Female Circumcision and Footbinding

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I was alerted to an article in the New York Times recently about female genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision) in Africa. Young girls are taken to a “cutter” who carves out their clitoris and labia with a razor, then stitches the flesh back together, leaving a small opening for urination and menstruation. The purpose is for ensuring chastity and “lowering the sex drive of our daughters,” according to one practitioner.

The reporter notes that this is “a form of oppression that women themselves embrace and perpetuate.” I’m reminded of the similarities with footbinding. Women were the ones who carried out the process within the family (usually the mother or grandmother), and they were often the most resistant to change when the practice began to fall out of favor. In fact, even after it was officially banned in 1912, it would continue for over 30 years afterwards, perpetuated by women themselves.

While female genital mutilation is currently illegal in several African and Middle Eastern countries, it is still practiced widely and has even found its way to the U.S. Let’s hope it will be eradicated soon, and, like footbinding, seen as the inhumane violence against women that it is.

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