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Dolly Lemke



A Cultural Archive of Female Circumcision, Terminology, and Individual Bodily Exile


Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar, Authors, Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and Sexual Blinding of Women

I believe we are destined to meet with people who will support, guide, and nurture us on our life’s journey, each of them appearing at the appropriate times, accompanying us at least part of the way. I think specific human beings, sometimes only in spirit, will present themselves in such a way that their presence will shape and reshape out hearts until we are more fully who we are…we must adhere to our own peculiar way, that is the only chance we have to meet those spirits who wander along our road; we must persist in being true to our most individual soul.


appropriate: suitable

adhere: to cleave


A woman must find her own way. I am American. My way was not hard to find. My body has always belonged to myself and I was told never let someone else possess it. My way was not hard to find. I didn’t need to look for a spirit to guide.

140 million women and girls are expected to let others attach. To let others possess their bodies. Forever. It never belonged to them in the first place. Their body possesses the other. Is possessed by the other.


Nahid Toubia, M.D., Assistant Professor at Columbia University

Efforts to empower women cannot begin with using language that offends them…We accept that the term female genital mutilation has been widely used. In fact, we prefer to retain the term FGM at the policy level to remind everyone of the effect of this practice on girls and women. However, we advocate the use of the term female circumcision when dealing with affected individuals, parents, or other community members. Consider what an African woman may feel when a stranger asks her if she is “mutilated” or whether she plans to “mutilate” her daughter. It is important that we respect the feelings and beliefs of individuals even as we inform them of facts contrary to these beliefs.


retain: action

circumcision: cutting away sin


This body is designated for a particular purpose. Your purpose will be forced into you. You will be told how to talk about it. You will be told how not to talk about it. While the public tries to figure how to name it. This has gone beyond reproach. This annihilates the bodily relationship each human has. It’s gone. Yet there is a need to keep it retained. There is a need to keep the name retained, the word, the label. Fuck the name. She is mutilated. She is injured. Help the women see this grievance. Can you let the body speak for the woman.


Mrs. Berhane Ras-Work, President of the Inter-African Committee

The destiny of Africa is intimately linked to the condition of its women. What we do affects us individually and collectively. Any initiative to move Africa forward economically, socially, and democratically has to take into primary consideration the challenges women face as victims of harmful traditional practices.


victim: treatment

traditional: handed down


Baby girl, you are so small and I live so far away. What could I possibly do. I can only think and know this is happening. Know about you and the others that force your body to betray. Work against itself. This is a surrender, giving over to the other. You know what this is but you don’t have to become it. How we could communicate. My name is not hard to forget and I am this far away.

Do you see this as suffering. It’s not wrong to think this hurts your women. It does. It hurts me to see the damage and tyranny over the body. It’s a luxury to obsess over our body image when it works correctly.


Rachel Carnegie, UNICEF Consultant, explained the suffering when Type III is performed:

Sometimes the girl’s legs are bound together for several weeks so that she cannot move, to allow the wound to close. If the vulva does not heal properly or the opening is thought to be too big, the girl may be operated on again. Later in life, the woman may need to be cut again in order to have sexual intercourse. When it comes to childbirth, she will need to be cut to allow the baby out.


wound: separation of the tissues of the body by a hard instrument

girl: the counterpart of boy


The closest I can get to your injury is the acid they dabbed on me. But that was a doctor in a clinic not a ritual but a medical endeavor. I want for someone to tell you about choices and about protecting the little time you have how much you could do how much you could feel. Do I need to respect your tradition your family their choices, you know what, you can have your own tradition and family and choices. You have a voice and you can say things like I don’t want that because your body is your own and you make it do what you want. We will never know each other but I love you, please know this, I love you.


Karen Hughes summarizes Fran P. Hosken’s account of a case history in Somalia

The child, completely naked, is made to sit on a low stool. Several women take hold of her and open her legs wide…With her kitchen knife, the operator first slices open the hood of the clitoris. Then she begins to cut it out. While another woman wipes off the blood with a rag, the operator digs with her sharp fingernail a hole the length of the clitoris to detach and pull out the organ…the woman takes the knife again and cuts off the inner lips (labia minor) of the victim…Then, the operator, with a swift motion of her knife, begins to scrape the skin from the inside of the large lips…With the abrasion of the skin complete, according to the rules, the operator closes the bleeding large lips and fixes them one against the other with long acacia thorns…The operator’s chief concerns is to leave an opening no bigger than a kernel of corn or just big enough to allow urine, and then alter the menstrual flow, to pass. The family honor depends on making the opening as small as possible because with the Somalis, the smaller the artificial passage is, the greater the value of the girl and the higher the brideprice.


operator: a person professionally engaged in performing the practical or mechanical operations of a process

bridprice: money paid


Too many cuts. Too much, not practical, not mechanical. To close you up to close you off to make bodily functions mis-perform. Do you want to have babies and a kernel-sized hole. Only because that’s all there is. I can’t understand and I try so hard. There is a withholding of information and no one let’s you in. This body is yours. I can’t tell you enough, how angry I am getting. Why is it taken out, the pleasure center is gone and pulled out, it is dug out, my god, this is the worst thing you could go through. To be closed up and opened and closed when the other feels it right. To be valuable based on taking away. To be an actual value.




Dolly Lemke received a MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Best American Poetry 2010, Umbrella Factory, Super Arrow, and horse less review. She is currently a paper-pusher in downtown Chicago, Assistant Editor for Switchback Books, and Associate Editor for Arsenic Lobster. Contact author.

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