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This post is about a specific incident/article. It is about the mutilation and abuse of girl children. It is not about circumscision. Unless you have one HELL of a convincing/excellent/relevant comment including circumscision in it, it will NOT be approved for posting. If there is enough demand, I'll open a post on circumscision. But this is not that post, please respect that.





All of these blog posts and articles discuss the genital mutilation of girls performed at Cornell University by Dr. Dix Poppas. Dr. Poppas performed surgery on the clitorises of elementary school-aged girls to make their genitalia look "more normal" (i.e. smaller). He used a procedure that is theoretically "nerve-sparing", in order to preserve sensation in the clitorises (clitorii?). He then, over the course of several years performed regular sensitivity tests on the girls, using a small medical vibrator device (not a huge vibrating cock, let's be fair before we string him up).

I really don't have the words for how angry, sick and depressed this makes me feel.

I'm angry at the parents who decided that a "large" clitoris was enough of an excuse to inflict a painful and unnecessary procedure on a girl-child that puts her future sexual function and enjoyment at great risk. Now, let me emphasize here that there is rarely (very rarely) a medical reason to decrease clitoris size. They weren't going to die from it. Their parents were concerned that their genitalia didn't look "normal."

I'm fucking furious with a doctor who has sworn as part of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, and who has caused immeasurable harm to these girls. I'm also fucking furious with the society that has these parents so terrified of their children's "abnormalities" that they are willing to let this butcher at them, at a society that doesn't recognize the wide variation in healthy genitalia.

Granted, what do you expect from a society that has things like vaginoplasty and anus bleaching in it?

Several commenters at various blogs, etc... have stated that the parents just wanted to save the girls the embarassment of having a boy feel them up when they were teenagers and then yell "Ew!" because they had a big clit.

So... sexuality destroying surgery is the answer so a boy doesn't say "Ew?"


I think I need a lie down about now.

Seriously. I just... As one commenter said over at Pharyngula (paraphrasing), so it's LESS traumatic to have a painful surgery on the most sensitive part of the female anatomy and then have an adult male doctor masturbate you annually in front of your parents to see if he killed your sexuality?

I... Yeah... I have no words. In fact I'm kind of nauseated right now after typing that sentence.

For those of you screaming for the blood of the Cornell IRB, apparently, according to several sources, what the IRB had cleared him for was the evaluation of the medical files of girls who underwent this surgery (whether in the past, or had recently undergone it). His IRB app reportedly said nothing about the vibratory device or touching little girls' parts for years afterwards, I'm guessing, other than for regular post-op treatment for that surgery. And as far as the peer-review process for articles, when you submit journal articles (at least as far as dentistry and immunology), you don't submit your IRB application. You state in your article that you had IRB approval. Some journals MAY ask to see your IRB application to see if it matches what you say you've done, but most won't bother. That would be why the Peer-Review process didn't catch it. They would have assumed his IRB checked out his procedure and found it ethically sound.

That this procedure and study exist is a symptom of a sick society. A very sick society. A society in which conformity to arbitrary norms trumps actual health and well-being, particularly for women and girls. A society that dictates that women starve and carve themselves to look like unattainable beauty ideals, even down to perfect pink anuses and teeny little clits like buttons.

In several places on the web, sorry to depend on anecdata, but as several people have pointed out there are few, if any, studies on the range of normal regarding female genitalia, women who had "large" clitorii as children who WEREN'T operated on, have come forward to say that they either "grew into it," or even if their clit remained proportionally large, it wasn't a problem.

There, in fact, have been NO studies about how the genital size of infants and children relates to the genital size of the full grown adults they become. So, really, we have no proof that a five year old girl with a big clit (or micro-penis) is going to grow up to be an adult woman, or even a fifteen year old girl, with a big clit. Just as we have no proof that an infant boy with penis size in the low range is going to grow up to be an adult man with a small dick. We don't know. The doctors don't know. Nobody fucking knows.

