I have blogged repeatedly about weird shit people are culturally encouraged to do to the va-jay-jay, but I have posted nothing about the penis. That hardly seems fair. Thus, my little anthropologist mind searched the remembrance of lessons past to discover if there was a culture wherein males were subjected to analogous penis modification, and lo – I remembered there was.
Ian Hogbin wrote about an ethnic group in Wogeo (New Guinea) who practiced a really severe form of penis cutting in his 1970 book, The Island of Menstruating Men. It’s purpose is to act as an initiation ritual, symbolically turning a boy into a man. It also steals a dangerous female power; the power to bleed when she becomes a woman. Menstruation has some heavy cultural symbols attached to it, and it’s a fairly rare occurrence in hunter-gatherer cultures. Women don’t get their “moontime” very often in cultures/areas where they have a lot of exercise, a varied and healthy diet without bread and high fructose corn syrup, and breastfeeding practices that allow the baby to eat on demand and continue to have milk for a few years (which is what our bodies have evolved to do). Because of its rarity, the time of menses has special significance and is associated with ‘female power’. The penile subincision mimics menstrual bleeding and gives some of that “power” to the newly made man.
I admit the only “power” I feel during my moontime is the power to break out in horrific acne and eat my own body weight in chocolate while sobbing over YouTube videos of animal rescues. I blame my gluten intake.
Anyway, what does this equivalent penis modification mean vis-a-vis the patriarchy and vaginas?
Well, they are not exactly equivalent, as it so happens. Although both FGM and penis cutting are painful and disfiguring, the purposes behind the procedures are much different. FGM is practiced to try to make women disinterested in sex so they can be better controlled and contained by an oppressive patriarchy. The clitorous is considered the evil center of a woman’s sexuality, and is taken from her when she is just a little girl so that she will be LESS powerful and autonomous as an adult. In contrast, penile subincision is practiced so that power is given to a man, and he will have MORE control over cultural systems. Penile subincision is obviously as agonizing as FGM, but unlike FGM it is not done to degrade and control the “offending” gender.
So there you have it. Culturally inscribed genital alteration/mutilation in a cross-cultural perspective. Something to think about, and which cannot be removed from your mind even with the strongest brain bleach.
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