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Essay/Term paper: Female genital mutilation: long term psychological effects

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Society Term Papers

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Female Genital Mutilation: Long Term Psychological Effects

The Psychology Department
The Final Paper
Dr. F. Cramer Presented
By: Tim Abbas ID # 92-1356

Female Genital Mutilation, or Female Circumcision as sometimes called, is the
partial or complete removal of the female clitoris immediately after birth, few
years after birth (early childhood), or several years after birth (adolescence).
Originally, female genital mutilation was practiced to ensure female virginity
until marriage; as it was discovered that by the partial or complete removal of
the clitoris, a female's sexual urge is minimized and, therefore, a girl could
have more control over her sexual desires. Because virginity was and remains a
very crucial factor in almost every society, circumcision was invented way in
the past before any of the Heavenly Religions appeared. In fact, the most
traditional and conservative type of circumcision is the Pharoanic type
(Infibulation), where the complete removal of the clitoris occurs and the vulva
walls are stitched together leaving a small opening for urination and menstrual
discharge. Nowadays, however, it continues to be practiced in Africa and the
Middle East mostly due to social forces. New reasoning developed through the
years to keep the ritual going on. The many reasons given for the practice are
bewildering and unfounded in any scientific or medical fact. They fall into four
main categories: psycho-sexual, religious, sociological and hygienic. Among the
psycho-sexual reasons is a belief that the clitoris is an aggressive organ that
threatens the male organ and even endangers babies during delivery. It is
believed that if a baby's head touches the mother's clitoris during birth, the
child will be born with a low IQ. Hence, a girl who is not circumcised, is
considered 'unclean' by local villagers and thus unmarriageable. A girl who does
not have here clitoris removed is considered a great danger and ultimately fatal
to a man if her clitoris touches his penis. Also, the circumcision issue is seen
as a form of beauty. It is seen as aesthetically beautiful, as genitals are
disfiguring and ugly in their natural state (Real Net, 2). In short, nowadays
the practice isn't done to explicitly mean that girls are untrustable, but
because, presently, the woman's clitoris is considered to be an ugly part in a
woman's body and perceived to be harmful in many ways. And not long ago, Sigmund
Freud wrote 'The elimination of clitorial sexuality is a necessary precondition
for the development of femininity."

According to psychologists, the practice is known to be done in order to
suppress women. A patriarchal society is what defines most of those African and
Middle Eastern countries. It is argued that a man keeps his superiority over
women by controlling every aspect in her life. And since sexuality is such a
major part in a human's life, a close control over this specific aspect in a
woman meant to keep here under a tight male control. Circumcision ensures that a
woman will not have had any sexual intercourse before marriage and thus is
subject to what she is told to do by her husband. That is, due to past
inexperience and low internal sexual drive, she is totally ignorant of what she
is supposed to do regarding this matter. According to an article in the Real Net
Access, "Women have been persuaded to see their sexual impulses in terms that
suit men.... man's pleasure is paramount and women are merely vehicles for
procuring this enjoyment."(Real Net, 2). Thus, the husband entails what should
be done and what shouldn't, according to his preferences. So, it is only when
and how the husband needs; the wife here is reduced to nothing but an object of
pleasure. Psychologists, thus, argue that to deny a woman the basic right to her
sexuality, is to deny her the rights to having strength, power and identity. The
inability of a women to regulate their lives inhabilitates them; "they remain
under the heels of patriarchal structures."(Real Net, 1). Thus circumcised women,
unable to have sex for pleasure's sake, are reduced to baby-makers. Without the
driving force to desire, they lost much of the power of self-initiative and, as
a result, are more dependent on male authority to define their lives.

As a result, a woman's integrity, worth and need in society is based on if she
fits the sexual criteria. Many fear that an uncircumcised girl would be a social
outcast whom no one will marry. In some societies, non-mutilated girls are "
ridiculed and forced to leave their communities and fend for themselves."(Real
Net, 2). Usually, these girls turn to prostitution in order to survive, because
they cannot otherwise survive within the context of their societies. The women
have utter conviction that mutilation is an essential part of a fulfilling
woman's life. This notion was deep routed in their minds to the extent that when
some women were asked why they have infibulated their daughters when they know
themselves how much pain it causes them, their answers were: "...it is because
we love them."(Real Net, 1). Women have been brainwashed by the dominating
thought of the males in their societies to believe that pain and torture is
their lot in life. These women have built and created their whole lives and
identities, both as individuals and as part of a society, around the only image
of reality they know. Ultimately, pain to these women is a better choice than to
be alienated.

Even though Female genital mutilation is practiced mostly in Islamic countries,
it is not an exclusively Islamic practice. Circumcision is a cross-cultural and
cross-religious ritual. In Africa and The Middle East, it is performed by
Muslims, Coptics Christians, members of various indigenous groups, Protestants
and Catholics. However, Muslims try to justify continuing the habit by relating
it to "Sunnah"; That is, following the steps and customs of the Prophet "
Mohammed". It is argued that The Sunnah version of circumcision (where the
foreskin protecting the clitoris is removed) is the recommended one by the
Prophet. It is supposedly confirmed that "Mohammed said: "Circumcision is a
sunnah for the men and a makrumah for the women."(Abu-Salih, 6). The term
makruma is far from clear but we can translate it into an honorable deed. So,
both Sunnies and Shiites follow this tradition as the latter say that Imam Al-
Sadiq also stated that it is a makruma, and is there anything better than a
makrumah?(Abu-Salih, 6). On the other hand, attackers argue that the practice is
not a religious one in any way. It was never mentioned in the Quran or the
Bible; moreover, it is not an act of God, "God does not mutilate."(Abu-Salih, 7).
Says Doctor Nawal El-Saadawi: "If religion comes from God, how can it order man
to cut off an organ created by him as long as that organ is not deformed? God
does not create the organs of the body haphazardly without a plan. It is not
possible that He should have created the clitoris in a woman's body only in
order that it be cut off at an early stage in life."(Abu-Salih, 7).

