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Stand-up comedienne takes on the big ‘C’

By Jennifer Dix, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday May 24, 2002

Female genital mutilation is not usually the subject of stand-up comedy. But for African-born Sia Amma, humor has proved powerful and healing. Subjected to a clitorodectomy in her native Liberia when she was just nine years old, Amma has made the problem of female circumcision the central subject of a one-woman show. 

The actress attacks the issue immediately and audaciously in the opening seconds of "In Search of My Clitoris." Sweeping into the theater, she asks her audience, "Have you seen my clitoris? I’m sure it’s here somewhere."  

Over the next 90 minutes, the 34-yr-old Amma reflects on her journey from traditional African village girl to modern feminist and activist. Her poignant, provocative story is lightened with humorous anecdotes about her friends and family in Africa and the culture shock she underwent when she first came to America a decade ago. 

"I feel if I make fun of myself, no one can punish me, no one can condemn me," Amma explains. She also wants to convey the pride she feels in her culture, and not allow her Western audience to dismiss an entire culture because of the unsavory practice of female circumcision. Her bold and bawdy humor reminds listeners that they have their own hang-ups when it comes to sexuality. "You American have a clitoris and you don’t even know it!" she scolds.  

Next week, Amma appears at Berkeley’s La Pena Cultural Center in two performances to benefit Global Women Intact, a San Francisco organization dedicated to stopping the practice of female genital mutilation worldwide.  

Representing GWI, Amma travels frequently to Africa, where she speaks to women and girls about female circumcision—"teaching Clitoris 101," she says. In cultures where female anatomy is almost never discussed, such frankness is startling, but she makes no apologies. "I am saying that it’s part of a woman, it’s beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with having a clitoris that drags on the ground," she says. "I want to take away the shame from the word ‘clitoris.’" 

This is a complete reversal for a woman who for years barely comprehended what had happened to her body. The topic was not discussed in her village. "Some of the languages I speak"—she knows four African languages—"don’t even have a word for clitoris," she explains. 

Her awareness began to change when Amma came to San Francisco, eventually enrolling as a student in intercultural communications at SFSU. She was humiliated during a doctor’s exam when the American physician commented on the unusual appearance of her genitalia. "I was completely horrified and embarrassed," she remembers.  

Hesitantly, Amma began to discuss her condition with female friends. "I had to go and buy books from Good Vibrations to see pictures of what a normal clitoris looks like." She discovered other women who also had been mutilated as girls. The idea of a performance began to grow. "Women started telling me their stories, and it just snowballed," she says. 

It started as a stand-up comedy routine, performed for just a few friends. Over the past year and a half, Amma developed and expanded the routine into a full-length play. This past year, with the assistance of director Joya Corey, she’s taken her show on the road, performing coast to coast, from Symphony Space in New York to the Northwest Actor’s Studio in Seattle. Reception has been enthusiastic. Reviewers have called the show "startling and provocative," drawing comparisons with Eve Ensler’s "The Vagina Monologues." 

For Amma, the play is important, but it’s only one part of her work to educate people about female circumcision. She speaks passionately and joyfully about her work in Africa. "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life," she says. 

Besides teaching courses on sex education in African schools and community organizations, Amma meets with tribal leaders to discuss ways of preserving a girl’s traditional rite of passage without performing mutilations. She directs her education efforts particularly at women, since mothers often pressure their daughters to undergo circumcision, and midwives often carry out the procedure as part of their livelihood. Instead, Amma encourages tribal women to produce crafts—jewelry, purses, and beadwork—which she brings back to the U.S. to sell, sending the money back to the village.  

"By working with women’s financial needs, you are taking on the problem [of female circumcision] at a very practical level," she says. "If you want to help somebody, you cannot go in and condemn them and expect them to listen to you." 

Woman to woman, person by person, Amma steadfastly pursues her mission. "My grandmother says when you educate a woman, you educate the world." 


In Search of My Clitoris  

May 30 & 31 at 8 p.m. 

La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berkeley.  

Tickets $15. (510) 849-2568 or go to