The Rape of Innocence: One Woman’s Story of Female Genital Mutilation in the U.S.A.

Author: Patricia Robinett

The Rape of Innocence: One Woman’s Story of Female Genital Mutilation in the U.S.A. by Patricia Robinett. Eugene, Oregon: Aesculapius Press, 2006. 112 pages. $20.00 Review by J. Steven Svoboda.

Intactivist Patricia Robinett has written a truly remarkable account of her personal story. (Fair disclosure: Although I do not believe this affected my opinion of her book, Patricia is a friend of mine.) The author was a victim of genital surgeries performed on her when she was a girl. She describes the events fairly objectively though not without passion, and of course strong anger particularly at her mother who arranged the procedure.

Patricia proves herself that rarest of writers who can write a memoir as her first book and maintain a focus and an objectivity that is genuinely admirable. She writes movingly, stunningly, about events arising from her own incredible experiences while leading the reader through her emotional roller coaster ride rather than, as is more common and much easier, essentially strapping the reader into the car and leaving them to handle the rough ride themselves. More impressively, Patricia simultaneously manages to achieve a paradoxical distance and perspective that places her life events in a larger societal context relating to the paradox that is genital cutting in the US.

Some of us know that the nineteenth century craze for medicalized male circumcision was accompanied by a passion for the corresponding female procedure. Medical justifications were virtually identical, the general idea being that moral hygiene and personal hygiene mirrored each other and that both could be advanced by reducing the incentive, ie., the pleasure produced by youthful masturbation. Female circumcision appears never to have numerically matched the cutting of boys. The practice gradually died out in the 1950’s. Articles advocating female circumcision were published in medical journals and popular magazines (including Cosmopolitan) even into the 1970’s in the US. As the author states on the back cover of her book, Blue Cross Blue Shield paid for clitoridectomies until 1977. Ever since medicalized circumcision first developed one and a half centuries ago, we have lived in a profoundly wounded culture, which in turn has found an almost limitless number of ways to harm individual boys and girls.

Patricia’s story is a horribly sad one. It is bad enough that her labia were cut in a misguided attempt to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) but as she relates, she was forced to undergo a second genital cutting. Chillingly, “it appears it was not necessarily [performed] for medical purposes.” According to the author, she and her mother never bonded and a sort of power struggle was partly to blame for her repeat surgeries.

Sadly, though of course completely understandably, the author is a bit fixated on seemingly trivial childhood events such as her kindergarten sweetheart (whose name she won’t tell us), her strict principal who may have been the one who recommended the clitoridectomy to her mother, etc. I dare say any of us who endured what the author did might have learned to survive through similar psychological defense mechanisms.

In her twenties, Patricia took an important step in her path of self-discovery and recovery when she started volunteering as a counselor at an institution called White Bird. She describes White Bird as “a surreal environment where all the Ph.D.s wore plaid, flannel shirts and were paid minimum wage, including the CEO.” In one pivotal session, a previously suicidal client of Patricia’s turned over to her all the razor blades the client had previously used to cut herself. In the author’s words, “The unspoken message was clear. ‘I don’t need to cut myself any longer.'” As she gained maturity and perspective from her work and from her path of healing, “My world view became less judgmental. I saw that there are no good guys, there are no bad guys—there is only fear and love.”

The author does make one basic mistake when she incorrectly states that a reduction in UTIs from two in a hundred boys to one in a hundred boys would be a 100% reduction in UTIs whereas of course it is actually a 50% reduction. Nevertheless her point remains valid: relative percentage reductions can be high even when the actual overall reduction is small.

Luckily, the author was able to find some poor redemptive value in relating her story to others and moving on, transforming the pain and working to protect others from it. This short book is an essential one for anyone interested in genital mutilations, or indeed for anyone who cares about humanity, love, and survival.