Egypt Takes A Stand Against Mutilation, But Americans Still Like Pretty Privates

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Lisa Wade Professor of sociology based in Los Angeles

After decades resisting pressure from Western nations to stop female genital mutilation, the Egyptian Health Ministry has forbid "doctors, nurses, or any other person to carry out any cut of, flattening or modification of any natural part of the female reproductive system, either in government hospitals, nongovernment hospitals or any other places."

Good for them.

Now if we can only get the United States to do the same. Our federal law against female genital mutilation penalizes anyone who "...knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years." But the law also specifically exempts cutting performed by licensed doctors. So, if you are woman in the United States (or a teenage girl with parental permission), you can have your clitoris reduced, your labia minora and majora trimmed down, your hymen repaired, your coloring made more monochrome, your mons pubis liposuctioned, your g-spot injected with collagen, your vagina tightened, your prepuce reduced or removed (formal circumcision), or your vulva "sculpted."

Increasingly, all women want "pretty" vulvas like those they see on porn stars and as access to porn has increased, so has this plastic surgery. Not only that: The number of American women who started putting their privates under the knife voluntarily increased at exactly the same time that American outrage over forced female genital mutilation rose.* Ironic.

The prohibition against the cutting of women's genitals by Egypt's Health Ministry is an opportunity to return international attention to forced female genital mutilation, but it is also an excellent opportunity to take a close and critical look at the things women in the United States do voluntarily.

* I warmly welcome any comments about the ethics, legality, and medical necessity of male circumcision as well.