Social Question

janbb's avatar

Should female genital mutilation be universally banned - if possible?

Asked by janbb (53601points) July 10th, 2010

We are having a long discussion on another thread about the posssible banning of the burqa. I tend to agree with those who say it is Western-centric and judgmental to say it should be banned; that we do not have the right to judge their cultural mores. But let’s take the argument a step further. What about female genital mutilation? Is that an acceptable cultural tradition or a barbaric sexist practice that should be universally banned? I’m curious to read the thoughts of others on this. (Please let’s leave male circumcision out of this for today; that’s a whole ‘nother issue.)

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42 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Like with many of these matters, legal banning doesn’t imply elimination of practice – there needs to be more money put into education and eradicating certain notions – I know there are organizations made up of ex-cutters (women who used to mutilate girls for their communities) helping others move away from this practice – we should rather support these efforts. However, if an adult female wants to mutilate her genitals (though it is too bad that she can’t see the sexist forces shaping her decision), I can’t tell her not to do it but when it comes to children, I abhor the practice.

dpworkin's avatar

This is a more interesting question than the Burqa in my opinion, because here a cultural practice does cruel, irreversible damage. @Simone_De_Beauvoir wisely points out that legislation would be of little or no value.

I think I might be in favor of education leading to the adoption of a symbolic form of the practice, such as making a small, ritual nick. It would take a long time, and wouldn’t reach everywhere, but I think something along those lines has the best chance of catching on.

nikipedia's avatar

Oh, absolutely, it should be banned. I mean, imposing anything kind of practice another person against that person’s will—be it banning a burqa or female genital mutilation—should be illegal.

If women choose to wear burqas or choose to have their genitals mutilated (although I can’t imagine the latter case ever happening) then I guess this should still be available to them.

dpworkin's avatar

@nikipedia In a perfect world all cruelty would be banned, but don’t you agree that this,and “honor” killings are highly resistant phenomena? We may have to settle for something less than a ban, because I don’t really see how a ban could be imposed. No police force in the world could ever be large enough.

I don’t even like the idea of the “nick” that I proposed above, but for the fact that there seems to be a chance that it might work.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@nikipedia I feel like I’ve read somewhere about women in the US wanting to get it done if it hasn’t been done to them before. @dpworkin this is something interesting to read along the lines you mention.

marinelife's avatar

This is entirely different from the burqa. It is based on ignorance of female sexuality (and ignorant fear of same).

I do think it should be banned.

janbb's avatar

The “banning” part of the question is more theoretical than practical; I’m more interested in a discussion of should it be done, than can it be done.

rebbel's avatar

It is a pity he said with understatement that the question can (has to) be asked in the first place.
Until some years ago i hadn’t heard about this phenomenon and i was (and still am) utterly disgusted and furious that these practices exist.
Who in his wrong mind could have ever thought that this is a good idea, to mutilate an intact female (body) so she loses her sexual pleasure???
Hands off of all (young) women and boys.
Assholes.

Edit: And it might be a cultural or a religious thing, and some people (fathers and mothers) might use that as an excuse to do the mutilation, but what i will never understand, no matter what the reason or cause, is that a parent can harm (in such a bad and definite way) their child.

dpworkin's avatar

If I were the boss of the world? I would halt it immediately. It stands out as being among the cruelest practices yet performed by any cultural group. But let’s not forget that we take an ethnocentric view, even here, and that not even the victims want it banned in many, many cases.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb Yes, I think it should be done because even it’s not going to lead to immediate end to this practice, at least it will be known to people that their government does not support this in a superficial public manner, at least. Although, sometimes that kind of thing backfires and gets certain uppity people to lead groups of people into ‘traditionalism insanity’ as I call it…wanting the ‘good old days’..making up new rules that were never even there before (hello, Sharia laws) so that they can reach ‘stability’.

Seek's avatar

If banning would do anything, I’d support it. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t.

By example, it’s illegal to get a tattoo if you’re under 18. Ask any 16 year old how many of his classmates have tattoos already. People who are willing to mutilate children will do so whether it’s legal or not.

Of course, if I had my way, all ritual child mutilation up to and including infant male circumcision and infant ear piercing would be punished by flogging with canes and a month in the stocks.

janbb's avatar

@dpworkin Yes, that’s why I think it is such a compelling question because it pits our cultural relativism against our humanity.

janbb's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I do see a distinction between cultures that deem ear piercing on little children attractive and female genital mutilation.

NaturallyMe's avatar

Yes it should, everything possible should be done to do away with that abhorrent practice. Cultural practice is no justification for this, not at all.

Seek's avatar

@janbb

I don’t.

It’s a permanent alteration of the child’s flesh performed without their informed consent. The fact that someone thinks it’s “pretty” doesn’t change that fact. Some Asian cultures thought that making a little girl bind her feet until they folded in half was attractive.

janbb's avatar

Pierced skin can usually grow out, but we digress. I do understand the point you are making, but basically parents make many more “permanent” decisions regarding their children’s upbringing, i.e., whether to home-school them or not. I guess I feel that ear-piercing is not so damaging that I would override a cultural norm. But I take your point.

anartist's avatar

Banning it is both impossible and lacks respect for a particular culture. Working with the local populations, as many UN-sponsored and other NGOs are doing to protect and to educate as an attempt to help serve abused women in “third world” and other poor or war-ravaged countries, can and is being done. Although, it has occasionally happened that some of these foreign “protectors” have also abused the women under their protection. Another thing that can be done by such a country as the US is to withhold financial and other assistance until an agreement about this can be made.

