Female Genital Mutilation: A Mythical Ritual

Even after understanding why a society mandates certain cultural practices, there are certain acts, like female genital mutilation, that should still be highly protested against. Female genital mutilation is the removal of all external female genitalia, for non-medical purposes. In other words, the outer vagina is cut completely and stitched up, leaving a small hole for urination. This procedure is usually done without anesthesia, where the girl is held down and blindfolded, conforming to her family and neighborhood’s expectation. After the procedure, she will bleed and stay on bed rest for up to fifteen days, believed by all that she is now come to womanhood. Once impregnated, for the purpose of childbirth, the vagina is cut open for delivery, then sewn back together after. Some villages complete this procedure during infancy, not giving the girl an option to her fate, others before menstruation, and some once menstruation occurs. As horrific as this act sounds, it is crucial to understand why it is still being practiced before imposing any type of theology onto a culture where this is still being practiced. First, it is imperative to understand that it is not only small villages that are still practicing female genital mutilation, but the greater part of north Africa as well as some parts of the Middle East, with millions being effected every year, and that those who still complete the unsterile operation believe it is a part of their religion. In Islam, it requires that men be circumcised; however society in some areas has transformed this so that female genital mutilation is seen as a circumcision for females. Not to be mistaken with Islamic scripture, the Quran does not state anything about the necessity for female genital mutilation. Myths have been spread generation to generation for the sake of acceptance and continuance of the mutilation; for example, one myth states that if a women is not cut, her clitoris will grow so long it will hurt the baby during childbirth, while other myths claim that if a women is not cut, then her body will not fill out properly, remaining childlike for the rest of her life. These are all believed as to dilute the act when in fact, due to some women dying from blood loss, many of the countries where female genital mutilation is still occurring in have made the act unlawful. The cutting is usually administered through an extensive ceremony, possibly the only one the girl will be recognized for. Family members gather and celebrate while the surgery is performed, without anesthesia, usually with nothing more then a razor or kitchen knife. In some cultures the girl is not even able to squirm or scream, or else she will be branded a coward, adding humiliation to her anguish.

So why is female genital mutilation still being practiced? Even more so, why is it that women and mothers are imposing this onto their daughters, continuing the cycle of disfiguration? It comes down to what generations have classified as tradition. This tradition may vary from city to city, each conforming to there own set of standards. Those women, who choose not to partake in the mutilation for themselves or daughters, risk being discriminated or even seen as an outsider by the rest of the village members. They will watch her constantly, afraid that she will go off with one of the other men, and if she does so, they will all claim that it is purely because she was not circumcised. Primarily, this is because women who have undergone the mutilation procedure no longer experience any sexual pleasure, and thus as a conclusion the myth is created that those women who are not cut must be promiscuous prostitutes or whores, sleeping with multiple men in the village. Due to the ideology of men feeling the need to have some way of controlling their wives, female genital mutilation is not only accepted, but also encouraged, even though it is not religious. No matter what the religion states, if a women undergoes the mutilation, it will insure her future husband that she has not slept around, and that she will not have the desire to ever cheat on him in the future, making sure that all of his children are his own. Chandra Mohanty writes in Under Western Eyes, that claims of third world women do not fit into western feminism is evident because their cultural surroundings vary so vastly. While millions of women undergo such procedures as described above, it is not something that women in the United States may relate to, and thus there cannot be one umbrella of feminism that accounts for all women. Mohanty goes further to deconstruct the belief of some feminists who claim that female genital mutilation is completed purely for the reason of dissatisfaction of women, and the creation of dependency on men, but that there are also other factors for this cultural practice that need to be understood.

The concept of women as technology is constantly portrayed in this culture, with the use of women’s bodies as having a function of reproduction and that’s it; there is no more value in the community other than this. This same concept is exemplified clearly in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, where the women hold no identity, other then mechanisms of reproduction. In what is very possibly a SyFy future of our current environment, women are hired to be used as tools to bear children, living in shame and oppression against the rest of society, even forced to limit their wardrobe to the color red, so that they may be spotted by everyone for who they are. In cases of female genital mutilation, girls who are not cut are segregated much in the same way as the women in The Handmaid’s Tale.  Through the removal of any freedom women can have, they are used merely as an empty vessel, for the function of fertility and reproduction. This eerie connection ties together a hypothetical science fiction novel to our society in a very real way that is quite terrifying.

