I’m watching Manchester City being taken to the cleaners by Barcelona on the telly, while at the table behind me my Parisian feminist intellectual hostess Natalie is discussing female genital mutilation with her Malian girlfriend Fatou. Football in front, infibulation behind.
Fatou: ‘It goes without saying: how can you say that female genital mutilation is not a disgusting and barbaric practice? How, in this day and age, can a woman allow herself to be oppressed in this medieval fashion? The practice is pure evil. The suffering of those little girls is impossible to imagine: infections, gangrene, septicaemia, cysts, fistulae, perpetual bleeding. And in the name of what? It is not a Koranic law. But you know what? I don’t care if it isn’t or if it is. I don’t care. J’ai envie de chier. Female genital mutilation is male oppression and domination of the woman, point finale. Each time the old man wants to screw his little 12-year-old wife he has to take his little knife to bed and cut the parcel strings. How is this right? The unhappiness in the eyes of the country girls when they come to Bamako and realise how they’ve been tricked by their so-called culture is something I see all the time. And the charities? What are they doing? Nothing. They are obsessed with latrines and wells and all the time the little girls are getting their vaginas sliced off with rusty razor blades and bleeding to death. It disgusts me. How can we let such a thing continue to happen?
Me: ‘Sorry to interrupt, ladies (cough), but does either of you (cough) want any of this (cough)?’
Natalie: ‘What is this? Look, Fatou! The Englishman has made us a pretty little decoration for Christmas. OK. Give it to me. This is maybe an example of the famous English sense of humour. Let us try it anyway because Fatou you are a boring fascist. (Cough.) Why are all you educated Africans unquestioning bourgeoises? (Cough.) You have an education and suddenly you are more colonial than the colonialists. OK. Listen. Female genital mutilation, you say. It must be called that, right? So you favour morally loaded colonial language over the local terms? The women themselves call it purification, Fatou. Purification. Don’t give me that FMG crap. Within their culture the rite of purification symbolises beauty, respect for tradition, chastity and hygiene. (Cough.) Purification is the law, religion, morality, culture and tradition of the tribe. It is organised by the women themselves, not the men. Putain de merde. What is this stuff? Your clitoris means a lot to you, Fatou, I know this. (Cough.) Here, you have it. The roach is too tight for me. You have to suck like a maniac to get anything. Without your clitoris you would probably curl up and die, Fatou. You told me. But in many African societies for the woman the womb is more important and the vulva is aesthetically repulsive. Circumcision makes her feel feminine as circumcision of the male makes him feel more masculine. In African society the men prefer dry sex and the women put leaves in their vaginas, or tree bark, or even sand and small pebbles. Sexuality for them isn’t Masters and Johnson, Fatou, or The Joy of Sex. So enough of this colonialist bullshit. Englishman! Tell us about purification in your country. Is it banned by law?’
Me: ‘They wouldn’t dare. We file it under “abhorrent native practices that we don’t really want to look into too deeply”. I’ve handcrafted this one to pedantic customer specifications and made the roach less tight. Here you go, Fatou. Don’t let the freethinking feminist have any. She is greedy and smoked most of the last one. And in any case the ethical waters are now being muddied by our own teenagers paying good money to have bits and pieces snipped off their vaginas to make them more culturally acceptable. So we mustn’t be hypocrites, must we.’
Fatou: ‘I am not surprised by you English. Human rights are disgusting to you. But surely for us and for every other decent western society, human rights are stronger than anthropology. Oui! This one is too strong! Merde. Cannibalism is mostly a matter of culture. Do we permit that on the grounds that it is traditional? But wait! Now I see it! You are joking me, Natalie. Tell me that you are joking me, please. You are having fun. Anyway, I think I need to go over there and be more comfortable. I think I will go and sit on the sofa with your friend and watch football. I like football. That’s better. Who is playing? And who is that man who is so clever with the ball? He is a very good player, I think.’