Fire Eyes

By Stoller, Joyce | Monthly Review, February 1995 | Go to article overview

Fire Eyes


Stoller, Joyce, Monthly Review


Soraya Mire's Fire Eyes is a documentary film about female circumcision--a polite euphemism for the brutal reality of female genital mutilation. Little known in the West, this barbaric custom is practiced in forty countries worldwide--thirty in Africa alone, the Islamic Mideast, India, and Southeast Asia. It is estimated that 80 million women and girls have had their genitals excised--the equivalent of every adult female in the United States.

Lest males cry out indignantly, "Well, I've been circumcised, too!" female circumcision is nothing like the procedure performed on infant boys. In it, the entire female genitalia--the clitoris, labia majora, and labia minora are cut off, and then the raw edges of the wound are sewn together. Thus, a literal chastity belt is created of the girls's own flesh, leaving just a tiny hole for urination and menstruation. The procedure is most often perpetrated by midwives without anaesthesia and using unsterilized tools--razor blades, scissors, and broken glass.

Female circumcision is a rite of passage performed on young girls between the ages of four and eighteen, in which urination, menstruation, sex, and childbirth are ever after shrouded in pain. Complications, including death from hemorrhaging or infection, bladder infections, menstrual complications, and death from childbirth are legion but rarely reported, according to United Nations health officials.

The practice is thought to insure virginity in young brides (many of whom are still sold into marriage), and fidelity in wives, effectively inhibiting their sexual desire. It takes up to two weeks for a man to forcefully penetrate his bride, who had been sewn up as a child. "The more pain you are in, the more pleasure he gets," Mire says.

Female circumcision is so deeply ingrained in Somali culture that mothers of all classes insist that their daughters be circumcised, or they will not be considered fit for marriage.

FireEyes opens on a seven-year old Somali girl about to undergo circumcision. Her mother, who had suffered the same fate when she was seven, tells the child that she is carrying shame just for being a woman, and that "the evil piece of flesh" between her legs must be removed for her to become pure and worthy of a husband. …

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