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A “balanced” look at Female Genital “””Mutilation”””

Sunil D’Monte alerted me to this blood-curdlingly horrible article on FGM by a sociologist, Lisa Wade, who wants more “balance” in the discussion of the grand old tradition of carving up the genitalia of very young girls.

While I’m most well-known for my work on hook up culture, I’ve written extensively on a different topic altogether: how Americans talk about female genital cutting practices (FGCs), better known as female genital “mutilation.”  While FGCs are passionately opposed by essentially all Americans who learn about them, our understanding of the practices is, in fact, skewed by misinformation, ethnocentrism, and a history of portraying Africa as naively “backwards” or cruelly “barbaric.”

Good start. Put “mutilation” in scare quotes because hey, it’s not really mutilation, it’s just “cutting,” which is another thing altogether. Then present a stupid parody version of opposition to FGM because hey, nobody could oppose FGM for reasons that aren’t ethnocentric or racist.

Using the word “mutilation” is counterproductive.

People who support genital cutting typically believe that a cut body is a more aesthetically pleasing one.  The term “mutilation” may appeal to certain Westerners, but people in communities where cutting occurs largely find the term confusing or offensive.

Well of course they do, and that’s the problem! People in China used to think a deliberately deformed foot was a more aesthetically pleasing one, too, and that’s why little girls had their feet systematically broken and crushed, and had to be put at a distance from the rest of the household at night so that their screams of pain wouldn’t keep everyone else awake.

But I’ll let Urooj Zia reply.

Hello from Pakistan. This article has offended me and made me furious enough to leave a rant in response. Here goes:

//but people in communities where cutting occurs largely find the term confusing or offensive//

What the WHAT?! So in one clean sweep, feminist voices from these communities get discounted, while barbarism gets amplified by a feminist? How does that make sense? And this ‘them non-Western women don’t deserve any better’ is racist!

Moreover, how does women controlling these procedures not make them patriarchal and oppressive?! I don’t even know how to respond to this hypocrisy!

//It turns out that people don’t appreciate being told that they are barbaric, ignorant of their own bodies, or cruel to their children//

No shit, Sherlock. Child abusers in ‘western’ societies don’t like being told that either, nor do rapists. Does that stop feminists in those societies from denouncing this crap? I don’t get it, why did you write this article? Why would anyone do this, why?! What makes you think that you sitting in your ivory tower deserve better than us? What are we, lesser beings? What makes you think we deserve to have our bodies mutilated? What is WRONG with you?! Feminists here have a hard enough time anyway; stop making our lives more difficult. If you can’t support our voices, don’t cut us down and don’t you dare tell us that we don’t deserve better. We bloody well do.

I’ve been following Urooj on Twitter for a long time. Urooj rocks.

Lisa Wade continues –

“Only” 10% of FGM includes infibulation. Mostly it’s not so bad really.

Women still have fabulous sex lives after FGM.

Health problems from FGM are the exception, not the rule.

It’s not cruel patriarchs.

It’s not African.

Women in the US get cosmetic surgeries on their genitals.

The obvious is obvious.

It turns out that people don’t appreciate being told that they are barbaric, ignorant of their own bodies, or cruel to their children.

It also turns out that girls of 5 don’t like being held down while someone slices off bits of their genitals with a razor. Next platitude?

I would be more livid, if it weren’t for the fact that almost all of the comments are disgusted. I’ll just repeat Urooj’s observation –

And this ‘them non-Western women don’t deserve any better’ is racist!

Comments

  1. says

    It’s really a very simple concept: We don’t do elective surgery on children (using the broadest possible definition of surgery here, extending even to ear piercing). That’s all. Unless there is a specific and compelling medical reason for it, taking a knife to children is practically the definition of child abuse, and there really isn’t a valid argument otherwise. All of the attempts to justify it boil down to ‘the parents want inflict the consequences of their dumbass beliefs on their kids, and we should let them, because they’re very sincere about their dumbass beliefs.”‘

  2. Robot Girl says

    I thought sure this article about circumcision or, as the MRM loves to call it, “male genital mutilation.” Glad to see it’s not, but there’s still time for douchebags to infiltrate comments. I especially like your final sentence. So many times I’ve been attacked as racist because “that’s just how they are.” I mean, WTF???

