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Michealene Cristini Risley Headshot

Penis Envy? I Don't Think So

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Freud got it wrong. Absolutely, irrevocably wrong. One of his controversial theories was that little girls "during the phallic stage of emotional growth develop 'Penis Envy', the desire to have their own penis." Freud states that when a girl discovers she does not have a penis, she feels disadvantaged. Freud did a lot of damage with this work and that damage continues in the world today. As I look at what is happening in the world around us, the last thing I would wish for is a penis. This appendage seems to be at the center of so much controversy -- just ask Tiger Woods, who seemed unable to control his own.

Christmas, Hannukah, are over for 2009, and New Years is fast approaching. As you begin to pack up the holiday decorations ALL of us must take time for gratitude. Be grateful that your young daughters do not live in parts of Africa like Kenya. This month over 350 girls have had their sexual organs mutilated as part of the traditional practices of their culture.

Let me explain in detail what actually happens during genital mutilation. First the labia is cut off with a knife. All of it. The second stage is where the clitoris and the remaining outards of the female genitalia are removed as well. The child is then unceremoniously sewn up and the "unholy" part of the body is assumed gone. Left behind is the ravages of these barbaric acts and the blame and shame for being born female. The practice of mutilation stems from the belief that cutting away part of a girl's body will ensure that she will remain chaste until marriage. Many of these girls get infections and bleed heavily. Some girls die under the knife or soon thereafter.

It is hard to understand how we "got to the world" we have today, where there is such conscious and unconscious hatred for females. It is a troubling world when little girls between the ages of 9 and 16 are forced under knife to carve out the very organs that make them female. We cut out cancer, diseases that kill, not organs that have a healthy function within the human body.

Many Western cultures have come to believe genital mutilation had ceased to happen. Sadly, this is not true. What's true is that many countries have put political laws into place that allow them to patronize the outside world's outrage and state "Oh yes, we have stopped that practice". In truth the practice continues because of the clever way in which the laws have been re-written. The new wording of these laws added the word "forced" into the documents. The law now states that genital mutilation must not be FORCED on anyone. Only then is it illegal. This brazen political maneuver is absurd. How can a 9-year-old child resist this practice with the pressure of banishment or starvation? How can a wife resist this practice with the pressure of divorce?

Over a week ago, Uganda announced that genital mutilation in that country has stopped. Forgive me as I look deeper for the wink and the nod inside the country, and another empty statement to the world community. After child mutilation, it is not over for these women as practices continue to follow them into adulthood. As women marry they must be stitched up again, every time their husband travels. This is to ensure that when their husband arrives home his wife has not strayed.

Imagine if we sewed a man's penis to his abdomen, when he traveled. (Actually, Elin Nordegren might like that idea right about now.) Her husband is another headline in a re-occurring theme with wealthy, entitled athletes, and celebrities. So many of them destroy the lives that they have built, surround themselves with people that enable this behavior and crush those who love them. It is tiring to here the same entitlement story by people in positions of wealth and power. It is disheartening as a human being.

When we look closer at the issue, when men transgress it is women who must pay the price. When a young man in Iran is caught holding hands with a girl from another tribe, his sister is stoned in the square. When a woman in the Middle East is raped, her father, her brother and her cousins kill her to cleanse their family honor. Call me crazy, but shouldn't they be taking care of the rapist?

In America we might be more civil about it, but still it occurs ever single day. When a man drags his girlfriend though his lobby and cuts her face, he still has a job. When a sitting Governor leaves his state unattended and goes off to South America to romp with a mistress, he refuses to resign. Our moral compass is buried beneath levels of shame that are too far deep to be unearthed.

I was recently asked a question about how we handle issues of violence and abuse in our country. The woman had been referred to the way we categorize brutal violence against a partner or spouse as "domestic issues" ... as if they bear the same level of importance as sweeping the floor or doing the dishes. Until we start addressing these "domestic issues" violence against women and children will remain relegated to the back of the bus.

Violence against women and children will be one of the most pressing issues of this next century. We need to begin to explore and understand why so many cultures feel the need to exploit, dominate, and conquer women for personal needs. As one of three women who will suffer violence or abuse in their lifetime, we might not need to worry about climate issues, as we will be far extinct before those days arrive. The polar bear might have a better chance -- that is -- if he has a womb.