Without a doubt the families who are continuing female genital mutilation onto their daughters are not doing so maliciously, but in fact are trying to protect their daughters from their prospects of being married. Recently there has been a shift with few percentage of men, who claim that they do not enjoy sexual encounters with women who have undergone the procedure, claiming that there is no real emotion there as there is no pleasure for the woman. Mohanty recognizes this culture shift and clarifies that it is of importance that these women do not get put into the category of “victim,” and that by doing so actually cripples them. When third world Middle Eastern women are viewed as victims, they are considered incapable of depending on themselves, and this is where male dominance steps in; in essence they are bound by their circumstances at that point. Instead, feminism needs to allow for differences between cultures, and that there is no theory that encompasses all women. Overall the grouping of these philosophies is wrong, not only creating a dependency on men, but also creating a theory that claims to represent all women, leading to high inaccuracy through the placement of social binaries. Nonetheless it is proven that once the people of an inflicted area are educated of the risks and why female genital mutilation is still operated, the percentage of procedures significantly drops. In the end it does not matter where women live along northern Africa and parts of the Middle East, without proper knowledge on this topic, the number of casualties will only continue to rise.

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Unveiling the Truth

It is easy to judge another culture when comparing it to ones own, however before concluding on any assessment, it is important to understand how that society was formulated. A standard prejudice that is still very relevant today with regards to the way Islam treats women, not prioritizing their place in society by imposing the veil attire. First I would like to state that there is a huge distinction between what the Islamic religion actually says, and what is practiced in cultures. For example, lets focus on Muslim women who wear the veil over their hair or heads. In Islam, this is one of the principals, stating that Muslims should dress modestly, including the covering women’s heads as something mandatory. However as seen in many other religions, no one can imitate a deity or what a religion says exactly, as it is in the nature of humans to sin according to a vast number of religions. Ultimately, based on this ideology, it is in the preference of the person what they choose to follow, and how they choose to worship. So, putting aside radical countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan who have mandated the wearing of the veil, why do the rest of the women in the Middle East choose to wear it? Chandra Mohanty in Under Western Eyes, criticizes western feminism, and how it assumes that the wearing of the veil is a way to sexually segregate men and women, and by extension the superiority of men over women in the Middle East based on Islamic terms. This is often confused with Purdah, which is the separation of men and women in Islam. Purdah does not call for one sexes superiority over another, but in fact just recognizes some differences between sexes, as many other religions who instruct the believer on how to live their lives does. Nevertheless, these differences in Islam are not meant to cause prejudice between the two sexes, but are placed for functional purposes.  Mohanty’s claims extends this to allegate that too often Purdah is grouped with female genital mutilation, rape, forced prostitution, pornography, and domestic violence in western feminism, resulting to the incorporation of Islam as being pro-misogynistic and non-existent without these factors. On the contrary it is society who has placed these factors into the culture, not the religion. Mohanty criticized this through the claim that by grouping them together, one does not exist without the other, leading to an inaccurate depiction of Islam from a western feminist perspective. Her critic continues into stating that western feminism cannot claim to represent all women, and that the terms of each city varies. Supporting this further, Mohanty gives specific examples of how women in Iran participated during protests wearing the veil, before it was even mandatory by the government. Since women who are clear educated activists chose to wear the veil, without pressure from outside sources, the veil holds more meaning to the women then the stereotypical entrapment caused by men’s superiority according to religious beliefs.  Thus, women who choose to wear the veil are not doing so to segregate themselves, or for unfair treatment leading to male dominance, but purely for their own verification of faith.

