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Time for change: the harms of female genital cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC) – also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision – is widely practised in Africa and has been described by UNICEF “one of the worst violations of the…

While FGC is common in Africa, the practice is illegal in many Western countries. Flickr/tlupic

Female genital cutting (FGC) – also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision – is widely practised in Africa and has been described by UNICEF “one of the worst violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”. And rightly so. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and eight, or as late as their first menstrual cycle.

It’s increasingly relevant to Australia because of the growth in migration of people from communities that practise FGC. In 2010, Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital reported seeing as many as 700 women who had suffered some form of FGC.

There are three types of FGC, which range in severity from a clitoridectomy or removal of the clitoris (type 1); clitoridectomy and the additional removal of the labia minora (type 2); to pharaonic circumcision or full infibulation, which removes part of the labia majora too (type 3). Infibulation leaves nothing of the normal genitalia except for a wall of flesh from the pubis to the anus, except a pencil-size opening of the vulva to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through.

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In the latter case, the adult woman will often suffer reverse infibulation to allow for sexual intercourse; this may be performed by the husband using a knife on their wedding night.

During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery and so the infibulation must be opened completely by enlarging the vagina with deep episiotomies (surgical cuts). Afterwards, the mother will often insist that what is left of her vulva be closed again so that her husband does not reject her, nor her friends and family ostracise her.

FGC is illegal in many Western countries, including Australia, and often regarded as sadistic mutilation of girls and women. So what explains the practice?

For behaviour to be condemned it must be perceived as in some way harmful to an individual or their community. That is not the case in communities that practice FGC. Evidence from Egyptian mummies shows both clitoridectomy and infibulation occurred in Pharaonic times. Although it is sometimes claimed that the practice was spread from Egypt by Arab traders, there is no evidence for this. FGC transcends both culture and religion.

It seems likely that one motive for FGC is to decrease the risk of female promiscuity, since it reduces and may remove the woman’s sexual pleasure. This ill-effect, however, is firmly disputed by some infibulated women who do undoubtedly enjoy orgasm. Nevertheless, FGC is most likely to have negative effects on the woman’s sexual pleasure.

Infibulation supposedly provides a proof of virginity, which is a necessary condition for marriage in many FGC-promoting societies. This creates an economic advantage by permitting parents to demand a high bridal price. In some societies, men are forbidden to marry uncircumcised women.

One other reason given for FGC is that removal of secreting parts of the genitalia maintains cleanliness. This is unquestionably spurious because FGC cannot prevent urination, menstruation, nor vaginal secretions resulting from sexual arousal.

FGC is sometimes claimed to cure depression, hysteria, and insanity. This is certainly pure myth. It is reported that the Mossi of Burkina Faso and the Igbo of Nigeria believe that babies will die if they touch the clitoris during birth; once again, this is incorrect.

More believably, it is sometimes claimed that FGC enhances beauty and that FGC prolongs the sexual pleasure of men. Of course, the same can be said of those Western women who insert rings through their clitoris and labia: an acceptable form of genital mutilation in our society.

FGC, like male circumcision, is committed almost exclusively on children. IRIN Photos

FGC is inflicted on about between two and three million girls a year, mostly by people who have had no medical training, who perform the cutting without anaesthetic, sterilisation, or the use of proper medical instruments.

Most girls do survive, but the procedure can lead to death through shock from immense pain, excessive bleeding, or infection. There is often scarring or obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, which leads to urinary- and reproductive-tract infections and infertility.

According to the World Health Organization, all types of FGC pose an increased risk of death to the baby. Between 10 and 20 of every 1,000 babies born in Africa die during delivery as a result of the mothers having undergone genital cutting. Infibulated women are also 30% more at risk for caesarean sections and 70% more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth compared with women without FGC.

So how do we put an end to this practice?

FGC, like male circumcision, is committed almost exclusively on children, and it is the preferences of the child’s parents which dominate. Those preferences reflect the values of the society in which they live; parents need for their daughter to be socially acceptable.

To be proscribed in FGC-practising communities, female genital cutting has to be accepted as an injurious practice. Mothers would have to accept that they themselves had been harmed by their own parents; next, they would need to persuade their menfolk that FGC should be tabooed. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen any day soon.