So, for all these parents and this doctor ACTUALLY know, they have performed a completely unnecessary plastic surgery on these girls. A completely unnecessary plastic surgery with a good chance of destroying their ability to experience clitoral arousal and orgasm when they do become adults. But that's ok, right? I mean, it's not like women are SUPPOSED to enjoy sex or anything.

I have to stop writing this, it's just making me angrier and angrier as I think about how incredibly unnecessary these procedures are. UNNECESSARY! You heard me. If a little girl grows up to be a woman who wants to have her clit shortened because it's long, and can consent to a surgery after being informed of the risks, more power to her. But doing this to children who really don't know what they could be losing?

Fuck you. Fuck you, parents of these girls. Fuck you Dr. Poppas. And fuck you society that says this shit is ok. Fuck you right in the ear.

ETA: I would like to encourage you to also read TextualDeviance's post on the subject as well: http://textualdeviance.livejournal.com/594473.html Textual mentions CAH, which is often a cause of genital malformation, including large clits, however, while some symptoms require surgery, large clits... don't.

The existence of this "study" and the reaction to it also touches on the problematic way in which our society treats Intersexed individuals, or those who are born with indeterminate (meaning that you can't tell at a casual glance, apparently) genitalia. Until fairly recently, the common practice was to decide which gender the genitalia most looked like, and then surgically alter it to "fit." BUT I want to stress that Dr. Poppas was not performing this procedure on Intersexed individuals, but rather apparently cis-gendered female children with "large" clitorii.
polimicks: (Default)
I usually agree with PZ Meyers. I do find his brand of atheism kind of asshole-ish at times, but for the most part, I agree with what he says, and read his account of his visit to Ken Hamm's Creationism Museum with tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.

But this time, I think he, and the majority of his readers/commenters have really missed the boat: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/whatever_happened_to_first_do.php

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that when doctors are approached by parents who wish to have (Female Genital Mutilation) FGM performed on their daughters, that they first educate them about the harm, try to dissuade them, and then, as a last ditch effort, they would like it to be legal to offer a symbolic nick of the clitoral hood (Prepuce) in the hopes that the parents will be satisfied with that: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/125/5/1088 The idea is that if the doctor can say, "We can't do what you want, but here is this other option, accepted by other Christians/Muslims who have the same basic values as you."

I did a paper on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in grad school. The term FGM (or Female Genital Cutting FGC, for those who wish to be less confrontational, if also less accurate) covers a broad spectrum of practices from tiny ceremonial nicks (sunna) like that proposed by the AAP, to full excision of all external female genitalia, the resulting hole is then sewn closed around a straw or reed to allow enough of a gap for urination and menstruation. These procedures are often performed on girls by other women using whatever sharp(-ish) instrument is at hand, often including sharp rocks, pieces of broken glass or cans, scissors, as well as more surgical instruments. The girls are rarely, if ever, anesthetized.

The practice of FGM is NOT religious, it is cultural. Yes, several Islamic communities perform FGM, but so do many Christian communities. It may be, within those communities, linked to their local religious practices and view of morality, but there is nothing in the holy books of either religion that states "cut all the parts off your girls." Mohammed is supposed to have said, outside of the Koran, that a nick or bloodletting of the genitals was somehow beneficial or pleasing to Allah, but the practice itself is not in the Koran.

I am as against FGM as one human being, who has not been on the receiving end of it, can be. I've read first-hand accounts of the pain and terror experienced by girls, who are usually somewhere between the ages of 4 and 14 when it is done. I've seen pictures of the results, and the whole idea turns my stomach. Even the idea of just a little, superficial nick makes me a little queasy and makes me cross my legs.

That said, I am for anything that keeps girls from being actually, full on mutilated. This is not the time for the "All or Nothing" stance advocated by Equality Now, PZ and his followers.