You might want to contact this woman who has a lot of experience in this area Beth Vann or get a copy of her book Gender-Based Violence: Emerging Issues in Programs Serving Displaced. Populations

Another book online

An organisation that does a lot of work internationally with these issues is RHRC. Consortium in Arlington VA. Their newsletter here.

People who work in this field are call gender-base violence [GBV] counselors or coordinators.

josie's avatar

It is a waste of time to impose a ban that can not be enforced. The best way to get rid of this and other strange practices is to be good stewards of Western civilization and keep talking/educating. It will eventually go away, like slavery and forced child labor. But if we go, genitals will keep on being mutilated. The problem is that the biggest enemy of the enlightened West is self hating Westerners

ETpro's avatar

I think there are some practices that all civilized cultures find so odious and barbaric that the International community might come together to end them. Take slavery, for instance. Would we permit a nation state to use slave labor to operate its economic engine? What if they obtained their slaves by armed military raids on neighboring countries? What if they decided that raiding other countries and eating people captured there was preferable to ranching as a way to supply meat for their people. I would class female genital mutilation in that group of barbaric practices.

Wearing of burqas is not barbaric in itself. But if murderous suicide bombers use them as a cover for bombs to kill others who they deem infidels simply because they subscribe to some other faith than Islam, or even because they are the wrong flavor of Isl;am or pray at the wrong time of day, then wearing of burqas becomes an issue all of us have an interest in. Their right to swing their fist stops as our noses.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

However it comes about, yes. Female circumcision isn’t removing any skin for hygeine or whatever, it’s specifically about removing the clitoris with the intention of retarding female sexual arousal. The idea is that the less a female can be sexually aroused then the less likely she will be to stray from her husband or family.

Coloma's avatar

It seems to me that the core issue here is that most of these practices have arisen from patriarchal sexism, not simply aesthetic or cultural preference.

Facade's avatar

Of course. It’s just wrong. I feel this way about male circumcision as well.

anartist's avatar

@Coloma certainly not aesthetic or “cultural.” It is to maintain the control of sex and sexuality by men. Sewing the labia shut until the girl is given in marriage makes her own discovery of sexuality impossible. A clitoridectomy removes most if not all sexual pleasure, and thus desire, from a woman.

Coloma's avatar

@anartist

Yes, my sentiments exactly.

Coloma's avatar

@anartist

To clarify…ear piercing might be more aesthetic or cultural in nature, any sexual mutilation is, as you stated, a byproduct of control.

gorillapaws's avatar

Cultural moral relativism is a nonsensical moral theory. If you go to the philosophy department of any university, you would be very hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t openly mock the theory.

Under cultural moral relativism, we can’t say the genocide of the Jewish people under a Nazi culture was wrong. We can’t say that the enslavement of Africans in colonial American culture was wrong. We can’t say the slaughtering of everyone with a professional background during Mao’s cultural revolution was wrong. We can’t say child prostitution is wrong in some cultures, nor are polygamous child marriages to older men that occur in radical Mormon cultures. The list of nonsense continues ad nauseum.

If a moral theory can’t claim that these types of acts are wrong, what then is the point of morality? How is it at all useful? Now it does make sense to respect other cultures, and it is certainly a mistake to assume that western culture is always correct, but when it comes to morality, it makes no sense to ignore atrocities in the name of cultural sensitivity (this would also include any atrocities that westerners have perpetrated).

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@gorillapaws Well said, completely agree. Lurve.

Coloma's avatar

Of course, big dif. between ear piercing and genital mutilation.

A bone through the nose is beautiful to some people. lol

gondwanalon's avatar

All genital mutilation of female babies and young children is wrong and a discusting crime. The circumcision of baby boys is also mutilation and should be a crime as well.

dpworkin's avatar

@gondwanalon I’m glad you don’t make the rules. My People have a 5,000 year-old Covenant with the Lord that we circumcise boys at 8 days of age. Aren’t you being a little arrogant?

janbb's avatar

@gondwanalon I had said in the details I didn’t want to get into a discussion of male circumcision in this thread. It’s been discussed elsewhere ad nauseum. But hey, no skin off my – err, nose.)

gondwanalon's avatar

@dpworkin 5000 years of mutilating baby boys doesn’t make it right. A lot of baby boys are also circumcised in the U.S.A. for no religious or valid medical reason. Most likely the people the mutilate baby girl’s genitalia will present reasons but none could possible justify such a terrible thing to do to an innocent child. Good health!

dpworkin's avatar

You are not competent to judge what is wrong or right for me. You overweening arrogance seems to disqualify you from judging those other than me as well.

anartist's avatar

@gondwanalon No valid medical reason? Prevents infection. Probably why the Jews did it in the first place. Along with the origin of Kashrut rules, probably had a lot to do with maintaining health in the original climate and era.

Facade's avatar

@anartist A woman’s labia can cause infection as well if not properly cleaned. Let’s go ‘head and cut those off too, huh? Make things easier…

nikipedia's avatar

Wow, way to completely ignore this line:

(Please let’s leave male circumcision out of this for today; that’s a whole ‘nother issue.)

dpworkin's avatar

@Facade It has been proven beyond a doubt that circumcision lessens the chances of AIDS transmission, and it is an important means of fighting HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. No one is suggesting that it is the functional or moral equivalent of excising someone’s labia. Let’s not get hysterical.

nikipedia's avatar

@dpworkin: Yo, start your own thread.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t follow instructions.

gondwanalon's avatar

@anartist Back in ancient times when it was hard to maintain good hygiene people did the best that they could to survive. Nowadays there is no valid medical reason for mutilating baby boys because we have the knowledge and resources to easily avoid infections.

anartist's avatar

@Facade suit yourself

mattbrowne's avatar

I think it already is. But how to enforce it everywhere? We need to change the mindsets of people.

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