December 07, 2005
Hymen Reconstruction, Circumcision and Sexual Promiscuity
The hymen reconstruction industry in North Africa has flourished recently. Following a fatwa dispatched a few years ago by Al Azhar in Egypt that reconstructions were allowed in the case of rape, the recent developments in surgery and the rise in pre-marital sexual activity, females of marriage age have sought the quick fix in order to keep their reputations (and necks) intact.
The increase in pre-marital sexual activity does not come parallel to an overall social relaxtion in attitudes towards women who are not virgins come the wedding night (unless of course the individual who deflowered said bride is indeed the groom, sadly not always the case). In previous years 'patch up jobs' as they are charmingly called were available only to circumcised women. Circumcision in North Africa, most apparently so in Egypt and Sudan, is divided into three categories. The most extreme form is pharaonic circumcision where all external genitalia are removed, all apertures sown up and a small opening is then made (this type of mutilation is known informally as 'the drum' indicating the tautness of the skin). This form dates back to pre-Islamic times hence the name Pharaonic. The second type is a sort of in-between mutilation usually indicating a middle class, educated family or mother who is not in total agreement with pharaonic circumcision, but still believes that there should some form of 'purification'. In this case, the clitoris is always removed. The third and mildest form is called 'Sunna circumcision' where only a portion of the clitoris is removed in order to decrease the female's future libido in a deferential gesture to vague Islamic precedent. (I recall sitting in on a meeting between the head of the UNFPA in North Africa and a religious female government minister where he stated, correctly, that there is no evidence that female circumcision was sanctioned by the Prophet (pbuh) upon which she replied with vigour, 'but there isn't any evidence that he FORBADE it). In the case of Sunna circumcision, depending on what type of individual performs it on the happless usually 5-10 year old victim and the circumciser's religious/cultural beliefs, the knife does slip in relation to those beliefs.
Prior to the advancement of hymen reconstruction procedures, circumcised non-virgins were simply re-sown. Pharaonic circumcision, in one of the biggest ironies of the tradition, is the ideal one to boast if a female would like to engage in pre-marital sex and then disguise the aftermath. The hymen is still non-existent but the hope is that the groom will not notice. In cases where the groom is particuarly astute, the brides are rumbled but even then it is not a clear cut (no pun) scandal as the situation usually descends into name-calling and a mutual smear campaign where the female accuses the male of being inexperienced (in this case not a virtue?), clueless and even impotent. Hence many men choose to avoid the exposure and merely fester in doubt and resentment for all of their married lives.
Females who were not sewn up but had experienced some form of circumcision would sometimes go to the extreme of intensifying their condition and subjecting themselves to a pharaonic circumcision in order to disguise their non-virginity. Interestingly, married mothers periodically get re-sewn as a gift to their husbands.
Initially performed in order to de-sex females and maintain their chastity, circumcision has instead contributed to promiscuity. Non-circumcised women were once wary of engaging in full-blown sexual relations as the correction would involve a comprehensive circumcision. Until now.
Hymenorraphy is a booming industry in Arab countries today, where for as much as $2000 a woman can avoid social ostracism and ensure marriage prospects. In some cases, in classic manifestations of classic market forces, the physicians performing the procedues would charge a female from a high-exposure family more than a poor peasant who is genuinely in fear for her life. Indeed the medical practice has been praised as a step in the right direction in the battle against honour killings.
What is never addressed however is how these females feel having embarked upon a married life (in many cases based on love not traditional arranged marriage pressures) founded on such a fundamental lie. I suppose that in order to survive in such a culture then one learns to reconcile such internal dilemmas if one's very survival as a human being or a social entity is held hostage to a skewed moral justice code. It is a virtue for a man to be experienced sexually and while total lack of sexual experience is the ultimate accolade for a female. What many men fail to recognise and hence bury deeper underground in a parallel culture where sex is divorced from love, is that a man's experience involves another individual, a female who is likely to be your daughter, sister or your future wife. However none of these issues will be talked about, exposed or addressed but remain characteristically hidden, camouflaged and cosmeticised as long as the appearance of honour matters more than honour itself.
Posted by Meph at December 7, 2005 04:15 PM
Filed Under: Gender Issues
TrackBack URL for this entry:
A few precisions.
NOT North Africa, Egypt and Sudan. Maghrebines find this bizarre tradition of female circumcision as bizarre and repulsive as Westerners. (I had an amusing convo with my JV partner about this Egypto-Sudanese-African tradition. She heatedly called it "bid'a" and "makrouh" - I note the woman is of Saharan origin).
The second observation is with respect to Maghrebine practices in this area. Leaving aside the issue of modern medical intervention, traditional "remedies" to "non-virginity" are pretty well known here. And draw much sour comment from the men, I might add. Of course they're bloody hypocrites, but no matter, never did find a place in the world where people aren't bloody hypocrites. Still, never understood it.
The issue of appearance of honour versus real honour strikes me as the trouble of all moral codes. Appearances versus reality. Reality is hard to know, appearances.....
Certainly the modern medical tools (and at least in the Maghreb [I mean al-Maghreb al-Koubra] with its looser traditional codes, the traditional tools) help level the playing field for the chicas, in the more anonymous urban areas.
I am not sure, however, how that will change attitudes or behaviours. Certainly I think it will be and is different in the more flexible Maghrebine world than in the Machreq, which strikes me as having more rigidity, even among the "modern."
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 8, 2005 01:52 PM
The Maghrib and the Gulf are the known exceptions to this rule and find the whole idea abhorrent. Levelling the playing field for the chicas, is always a good thing in net evaluation, especially in the more hypocritical (more modern, more rigid) Machreq.
Just seems an awful lot of physical pain and moral trouble but I suppose the playing field IS that uneven that only extreme measures can restore any sort of equilibrium.
Posted by: Meph at December 9, 2005 04:51 AM