I said in my last post that I hate simplistic comparisons between female genital cutting and male circumcision. When carefully and well-informedly made, I think that a comparison along some axes can have some use.
This is the best comparison of the two procedures that I feel I’ve seen. You can find it here: http://www.fgmnetwork.org/intro/mgmfgm.html
It’s a table credited to Hanny Lightfoot-Klein that compares the procedures by picking up quotes from practitioners (some of the quotes may be fabricated, but as far as I can tell accurately reflect real attitudes).
For instance, the last two sets of quotes are:
Sudanese grandmother: “In some countries they only cut out the clitoris, but here we do it properly. We scrape our girls clean. If it is properly done, nothing is left, other than a scar. Everything has to be cut away.”
My own father, a physician, speaking of ritual circumcision inflicted upon my son: “It is a good thing that I was here to preside. He had quite a long foreskin. I made sure that we gave him a good tight circumcision.”
On health ramifications:
35 year old Sudanese woman: “Yes, I have suffered from chronic pelvic infections and terrible pain for years now. You say that all if this is the result of my circumcision? But I was circumcised over 30 years ago! How can something that was done for me when I was four years old have anything to do with my health now?”
35 years old American male: “I have lost nearly all interest in sex. You might say that I’m becoming impotent. I don’t seem to have much sensation in my penis anymore, and it is becoming more and more difficult for me to reach orgasm. You say that this is the result of my circumcision? That doesn’t make any sense. I was circumcised 35 years ago, when I was a little boy. How can that affect me in any way now?”
The strength of this table is that it doesn’t need to elide the major differences between FGC and male circumcision. Those differences remain clear in the words of the practitioners. We know that it’s different to scrape away all external genitalia and to completely remove the foreskin, and those differences are right there in the table. But what the table does by putting the quotes in tension with each other is that it also shows, viscerally, the axes along which attitudes to the procedures *are* similar. Both the Sudanese grandmother and the physician strive for a clean, tight circumcision. Both the female and male victims of genital cutting have trouble relating their health problems to a normalized practice.
Over a broad spectrum of issues, I’m relatively anti-comparisons for political effect. Don’t call Bush Hitler — he’s evil in his own ways, thanks — and don’t call the oppression of Palestinians apartheid (I follow Friedman in this; call it its own thing, exile or nishul). Likewise, don’t say FGC and male circumcision are identical – like Hitler and Bush, both can be bad on their own.
This comparison is that rare beast that I do approve of. I feel comparisons are best when they work both accurately and at the gut. This table is written with a relatively light hand. By placing the words and attitudes of real people in tension with each other, Lightfoot-Klein allows the reader to see both realities and draw his or her own conclusions about the points on which they are comparable. There’s no need to create false equivalencies or to elide differences. Here, the differences are on the page and still the similarities sing — and they speak badly for those of us who live in a state with normalized infant male circumcision.