It was in the 1980s in Quebec. Not a time and place known for being especially open to learning about other societies and cultures. A TV host, known for her habit of asking hard questions on her program - both of her guests and of her audience - decided to run a special episode on clitorectomy.
The episode featured a film showing a clitorectomy done to a little black girl somewhere in Africa. She had the details of where and when it had taken place, but I don’t remember them. However, I remember very clearly the girl’s screams as she was pinned down by female relatives and cut with a razor blade. The blood, too. It was everywhere.
This wasn’t surgery like you’re used to. It was in a hut, done right there on the ground, with no anesthetic or sterilization. They took off her clitoris and labia majora, before sewing the mangled remains shut except for a little hole through which she would pee.
I was maybe 16 years old when I watched this. The host had warned us it would be hard to see, but she urged us not to look away. It was too important an issue for us to close our eyes to it.
The film was followed by a discussion, but I don’t remember what was said. All I remember is that the host was crying. Quite possibly I was, too. I was profoundly upset, and have never recovered. The thought of clitorectomies happening to little girls to this day makes me despair of the human race. Knowing that in some cases it’s women themselves who perpetuate the practice is unbearable to me.
It was the hardest thing I ever watched, and to this day I thank that TV host (she’s still around, and still as kickass as ever) for having the guts to convince executives and her audience this was important to know, and not just in theory.