On a recent episode of Science for the People, Dr. Sarah B. Rodriguez, who has studied female genital cutting more than you or me, describes how it was once seen as a valid medical procedure to perform on girls and women, right here in North America. She describes two forms of such cutting:
- the excision of the clitoral prepuce, what Dr. Rodriguez calls “Female Circumcision”, and
- the excision of the external clitoris, what Dr. Rodriguez calls “Clitoridectomy”
And in response to a question, she takes a shot at the WHO’s definition of FGM:
Science for the People: We usually think of female circumcision currently as something that they only do to children in other, less-civilized countries.
Dr. Rodriguez: Yes.
Science for the People: So do you find that people are surprised that North America has this very rich history of female circumcision?
Dr. Rodriguez: Yes, and also if you look at the WHO’s definition of what they call FGM, which is female genital mutilation, [the WHO claims] it’s done for “cultural reasons, for non-medical reasons,” and this sort of definition they have up there does not have room for the American experience of this, and what I’m hoping is that my book then necessitates a conversation to make room for the American history of this practice and also hoping that people stop considering it a “foreign practice” or one that was only recently brought here by recent immigrants from parts of the world that have a more widespread practice of various forms of female genital cutting.
Although Dr. Rodriguez doesn’t touch on this, one has to ask why the WHO has defined FGM as it has and is silent on the American history of female genital cutting. And why the American media, in describing FGM, rarely if ever mentions that it was at one time practiced on American soil, not by immigrants, but by white people. And the answer is simple: it wants us to distance FGM from anything that we would conceivably do on Western shores, especially anything medical we would do on Western shores.