FabAfriq Magazine

Circumcision - Pleasure vs. De-personification

Africa is home to a people of varied cultures, traditions and religions. I am a Muslim, reflecting on a topic that has for centuries courted controversy and caused pain, heartbreak and hate; Female genital mutilation.

Also called Pharaonic circumcision, Janice Boddy defines it as “a practice of cutting away the clitoris and labia minora and sewing up most of the genital opening in an operation called infibulations” (477). The purpose of this process is for purifying and hygiene.

A second type of circumcision, the Sunna or traditional circumcision where only the head of the clitoris is removed as opposed to the entire organ is thought to be healthier and less painful. However, it is opposed to by many of the Hofriyati people because they believe it does not purify enough.

In many households this procedure is seen as a means of gender identification, directly linked to the roles men and women play; a process which transforms girls into women and boys into men. Until both sexes are circumcised, they can play together and the boys could sleep with their mother or sisters on the same bed. Circumcision must be performed on both sexes between the ages of five and ten, after which they are now thought of as a fully male or female, able to follow Allah’s ways. The women are then appropriated to domestic tasks (Boddy called this ‘symbols of the homeland’) while the men are put to work in the public domain, doing outside work such as working in the farms. At gatherings of any sort, the men arrive via the front entrance while the women go through the back.

My late childhood was spent in Harar, a village in Ethiopia. Here, everyone was circumcised before they reached the age of ten. I was nine years old when I arrived at the village and the assumption by everyone was that because of my age, I was circumcised. It wasn’t until three or four years had gone by that I was found to be indeed, uncircumcised.

I was considered unclean and put under immense peer pressured to undergo the procedure. My mother, although Muslim, was not orthodox and was reluctant to let me suffer a fate she felt was unnecessary. She was very much against the procedure, aware it would affect me sexually in later life (she felt, however, that she could not explain this to me as I was too young to understand) but in the end, bowed to the pressure to conform and called the midwife.

In a final bid to save me some distress, she asks the midwife to perform the Sunna only. I remember feeling regret tinged with happiness. Regret for the pain of having gone through the procedure and happiness that I was spared the pharaonic circumcision. Mother became a pariah as the whole neighbourhood looked at her with disgust. By directing the midwife to perform the Sunna only, she had failed to confirm to the dictates of the religion.

Non-Muslims and indeed some Muslims find the idea of Pharaonic circumcision an odd one but if one’s heritage is circumcision, they can understand and accept even if they do not agree with it. To me, the issue doesn’t lie in whether or not children are made to suffer circumcision and the effects on their sex lives later on. The real question is; why is there a distinct lack of uproar by men?

For men, there is little or no difference.  Circumcision only rids them of surplus skin, leaving their nerves in tact. They are able to experience the pleasure of sex normally, irrespective. For women, sexual responses vary. Women who undergo the Sunna often report a distinct lack of interest in sexual activity and when they do it often ends in disappointment as they fail to climax. Those who are unlucky enough to have been subjected to the Pharaonic circumcision, feel absolutely nothing but pain every time they have sex. They are nothing more than objects for their husbands’ pleasure and an organ to grow babies. This is the real reason for Pharaonic circumcision. It provides men with a tool, by removing any sense of worth or pleasure.

In the western world, not many people are aware of female circumcision. I would never allow my child to undergo any sort of circumcision but I wonder why male circumcision, when practiced, is considered the norm and hygienic. Perhaps the reason there’s no uproar about male circumcision is because men are in no way harmed by a process which seems to elevate their status while de-personifying a gender they already consider inferior in many ways.


This article is shared with FabAriq Magazine by Elonn Magazine.

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