In June this year, a court in Cologne, Germany, ruled that male circumcision was a form of grievous bodily harm that violated the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity”. There was outrage from Jewish and Islamic groups on grounds that the ruling contravenes the rights of certain cultural communities.

The same objection and defence applies to FGC.

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76 Comments sorted by

  1. Ainsley Elbra

    PhD candidate at University of Sydney

    Professor Allan – you indeed highlight some of the most horrific (and more common) experiences that rise from female circumcision, however there are other sides to this debate that should be considered. There are milder forms of Type I circumcision, including the symbolic pricking of the skin or removal of the prepuce – which if performed in a medicalised situation are not dissimilar to male circumcision. In the context of increased African immigration to Australia, which you note raises this issue’s…

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    1. Keith Allan

      Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Monash University

      In reply to Ainsley Elbra

      I don't subscribe to the view that FGC is ipso facto any more abhorrent than male circumcision, though in practice types 2, 3 and 4 FGC are usually more harmful to the patient than male circumcision. If custom and religion demand genital cutting, then some appropriate medical procedure should be found.

      However, as implied toward the end of my article, I think both male and female circumcision imposed on minors are forms of GBH. If an adult wishes to mutilate his or her own body, my only objection would be on aesthetic grounds.

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    2. Ainsley Elbra

      PhD candidate at University of Sydney

      In reply to Keith Allan

      I agree Professor Allan - and think that milder/medicalised forms of Type I may fill the societal demand that you mention. This demand is only likely to rise in line with African immigration.

      I also agree that there is a distinct lack of agency present in both neo-natal male and female circumcision that doesn't exist when adults choose this procedure later in life.

      All in all a hugely complicated debate, however I think the similarities between the two procedures are often overlooked in favour of a blanket rejection of the unfamiliar.

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    3. Sandra Kwa

      Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

      In reply to Ainsley Elbra

      Ainsley, re allowing 'milder' forms of FGC, the following is an extract from an article responding to the American Academy of Pediatrics' proposal to do just that:

      "While one might think that the first version of FGM has little to do with the last, all four variations stem from the same logic. Hirsi Ali suggests we "think of it as a genital burqa, designed to control female sexuality." Even the "ritual nick" reveals a deeply-rooted fear and disgust for female sexuality. Although the AAP is trying…

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    4. Juan Andres Alzate

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ainsley Elbra

      You are right in pointing the overlooked similitudes between both procedures, however acknowledging this shouldn't lead to make FGM permissible, but to discourage or ban MGM. Most people never acknowledge the victims and collateral damage of infant male circumcision.

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    5. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      If even a ritual nick reveals a deep-seated fear and disgust for women's sexuality, can male circumcision be seen as other than fear and disgust for men's sexuality?

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    6. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      Many Jewish and Christian religious traditions of today are token traces that give value and meaning to the tradition while minimising its negative effects.

      Abraham's sacrifice of a goat in place of the previous tradition of sacrificing a firstborn child is a vivid-enough example. At a more-general level, it is easier to substitute a token version of a traditional religious practice (or one that is perceived to be based in religion - if that really is different) than it is to stamp the practice out altogether.

      Just look at all the pagan relics in Christmas, Easter and every other "Christian" festival on the calendar, and the shift of the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Far more effective to adopt token versions of the practices and traditins than to try to eliminate them.

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    7. Sandra Kwa

      Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

      In reply to John Harland

      John, perhaps you, Ainsley and Professor Allan are pragmatically correct in suggesting that "if custom and religion demand genital cutting" (see author's comment below) less damage is better than more. What fills me with despair and dread is the way so many humans will blindly follow rituals that have no rational benefits purely because they are tradition, without putting it through any test of reason themselves, to the extent where parents are harming their own children.
      This article debunks all…

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    8. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Juan Andres Alzate

      Juan, In many countries including Australia young girls are undergoing illegal surgery that has a major effect on them for their whole lives and often requires additional painful surgery.
      So what percentage of females die as a result of FGM and males as a result of circumcision.
      I look forward to seeing another sexist response.

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    9. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Keith Allan

      So Keith you are in favour of genitally mutilating little girls. Your only problem is with how much is acceptable?

