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Women. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993, 373pp.
Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a practice that involves the removal of part or all of the female external genitalia. It occurs throughout the world, but most commonly in Africa where they say that it is a tradition and social custom to keep a young girl pure and a married woman faithful. But to some Westerners, the practice is viewed as being primitive and barbaric. We react with disgust and find it nearly incomprehensible that female genital mutilation can occur in the world today
In Warrior Marks, Alice Walker looks at the reality that millions of African, Asian and Indian women suffer from genital mutilation. The book begins with the re-telling of a story of how she lost one eye. This wound was inflicted on her when she was three years old and for years, she felt handicapped and isolated. Her brother, who caused this accident with a BBgun, is referred to as a “warrior” and the blinding of her eye is the warrior mark. Her visual mutilation is what helped her see the subject of genital mutilation. She sees it as a terrible form of patriarchal oppression, characterized by “the feeling of being overpowered and dominated by those you are bound to respect.”
The book goes on and discusses the health risks that are involved in the practice. It talks about how the women who perform the surgery have a minimal knowledge of anatomy and hygiene, which results in infections of the genital and often results in the transmission of the HIV virus. Besides the initial pain of the operation, these girls also suffer long-term physiological, sexual and psychological effects. A mother reveals that she would stop the pain and betrayal if she could but because of tradition, she and others would risk banishment, torture and abuse.
In the end, Walker emphasizes that these African women are not victims, but survivors. In the book, the women grow gardens on dry land and trade food, clothing and crafts in the marketplace. Whether a battered wife, a rape survivor or genitally mutilated woman, Walker concludes that a woman warrior learns that if she is injured, she can fight back. She closes by saying, “Your wound could be your guide.”
Female circumcision is based on gender oppression and degradation of women.
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There is also a health issue here because these procedures are usually performed under unsanitary conditions. They use tools non-sterilized like knives, scalpels or a piece of glass to do the cutting and there is no use of any anesthetics. Normal risks of circumcision include hemorrhage, severe pain, shock, infection, and even death.
Harm that is done to women from female genital mutilation is a human-rights issue. The practice is considered as child abuse and the abuse of women. During the operation, these young girls experience extreme pain and trauma against their will. They also suffer many long-term physical consequences like genital malformation, recurrent urinary infections and loss of sexual sensation. These girls, like everyone else in the world, should have the right to live safe and healthy lives.
Although we consider ourselves superior to these women, we also resort to such extremes to conform to the expectations of society. We go through things like extreme diets, breast implants, face lifts, liposuction and other painful and potentially dangerous processes for beauty, love and social acceptance. I think these operations, just like male and female circumcision, are wrong because they are not natural. If people are born uncircumcised, then that is how our body should remain.
Before reading the book, I thought that female genital mutilation was a very violent and cruel practice. I saw these girls being forced to lie down and have a piece of flesh cut from between their legs. I imagined the excruciating pain and memories they would have to go through as an adolescent. I asked myself why is this happening? Now, having read the book, I understand that they have their reasons just like we have our reasons. But I still believe that is wrong to control a woman’s sexuality. This is still oppression and hopefully someday, people will find a way to stop this.
People want to save these children who are being tortured by their own people. But the problem is that the practice is not being done intentionally to harm anyone. Mothers do it in good faith for their children because they love them. We are two completely different cultures. These people look at Western culture and they probably feel sad that this kind of circumcision isn’t done here.
Women are fighting to end this practice through educational and political protest. The Women Health Organization is urging nations to ban female circumcision. I do not agree with this because I think it is important to respect their beliefs. It has been part of their culture and tradition for thousands of years and it is not right to suddenly make it illegal. I do believe that we should have laws to protect the health of these young girls. That is why we should be trying to improve the economic and educational status of these women. We should educate these citizens about the medical risks that the practice creates so that they can learn how to perform it safely.