An article ignored by most of the commenters at PZ's blog, http://www.cirp.org/library/legal/davis1/ (go to section 3. The Seattle Experience), discusses the case of a group of Somali women who did not want to have their daughters mutilated, but felt the need for some sort of procedure that would, even if just symbolically, ensure their purity and marriageability. They suggested to the doctors the option of the nick, performed with analgesics in sterile conditions, on the prepuce, not the clitoris itself, as a compromise. According to their contacts in the Somali community, up to 40 women were holding off on sending their daughters back to Somalia for one of the more extreme forms of FGM (pharoanic) until finding out if they could opt for the compromise. However, once the newspapers got wind of it, they started up a hue and cry, got the compromise procedure banned, and 40 girls most probably got sent back to Somalia and had their labia and clitorises completely removed.

Good job, guys.

Yes, education is part of the answer. As is outlawing the forms that do real damage to girls' genitalia. But can we at least all agree that a tiny nick is better than parents shipping their girls off to where it IS legal to have it done or where enforcement of the laws is laughable, sometimes against the will of one or the other of the parents? While the US does grant asylum to women seeking to avoid FGM (http://www.irinnews.org/IndepthMain.aspx?IndepthId=15&ReportId=62462) the burden of proof for this and other gender-related matters is exceptionally difficult.

Should we be mutilating children? No. BUT, that said, if a tiny nick is going to keep a girl from having her entire genital region sawed off with a rusty knife? YES. Dear Gods, yes!! These are not abstracts of thought, people. These are real people, real girls, who are going to be really mutilated.

Other people have said that if a doctor is approached by people wanting ANY version of FGM/FGC they should immediately report them to the police and their children should be taken away. How do you prove it?

And great, so you've just created another class of people who are not going to go to the doctor for anything, including immunizations, since they'll have to worry about their kids being taken away. Seriously, do you people ever think this shit through? Besides, say they do ask the doctor about it, what's his/her proof? What's to keep racist dickheads from just accusing immigrant parents of this because they ASSUME they'll do this to their kids, even if they aren't from a region that engages in it? What's to keep parents from lying through their teeth, and taking the kids back to the old country for the procedure anyway?

Are you going to tell immigrants from these regions that they can never go back home to visit? How the hell do you prove that they intend to have FGM performed on their daughters? This is the kind of crime that it's hell to prove intent for, and is usually only caught after the fact, when it's too fucking late.

Look, as barbaric and awful as I find the whole custom, I know that these parents who do this to their daughters aren't cackling in evil glee and rubbing their hands together in malicious joy. They are doing what their culture says they have to to ensure their daughters can get married and be accepted by society. Women who have not received FGM in their homeland are ostracized, shunned and often times brutally punished by the community for being loose licentious women, regardless of whether or not they are. The parents who practice FGM are, in part, trying to protect their daughters from rape, beatings and murder.

Are there days when I read reports of this and just think, "Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."

Yes. Oh, hell yes.

Do I think allowing FGM in the name of cultural tolerance is complete bullshit?

Yes, I do.

Do I think a tiny nick is the equivalent of having your entire genital region, or even just your clitoris sawed off with a piece of broken glass?


And yes, education is going to help, and is helping, slowly. And outlawing it is going to help, and is helping, slowly. But if there is yet another solution, even if it only saves 40 more girls, then I'm all for it. That's 40 girls who won't be mutilated.

I think some people need to take their absolutist heads out of their absolutist asses, and take a look at all the shades of grey populating the world.

Fuck your ideological purity. These girls are not abstracts of thought, they are not ideas. They are living, breathing, feeling beings who deserve better. And if better is a small nick on the prepuce, or hell, even the clitoris itself, rather than having everything taken from them,then so be it.

It is also important to note that there are women out there who have received FGM, and don't view it as a mutilation, but as a valid tradition of their people. I don't know if I can get behind that, but it also isn't my place to tell these women they're wrong.

Additional references:
UW Anthropology Paper on FGM: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBF-42813MH-4&_user=582538&_coverDate=04%2F30%2F2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1334241667&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000029718&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=582538&md5=c4adcb059feb51dda3362086356a2eb2 This paper also has the reference to the Seattle times article on what happened here.
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I know, I know, I'm a little late to the game, but bear with me. Sometimes, the gerbil wheel turns slowly.