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    10. Keith Allan

      Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Monash University

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      Philip, I don't know what leads you to believe I am in favour of FGC. I'm not -- as should be clear from my description of genital cutting as grievous bodily harm. So, I am not in favour of male circumcision either. All I am suggesting is a means of ameliorating genital cutting for those whose behaviour is regulated by religious ideology or customary practice within their communities.

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    11. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Ainsley Elbra

      Would you agree to be a guinea pig for such a milder/medicalised form. Ainsley?
      Or is this only to be considered for those others who normally don't go to Sydney university?

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    12. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Keith Allan

      Keith,
      I read your words.
      "If custom and religion demand genital cutting, then some appropriate medical procedure should be found."
      Is there any other interpretation possible?
      I suggest that you are arguing for a change in the law for many legal jurisdictions.
      Would you care - would you dare - to comment?

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    13. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      I'm a bit late to this article, somehow didn't see it earlier. I thought I'd just chime in on your comment "grounded in the ubiquitous sexual subjugation of women to men"

      The dynamic actually seems to be much more complicated than simply 'men controlling women'. Take this study, for example: Dynamics of change in the practice of female genital cutting in Senegambia: testing predictions of social convention theory. Shell-Duncan B, Wander K, Hernlund Y, Moreau A. Soc Sci Med. 2011 Oct;73(8):1275-83…

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    14. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Chris Booker

      Given that male circumcision is not seen as the act of women oppressing men, a nuanced approach does seem appropriate.

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    15. Sandra Kwa

      Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

      In reply to Chris Booker

      http://www.african-women.org/FGM/myths.php
      gives a very clear explanation of the reasons for FGM. Quoting the summary:

      "Factors that maintain FGM

      1. FGM is a primary condition for marriage. No man in FGM practicing areas marries an uncircumcised woman in fear of breaking and/or respecting the local social norms.
      2. The payment of the bride price to a girl’s parents depends on a woman fulfilling the traditional norms of the community – FGM being the important one.
      3. Invokation of tradition…

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    16. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      I see your point, maybe by only focusing on data about female education I have seemed to put all the weight on their shoulders, which wasn't at all what I intended. Clearly education of men plays a role too, but I was trying to emphasize that prevention methods can't be all about men, as men aren't somehow completely separate from the culture they live in.

      For example, I've got friends (males) from Middle Eastern backgrounds who have entered into arranged marriages. One in particular I was talking…

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    17. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Chris Booker

      Chris most women are all too aware of other women who act in reprehensible ways towards their sisters. In fact, without the complicity of these women, men would have had less control over women generally in the past and in the more primitive societies today.

      Women, like men, are not a single homogeneous group.

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    18. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Yeah definitely. I completely agree on the lack of homogeneity - it seems an unfortunate aspect of language that we have these labels, be it men, women, black, white, etc. and that in turn becomes defined as a 'group'. I should have been more careful with my language there.

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    19. Sandra Kwa

      Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

      In reply to Chris Booker

      It's not about groups, labels, or even gender as such. It is about power and inequality. Patriarchal societies have created power imbalance heavily weighted towards males. I am sickened at the reports of "honour killings". This one, only yesterday, films a man calmly and proudly describing killing his wife, her mother and her sister. Chilling stuff. There are links to more similar stories.
      http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/20/world/asia/pakistan-honor-confession/index.html?iref=obinsite
      So I wonder…

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  2. Thomas Marshall

    Postgraduate Student

    Genital mutilation is so unfortunate and unnecessary. Given it's done to children too young to consent, and it has permanent negative effects, it's cruel.

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  3. Dianna Arthur
    Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Environmentalist

    What is it with human beings and their children's genitalia?

    Thank you for this article, Professor Allan, though it was gruesome reading. I am interested whether this article will garner the same level of interest, debate and outrage as Clare Mahon's and Alexandra Phelan's article.

    I will repeat my comments made there:

    Unless there is a distinct medical need, there is no reason for circumcision of children.

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    1. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Dianna Art I suggest that you contact African women that are much more courageous than you and are successfully agitating against FGM.

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    2. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      That's a very ignorant comment to make.

      Perhaps you could consider that the people who comment here have lives far beyond what they may write here. Which is why we have the phrase:

      "Play the ball, not the person".

