Not too long ago I was browsing through my library at home, until I came upon this book called “Slave” that I’d bought about a year ago, at a book fair. I have this bad habit of buying books – many books – and then not having enough time to read them as I get busy with my work, art, or my studies. However, I’ve had a very chilled summer this year, so I decided to catch up with as many readings as I possibly could, and “Slave” was one of the books that I managed to read. And I have to say that this amazing book not only captivated my mind, but it also clenched my heart.
It is a true story about Mende – a Sudanese girl from the Nuba Mountains – who gets abducted by Arab Mujahidin and then sold to wealthy traders as a slave. And as I continued to read her painful story, I was more than horrified at the gruesome details of this young girl’s life. What flummoxed me the most was the description of when she was circumcised – at only 12 years of age! The pain, the agony, the inhumanity! It sickens me to the core of my being to know that female circumcision is still a prized custom in many parts of the world. And to think that these women, who practise this despicable act upon their own daughters, actually believe that it’s a good thing to be circumcised. And Mende’s mother was more than convinced, it seems.
“It will make you more healthy, it will make you clean. And it will keep you a virgin,” my mother kept repeating. (P. 77.)
It appears that female circumcision – a more formal term is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – is considered by its practitioners to be an essential part of raising a girl properly. These circumcised girls are regarded as having been cleansed by the removal of “male” body parts and hence ensures pre-marital virginity, as well as inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces a woman’s desire to have or want sex. Most of these women become so psychologically traumatized by the pain that the fear of re-opening the vagina (through the act of intercourse) is something that is the very last thing on their minds.
I, however, truly fail to understand this whole sordid obsession with virginity. In the book, Mende’s mother is more concerned about the fact that her daughter will be seen as a virgin when she gets married (because, if she wasn’t circumcised, then her future husband would be doubtful, or that no man will marry her otherwise), rather than the fact that a huge chunk of her flesh is being cut! And I highly doubt that the pain and turmoil these girls go through is exaggerated. I can’t even begin to fathom the agony of the whole experience. They pretty much cut off everything, save for a very tiny opening that they can urinate from. That’s just incredibly inhumane. Who are these people to make decisions for women like that? I guess, at the end of the day, it all boils down to making the men happy. The girls will have to change everything that is natural about them, so that it won’t lure/excite men. The irony is that, vaginal circumcision gives these men much more pleasure during intercourse. It’s so ridiculously ironic that it makes me sick to my stomach.
Nevertheless, what’s even more disturbing is the fact that women who practice this despicable act upon other women, actually believe, and are convinced, that it “empowers” them. Hence, if a change were to ever come about (to get rid of FGM), it would be the most difficult to convince the women to give up this practice, than it would be the men. This is because there appears to be a strong maternal link to being circumcised. And if a woman is not circumcised, she is then seen as unwomanly; even if she has children, she will never be called or seen as a “mother.”
According to Amnesty International, in some societies women who have not had the procedure done are regarded as too unclean to even handle food and water! And there is a belief that if a woman is not circumcised than her genitals might continue to grow until they dangle between her legs (like a man’s penis). Some groups see the clitoris as dangerous – dangerous to actually kill a man if his penis touches it! Or a baby if the head comes into contact with it during birth.
And it’s not just these societies where the woman’s clitoris was (and still is) seen as some kind of uncanny “monster.” If we go back in US history, say the 19th century, the practice of the removal of the clitoris was quite prevalent for it was believed to “cure” insanity, masturbation, and nymphomania. But we don’t see clitoridectomy practiced in the US anymore. They’ve come a very long way since then; through education and awareness. I am sure they must have felt extremely foolish to realize that a female’s clitoris is not “dangerous” as they’d originally thought it was.
Further, a friend of mine once mentioned to me how she will never understand why anyone has to mutilate themselves in order to please the other gender; however, what she has to understand is that it has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to self-mutilate in order to please the other gender per se, but more so that these women have no choice in this matter. Yes, it’s horrible that women perform these horrific practices upon each other; yet, they don’t know any better as they have been conditioned since birth to think and behave a certain way, which, of course, is to please their men and make sure they comply with whatever they tell them to do.
Though, mind my reader, Mende (before abduction) was treated like a princess in her village. Her parents spoiled her rotten. She was loved and nurtured, and her father was also wonderful enough to allow her to attend school and fulfill her desire to become a doctor. So, it’s not like she was treated poorly, or was oppressed/subjugated for that matter. But then, at the same time, she gets circumcised as soon as she turns 12. At some point, her father panics when he hears her screaming during the circumcision, cradles her in his arms, and even cries with her; all the while telling her that it will be okay, that she will be okay. It’s so strange and boggling, really. It almost seems like they do it because they have to. They don’t realize that they can put an end to this once and for all. For, not only is it utterly inhumane, but it goes against everything that is natural. No child or woman should ever have to go through so much agony, just for the sake of their backward traditions.
Anyway, just wanted to share some of my thoughts on this matter. I will definitely build up on this issue in future posts, as the oppression/subjugation of women in any form/style is part of my ongoing research.
Oh, and here’s a clip of Mende Nazer, giving an interview about living her life as an abducted slave (and her wonderful courage to escape that horrific life to come to the UK):