again. He or she would talk about how her sex life might be different but certainly pleasurable and with continued orgasmic potential. What else would a doctor say?
(I believe that it’s similarly important for opponents of male circumcision to be sensitive about not over-emphasizing the mutilation factor there, considering that the world has an estimated 650 million circumcised men who might be listening, myself included.)
2. Mainly though, I have come to understand that the foundation of the pro-male-circumcision movement in America is this very myth: that female circumcision is a curse that results in the sexual equivalent of a nuclear winter while male circumcision is a gift of health that doesn’t hurt a man’s sexual function one bit or cause an infant boy any pain. Pro-male circumcision forces rely on the idea that it’s distasteful in the extreme to discuss the two practices in the same paragraph or even refer to them with the same words. For them to keep collecting foreskins, one has to be circumcision, the other a mutilation.
In particular, they’d like to keep our focus on genital mutilation 10,000 miles away, in a Somalian village and keep our minds occupied with an old crone (no coincidence that she’s black or Muslim or–hide the children–both) holding a dirty shard of glass and with the infections and with the horror show of infibulation because if we keep thinking about that, male circumcision performed by a clean white male doctor in a clean hospital room in Brooklyn starts to seem like a ride at Disneyland and, combined with America’s misandrous view of male sexuality, the attitude that results is an exasperated sigh of “What are you bitching about?! at least you’re not a girl in a dirty village in Africa with an infection and a sewn up vagina so shut up and stop whining about your stupid foreskin!” (It’s not a valid argument but it’s an excellent rhetorical device, I have to admit.)
As a reader pointed out, the insistent focus on the horrors of the dirty village circumcision scenario is laced with a racist assumption that we are the only genital cutters in the world who do our cutting in the best conditions available. (Female genital cutters who have access to hospitals do it in hospitals, just like we do. Does that make it more civilized?)
In addition, the perpetuation of this myth seems to argue that the main difference between the circumcised girl in the Somali village and the circumcised boy in Brooklyn is the severity of their genital mutilation. Where in actual fact, the main difference is that she’ll grow up to be a woman in a miserably poor Somalian village and he’ll grow up to be a man in New York City. There are not two more radically different versions of this thing called life, regardless of how much or how little of your reproductive apparatus that your society has generously allowed you to hang onto.
This is why the organization I have listed on the links page of www.howtomakeloveto.com is Massai Education Discovery an organization that works within the Massai community to improve their lives on many levels. Part of what they do within their mission is help the victims of female circumcision and work to discourage the practice. I simply do not believe that surgical (pun intended) efforts to eradicate the practice will do anything substantial to improve women’s lives in those communities.
In addition to having no faith in such directed interventions, I do not believe that one genital cutting society carries any moral weight when approaching another genital cutting society. So long as we ourselves are a genital cutting society, our argument to female genital cutting societies boils down to: You’re super-close with the genital cutting idea, you’re just holding down the wrong infant. Let’s get an anti-bacterial wipe and a baby boy in here and I’ll show you how civilized people do this genital cutting thing. Weak.