Nothing quite describes a group’s ability to control another group than the prescribed mutilation of their bodies. Over the centuries, this mutilation has taken on many forms. While branding of slaves was a method of mutilation used to track ownership, the oppressive force of mutilation doesn’t stop there. In many cultures, there is still genital mutilation that is traditional and done for a variety of reasons. Rather than put words into the mouths of others, I am sharing this TEDtalk that relates a personal account of such mutilation as it still happens.
In addition to female genital mutilation, there is a male counterpart. This is a bit of a more sticky subject for me. It is easy for us to look at what happens in another place and to another culture and call it objective. On the other hand, when your own practices are questioned, more discomfort happens and we all shift a little in our seats. This is the way I felt when it was first brought up to me. For an unnoticed minority, male genital mutilation is also called circumcision. There is a vast majority of men in America who have had this procedure and continue to have it performed on their sons (women and mother’s are also involved in this decision). When asked, many will say that it is for religious reasons, many will shrug and say that it was what was done to them and they thought it was what would be best.
Not many seem to really know if it is for the best outside of those who say it with faith in mind. This is a problem. It may not be women who are imposing this systematically on men, but it remains a gendered issue. In the United States, female genital mutilation is illegal and circumcision is widely practiced. I’m not saying that we should abolish this practice. I’m just saying that we should listen to the argument.
Many may not see it oppressive to demand that genitalia be “aesthically pleasing” or “normal” but those who do not fall under those categories may still disagree. Unfortunately, my research into the world of intersex people is still small. I was made aware of the many struggles they face when reading the book Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald Callahan earlier this month. People need to “fix” the way these children are born without even asking them about it. This behavior is oppressive in nature. It may not be mean-spirited or intentionally cruel, but it sends a very clear signal that the way they were born is somehow not right or acceptable. This is “fixed” in surgery and by medical professionals, so it may not technically classify as “genital mutilation” but I think it deserves a place under that heading anyway. These surgeries (according to Callahan’s book) choose sex and gender for these children and are wrong as often as they are right. They may like the intersex way that they were born. We can’t know until some of them grow up intact and let us know if they would choose to make a change. How can we deny them the right to choose to be changed when it is not medically required?
Of course, it’s easy for me say, I have not been a parent faced with this decision. I just hope that one day, we’ll have a better answer for them than that they were not born in a way that looked acceptable to society.
Join me next week for a look at the recovery and redemption after oppression!
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