The American Academy of Pediatrics had proposed permitting American doctors to ritually “nick” the clitorises of girls whose parents want to maintain their customs in America. The thinking was that this compromise would prevent such parents from going underground to have a fuller mutilation of the clitoris carried out instead. Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that since female circumcision is not merely a matter of customary ceremony but has a functional purpose (of damaging girls’ libidos to help guarantee they remain virgins before their wedding nights), that these families would likely take advantage of the legalized “nicking” procedure for the sake of public appearances and then go and do what they see as necessary to actually effect their daughters’ sexuality anyway.
Fortunately, the Academy has reversed their attempt to accommodate these cultural legacies of misogynistic maiming, even in their mostly symbolic and less destructive forms, and will not permit this nicking procedure. There has been much (quite excellent) written throughout the blogosphere on this issue already. Here is a portion of one of the most informative pieces that emerged during that time, also by Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
There is a more sinister meaning to the word “nick” if you consider the fact that in some cases it means to cut off the peak of the clitoris. Proponents compare “nicking” to the ritual of boy circumcision. But in the case of the boys, it is the foreskin that is all or partly removed and not a part of the penis head. In the case of the girls, the clitoris is actually mutilated.
Then there is the second method whereby a substantial part of the clitoris is removed and the opening of the vagina is sewn together (infibulation). The third variation adds to this the removal of the inner labia.
Finally, there is a procedure whereby 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.
Often these operations are done without anesthesia and with tools such as sharp rocks, razor blades, knives or scissors depending on the location, family income, and education. It is thus more accurate—as does the World Health Organization—to speak of female genital mutilation (FGM) instead of the obscure and positive-sounding “circumcision.”
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than 130 million women and girls worldwide have undergone some form of female genital cutting. Some immigrant parents from countries like Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and others in Europe and the United States, where FGM is common, continue this practice in the West even though they know that it is criminal. Some of them sneak their daughters out of the country during the long school summer vacation so that they can be subjected to any one of these forms of FGM.
Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) recently introduced a bill to toughen federal laws by making it a crime to take a girl overseas to be circumcised. He argued, rightly, that FGM serves no medical purpose and is rightfully banned in the U.S.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that FGM serves no medical purpose, it argues that the current federal law has had the unintended consequence of driving some families to take their daughters to other countries to undergo mutilation. The pediatricians say that “it might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.”
But is this plausible? I fear not.