Because my mother wears the veil, I have personally been a witness to the reaction people seem to have with women who wear the veil in the west, even in our current society. She is the only one in my family who does, so it is safe to say this was purely her decision, not influenced by society (as she migrated to the United States shortly after wearing it) or her family. Even among other Muslim women in the west, the dressing of the veil is not popular. When confronted and asked why she “oppresses” herself and wears the veil in a country that does not request this of her, my mother always responds by saying that no man will judge her by the way she looks, but will judge her purely on the content of her character or knowledge. Another argument made by women wearing the veil, is that by wearing the veil, women are not forced to conform to what society expects them to wear, but that they are actually free to express themselves in whatever way they wish to under the veil without judgment. This argument is often made for all women in the Middle East who choose to wear the veil, arguing that it is in fact a way to receive equality with men, versus the highly sexualized perception of women in the West. They view their bodies as a temple, not one to be displayed for pleasure purposes for men.

Similarly so, images and characters in the film Blade Runner especially personified the way women are depicted today. The world we see in this film is purely run by men, and with only one exception, (the Asian woman in the market) we only encounter women as machines. From the beginning, the first woman we come across is Rachael, who is being scrutinized by none other than a man, making sure that the humans are still able to control the machines, or in real meaning, women’s emotions. Her role is purely to subject herself compliantly to men, as Rick is seen in an ambiguous scene abusing the compliant Rachael. Here, this can easily represent the force of male dominance over women to humanize them, assuming that Rick knows whats best for Rachael. In the end the other two women are killed, and Rachael is spared because she was submissive to a man, rewarded with romantic bliss. Although the women we encounter are machines, they are still fabricated to possess all stereotypical feminine qualities. For example there is Zhora, who is a pleasure machine, and is created for the purpose of prostitution. Zhora’s main purpose is the mechanical, systematic pleasuring of men, conforming to the standards society has set outside the film. Even Pris, who is supposed to be a powerfully intelligent female machine, purposely deceives her maker, posing as a helpless girl hiding in a garbage can so that he may trust her, before she ultimately leads to his demise. Continuously the interpretation of women as a tool in Blade Runner, makes up little of the overall story instead of comprising it with the same importance or intellectual knowledge as men. In this case, women are used as a form of optimal standard label. The genius of leaving scenes and characters ambiguous allows for the film to either be scene as the rise of technology, or women, as a positive or negative aspect depending on the viewer.  With standardization inside both western feminism and the media, there is a clear effect distinguished in today’s society. Ending the film with a monologue by Roy, the purpose that relates back to Mohanty, referring to the idea that knowledge acquired throughout a lifetime should not be all for nothing, it should hold something for the future generation to learn and evolve from, otherwise what’s the point?

Connecting It All Together

Throughout this quarter there have been many themes to choose from when deciding on our final projects. The subject that most interested me was the article on Mohanty. No doubt this article was not easy to read or fully understand, so I feel that there could be many different interpretations taken out of it. Many of the arguments Mohanty makes are still very relevant today, particularly when she discusses Middle Eastern women in relation to wearing the veil and female mutilation. In addition to relating Mohanty’s strong points to today’s society, there are very strong relations I will connect to the course we have gone through. For example I will refer back to The Handmaid’s Tale with respect to reproduction and Mohanty’s points on female mutilation, or The Bohr Maker and the cyborg in connection to the veil some Middle Eastern women choose to wear. These will be written in two separate blog posts, hopefully with affiliation to issues still occurring in today’s society.

A Cynic’s Perspective in a Mans World

I admit I experienced some difficulty when picking a path to reading the letters in Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters. Our society has bred us all on the pretense that we are all individuals, so putting a label on ourselves is discouraging, hence why I found myself choosing the “Cynic” path. The letter that stood out to me most was Letter Eleven, which really set the tone for the rest of the novel as well as connected very well to Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. Men, as seen in the way they both felt like outsiders wherever they went, premeditated Teresa and Alicia’s lives. The passage that particularly relates to this is in Letter Eleven when Teresa writes, “We weren’t free of societies tenets to be convinced we could exist indefinitely without the demands and complications one aggregated with the supreme commitment to a man” (45). In many places in the novel I felt foreign and alienated because I did not understand the contradictions, in some ways Alicia and Teresa were traveling in a way that was free of societies norms, and what I soon learned was that this was primarily due to that fact that nothing is concrete and their circumstances change constantly. Anzaldua references this directly as well when she specifies the differences between the old and new worlds. In the old world, men were seen as those who had the role of contributing knowledge to society, and women as obediently following whatever they decided. Through progression, mentalities have changed, while some men have continued to believe that a women’s place is without debate and that they were there for sexual purposes for a man. In both worlds, the bonds of sisterhood are tested whenever a man interferes and takes the place of the close bond of that friend. In the end the only thing that is certain is the connection between the girls, and not their relationships with men. The end, although the conflict has subdued with the ladies abusive relationships, comes at what cost? Needless to say Castillo succeeded in turning my perspective into a pure cynic with regards to the misogynistic role some men play in women’s lives.

