Let’s go on talking about how to talk about it …

TRIGGER WARNING. The following excerpt from Khady, similar to descriptions by dozens of other survivors — for instance, in Taboo. Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation–, replaces any homogenizing descriptors or acronyms. In the webinar on terminology I participated in on 19 October, consensus held that the German word Verstümmelung — mutilation — was simply too rough, malignant, and disparaging. Its use should be minimized. What do you think? I’m of the viewpoint that Khady tells it like it IS and hence what we’re talking about. Torture?


The girls were silent, rigid with such intense fear that a few most likely wet their pants. But no one tried to run away. Unthinkable, even if we strained to find a pair of eyes belonging to someone who could spring us. Grandfather, maybe? If he had known what this act would do to me, he would have stopped it. But I don’t think he was informed. Women accuse men of instigating it, and on a certain level that’s true, but in many villages no one tells the fathers anything except when everybody knows about it anyway because excision is a collective initiation ceremony. In larger cities, they do it deep inside the house, hiding it so that not even the neighbors have any idea of what’s going on. My father wasn’t there, and no one had asked his opinion, no more than my maternal grandfather. It’s a woman’s thing and we were going to become women like them.

            They rolled out two large mats, one in front of the door and one at the entrance to the shower — an indentation in the cement wall containing a jar of water. Another door led to the pantry.  The room looked like all the wives’ spaces: a large bed, a small dresser and a metal trunk with each woman’s things. New clothes for afterward had already been laid out. Overcome with anxiety, I don’t know anymore who was called first. We tried to see what was happening but the grandmothers firmly forbade it.

            “Get away from there! Go sit on the landing.” You had no right to observe what the others endured.  

Inside, at that moment, three or four grown-ups had seized one little girl. Her blood-curdling shrieks jarred tears from my eyes. There was no escape; it was going to happen. The fourth or fifth in line, I was seated, legs outstretched, trembling at every howl, my whole body wracked by the others’ cries.

            Two women caught and dragged me in. One, behind me, grabbed my head and, with all the strength in her knees, crushed my shoulders to the ground; the other clutched my thighs to force the legs apart. How a girl is kept still is determined by her age and above all her maturity. If she’s big, solid and expected to struggle, more women will be there to restrain her. If the child is scrawny and small, fewer adults will be needed. The exciser uses one razor for each girl, the utensils bought for the occasion by our mothers.

            Using her fingers, the exciser grasps the clitoris and stretches that minute fragment of flesh as far as it will go. She then – if all goes well — whacks it off as though she were slicing a piece of zebu meat. Often, she can’t hack it off in one go so she’s obliged to saw.

            To this day, I can still hear myself crying, shrieking, howling.


One response to “Let’s go on talking about how to talk about it …

  1. Morning Tobe

    Is it okay if I add a strong comment in support of your position? I think the euphemisms are to avoid the speakers’ discomfort – fine in private parlance but not so in formal discourse?

    Hilary Burrage 07790538217 http://www.hilaryburrage.com @hilaryburrage hilary@hilaryburrage.com


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