Cuttin’ It: The Heartbreaking Play Uncovering Female Genital Mutilation in the UK

By Kaammini Chanrai

Cuttin’ It, written by Charlene James, has been on a few different stages since 20th May 2016. If you are not already familiar with Cuttin’ It, please get your hands on a copy of the script. If you happen to live in London, please see this play at The Yard Theatre from 26th-30th July. Tickets are still available here.

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I can count on one hand the number of times I have been stunned into silence. It is a rare occurrence that words fail me. It is unusual for me to have nothing to say. There are few times when I am affected by something so much that my lips do not move. Yesterday was one of those times.

As I entered the Royal Court Theatre to watch the production of Cuttin’ It, I was prepared for something heavy. I knew beforehand that this was a play about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The NHS describes FGM as a “procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done.”

The play tells the story of Muna and Iqra, two fifteen-year-old girls who attend the same school in England, having both been born in Somalia. The back of the book reads: The 47 bus to school. On the top deck sits Muna, chatting with her best friends about their idol Rihanna. Downstairs sits Iqra, alone and desperate to fit in. 

With light-hearted quips and typical teenage banter, Cuttin’ It lulls you into a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled. This is not the happy coming-of-age story of two children finding friendship in one another. This is a heart-wrenching, eye-opening and tragic tale of the unadulterated pain of FGM. This is not just a criticism of the practices that occur worldwide, this is a damning indictment of what is happening in our own backyard — in our countries, in our schools, in our homes.

When the play ended, I sat in silence for nearly five minutes — still — except for the tears which involuntarily slid down my face. I was not the only one.

I will not discuss the play any more because I really encourage you to see it for yourself. However, I will not avoid the subject of FGM. If you don’t already know the statistics, according to UNICEF, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. In the UK alone, 65,000 girls under 13 could be at risk of FGM and a case of FGM is reported in England on average every 109 minutes, as stated by Plan UK.

FGM is painfully misunderstood. Even for someone who is relatively engaged with these issues, I was appalled by how little I actually knew about FGM. There are multiple ways in which FGM occurs. As listed by the World Health Organisation, there are four main types:

  • Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
  • Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
  • Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

The fight against FGM is painfully underfunded. The Tackling FGM Initiative, which has given ÂŁ2.8m of funding to community-based prevention schemes, warns that the lack of funding is a major barrier against tackling FGM altogether.

FGM is painfully unprosecuted. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but in the more than 30 years during which it has been banned, there has been one — failed — prosecution of this injustice.

FGM is a priority in the ending of violence against women and girls (VAWG). FGM is child abuse. FGM is a key safeguarding issue. But putting labels on a phenomenon does not make it go away. We need children to be aware of what is happening to them and we need the resources to be able to combat it. There are plenty of initiatives which are aiming to do this, including this excellent video by FORWARDuk which uses needlecraft as an allegory to speak to children.

We need greater visibility. We need stronger legal justice. We need more action.

Opening the £3 book that I purchased just as I left the theatre, my eyes tear up again as I read the first page:

The European Parliament estimates 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering with the lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation.

Amnesty International, 2014

This story is for them.

Featured image © YoungVicTheatre

With Feminist Porn, We Can All Come

By Malene Bratlie

I have never really watched porn, the main reason being because I have found it difficult to find porn that isn’t derogatory to women in some shape or form. But is it possible to find porn that isn’t degrading to women, that does not feed young porn-watchers a skewed picture of sex?

The answer is yes and the alternative is feminist porn. Porn that gives female sexuality a significantly bigger role than that which the mainstream porn industry is currently providing; porn that seeks to give a more realistic and diverse picture of how women look, come and explore sexually. With female directors, actors, and producers, feminist porn can be just as dirty but, as porn director Erika Lust suggests, ‘with clean values.’

Consider how many times you’ve had heterosexual sex, and when the guy comes, the act of fucking is more or less over. He is done therefore both of you are done. Or how many guys there are who find it incredibly difficult to find your clitoris? In the light of mainstream porn and the misunderstandings about female anatomy it generates, it may not be so strange that male pleasure is often given a higher priority in heterosexual sex. I’m not saying that heterosexual sex is just a series of disappointments if you’re a woman, but I think that the mainstream porn industry is highly responsible for how female pleasure is often misunderstood, or just simply not seen to be as important as male pleasure. Feminist porn has the advantage of changing that, by exhibiting female pleasure and portraying it as an equally important part of sex.

Feminist porn can empower women’s sexuality, showing how we take control of our own bodies, on our own terms, and how we develop sexual preferences. However, sexual empowerment of females as a consequence of feminist porn should not be the only part of the discussion. The porn industry should consider gender equality issues at a similar level as all other institutions and companies — issues such as worker’s protection, taking into account whether the manufacturing and distribution are largely controlled by men, whether porn is an equal opportunities employer and so forth.  

I don’t think porn is inherently exploitative. Yes, mainstream porn can be exactly that, but porn as a way of exploring your sexuality is not exploitative. It is thus the way porn is produced through a male gaze that has profound impacts for gender and sexual identities, and that porn needs to change. In order to educate young people who watch porn about what equal sex means, the omnipresence of male dominance in heterosexual sex especially, needs to be eradicated. The stereotypical, discriminating notions of women that mainstream porn reproduces, has an impact on how women are depicted in popular culture, and it has an impact on young boys’ understanding of how to treat a lady in bed. But porn in itself, as a tool for sexual exploration, does not necessarily have to be a kind of media that fuels the misogynist culture we live in. It can be a tool that not only empowers women at a collective level, but also a way of teaching young people what equal sex means, and that female pleasure is just as important.