I clicked on a link from Pruncie and it led me to these stories. By the time I finished reading, I was crying, but I was also thinking. I was thinking about a discussion I had a few weeks back while sitting with a client on a beautiful beach.
What. We were working.
Anyway, we were looking at the ocean and a boat appeared. The client started talking about how evocative that sail was. Just by looking at that faded white triangle, he thought about explorers, conquistadors, Christopher Columbus, pirates, lost islands. That’s a lot of ideas to spring from a dirty piece of cloth.
For me, the sail made me think of this replica dhow I saw in a museum in Zanzibar. I remember looking at the flimsy historical thing and thinking, ‘You could pay me a million dollars and I wouldn’t get into that thing. Not even to sail inside a bathtub.’
Yet people used those ‘flimsy things’ to sail across oceans and travel halfway across the world. And they didn’t even get paid for it … except maybe by ngingi with the locals. They must have been nuts.
The discussion drifted to whether the sailors think sunsets are romantic, or whether their main concern is, ‘Oooh fish!’ Perhaps their idea of romance is taking said fish home to their wives, who gladly make love to them despite the smell. I wondered whether these sailors ever stand in the boat and ‘fill their lungs with salty sea air while gazing at the vastness of beauteous nature,’ like the fishermen in my stories.
Maybe that’s why one editor called my characters unrealistic – my stories are full of philosophical soldiers and deeply thinking fishermen. The editor felt I was using these characters as puppets and imposing my ideas on them, forcing my words into their mouths.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s not what activists are doing.
The first story in the magazine talks about FGM among the Somali. They mostly practise Type 3 Mutilation, where a girl’s clitoris and her inner lips are cut off, and the outer lips are sliced and/or stitched together. With time, the skin fuses and the ‘hole’ pretty much disappears.
On the wedding night, the groom has to forcefully penetrate the fused area as a test of his manhood. The women scream from the pain, and the men sometimes yell from the effort. In the process, the guys get injured too, but they have to keep going. Otherwise, they’re taken as boys, not real men.
To help this process along, the newlyweds are put in a house far from everyone else. The ‘privacy’ of their honeymoon protects their family from the awful noise. Then men in this article are good ones, because they question the process. They say that many men quietly divorce their wives when:
- they can’t penetrate
- they can’t have regular sex since each session hurts the wife too much
The point of this ritual is to keep the women chaste. And it works, because after FGM, sex hurts so much that they have no desire to do it unless forced. By their husbands. If they refuse too often, they get divorced, yet, ironically, if they’re not stitched up to begin with, no one will marry them.
Another story in the magazine talks about Maasai girls. Usually, their clitoris [and part of the hood] is cut off, but they escape the part of being stitched up. The girls interviewed for this story insist that they were cut voluntarily and healed well. They were tired of being teased by their agemates, and they believed that unless they were cut, they could not be married.
For girls like these, it’s not their bodies that are mutilated – it’s their minds. Funnily enough, many of the voluntarily cut girls insisted they would not have their daughters cut, even as they admitted that they have to be cut in order to have daughters.
Many of these girls don’t realise that they may be forced to do just that. One mother says that she protected her daughter until the girl herself insisted on being cut. The mother had been threatened with expulsion, and the girl couldn’t bear the verbal abuse from her agemates. She begged her mother to let her get cut.
According to the article, the origin of circumcision comes from Maasai folklore. A girl named Naipei allegedly slept with an enemy and was punished by circumcision – to protect her from her own libido. The whole idea is to keep a girl chaste by making her hate sex. It’s no different from the old English Aunts who told their nieces, ‘Sex is for babies only. It’s painful hateful, and dirty’. Only, these myths were not physically reinforced.
Why do I doubt the validity of fighting this thing? Girls bleed to death. They’re in agony during sex, menstruation and childbirth. They catch infections and incurable diseases. And after all that, they still get divorced for not providing conjugal rights.
But these same women are praised for their bravery. Men in those communities will not marry uncut girls, and honour the ones that bear the pain.
I realise it’s more about ownership. You see the pain of your woman every time you’re inside her, so you know she won’t risk it anywhere else. ‘Traditional’ women are not meant to enjoy sex, that’s why us ‘modern’ ones are labelled for daring to say we like it. Some guys want to tame us by taking out the fun.
But the girls in these communities feel degraded when they’re uncut. They can’t find husbands, and they’re not taught to value independence. In their minds, you’re someone’s daughter or someone’s wife, no matter how many years you’ve been in school. They’re taught that if you’re not one or the other, you’re useless.
So are we helping them by telling them things they don’t [or can’t … or won’t] understand? When they see us progressive women with out cars and high heels and degrees, our achievements and our confidence, they still ask, ‘Where is your husband?’ And when they don’t see a ring, they think you’re worth less then a pregnant termite. All our glory is worth nothing to them.
One part of me says that these grown women are like children and that we need to educate them, to free them from their ignorance. Just like the western powers did when they brought us Jesus, Mary … and cotton fabric…
Not the same thing, right? I’m being sacrilegious just by comparing them, right?
But when we’re looking at the girl who’s wailing, pleading with her mother to let her be cut, to risk bleeding to death because she believes that being dead is better than living with the shame of being uncircumsised … and we’re lecturing her about the value of believing in herself, aren’t we just pulling the marionette strings on philosophical fishermen? We can’t get inside her head, we can’t experience her pain or shame, but how bad must it be that she’s willing to risk torture and death?
We do hear stories of girls who want out, girls who run away to escape, but it’s strange that those stories are a minority. Most girls seem content to survive the operation, get married, and have sex when they must. They think it’s okay. They think it’s normal. For them, it’s our activism that is strange.
I realised this in a new way when talking to a fellow writer that I deeply respect. He had just watched a video on male circumcision, and he was traumatised.
I laughed at him. For a long, long time.
I’m so used to it, it doesn’t seem like mutilation when it’s guys. But hearing his horror as he described the skin being pulled loose and hacked off with a big knife [fwap!!], I can see how it would look to him.
Just like it’s normal for us to think of guys being snipped, the ladies from those communities think it’s normally to be chopped. I’m not saying it’s right, or even sane. I wouldn’t do it, and I’d kill anyone who put my daughter through it. But is it possible that maybe … just maybe we need to see it from their point of view?
♫ Bed of lies ♫ Matchbox 20 ♫