By choosing to study what may be the single most repugnant social practice to be found anywhere in the world today, Hicks reaches conclusions of considerable significance for would-be social engineers. She surveys the various forms of infibulation (defined as "the most extreme form of female circumcision"), then locates it geographically and culturally. The practice occurs in a systematic way only among the nomadic, polygamous, Muslim peoples living along the Red Sea area of Africa. It seems to function as a way of initiating a girl sexually and preparing her for marriage.
Hicks devotes considerable attention to the question why-contrary to the wishes of international agencies, national governments, and many men-infibulation continues to flourish, even to proliferate. The outside world may see the practice as a social problem, she notes, but "the vast majority of the female population in infibulation-practicing regions" insist on initiating girls four to eleven years old in this fashion. They do so because "Women's collective social identity is based on all women being infibulated." Or, more broadly: "a woman's very existence is recognized through the act of being infibulated." Given this very large function, Hicks concludes that external assaults on infibulation tend to be not only futile but actually counterproductive. To eradicate the practice, she suggests, requires changing nothing less than whole ways of life.