“If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?” feminist author Germaine Greer once asked.
Greer is, of course, wrong about almost everything. She once famously refused to sign a petition defending Salmon Rushdie because he was, she said, a “megalomaniac” and “an Englishman with a dark skin” (as if there's any shame in that).
When it comes to FGM, Greer’s mistake is to confuse female genital decoration with mutilation. Surprisingly for a supposedly “feminist” author, she also ignores the blindingly obvious difference between the two “procedures”: the first is a purely aesthetic choice, whereas the second is but one weapon in a much larger and timeless attempt to police women’s chastity.
Fortunately, it’s been reported today that the UN has not listened to the council of cultural relativists like Greer, and has instead called for a ban on what it correctly refers to as the “grotesque practice” of female genital mutilation.
About time I say.
Feminist activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was put through the procedure herself, describes FGM as follows:
“As much of the clitoris as possible is removed along with the inner and outer labia. Then the inner walls of the vagina are scraped until they bleed and are then bound with pins or thorns. The tissue on either side grows together, forming a thick scar. Two small openings roughly equal to the diameter of a matchstick are left for urination and menstruation respectively.”
However in some quarters, almost every measure that’s ever been devised to control female sexuality, be it niqabs, burkas, the cult of virginity, prudishness about promiscuity and, ultimately, a procedure that literally hacks off those parts of the genitalia that respond to sexual stimulation, are viewed as no such thing, but rather as sort of benign forms of cultural expression. The historical context – i.e. male insecurity about women’s sexual choice - is seemingly redefined as an innate feminine inclination towards modesty and wholesomeness; or in Greer’s case, is ignored entirely.
Some western liberals are of course fond of comparing the way in which women are treated in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia with the apparently “sexualised” portrayal of women in the west. While it would be foolhardy to say that there isn't some way to go in terms of gender equality in the West – there is a significant pay gap and rape is vastly under-reported, to give just two examples – this sort of comparison is curious to say the least, and is especially fatuous when one considers that the “sexualisation” of women in its Page 3-esc form is far preferable to its opposite, of which FGM is just one manifestation.
For until you recognise what’s really going on – what has, in reality, always been going on – you are likely to flounder, and even, like Greer, exonerate the very mindset you ought to be combating. Many men, regardless of their country of origin, are terrified of the degree of sexual choice women have, and Martin Amis was correct to describe Islamism, the ideology of splenetic woman hatred, as male insecurity on steroids.
And that, in the end, is what FGM is: male insecurity defined. Until you recognise that, you will utterly fail to understand one of the major fronts on which the battle for sexual equality is being fought: the equal right to have sex.
Three cheers for the UN, then.
Originally published @the Independent.