A Rite of Passage An Evaluation If you read the paper, peruse People magazine, or spend any time watching the tabloid TV shows, you would have the strong impression that what Lorena Bobbitt did to her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, in the wee hours of June 23 in Manassas, Virginia, was the equivalent of the shot heard round the world. You might think that Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly avenged the sexual crimes that have been perpetrated against all women from the beginning of time. There is no denying the primal, gut-wrenching reaction to John Wayne Bobbitts wound. It is an unheard of crime, too horrible for men to contemplate, fascinating and appalling to women. It is understandably a major news story. Yet, if I happen to mention that this kind of thing happens all the time to women in certain parts of the world, would it send the same kind of shivers down your spine? The July 14, 1996, Los Angeles Times, states that more than 120 million women across a broad swath of the African continent have been subjected to the brutal genital mutilation that is often called female circumcision.

Most are children between the ages of 4 and 10 when the ritual takes place. Although Westerners condemn it as torture, child abuse and a violation of human rights, it remains a revered rite of passage in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, circumcision dates back almost 4,000 years. No one knows exactly how the practice began, though scholars speculate its origins lay somewhere along the Nile Valley. The procedure can simply be a small but painful nick across the hood of the clitoris, but is typically more severe.

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The most severe type of circumcision is called infibulation. The clitoris, inner labia and most of the soft flesh of the labia majora are scraped or cut away. Often with a double edged blade, scissors or even a shard of glass, performed by a close relative, mid-wife or barber. The July 14, 1996, Los Angeles Times, states: The child is then bound from waist to toes, and she will remain tied for weeks until scar tissue nearly seals the vagina. She is left with just a pencil-thin hole close to the anus for urination and menstruation. It can take the child a quarter of an hour to urinate, drop by drop.

She could develop a kidney or bladder infection. When her menstrual periods start, they will last 10 days and she will be incapacitated by cramps nearly half the month caused by the near impossibility of flow passing through so tiny an opening. The odor of soured blood will linger. If the wound heals improperly, shiny keloid scars will crisscross the otherwise soft tissue of the vulva. Childbirth will be difficult, and the thick scars may have to be cut through to the rectum.

The trauma of a childs pain transcends into adulthood. A normal and happy sex life is almost never enjoyed, and I am influenced to believe that the magnitude of female circumcision is not understood by the child and rarely explained. To some children it is a way to stop the painful teasing of others who believe that those who have not been cut are inferior. For most it is the only way to become a woman. The April 9, 1995, Los Angeles Times, prints a profile of a Ms.

Soraya Mire; a victim of female circumcision at 13 years of age. In the article Ms. Mire is 28. An excerpt reads: One day in Russian class, Mire passed out from unbearable menstrual pain. In a hospital emergency room, an Egyptian gynecologist familiar with female circumcision examined her.

Gently, he gave Mire her first lesson in basic anatomy. He explained that the Somali doctor had removed her clitoris and other genitalia as a way to reduce sexual pleasure. I had no idea, she says. For the first time, I knew what they took, the worth of what they took. The most frequent reason offered for female circumcision is to stifle a girls desire for sexual intercouse and to make penetration impossible, thereby preserving her chastity.

The main reason is to protect the girl from men until she is married. Dr. Mohammed Haddi, an obstetrician and gynecologist believes that because marriage is an economic necessity in countries where circumcision is prevalent, the ritual is seen as an act of love, rather than one of cruelty. The funny thing is once married the honeymoon is rarely a night to look forward to. Most women are ripped or cut open by their husbands, often creully, without any concern for the woman. The act is often described by the infibulated as a burning by fire of the body and soul.

As a man, I discover what happens to the children of Africa and the Middle East and I feel very small. I reflect on the angst of circumcised women, and I understand, with the intensity of illumination, that we are not the noble beasts we like to think of ourselves as. How could we possibly percieve the removal of the essence of a woman as an act of love. How can we see female circumcision as anything other than barbaric.