      For the record (to enlightened you a fraction of your limited knowledge) my work in public housing brought me into contact with immigrants and refugees from around the world - I have done more in a day than your incessant whining about others has achieved in years.

      Instead of attacking others, why don't you get up from your PC and go and assist women at the many refuges - go to the coal face, see for yourself.

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    3. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      So Dianna how many of your clients who were the victims of domestic violence did you identify to the police?

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  4. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Perhaps there ought to be a law that parents of any child who has been mutilated do five years jail. No exceptions.

    And what of 'custom', religious belief and such nonsense? Tough titty!

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  5. Sandra Kwa

    Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

    Dear Professor Allan, thank you for tackling this topic - I have been waiting for it to come up in The Conversation. In Ethical Theory 402 last year, FGM (or FGC) was at the back of my mind when the subject covered moral subjectivism and cultural relativism. I was relieved to find the consensus of moral philosophers is that cultural and religious belief systems are NOT a rational justification for a moral wrong, and just because a moral wrong has persisted as a long tradition does not make it any…

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    1. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      Sandra I was somewhat heartened when I read your comment.
      So many women are more concerned about "fighting sexism" and regard young female children as not "their" issue.
      When I wrote a letter to the NSW Teachers Federation newsletter raising this issue, the sole response in the next issue was to criticise me for raising an issue that was not directly educational.

      Yet teachers try to teach children who are still healing from major illegal surgery and yet seem not to know.

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  6. Ronald Goldman

    Executive Director, Circumcision Resource Center

    Cutting female and male genitals have the following similarities: 1) Over 100 million procedures have been performed on current populations. 2) It is unnecessary and extremely painful. 3) It can have adverse sexual and psychological effects. 4) It is generally done by force on children. 5) It is generally supported by local medical doctors. 6) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced. 7) It is defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics…

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  7. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    I love living in the 21t century, I wish everyone else did as well.

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Cultural mores about sex, sexuality and sexual organs seem to hold a disproprotionate emphasis in the cultural aspects of many religions than other aspect of behaviour and morality (witness also the hot debate about male circumcision).

      We are having ancient discussions on 21st century communication technology.

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I agree.

      I find it odd that we have such outdated modes of thinking on some subjects in our lives, yet we express these modes of thinking via the wonders of modern technology. Something as archaic as genital mutilation really does show how some areas of society will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age.

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  8. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    I am glad that this subject has been finally raised here, no doubt as a bit of a sop after the lengthy discussion of male circumcision.
    Of course, the usual suspects claiming that male and female circumcision are really morally and physically equivalent jump in, obscuring the reality.
    The United Kingdom has finally acknowldged FGM as a problem.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2097615/Theresa-May-Shocking-number-girls-undergoing-female-genital-mutilation-UK.html
    In the UK, you can sign…

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    1. Sandra Kwa

      Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Hi Dianna. I'm only a sporadic Conversationalist, but have enjoyed reading your posts in this and past forums (or is it fora?). I don't know why Philip Dowling feels the need to attack people personally or make defamatory remarks when it's not seriously warranted. Both these disrespectful behaviours are expressly contrary to the etiquette of this site (and any etiquette, really). Some people just do, and smugly revel in the hurt and offence they create, self-righteousnessly believing they are justified…

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    2. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      Hello Susan

      I met some of the most inspiring people while working in public housing. Both men and women. Am still in awe of them because I don't believe I could've endured a 10th of what they went through.

      I am always happy to see your name arrive in my email. Not so with others, who (depending on mood) I will often send straight to the trash bin. Whatever 'wisdom' they may have to offer permanently lost. The old saw about attracting with honey completely lost on the vexatious.

      Thank you for your very kind words - they arrived in a very timely fashion for me.

      Cheers

      Dianna

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  9. Sandra Kwa

    Grad Cert Ethics and Legal Studies, CSU

    A very worthwhile article from Al Arabiya News 12 July, starting with:

    "Despite a 1996 ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Egypt, the issue continues to be a divisive one, especially amid fears that the ban could be reversed under an Islamist government."

    and ending with:

    " “From a political/cultural perspective in Egypt, female circumcision has been seized upon as proof of the ideological chasm that now separates those people who fight for the cause of ‘traditional society’ from those…

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    1. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Sandra Kwa

      The idea of even a "ritual nick" fills me with disgust but our disgust as outsiders is not going to change the situation much.