Crossroads of Love

“When Lee saw her unexpected serenity, he wondered if she had forgotten the night entirely or had subjected it to the force of her imagination and turned it to her own benefit so she could go on. All might continue as it had done before or shift so imperceptibly from bad to worse he might barely notice it” (102).

Towards the end of the book, Lee and Annabel’s relationship turns to violence climaxing with the night of the rape. The next day the couple is at a crossroads and Annabel makes the decision to commit suicide. That is why when Lee enters the apartment he finds that she is completely content, because in Annabel’s mind, she has found a solution to her misery. In the larger narrative, this is only one step further then their destructive marriage; for they can easily not address any of their issues and move on or they can try to find a solution for their ever occurring problem.

In my observation, the tone here leaves the reader walking on an eggshell, with reference to an already bad relationship becoming worse. It seems that their relationship is already broken, but that the couple must make a decision about where they wish to take their marriage, and in essence themselves, next. To cope, Annabel often turns situations into imagery instead of addressing them for what they are. This happened when she saw Lee cheating on her, changing the image into a sun and moon embrace, and is happening again here by determining on ending her life on if Lee should return back home by a certain time. This in itself causes turmoil for the reader as to the doubtful solution to their unhappiness.

This passage was especially interesting to me because I believe it applies to so many situations. Nothing is ever black and white, and finding a resolution is never as one would assume. Feminism is purely the search for the equality in sexes, and the way that it is achieved is never perfect. Here especially in the characters of Annabel and Lee, we see the emphasis on the way that Carter highlights that people are just people, there is no right way for every standardized issues that each gender should have a role in happening in everyday life.

Marriage & Society

I admit, I have even been tempted to make a pact with a friend that should neither of us be married by 35, we’ll marry each other by default. It is no secret that it is in the nature of humans to seek companionship; however how far does basic human nature go before society becomes a factor of influence? This week we have addressed many of the stereotypes found in feminism and marriage. We see the ever-controversial Mary Wollstonecraft, who believed in feminism rights but was limited by her means. She still believed that it is inevitable for women to rely on men due to their physical constraints, which held true to her everyday life. Even though Wollstonecraft lived alone, her next-door neighbor was her child’s father, who she relied on for many resources. Similarly so, Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room Of Ones Own the power of shame into pressuring marriage, with the case of someone like Shakespeare’s sister. This turns marriage into a duty and obligation for a woman in the family, and to not follow this responsibility would cause shame on the family. With the assumption that history does matter, and our current society was bred out of these accords, how true is this today? The symbolism of receiving rewards for marriage or a proposal is still very alive today. For example, Mothers hand down presents, like jewels, passed down from generation to generation as a gift for not shaming the family and making the commitment to marriage. In fact this responsibility that women are upheld to is still relevant; although we have come far from Jane Austen’s time, where it was disgraceful for women to live alone or out of wedlock, our society needs to recognize the effects of where the drive of marriage is derived from and that it is still significant today, before marriage can become a full on companionship, not a submission. 

The Evolution of Feminism

My research interests lie within the lives of the women we study. I not only want to find out their theories on feminism but also how they lived and why they believed what they did. It will be especially fascinating to view how this has evolved over time. By comparing and contrasting these points of views I hope to receive a better understanding of cultural stereotypes and the different regions they apply to. Particularly I am especially curious to view the films assigned. Using the films, I hope to pursue in making a connection between the statements acted and the readings. Overall I hope this class will better engage my knowledge in breaking the stereotypes of feminism and critically analyze how they are still relevant in popular culture today.