Male circumcision is obviously practiced all over the world and is legal. Female circumcision is a little more controversial, and in the village that I am from, females were previously circumcised—but this circumcision is not as bad as the ones that are usually heard about. This one is just cutting of a small tip of the clitoris, similar to the foreskin in a male, and this happens after the birth of your first child—no matter the sex—and why this was made was because proper women are not supposed to make sounds when they pee. It is seen as a very unfitting thing to do, and women feel empowerment because they are circumcised and they are part of a childbearing society, so women who go through the majority of their lives without ever having a child actually get circumcised so they are not looked down upon because it is like a rite of passage—once you have your first child you have really become a woman, meaning you have been circumcised so it is a really big deal. But this practice doesn’t happen anymore.
It is interesting to me that she cites this tradition as not very controversial. When I think of female circumcision I think of mutilation. There is no reason why a female needs to go through the process of circumcision. It does not improve hygiene in any way; it only robs them of a source of sexual pleasure. Humans are special creatures in that sex is not just a means of reproduction but also a source of great pleasure that is a large and important part of life. To strip someone of this ability is to reduce them to an animalistic state in which bearing children is their only sexual purpose.
This tradition also speaks to the idea of womanhood and the process by which one achieves it. In this village, it seems that having children gives one that stamp of approval. Coco did say that the practice of female circumcision in her village no longer exists, but the emphasis on motherhood still remains—an emphasis that seems very outdated (at least in American society). Gone are the days in in which women are confined to a domestic prison—their only duty to rear children, tend to the hearth and home, and pamper the husband. Women are no longer getting married and having children at 18. They have been emancipated in a sense. However, the women in this African village seem to be stuck in that domesticity.
This saying described verbatim by informant:
“It’s just something you kind of come to realize if you’re a mother who, you know, most mothers do love their children um and you just realize, you know, your happiness once you have children. Before it it’s all about you it’s all about you and your special person or the life you’re living and the selfishness that is the beauty sometimes of just being youthful and you’re on your own path, and then you have a child and you realize that for a while at least the most important thing in your life is not you anymore but someone else. And I think once you’re down that road (pause) it’s hard to turn that around because your life is really, your heart is always with your children, and as much as they need to live their own lives and really be independent and free and feel like grown up and adult and self-sufficient and aspire and do their own thing you’re forever intricately bound to them, and in that way it’s almost impossible to be truly 100% happy if your children are not. There’s a little piece of your heart that hurts if they’re not well, if they’re not content, or or pursuing things that excite them, if there’s something missing and they they let you know, it it’s hard to be completely happy. And most of my friends agree with that. It’s just hard to be, because being whole now, being whole is being whole with your other pieces and those other pieces are your children.
I think it’s a common feeling. And I think for most of us mothers, I think, for better or for worse it’s truth. It’s just one of those truths that are spoken. I find myself saying it I guess sometimes when my children tell me something that probably disturbs me about their lives that I can’t fix, and you know most things in the life of your grown children you cannot. You can support it, if they want your advice you can give it, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do and it’s almost like part of realizing that they are independent and they are truly their own people, and as much as you may love them and they may love you we all have independent choices to make. And sometimes no matter what our intentions (pause) the individual is going to live their own life and when you see them going in a bad direction or you when hear they’re unhappy sometimes it just weighs on your heart. And so you just you know it weights on your mind and so you feel like, you know things are good for me but things aren’t great for one of my children and that just makes your heart a little bit heavy and so that’s only as happy as you can be, and you just have to be okay with that but its difficult. Sometimes its really difficult.”
My informant’s tone was sad and lamenting during this collection. She spoke slowly, tearing up at some points. Motherhood is obviously a role she takes seriously as part of not just her identity but her being. She told me she often finds herself saying this during hard times, and discusses the concept with her friends, who are also mothers. She has three children. The importance of family is deeply-seeded and she truly believes that her own happiness depends on the happiness of her children. In one way the concept seems traditional, because her children play such a large, influential role in her life, but in another sense, her worry and the “weight” she feels for them is an empathy that seems contemporary in character.