      If we are honest with ourselves, we acknowledge that abortion is horrible, but many of us support it because the alternatives are often far more ghastly both to the individual and to the society as a whole. So we fight for the right to abortion. We fight for it also because openness allows scrutiny and relative safety.

      We apply similar thinking to prostitution, which some people find repugnant. Legality allows us to limit the excesses and abuses, and to improve safety.

      Allowing a "ritual nick" is not something to rejoice about in itself but it may be the soundest path a society can follow to minimising the harm done to girls and women. It may even be a path to follow in addressing male circumcision.

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    2. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to John Harland

      The "ritual nick" sends alarm down my spine as well. I have not heard of similar for boys and wonder what beliefs around female genitalia has resulted in such practice.

      Are we to accept the least worst?

      Abortion and prostitution are complex issues but not a ritualistic ones. There are good arguments for the legalisation of both. But nicking or cutting the genitals of children is only done for reasons of tradition, religion or simply the parents' desire to have their children the same as themselves.

      I will add (yet again) that circumcision may be necessary for medical reasons and this is not what I am referring to above. I feel the need to clarify myself, ad nauseum, to head off those who will try to create a different meaning and intent to my comments.

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    3. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to John Harland

      So John as an outsider you condone any cultural practice that small groups practice even if it against the law.
      Domestic violence .. not a problem I take it for you.
      Child abuse ... not a problem I take it for you. Three year olds with STDs? Regrettable but what can one do.
      Others think that if social workers, health workers, and teachers reported suspicions and police actually charged parents then they could join the "Butcher of Bega" in jail.

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    4. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      That is a really stupid answer, Phillip. I advocated that a particular level of a practice be legalised. It would therefore not be illegal.

      From there you have made a whole lot of assumptions that are not only utterly unsupported by evidence but might be construed as outright libellous.

      If you cannot rise above that level of gutter-drinking, go do it somewhere else.

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    5. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to John Harland

      So sue me, John.
      I would welcome it.

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  10. Tobe Levin

    Collegiate Professor

    Professor Allan, You and your readers will certainly want to know about UnCUT/VOICES Press publishing against Female Genital Mutilation: www.uncutvoices.wordpress.com and www.uncutvoices.com

    Female genital mutilation affecting millions of girls and women cannot receive too much attention, so thank you for alerting Conversation readers. Khady tells about her ordeal in _Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights_ and young African women who have chosen clitoral reconstruction speak out in Hubert Prolongeau's _Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris_ . Both books are available on the website of UnCUT/VOICES Press ... With appreciation, Tobe Levin

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  11. Dianna Arthur
    Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Environmentalist

    I understand there are a significant number of men who choose to have a circumcision. Maybe for aesthetic reasons or for religious.

    Are there ANY statistics at all for adult women choosing circumcision? If so, how many in comparison to men? And, finally, why?

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    1. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Interesting question. In the medical literature there's increasing coverage of voluntary female genital surgery for cosmetic reasons. One of the reasons for the increasing medical attention is that it seems to be on the increase and is done by plastic surgeons who obviously not only profit from the procedure, but given it's done in a private system there is very little data on exactly how many women are doing this, and also little data on longer term safety, etc.

      This abstract sums up some of…

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    2. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Chris Booker

      I am aware of cosmetic surgery - reducing the size of the labia and such, in order to look like air-brushed centrefolds - can't have any labia minora poking out. Why this is so escapes my understanding. Perhaps men who are more familiar with porn magazines could explain this apparent 'modesty'.

      I was referring to the equivalent of male circumcision - the removal of the clitoral hood which protects the clitoris.

      Being in possession of fully functional genitals, I am aware that the clitoral…

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    3. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      hang on, I think you might have taken the wrong end of the stick there, Perhaps I should have been clearer when I said "expectation of improved sexual function" - it seems to be exactly that "expectation" - whether it actually would improve sexual function or not. I don't understand why women are opting for these surgeries and I certainly don't endorse it.

      Why do some women want to have reductions of the labia minora? or where does that idea come from? One that gets brought up a lot is some idea…

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    4. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Chris Booker

      I was just curious as to why men's magazines show such modest shots. I didn't mean specifically, you Chris. Just anyone who is into the female bod - why the neat and tidy little fannies?

