Not always germane!

Australia’s second most famous woman, (after Julia Gillard) now mostly living in the UK,  the author and academic  Germaine Greer, has lost little of her verve with time. She is still original, arresting and controversial. One would not wish her to be otherwise. Some things she says however, although well-intentioned, or calculated just to make a point, are just plain wrong, and deserve to be challenged.

On the panel of the ABC program Q & A on Monday, she  re-iterated the allegation she had previously made on her last Q & A appearance, that the West was hypocritical in criticizing African and Middle Eastern cultures for performing female circumcisions, when Western cultures approved of female genital surgery removing the clitoris.

For the public record her allegation is just not correct, and suggests a remarkable ignorance on her part.

  • The operation performed in Western Countries is an aesthetic one, to correct excessively long and pendulous labia minora of the female vulva. It is an “Elephant Ear” like appearance if you like, disliked by the patient.
  • The operation entails a measured reduction of the large labia, avoiding scarring of the sensitive female clitoris; this is left untouched. The labia minora have a dual role. They “guide” the urinary stream from the urethra, and provide lubricating secretions to the labia. The procedure is called a labioplasty.
  • The operation is performed in the West by qualified surgeons in a sterile hospital operating theatre, under a general anaesthetic.
  • The operation performed expertly in this way does not interfere with the female sexual experience.

What Western Societies very reasonably condemn is the sexual mutilation of the genitalia of young girls by untrained operators, using unsterile sharp instruments such as razor blades, scissors, ordinary knives etc without anaesthesia. It is an extremely painful, traumatic experience, performed against their wishes, one from which many do  not recover psychologically, and some die from blood loss and infection.

The clitoris is often removed in whole or in part, or covered up by joining the labia in front of the clitoris, and narrowing the vaginal opening. Sexual gratification in adulthood may be impossible, and intercourse becomes almost unbearably painful then. This interference is said to make sex more pleasurable for the male, and to show female virtuosity. This mutilation deserves to be condemned by all who have the interest of women at heart.

Surgery on female genitalia performed under sterile conditions in hospital under anaesthesia by qualified surgeons would not attract this outrage.

Australian author and feminist Germaine Greer ...

Australian author and feminist Germaine Greer at the 2006 Humber Mouth Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)