Surgeries and modifications


There’s the Hastings Center report itself, which was the source of Lisa Wade’s article. Zinnia Jones has a great, detailed post on it. I’ll just mention some things that jump out at me.

Starting with the title.

Seven Things to Know about

Female Genital Surgeries

in Africa

They’re not surgeries. If you’re walking down the street and someone tears your arm off for the fun of it, that’s not surgery.

Calling FGM “surgeries” makes it sound health-related, beneficial, useful, good for the girl it happens to. It loads the deck. It’s a creepy, sly, underhanded way of trying to manipulate us into thinking oh well it’s not so bad then.

Then the first part of the first sentence.

Western media coverage of female genital modifications in Africa has been hyperbolic and onesided, presenting them uniformly as mutilation

Because they are. “Modifications” is again a way to pretty them up.

Then the next sentence.

Even if we ultimately decide that female genital modifications should be abandoned, the debate

around them should be grounded in a better account of the facts.

We? Who’s we? “We” already have decided that. Maybe the Hastings Center hasn’t, but I’m in a different “we.”

And what does “ultimately” mean? As if nobody had thought about this yet, and there were all sorts of reasons not to abandon FGM? As if it were a wide-open question? Many many many people, right there in Africa, have already decided that FGM should be abandoned.

The title and two sentences. Now to page 6.

Policy Implications 1. Better fact checking and better representation of the voices of scholars and the perspectives and experiences of African women who value female genital surgery are likely to change the character of the discussion. For nearly three decades, there has been an uncritical relationship between the media and antimutilation advocacy groups. In the face of horrifying and sensational claims about African parents “mutilating” their daughters and damaging their sexual pleasure and reproductive capacities, there has been surprisingly little journalistic exploration of alternative views or consultation with experts who can assess current evidence.

We recommend that journalists, activists, and policy-makers cease using violent and preemptive rhetoric. We recommend a more balanced discussion of the topic in the press and in public policy forums. Female genital surgeries worldwide should be addressed in a larger context of discussions of health promotion, parental and children’s rights, religious
and cultural freedom, gender parity, debates on permissible cosmetic alterations of the body, and female empowerment
issues.

No. No I’m not going to seek out “better representation” of the perspectives and experiences of African women who value female genital surgery mutilation. I’m not going to do that any more than I would in the case of foot-binding. No I’m not going to combine “parental and children’s rights” in that way when it’s a question of cutting up children’s genitals. Parents don’t have a “right” to do that in the absence of medical necessity. No, no, no.

Richard Shweder is one of the people who signed that report. We’ve seen him before. It was five years ago

I trust you read that piece by John Tierney on the need to be more respectful of female genital mutilation – or rather, of what he carefully decides to call ‘female circumcision’ because it’s critics who call it female genital mutilation. Well we call it that because chopping off the clitoris and most of the labia and sewing up the whole hatchet-job does seem like mutilation – we critics are funny that way.

Tierney’s piece on Leon Kass’s speech last week was terrific, but this one is…not so good. I do not like it. It makes me cross.

But the one by Richard Shweder puts Tierney’s in the shade. It’s jaw-dropping.

He’s very angry with feminists who don’t like FGM.

The article is one of a series of sensational, lurid and horrifying pieces that the Times has printed over the past decade or so covering the topic, all giving one-sided and uncritical expression to a representation of the practice that has been constructed and widely circulated by feminist and First World human rights activist groups.

Horrors. Feminists and human rights activist groups have ‘constructed’ a representation of FGM that portrays it as a drastic mutilation imposed on female children as a way to control women by chopping off most of their genitalia. How imperialist, how colonialist, how elitist, how cosmopolitan, how wicked. Of course mutilation of girl children is a fine thing as long as it’s done six thousand miles away.

There’s a lot more, and a lot of comments. Oh yes we’ve been here before.

See also Will Bordell’s article from a couple of months ago.

Comments

  1. brianpansky says

    I mean, so far, only some of the helpless infants have died or experienced medical complications for no good reason. It’s not even a Real Problem (TM) yet!

  2. No Light says

    Well Brian @#2, they’re only girls after all, no great loss if one dies.

    I love how it’s imperialist to object to genital mutilation, but not to decide that women in Africa really love it, and want to keep it up, despite the fact that:

    Many many many people, right there in Africa, have already decided that FGM should be abandoned.

    Also “surgery” and “modification” are all well and good if we’re talking about hipsters on BME removing their labia for funsies, but not for little girls cut with razor blades, scraped with flint, then “sewn” up by having thorns pushed through the edges of the wound, followed by. a fortnight of being bound from waist to toes.

  3. sunny says

    not for little girls cut with razor blades, scraped with flint, then “sewn” up by having thorns pushed through the edges of the wound, followed by. a fortnight of being bound from waist to toes.

    Nevertheless “aesthetically pleasing” according to Wade. One suffers for “art”, I suppose. Perhaps the practice of ‘Sati’ in India which the British put a stop to was “aesthetically pleasing” as well – for the spectators anyway.

  4. mildlymagnificent says

    Surgeries? Cosmetic alteration?

    I think I get it. Women in wealthy countries can go to qualified, professional surgeons for procedures in sterile conditions to repair damage to their genital area caused by childbirth or trauma.

    It’s the same ‘sort of thing’. Only there’s no damage to repair, these are children with no choice in the matter, and the non-sterile, so-called surgery can kill them and will definitely maim them. Not a lot of difference, really. (When you stand on your head, look sideways and squint a lot, that is.)

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