Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Female Genital Mutilation and the Perpetuation of Multigenerational Trauma

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Female Genital Mutilation and the Perpetuation of Multigenerational Trauma

Article excerpt

Give me other mothers, and I will give you another world.

- St. Augustine

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an egregious form of childhood trauma that culminates in legacies of complex and multigenerational traumata. To support this proposition, I have examined FGM within the context of three frames: (1) as a tool of socioeconomic, sexual, and political oppression; (2) as complex trauma, and (3) as a tool of false consciousness. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine FGM as it occurs in the many countries and ethnic groups. Instead, I have juxtaposed FGM as it has been carried out in the United States, Sudan, and Egypt to give the reader an appreciation of the confounding complexities of this practice and the colluding systems that enable it. Regardless of where FGM occurs, the fact that it results in the traumatization of millions of children each year and engenders recursive trauma should be important to medical and mental health professionals who advocate the well-being of all children. Certainly, my immediate purpose is to inform the reader of this longstanding practice; my anticipation, however, is to initiate further discussion of the seemingly trenchant transmission of trauma by humans themselves.


FGM is about two combustible words - females and genitalia. These words are known to foment a litany of dialectics between the inalienable and culturally relative. At the elemental level, FGM is a cutting ritual that is performed on the genitals of infants and young girls. It has been documented in parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America, Europe, and the United States. In Africa alone, three million infants and girls are at risk annually of undergoing some type of genital cutting. Approximately 140 million women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM (World Health Organization, Secretariat, March 20, 2008).

FGM is gender specific trauma that subjugates and ruptures the physical, psychological, and social dimensions of a child's life. Systematic violence like FGM engenders multigenerational legacies of trauma that affect all things local, state, and global. The true outrage of FGM lies in the fact that the creative minds and tiny but mighty bodies of millions of little girls are mutilated simply because they are born female. There is no punishment for mutilating little girls, but there is severe and swift punishment for girls and women who dare to live freely. The searing pain and shock forced upon these children need to be carefully understood by those who can speak loudly and write freely about this complex and nefarious issue on behalf of those who cannot.


Tahara is the Arabic colloquial word for circumcision, which means to purify (Abusharaf, 1998, p. 2). Greek historian Herodotus documented female circumcision as a ritual carried out by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, and Ethiopians in the fifth century BCE. Over the centuries, female genital cutting has been performed by different cultures on different continents during different periods of time among Coptic Christians, Muslims, animists, Black Jews of Ethiopia, and Catholic and Protestant converts in Nigeria. FGM is neither a religious nor a cultural imperative as many insist or presume. It is not advocated in the Qu'ran; the origins of FGM are unclear. It has been inferred that FGM escalated when societies became agrarian and the determination of paternity was crucial. To ensure rightful inheritance of private property, females were subjugated sexually and psychically. Female erogeneity, virginity, fidelity, and consciousness were enslaved by the dominate patriarchal forces; in other words, an unshackled female was viewed as a threat. Some anthropologists believe the practice began to ensure differences between males and females at puberty (Women and Revolution, 1992/2008, pp. 2-3). El Saadawi (2007) claims FGM originated during the slave trade and class patriarchal system (pp. …

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