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    5. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      For the pictures in magazines we can put blame squarely on censorship laws. My understanding is that any protruding labia minora leads to censorship.

      To what degree this underlies the whole issue of genital surgery we can only guess.

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    6. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to John Harland

      " why men's magazines show such modest shots"
      "My understanding is that any protruding labia minora leads to censorship."

      Ahh..*light goes on*.. okay now I'm getting it.

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    7. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Please accept my apologies Chris - did not see John Harland's post.

      Yes censorship would explain PART of the problem. Must censor those nasty female parts or we will turn off our readers and turn on the censors.

      For my next question:

      How does that explain the massively surgically altered porn star female actors?

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    8. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      No worries, I guess what I was trying to say was that if a woman saw a pose of a model and thought 'if I were doing that same pose my labia would be sticking out' (and therefore think that theirs was too big) then somehow there's a logical connection, where before I could only think 'Huh? how does that make sense?'

      I still don't endorse it at all, and personally I'm not into surgically altered female bodies. I may not be representative but I know a lot of other males I've talked to feel the same.

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    9. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Chris Booker

      Chris I appreciate your thoughtful replies.

      It is the young women and men who are the most receptive audience to media presentation of sexuality - young men/boys who, through their internet experiences, expect women to look a certain way - impossible breasts, no hair anywhere and bleached anuses! When they finally get to see a real live girl are not so much pleasantly surprised as disappointed. And the girl who feels she is less than desirable for simply looking like a real woman.

      Really sad.

      Neither men's nor women's magazines depict reasonable images of either sex - however, people continue to buy the mags, the porn.

      It is getting a little chicken and egg here. Who is to blame? The purveyors or the buyers? I think it is both and further evidence that market place demand does not always result in anything that could be described as "a common good".

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    10. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Well said. It's interesting that this whole sexualization or even 'pornification' of society issue seems to be a recurring theme that comes up on The Conversation - in posts about removal of pubic hair, whether young girls dress as 'tramps', women opting for cosmetic surgery, the content of pop videos, etc. This time in history is probably going to make an interesting sociological/anthropology subject for future generations. Where will it lead us? I don't know, but some of these trends really can't…

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    11. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Chris Booker

      You are right, anthropologists should be taking notes... human sexuality has more twists and turns than the Amazon in full flood and is just as dark and murky.

      "and the only disagreement seems to be about whether a 'harm reduction' approach would be worthwhile by allowing a 'small nick'. I'm undecided, I can see the logic, but it would be all too easy for 'a small nick' to turn back into a larger cut in the future. And besides the UN call to end FGM doesn't have any tolerance for it either…

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    12. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      I have been puzzled at the comments about porn actresses being surgically modified. It doesn't bring any jolt of recognition.

      The level of censorship of which I was writing - the no-labia-minora rule - is the level that applies to general-circulation magazines, such as the women's health sections of women's magazines.

      It may be that they are the real problem, not pornography as such.

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  12. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    Parents held over genital mutilation
    The couple who are both in their 30s are suspected of having allowed the procedure to be carried out on their 3-year-old sometime between January and April 2012 in either Sweden or Gambia.

    Female genital mutilation has been illegal in Sweden since 1982. Since 1999 it is an offence even if the procedure is performed in a different country and carries a penalty of up to four years imprisonment.

    http://www.thelocal.se/42704/20120819/
    Of course, this never happens in Australia. The reporting by a school counsellor and the charging by police, I mean.

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  13. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    This topic was raised on Q&A on 28/08/2012
    I found the cultural relativism and conflating of issues appalling. Germaine Greer was the main offender.

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  14. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    The latest two WOMEN who find FGM a bit of a yawn are Linda Mottram and Pru Goward.

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  15. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    So now the ABC is suggesting that national and state laws are broken via Linda Mottram.

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  16. Chris Watkins

    logged in via Facebook

    "those Western women who insert rings through their clitoris and labia: an acceptable form of genital mutilation in our society."

    How is it remotely comparable when an adult woman chooses to have her own body pierced?

    Just that one objection, in an otherwise good and extremely important article. Thanks.

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