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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

National differences, and the possible role of colonialism

I had a query today about clitoridectomy (as one does), with what I think may be a confusion between UK and US attitudes - there is some evidence that this continued to be deployed on girls as a 'cure' for masturbation in the USA into the mid-twentieth century but as far as one can tell, the famous scandal over Isaac Baker-Brown performing this operation at his London Surgical Home in the 1860s led to its rapid vanishing within UK medical practice. I have been told that it was being performed in Scottish lunatic asylums some time in the C19th but as I never got a detailed citation on this, and no specific dates, the jury is still out on this.

I also wondered today whether the British imperial context made a difference. In a number of areas of the Empire female genital mutilation was being practised for religious and cultural reasons and by the mid-1920s in Kenya there was a movement spearheaded by missionaries and supported by a number of feminists in the metropole against this 'barbaric custom'. This must have created an association for the operation with savagery rather than advanced civilisation.

However, there is the additional factor that, although as Rob Darby has delineated in A Surgical Temptation, male circumcision made the transition from a minority religious requirement to a hygienic recommendation against self-abuse and other ailments in the course of the C19th, it never became as routine a practice as it did in the USA, which may also have inflected attitudes.

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