Hold onto your horses, this is not a men-bashing blog; I just want to offer some (hopefully) constructive criticism on why many men shy away from discussing FGM and all other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Before you attack me, I'd like to make it clear that I don't believe all men are guilty from shying away from such conversations and I certainly don't believe that all men who do avoid them condone FGM and other forms of VAWG. The point I want to make is that men need to recognise they have a responsibility to fight against such practices.
In the years of my campaigning work I got a sense that men fear any topic that involves vaginas. Some of the comments I keep hearing are "I'm a man and I have no right discussing women's issues" or (my all-time favourite) "These feminists are ranting over nothing." I'm baffled by such comments. After all, all men came out of a vagina and most have been trying to get back into one ever since, so I don't understand this disconnection. While filming The Cruel Cut I had the opportunity to speak to several men about FGM and most of them were trying to shift the blame towards women. I only managed to shock them into taking a stand when I started butchering large plasticine vulvas.
FGM is performed in the name of men. It is performed so that men can feel safe in knowing their future wife is a virgin and that she will not desire other men. The belief is that if a woman has a clitoris she will get horny at the mere sight of men and woe to he who tries to keep her faithful. Suffice to say, FGM is no guarantee of virginity and as for the other stuff... if the man exists that can make women so overcome with desire that they can no longer control themselves, I want directions to his whereabouts! If only female orgasm was as simple as that.
Whenever I attend a conference on FGM I can guarantee that 97% of attendees will be women. The reason must be that even the most progressive societies question the masculinity of men and boys who dare discuss these issues. Sexism affects both genders and men are also forced to conform to the stereotypes of what they should be like. Men who are caring, kind, sensitive and dare to stand against violence against women and girls often have their masculinity questioned. The irony is that these are exactly the characteristics women seek in men. I'm not saying it's not hard to shed these stereotypes (as I'm going to explore in my next blog on what "good girls" are meant to be like). What I'm saying is that, difficult or not, men have a responsibility to stand up and say that FGM cannot happen in their name.
Now let me share great examples of men who dared to throw themselves in the fight against FGM. The first one on my list is Kwame Lestrade, the maker of the film Calm which looks at the role men play in perpetrating and preventing FGM. I had the pleasure of viewing an early screening and I was truly blown away by the chilling role men play in perpetuating such a horrific act, but also in witnessing the power men still hold in our society. Patriarchy is truly well and very much alive, my friends.
Another great example is Jamie Crichton who wrote an Episode of Law and Order UK, looking at how our legal system is dealing with FGM. Jamie didn't shy away from tackling this issue. He explored FGM from different angles and reminded me how complex a problem it truly is.
My third example is Dexter Dias, an award winning human rights barrister who has been a very vocal campaigner against FGM and currently chairs the Bar Human Rights Committee's FGM Working Group. Dexter will not agree to any speaking engagement unless he is allowed to raise awareness on FGM. I'm proud to call him my friend and colleague and we have shared many panels.
One thing all these men have in common is that none of them are from FGM practicing communities and that they all used their own skills and platform to address FGM. They are not the only great examples, but a great deal more are needed in this struggle. Hopefully many men will follow this path and realise how important their voices are. I rest my case.