When female genital mutilation (FGM) and Western cultural ignorance collide

I hate reading about female genital mutilation (FGM) from Western media outlets.

For those that don’t know, FGM  comprises “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

The often traumatizing procedure is concentrated in Africa (particularly 29 countries) and the Middle East, and typically happens to girls when they are under the age of 15.

Out of those 29 countries, my parents country of origin, Somalia, is among them – and quite often ranks the highest among all African countries in terms of the number of procedures carried out.

So why is this horrible and unnecessary procedure carried out in the first place?

Based on the information given to me by my mother (who herself underwent FGM as a young girl) the rhetoric was linked to decades-old patriarchal conceptions of keeping girls “pure” and putting constraints around female sexuality by physically cutting out the parts of their body responsible for arousal (aka = the clitoris).

In many ways, FGM is one of the most physically mutilating products of patriarchy, and it breaks my heart to know that so many women in my mother’s generation had to endure it (and continue to do so).

So what’s my gripe with the Western media?

I absolutely hate the way they report on FGM because they almost always portray the countries/individuals who practice it as backwards/barbarian/ignorant Africans – and it irritates the hell out of me!

Believe me, I’m no advocate for FGM – however, I think its incredibly important to note the way Western countries use this issue as a way to highlight how feminist, advanced, and culturally in tune they are in regards to women’s rights. It practically lends itself to this extremely inaccurate rhetoric that patriarchy and gender-based violence does not EXIST in the West, or that “violence towards women in the West is individually based instead of culturally condoned.(1)”

And we all know that violence towards women is alive and well across Western states. But of course, FGM is a practice that can be easily exoticized in the media, and thus makes for a far more interesting story than the rates of domestic abuse across the United States. *insert eye-roll*

Furthermore, I don’t appreciate certain Western measures taken to combat FGM. In a recent article in the New York Times about FGM, it was mentioned that British authorities recently conducted a week-long operation at Heathrow Airport to “catch” families trying to send girls abroad for cutting.

My issue here is the criminalization of these families and their cultures – with Western saviours protecting young African girls from their backwards and ignorant families. It reeks of Western hegemony and the “universalism” of their beliefs.

This is not to absolve these families of the fuck-up nature of the issues at hand – especially if people are living abroad and have more exposure to life outside their country of origin.

But again, that leads me to ask – why are these people doing what they’re doing? I remember my mom telling me quite distinctly that her parents, nor the families of her friends thought they were doing anything “wrong” when they sent their daughters for the procedure – in fact for them, it consisted as part of their “cultural duty” as good parents to make sure it got done.

Unfortunately, the fight against FGM will take far more than white police officers demonizing African parents at the airport or condemning them in borderline racist articles.

I believe the key to ending this terrible practice is to promote conversation among the communities that practice it – especially those girls who underwent FGM, but now live in the West and consequently have access to a platform that will let them get their message across.

My point is – people need to hear it from their own.

Getting yelled at by a white man looking down on your culture is not doing a damn thing.

 

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