The mother of feminism, the provocative author of the 1970 classic, The Female Eunuch, the eternally controversial Germaine Greer has missed the most important feminist issue of our times.
Victims of Female Genital Mutilation have suffered actual, not figurative, castration. The 200 million women around the world who have been subjected to this horrific abuse are the real Female Eunuchs.
The word ‘eunuch’ refers to men who have been castrated by having their testicles cut off. It was a cruel practice first inflicted by rulers in ancient civilisations to create impotent, docile servants and has continued for centuries as a means of subjugation.
Castration means removal of the testicles, where the male sex hormone, testosterone, is produced. Male cattle, horses, dogs and other domesticated animals are castrated to make them infertile.
Boys have also been castrated in Italian operatic circles, to keep their singing voices in the upper register. These castrated boys are often called eunuchs or ‘castrati’.
Castration can occur by accident such as war injuries, pelvic crushing from car crashes or severe burns. The cruel practice can be inflicted as a form of torture, punishment, or self-mutilation. Or sadly, the loss of testicles can happen through surgery for medical conditions such as testicular cancer or prostate cancer.
Clever Germaine Greer hijacked the word ‘eunuch’ for the title of her iconoclastic book to refer to docile, disempowered women in the Western world; socially conditioned females who are pale imitations of men.
In typical Greer style she used the term ‘female eunuch’ for maximum shock value for complacent readers in rich countries.
However did our revered feminist scholar miss the tragic irony?
The widespread practice of cutting off the clitoris and labia of little girls throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and many other countries is a reality, not a literary device.
Shockingly 8000 girls are cut every day, totally three million a year, resulting in death from shock, blood loss and infection and the girls who suffer are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering and health problems. Urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth are a source of pain.
These real-life Female Eunuchs have had their womanhood and sexuality damaged so they experience no sexual pleasure or orgasm.
They live with the memory of the trauma. They are permanently maimed and truly disempowered.
These ‘cut’ women require feminists’ passionate attention; the perpetrators require feminists’ outrage and the 8000 innocent girls at risk of FGM every day require feminists’ fierce protection.
While feminists in the developed world debate issues of bras, make-up and high heels, equal pay, workplace harassment, the glass ceiling and female CEOs in the boardroom, women across Africa, Asia, the Middle East not only face each day without the basics of enough food, clean water, sanitation, education and jobs, they suffer continual pain from having their genitals mutilated as children.
Stopping FGM is a feminist issue worth fighting for. There are many other real feminist issues in poor countries such as sex slavery where young girls are forced into prostitution and used and abused by creepy sex tourists; child marriage where young girls are forced to marry and have sex with old men, child labour, slave labour and exploited labour producing all those shiny consumer goods so cheaply available in the US, UK, Europe and Australia, the privileged part of the world. These human rights abuses are built on abject poverty and deprivation made possible through inequality and social injustice.
Other human rights abuses inflicted on women deny women freedom of speech, movement, dress, sexuality, ownership, education and employment.
This kind of oppression and control by men in certain cultures is based on a sinister power over women. Subjugation.
And then there is the ultimate abuse against humanity – war - another invention by the powerful to kill and harm the innocent for profit. Weapons of war are big business.
The brilliant book Half the Sky is the new feminist manifesto. Authors, Nicholas D Kristof and Scheryl Wudunn explore in depth how men in power exploit, control and abuse the impoverished women and children of the world.
After extensive research, the authors claim: “In the 19th century the central moral challenge we faced was slavery. In the 20th it was the battle against totalitarianism. In the 21st century it is the struggle for equality for women and their daughters around the world.”
Half the Sky reveals some mind-boggling statistics: “More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the 20th century.
More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.”
The authors identify three main abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence such as honour killing and mass rape and the crime of FGM and maternal mortality which claims the life of one woman every minute.
“One million children are forced into prostitution every year and the total number of prostituted children could be as high as 10 million. They are held captive and used by vicious pimps as sex slaves.
Gender-based violence is ubiquitous in the developing world, inflicting more casualties than war, cancer, malaria and other diseases combined. Rape of teenage girls is a tradition in Africa, used to shame, humiliate and control.
It is common in Asia for men to throw sulphuric acid in the face of girls or women who spurn them. The acid melts the skin and bones and if it hits the eyes will blind her. This is the depth of misogyny that keeps women living in fear and oppression.
Violating a daughter by gang rape is used to punish a whole family in the Middle East. “Or sometimes it takes the form of honour killing, in which a family kills one of its own girls because she has behaved immodestly or fallen in love with a man…the paradox of honour killings is that societies with the most rigid moral codes end up sanctioning behaviour that is supremely immoral: murder.”
Obstetric fistula is another widespread affliction for women across Africa. “No one can fathom the sadistic cruelty of soldiers who use sticks to tear apart a woman’s insides.
“But there is a milder, more diffuse cruelty of indifference, and it is global indifference that leaves some three million women suffering fistulas due to rape and obstructed labour and lack of medical care during childbirth.”
Half the Sky is a catalogue of horrors inflicted on women and it makes tough reading however the book is infused with hope and optimism outlining inspiring success stories of women saved through humanitarian medical care and empowered through education, and freed from poverty and misogyny, cruelty and oppression.
Right at the outset of this astonishing book, the authors are transparent, writing this plea: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts.”
I’m signing up to join the “fight” against these horrendous issues. And I will start with the ultimate feminist issue, the one the Mother of Feminism missed, stopping the crime of female eunuchs. When we stop FGM we will empower women and empowered women will change the world.