Welcome to the opening of my new blog, “Dispatches From the War on Circumcision.” There are so many issues that I would like to address and I will do my best to publish on a regular basis.
Friday, February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). There is a lot of positive momentum in the UK and around the world for education and prosecuting those who practice or aid FGM. This is a day for us to learn more about FGM, to listen to the victims and to learn how FGM is being eradicated. Many of us know very little about it and have never even met victims of FGM.
Unfortunately, there’s also a great deal of sexism within the discourses on FGM, especially coming from cultures practicing male genital mutilation (MGM). Great care is taken to state that MGM and FGM aren’t comparable, while intersex genital mutilation (IGM) is virtually ignored. MGM has recognized health benefits, FGM does not, they point out. MGM is a religious requirement, FGM is a cultural practice. And so on.
How do we handle this situation? First, I think we must build allies.
I had the great fortune of being able to attend my first Genital Autonomy Symposium this year in Boulder, Colorado. Among the many speakers, Soraya Mire stood out as a kind and loving person and emphasized that “it’s the same pain even though [one] is FGM and [one] is male circumcision.”
Many women’s organizations recognize MGM for what it is and speak out. On December 12, 2012, I attended my first Bloodstained Men & Their Friends demonstration in Berlin, Germany, the day the German Parliament passed a new law enshrining MGM as a religious right. The event was co-organized by Terre Des Femme, a women’s rights organization. I can’t express how comforted I felt getting up there on stage in a bloodstained suit with a group that included a woman.
When space is created for talking about FGM, we need to respect the intentionality of that space. When that space is used to defend MGM or IGM, we must raise our voices as appropriately as possible. We have been accused of minimizing FGM by comparing it to MGM and taking resources away from FGM, as if we’re all in competition. Whether or not these allegations are true, people perceive these as being true (on the whole I think they’re false, but I can’t speak for everyone).
If I were to attend a women’s event and if I were to ask the first question during a Q&A and point out the sexism during the discourse about FGM, the speakers or organizers would probably feel attacked and would also feel as if their event is being derailed. We need to be respectful of the spaces we inhabit and their rules, whether written or unwritten. Perhaps I would simply wear a t-shirt to an event and chat with people afterward if I didn’t feel comfortable raising my voice. I support being tactful as possible, that’s my preferred style, but sometimes we do need to yell to have our voices heard.
We need to build allies and work together instead of pushing people away, and it’s a difficult thing to do when combating genital mutilation. Whether we’re right or not won’t change how people react to what they perceive as us taking up too much space.
February 6 is an opportunity to raise our voices to demand protection for all – females, males and intersex. Whether we do it online or in person, we must be conscious of the space we take up and tactfully raise our criticisms to build allies.
“Dispatches From the War on Circumcision” analyzes important developments, tactics and strategies relevant to the intactivist movement.