For those unaware, Egypt just passed a draft bill to increase penalties for performing female genital mutilation, leading an Egyptian Member of Parliament Elhamy Agina to object, on the grounds that men are sexually weak in Egypt. As I understand it, Egyptian men are either impotent or not particularly excited about sex. This leads to a number of sexually frustrated women with outsized libidos. The family is endangered given the unsatisfied sexual desires of these women, who will go in all sorts of crazy directions for some sort of sexual satisfaction. So, he reasons, knock off their clitorises, and the problem, it seems, is solved. I have three comments.
First, I find it notable that many of MP Elhamy’s colleagues want him brought up before an ethics committee for insulting Egyptian men. How dare you call us impotent! I agree, that’s the real tragedy in all of this.
Second, let’s be clear, Egypt does not actually want to do something about the FGM so rampant in their country that the overwhelming majority of Egyptian women have been subjected to the procedure. If they did, they’d actually prosecute people on the basis of an existing 2008 law. They’ve done that once, in 2015, and then only because the victim died. This is just a public relations stunt, the type that seems to dupe Western audiences again and again. Prosecuting dozens of doctors does not make headlines. Nobody would have paid much attention at all. But passing another law, and making stiffer penalties? That garners attention, even if it is entirely ineffectual in the absence of a state determination, to this moment absent, to actually pursue actively the prosecution of these crimes.
Third, I don’t know why the Washington Post and others are so shocked by the argument. It may well be “outrageous” to use the Post’s term, certainly I think it is, but I’ve heard the very same argument used with some frequency by some number of respectable Muslims in favor of the headscarf. In fact, I daresay it is the most popular policy argument in favor of the headscarf commonly deployed. Men cannot control themselves, so women have to cover up, or all that a man is going to see and think is sex sex sex and sex. Objectification, sexual harassment and even rape are all the result of those unclad women who are enticing these men with no capacity for self control. Elhamy Agina is only offering a more extreme version of the same position, though rather ironically in reverse. Men are so bad at sex that if you don’t amputate the clitoris, women will be deeply frustrated. But men are also so desirous of sex that women have to cover it all up or the men will go nuts. Even Agina wants women more modestly dressed, which does not gibe entirely. Still, contradictions aside, it is the same fundamental logic being deployed–men are weak, so women must do something about it.
That isn’t meant to say by any means that there is no good argument in favor of a headscarf, voluntarily worn at least, and certainly the position of some French mayors that it is a form of ostentatious proselytization is equally idiotic. But the argument that women must suffer because of men’s incapacities is not a new one, and in some circles, is not only non-outrageous, but very much the going opinion.