  3. Stacy says

    Jesus, how fucking infuriating. Throw the children and the feminist women of these communities under the bus, and accuse other people of “ethnocentrism.”

    I’m glad to learn about Urooj Zia.

    And to know about the massive fuckwittery of Lisa Wade. Two new names to remember.

    P.S. In the “So what else is new?” department, somebody’s already whining about male circumcision on Wade’s thread.

  4. Rob says

    I don’t know Lisa Wade or her writing. Someone please tell me she’s just suffering a severe dose of Western guilt and is afraid to make value judgements about other culture, not just being an intentionally harmful idiot.

    The first can be fixed with education, the latter I’m not so sure about.

  5. F [disappearing] says

    Urooj Zia clearly has a mind colonized by Western ideas, and is not representative of, um, African women, apparently. (Obviously not representative of African women, Urooj being Pakistani, but the assumptions in Wade’s quotes put too much not-even-wrong into play for me to deal with in one go.)

  6. Hamilton Jacobi says

    Has Lisa Wade never heard of John Rawls? She really needs to try on a veil of ignorance and see how FGM looks from that perspective.

  7. bobo says

    I vaguely remember a commenter from a few month’s ago yelling at everyone here for using the term ‘FGM’, telling us that we were insulting the women who get it, and that we must refer to it as ‘cutting’.

    She was realy angry and condescending about it too!

  8. says

    Warning: analogy ahead…

    (also, analogy deals with cannibalism)

    ———————————————-
    While I’m most well-known for my work on [something about culture], I’ve written extensively on a different topic altogether: how Americans talk about a specific Alternative Form of Survival, better known as “cannibalism”. While AFS is passionately opposed by essentially all Americans who learn about it, our understanding of the practice is, in fact, skewed by misinformation, ethnocentrism, and a history of portraying [third-world country] as naively “backwards” or cruelly “barbaric.”

    Using the word “cannibalism” is counterproductive.

    People who support Alternative Form of Survival typically believe that human bodies contain the purest form of meat, and that it is, in fact, an honor to the one being eaten. The term “cannibalism” may appeal to certain Westerners, but people in communities where AFS occurs largely find the term confusing or offensive.
    ———————————————-

    Yeah… still not willing to be all “culturally relativistic” about this.

    In fact, as a student of Cultural Anthropology, this makes me sick, and insults me

    I’m all for Cultural Relativism, but there has to be a line drawn as well. Female Genital MUTILATION (because THAT’S what it is! MUTILATION!), just like cannibalism, crosses that line.

    And before anybody says it, yes, that also applies to Male Genital MUTILATION.

  9. Rob says

    Yeah… still not willing to be all “culturally relativistic” about this.

    Indeed. Why don’t we just go back to keeping slaves (sex and otherwise), discriminating openly against other races or even trying to exterminate them. Whatever…

    There’s always some fucked up cultural excuse to justify something if you look under the right rock. I used to wonder why the world didn’t progress faster in the area of human rights, but quite simply there is too much of this turning a blind eye or excusing the inexcusable going on (as long as it doesn’t happen to *me*.

    How about the next time someone says genital mutilation isn’t so bad we hold them down and lop a bit of theirs off? Not a big piece mind.

  10. 'dirigible says

    “as the MRM loves to call it, “male genital mutilation.””

    It is genital mutilation. It’s just not the genital mutilation that is under discussion and so anyone bringing it up is derailing.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    The normalizing of the intolerable is the same whether the evil is FGM, routine male circumcision, or slavery.

    NateHevens gives an example of the simplest method of deflating this crap. Substitute some evil that the morons can still perceive. Explain how Auschwitz is an expression of the ‘ancient culture’ of Germany; tell us that slavery in the United States was ‘really’ about bringing Christianity to the poor black masses; demonstrate how honor killings represent a culture that ‘values women.’

    Tell us the sky is puce, tell us the world is flat, piss on us and tell us it’s raining.

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