Democrat Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) went on a tangent Wednesday afternoon during floor discussion in the Iowa House about female genital mutilation. Bennett said she’s worked to learn the different perspectives on the issue while researching the bill.
She said she wanted to establish the practice of female genital mutilation is done in multiple cultures. It dates back to ancient times in Africa and Asia.
“Christian groups do this depending on their culture and the area they were raised in,” Bennett said.
Catholics and Jewish people in Africa also participate.
“When the Catholic Church arrived on the African continent as missionaries, there was a conversation about discouraging the practice,” Bennett said. “But it was so culturally ingrained that the church felt it was more important to add members to the church than to disagree with the cultural practice. And that’s going back to several hundred years ago.”
From the late 1800s through the 1960s Bennett said girls were subjected to unwilling clitoridectomies in England and the United States.
“If their parents thought that they were overly excitable, if their parents thought that they might be touching themselves, if their parents thought they might be masturbating,” Bennett said. “Adult women, sometimes lesbian women through the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, were subjected to clitoridectomies against their will. I think it’s really important to recognize that this is a practice, the practice of controlling women’s sexuality, the practice of investing in the idea that a woman exists for a man and that a woman exists for a man’s pleasure is not reserved to other cultures.”
“While we learn about the sensitivity of the penis in health class growing up, we don’t really learn anything about the clitoris in our culture and even the famous exhibit Body Worlds has an entire display about the sensitivity of the male penis and only covers female reproduction and not the sensitivity of the female clitoris. So I hope that in our culture as well we’ll work to understand the importance of female body intactness and female pleasure.”
In closing, Bennett compared female genital mutilation to conversion therapy.
“There are other horrific practices that are condemned by the American Medical Association that we haven’t even be able to move bills in committee about, like conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, that scars them for their entire life,” Bennett said. “I would just ask our body to think about if we’re willing to take a look at a practice which is absolutely something that nobody should be doing, if we might be so quick and more comfortable to do that because we believe that people in other cultures are doing it, but we’re not really willing to take a look at things that are harming children that are coming out of our culture, so I would ask that we would maybe in a spirit of humility look at removing the plank from our own eyes as well.”