Female Genital Mutilation Performed at Cornell University
by Pema Levy June 23, 2010
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has appeared in the form of “corrective surgery” at a premier American hospital. While we lambaste the practice abroad, some doctors are justifying its use and performing FGM in the United States.
In 1997, it was estimated that 168,000 women and girls had been or were at risk of undergoing FGM. This isn’t just immigrants bringing their cultural practice to the U.S.; as it turns out, FGM is being performed at an Ivy League university. This story demonstrates how our image-obsessed culture is encouraging the mutilation of young girls.
Dr. Dix P. Poppas, head of pediatric urology department at Cornell University’s New York Presbyterian Hospital, one of the premier hospitals in the nation, has been performing clitoral reductions — a.k.a. female genital mutilation — on young girls. The abhorrent practice, according to the good doctor, is humane because it spares girls from the humiliation of having an “oversized” clitoris. He claims the practice is “nerve-sparing” and that he runs tests by prodding and using a vibrator on the young girls after the surgery.
Surgeries, especially ones as delicate as this, can easily go awry, injuring young girls permanently, impeding their sexual lives, reproduction, relationships, and possibly other health complications. And prodding a six-year-old with a vibrator probably won’t tell you whether or not the thousands of nerves in the clitoris that lead to orgasms have really been spared. Not to mention that these follow-up “tests” sound a lot like traumatizing molestation to me.
On Alternet, Daniela Perdomo points out that 1 in 2,000 infants is born with some sort of genital ambiguity. Parents, she concludes, may therefore be confused and opt to put their child under the knife. But one in 2,000 actually amounts to a sizable group of people. Doctors should help parents understand that their child is alright just the way she is — not encourage dangerous surgery. Instead, Dr. Poppas is telling nervous parents that their young girls need dangerous surgery — that their sexual happiness and who they are is not as important as having their genitals look a certain way.
We think of FGM as an indefensible crime when we hear about it taking place in other parts of the world, yet here in the U.S., although the practice is illegal, some doctors and parents are justifying mutilation by another name in order to make kids look “normal.” Women already undergo painful and dangerous surgeries to alter their appearance, from breast implants to liposuction, but this goes too far.
I can think of no surgery more shaming and harmful for a young girl. What message does it send if you grow up knowing that your appearance is more important than your pleasure and happiness? And whereas a woman can choose to have a breast enhancement, a young girl has no say over whether or not her clitoris goes under the knife. Not only are there physical dangers, there are also psychological and social lessons a child would take from such a surgery that teach them they are worthless and abnormal.
This is a truly horrific story happening right in New York. Sign this petition and tell Cornell and New York Presbyterian Hospital to stop female genital mutilation now.