Nowadays, circumcision is under a huge debate to whether accept it or ban it. In
Western countries Female Genital Mutilation is regarded as a form of child
abuse.(J. A. Black, 3). In African and Middle Eastern countries, on the other
hand, it is seen as a protection for the child. One African American woman,
however, says that "it has nothing to do with religion, and it damages women's
health and socio-economic life."(Mansavage, 1). This woman continues to remember
the pain she suffered during her excision; she even remembers the sound of her
flesh being cut, bleeding and being sick for weeks. She considers circumcision
an act of child abuse. However, when broadly discussed, circumcision differed
from other forms of child abuse in that it is done with the best intentions for
the future welfare of the child, there is no possibility of its repetition
during childhood, and it is approved by sections of the communities in which it
is practiced.(JA Black, 3). "Harm that is done to women is seen as personal,
private or cultural matter. Genital Mutilation has not been seen as a type of
harm."(Cole & Snell, 1). The problem with those people who are with circumcision
for females is that the belief and traditions of the ancestors is deeply
grounded in them. Whether there is a strong reason for continuing the practice
or not, an African woman who comes from a community where all females are
unquestionably mutilated, will always approve of it for her children, because
simply she doesn't perceive of them being uncircumcised. The psychological
routings of such a custom are very effective and are not subject to any kind of
persuasion of the opposite. Most African and Middle Eastern people now only know
that girls should be mutilated, but exactly why this should be the case isn't
even discussed. Walker sees it as a "heinous form of patriarchal oppression,
characterized by 'the feeling of being overpowered and thoroughly dominated by
those you are duty bound to respect.'"(Cole & Snell, 1).

Efforts are being made to try and make people of those countries understand the
disastrous effects of mutilation on women and their children in the future. The
problem is that you create a social problem within those communities because you
make their women stand up for their rights as being abused. One organization for
Human rights stated: "Until now you could burn, torture, or mutilate a woman,
and it was never counted. We finally made them see that abuse of women is a
human-rights issue, not a cultural issue."(Cole & Snell, 2). However, some
organizations went the wrong way dealing with the issue. The Colorado Democrat
favors economic sanctions against countries that undergo female mutilation. But
this idea was opposed by many people, including African born doctors living in
the States, claiming that economic sanctioning is not the right way to deal with
such a subject. Says Dr. Asha Mohammed: "The practice is not being done
intentionally to harm anyone. Mothers do it in good faith for their children. If
you cut funding to theses countries, you are hurting the people you want to
protect."(Cole & Snell, 2). The problem is that people usually do not conform
under threatening or dictation, especially on such a subject. This problem
should be dealt with smoothly, it is not going to stop overnight. Recently,
programs are being made to educate village women of Africa and the Middle East
in an effort to make them grasp the idea very well and assess and compare
between the harms and benefits, if any, of circumcision. Programs are done in
such a way to convey the message in the least offending, but yet the most
effective, possible manner. Chosen women of the native tribes and villages are
educated abroad and persuaded to return back home and start teaching and
convincing the women of those villages and tribes of the long term psychological,
mental and health problems. Although, some of those missions returned successful
results, some other were a complete failure. While some people could have a more
subtle grasp of the subject when they learn about it in an academic way, some
others are just resistible and would not conform easy. Perhaps, overcoming the
problem would need a little bit of psychological training as well as scientific

Finally, I would like to present a debate conversation on the issue to clarify
that it doesn't just take scientific education to refuse the female circumcision
practice. In an article by George Geib (on the internet), he posted a picture of
a young girl and wrote the following: "Take a good look at the girl in the above
picture and tell me if you think she would be better off later in her life
'circumcised.' If your answer is 'yes,' you are just another sicky like those
found in the understandably screwed up countries of northern and western Africa.
And if you come to the west and do this, they'll throw your ass in jail
(hopefully) forever." In defense for such an offensive article came out an
article from an Arabic Doctor, who refused to reveal his identity, saying that
of course he approved of that girl being circumcised. And here are some of the
things that he wrote where the girl gains from being circumcised: "* It raises
her status in her community, both because of the added purity that circumcision
brings and the bravery that initiates are called upon to show. * It confers
maturity and inculates positive character traits, including the ability to
endure pain and a submissive nature. * The circumcision ritual is an enjoyable
one, in which the girl is the center of attention and receives presents and
moral instructions from her elders. * All impure tissue is removed and the girl
is sewn up until her wedding night." This is how significant the psychological
part of it is. No matter how much descent education people get, if they have
routed traditions they will always find ways to approve of them even if they are
clear disasters.


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