International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced in many societies, and sadly still is; an estimated 200 million girls and women on this planet have undergone some form of FGM.
The relation between FGM and intersex surgery are complicated at several levels. Human right groups like zwischengeschlecht.org deliberately cast their criticism of surgical ‘correction’ of intersex children in terms stressing the analogy to FGM, namely by labelling them ‘Intersex genital mutilation (IGM)’. They also, and rightly, have pointed out that criticism of FGM in the West sometimes was cheap, if not racist, as it went hand in hand with classical Othering, as if FGM was something only ‘they’ (read: non-Western, primitive, whatever) did.
At a historical level, we still know very little about the actual role (Western) FGM in the 19th c. played in preparing the large-scale surgery performed on intersexed infants in the 20th century. I wish I could write something enlightened on these relations, but both my ignorance and my influenza prevent me from doing so. Still, there is hope, as some scholars working on the history of FGM may also be know to readers of this blog from an intersex context – namely Helen King and Marion Hulverscheidt. King’s One sex body on trial (King 2013) is one of the most profound re-assessments (to put it mildly) of Laqueur’s seminal, but problematic monograph, and in her earlier book on Hippocrates’ women (King 1998) also engaged with FGM in the West, namely in Victorian England. For a quick summary of the latter issue, have a look at her blogpost on The Conversation. Marion Hulverscheidt, in turn, has written her PhD on FGM in 19th c. Germany (Hulverscheidt 2002), and already in this context compared FGM to surgery performed on intersex infants; for a short survey, see her article for the German women’s rights organisation Terres de femmes (Hulverscheidt 2004).
As I said, no proper post, but FGM matters – and its history is directly relevant also to the longue durée history of ambigiously sexed bodies.
Marion Hulverscheidt, Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung. Diskussion und Praxis der Medizin während des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum, Frankfurt 2002.
‘Weiblich gemacht? Genitalverstümmelung bei afrikanischen Frauen und bei Intersexuellen’, in: TDF. Menschenrechte für die Frau, 3/4 (2004), 23-26.
Helen King, Hippocrates’ Women: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece, London and New York 1998.
—- The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence, London 2013.