Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Female circumcision has stronger support among women than men

In 1996 I went to Kenya—northern Kenya among an ethnic group called the Rendille. ...

[The women] realized that not only had I gotten married without being circumcised, but that I had obviously delivered children without being circumcised, which in their culture was unthinkable.

These women were my very good friends, and they were covering up their faces to not show how repulsed they were by the idea of somebody being uncircumcised and delivering a baby. They were, you know, revolted. ...

They said, “There’s a wedding going on, do you want to go?” And I was like, “Alright.” They took me to this blended-branch hut. They brought in the bride, and they brought in the circumciser, a woman, and a couple of other women followed. ...

One woman went outside and announced the circumcision was successful. People started roasting lamb, meat. A little while later, warriors came over to the hut and started singing and dancing praises to the bride and the groom. This went on for hours. There was this complete celebration. I was completely perplexed. I sat there just sort of, you know, “Did anyone just see what I just saw?” ...

[The bride] was proud. She sat there stoic and looked up at a focal point. She didn’t flinch, and that’s apparently a really important part of showing your maturity: Can you withstand the pain? It shows that you have the maturity to face the hardship that is coming as a woman. ...

A little bit later, I excused myself and ran back to the hut where I was staying, and I travel with a little medical first-aid bag. I raced back to the hut and gave her these codeine tablets. ...

The bride came out and joined the dancing. I almost died. I thought she must be on codeine, but she wasn’t. She was joyful. I didn't understand the joy about this.

But later I remembered that when I gave birth to my first son, I had a very difficult delivery. After my son was born, everyone in the delivery room popped a bottle of champagne. I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck and they were toasting champagne. But it was a good pain, and that’s what this was. This girl had become a woman.

When I went back two years later, the girl came to me and gave the pills back. She said, “You don’t understand, this is not our way. And if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be a woman now.”

I understood why. And I respected her. ...

Some people in Africa believe that bodies are androgynous and that all male and female bodies contain male and female parts.

So a man’s foreskin is a female part. And for a female, the covering of the clitoris is a male part. The idea of becoming a wholly formed female includes being cut—having any part that is somewhat male-like removed from the body. ...

The sort of feminist argument about this is that it’s about the control of women but also of their sexuality and sexual pleasure. But when you talk to people on the ground, you also hear people talking about the idea that it’s women’s business. As in, it’s for women to decide this. If we look at the data across Africa, the support for the practice is stronger among women than among men.
--Anthropologist Bettina Shell-Duncan, The Atlantic, on the complicated reality behind female circumcision