So, in the last few weeks there has been a rash of postings in the feminist blogosphere, about the fact that women have a tendency to undervalue their skills and accomplishments, largely due to the acculturation we receive regarding the proper demeanor and attitude for women. The genesis of this was Sady Doyle of http://www.tigerbeatdown.com responding to a troll and stating, "I'm Sady Fucking Doyle!"

Kate Harding http://kateharding.net/ then took that and ran with it to talk about how as women we're taught to undervalue our accomplishments and talents, and when we don't, how shocking that is. And that maybe we should all take a minute to say, "I'm Poli-fucking-micks, and I'm awesome!"

Dreamwidth user Synecdochic has a BRILLIANT post about it that lists most of the posts involved: http://synecdochic.dreamwidth.org/401060.html?nc=40
Synecdochic's round-up includes rebuttals from someone who thinks all this horn-blowing is pretty gauche.

Anyway, I won't go into that. You can go to Synecdochic's post, and then follow the other links from there, if you are so inclined. NO TROLLING or FLAMING.

But after reading these pieces, and a couple of articles in the most recent issue of BITCH relating to how women's/girls' accomplishments are viewed in our culture, I started to really think about it.

Recently I wrote some articles under my for-real name that were published. I'm being credited as a staff writer on a magazine (fledgling though it may be). I'm a writer. People are paying me to put words on paper and print them out to send to lots of people to look at and read.

This is fucking awesome.

But it took reading all those articles to realize, just how fucking awesome it is. Because my initial response was sort of a "Well, if *I* can do it, how hard can it be?" or "It's just a niche-market magazine."

Screw that.

People are paying me to write which is a big part of something I have wanted since I was old enough to start writing. The other part is to be able to just sit and write until I was done for once, and do that whenever I wanted to. But getting paid to write things is a big chunk of the dream. And while it isn't a lot of money, it's money. My writing has a monetary worth to someone.

This is fucking awesome, and I need to realize that it is perfectly ok to ring my own bell about this. I get to say, "Hey, I'm a writer. A PAID writer!"*

But as a woman, my first instinct is to demurr. To tell people that it's no big, that anyone could do it. Women suck at taking compliments. And I mean real compliments.
"Nice dress!"
"Oh, this old thing?"

"Your hair looks awesome!"
"Oh, I didn't do anything, really."

"Your thesis is one of the most brilliant things I've ever read."
"You know, a lot of the research was already done by other people, I just sort of..."

Look, I'm going to challenge you like Kate Harding and Sady Doyle did.

Be awesome.

The next time someone compliments you on something, no matter how trivial or amazing, JUST SAY THANK YOU. Hell, say, "Thank you, I think it looks great with my eyes." or "Yeah, thanks, I worked really hard on that thesis." Or "Yeah, I busted my ass to get this good."

I am going to say it now. I have worked hard at writing nearly all my life. I try very hard to be funny, trenchant and interesting. I deserve to be paid for writing. I am an awesome writer. (Whether you like my tone or not.)

When I rocked a big project at work. And I mean rocked the hell right out of that pig, I was so annoyed at the person who SHOULD have been doing the project that demurring to him on it was out of the question (anger does tend to over-ride much of my social programming). My supervisor was kind of taken aback that I would out and out claim responsibility for my own god-damned work. What the hell? I KILLED myself over that damned 240 page document for MONTHS. Why the hell wouldn't I?
"Surely you mean that X did most of the documentation."
"If I meant that I would have said that. *I* wrote that document."

But I know that if the person whose slack I was taking up hadn't pissed me off so badly, I would have let him take the credit for that amazing feat of documentation and eloquence.

As women, we are often overlooked for promotions and undervalued in the work force because of the tendency to demurr. We really need to knock that shit off. Linked to this, however, is the fact that what we also need is for people of all genders to quit thinking it's gauche or wrong or self-aggrandizing (in a bad way) for women to talk honestly about their accomplishments instead of devaluing our talents.

*Trust me, I'm not de- or under-valuing writers who don't get paid for whatever reason. Trust me, I'd still be writing even if I never got paid. And maybe it's kind of sad to feel so strongly about validation like this. But screw it. I do.


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October 2012

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