Ceremonies and rituals have a number of functions that are helpful to human beings. One is the management of the individual in tension with the community, which can overwhelm persons, give them identity (good or bad), throw them out or protect them. Only after these patterns non-verbally exist in some kind of resolution -- instead of constantly re-organizing -- can they be usefully expressed in words, though exploration in words can help define the patterns.
One of the forces that keeps patterns in motion is that of globalization and that is closely related to values. “Ethics” and “morals” are always framed as being permanent and as-high-as-you-can-go (God), but they are not. What seems moral in one place is immoral in another. The example here is genital mutilation.
In parts of Africa concern over whether a “wife” might bear another man’s child is so entrenched and vicious that women have their vagina sewn shut, except for a tiny aperture for menstrual blood. In other parts of Africa, worry about a wife becoming sexually turned on enough to stray from her proper behavior, is so strong that a female child’s clitoris is cut out of her at a young age. This is done without anesthetic or ordinary cleanliness with the mother holding her screaming daughter down while an old woman with a rusty razor blade does the cutting. Everyone accepts this as "just the way it is."
This is enforced in part by the economic value of marrying off a daughter. If these things are not done to her, she is not worth as much. Often, in any place, what are considered to be moral or religious issues are really about money. The overwhelming issue of virginity -- is again about guaranteeing that a man’s progeny are really his own since inheritance is based on blood lines -- has controlled the destiny of whole countries when what is required in succession to the throne is true blood inheritance. It has created the problem of inbred, and therefore faulty, aristocracy. Sterility can cost lives. Ask the wives of Henry VIII.
Now that births, esp. in the inbred royalty of Europe, could involve multiple parents, which challenges even DNA analysis, the value of blood inheritance is under scrutiny. This affects even Montana reservation legalities, again controlling the transfer of money. The value of being a full-blood Indian is quite real in terms of membership in the tribal corporation.
This girl in India was told by elders she was cursed,
but could escape by marrying a dog. She didn't love the dog and he couldn't make a living.
But romantic values set up a competing, iconoclastic and disruptive set of ideas: that people should marry for “love” or at least compatibility, that parents should not interfere in the love lives of their children, and that children should not be “trafficked” for the sake of linking to wealth or power. Love is seen as a higher morality than money.
Science sets up yet another system: that people should not marry unless they have a genome check to see if there are worrisome matches and a body check for diseases, esp. something like HIV/AIDS that can simmer for years, then explode into devastation or at least a lifelong burden.
And governments meddle by insisting that people have more babies (Russia is de-populating) or only one baby (China). These practices throw off demographic gender proportions. We know that an excess of young unmarried men always leads to trouble. The excess of unwanted girl babies means international trafficking, legal or not, and a class of adopted children who are unique. Native Americans who are adopted by white families are one category; Korean girl babies are another. It seems there is no market for orphaned black boys except for immoral purposes.
Consultation before labiaplasty
Every middle or upper class American person will be shocked and horrified by the African practice of cutting out the clitoris of a young girl. But in American now it is accepted and desired to cut off the labia, the flesh “ruffles” around the opening to the vagina. There are plastic surgeons in Montana who specialize in this, as well as “restoring” virginity and tightening the vagina. At least we assume they use sanitary measures and anesthetic, which are also moral issues at some level.
I’ve seen a video of a woman being operated on while her best friend (instead of her mother) holds her hand. Both women have very expensive long false nails and full makeup including extravagant false eyelashes. There was no information about whether they were prostitutes, and one would be criticized for suggesting it. In truth, these women were doing these things to impress and “top” other women. It never occurred to them that they were making a religious choice -- the religion being salvation by winning competitions like beauty queens.
Very rarely there is medical necessity to remove labia, which one assumes evolved for a purpose, maybe as a protection. Somehow the idea has taken hold in young women who wish for more sex that a vulva with no labia is more attractive to men. Why or what kind of men is a mystery. Some say it makes a woman seem more childlike. Is she trying to attract pedophiles? The hymen is now revealed as just tissue to be taken away or restored, not a marker of having "saved oneself" for Mr. Right. But then wearing modest white wedding dresses, which were supposed to sign the same thing, have become passé. Now one dresses in a strapless but extremely extravagant gown. Money overwhelms purity.
As the act of fucking becomes an obsessive marker of desirability, a woman’s value of her body as a unique and personal expression of her identity is radically reduced. Vanity surgeries are radically affect emotional and physiological desire. Scar tissue interferes with feeling. Removing the hood over the clitoris (something like male circumcision) can create super-sensitivity that interferes with love-making, to say nothing of one's sense of self.
Then there is trauma damage that genuinely needs surgical repair, fistulas that destroy the wall between the intestines and the vagina so that elimination can’t be normal and infections take hold easily. They may be the result of rape or some other kind of damaging force. Again, in Africa there are neither the resources nor the skill to repair a fistula. If they did exist, incomes are too low and the value of women too low, to get these women repaired, so they live as pariahs, valueless.
All this sort of information has been cloaked in the past, considered too personal and too medical to be decently shared. Yet it’s basic to our lives. At present not enough people have a background to understand their own genitals, much less their drives and assumptions. We get most of our information about such matters from media, either fiction or so-called non-fiction, often written by reporters who are young and romantic or out to shock, supervised by editors and producers who are old and cynical -- perhaps like Denny Hastert, twisted by their own secret lives and yet controlling ours.
Because religion is represented as something all-powerful handed down from above, we evade many value issues by obsessing over the nature of God, the hander-downer. But in fact, religion is something that rises up from the roots, and is then shaped by the forces of survival. Either conform or you die.
It’s not just individual persons who are subject to these forces, but also whole cultures. Economic viability is a matter of ecology. The more intricacy and ways to fit into the larger pictures, the more survival. The more life survives, the more it finds the resources to adapt to each other, to become more than isolates, not through domination but through symbiosis. Love is a kind of symbiosis. We should celebrate that in the heart of our morality.