The Corner

Culture

How Much Widow-Burning Is Too Much?

From the Journal of Medical Ethics (or lack thereof), this week:

In order to better protect female children from the serious and long-term harms of some types of non-therapeutic FGA, we must adopt a more nuanced position that acknowledges a wide spectrum of procedures that alter female genitalia. We offer a revised categorisation for non-therapeutic FGA that groups procedures by effect and not by process. Acceptance of de minimis procedures that generally do not carry long-term medical risks is culturally sensitive, does not discriminate on the basis of gender, and does not violate human rights. More morbid procedures should not be performed. However, accepting de minimis non-therapeutic FGA procedures enhances the effort of compassionate practitioners searching for a compromise position that respects cultural differences but protects the health of their patients.

In other words: “How much female genital mutilation is too much?”

Forgive me for saying something rather stark, but: Some “cultural differences” are not worth respecting. Female genital mutilation is one of them.

The authors of the above (Kavita Arora of Case Western Reserve University and Allan Jacobs of Stony Brook University) are effectively of the school that, if you don’t take FGM too far, it’s just another lifestyle choice people of goodwill can disagree about. You amputate your infant daughter’s labia, I don’t, and we can still get together and watch the Celtics.

That’s nonsense — and destructive nonsense. “De minimis” variations on FGM are not, as the authors contend, like circumcision or orthodontia. The purpose of FGM is to do violence to healthy female sexuality. That it may be done “in the belief that it will ensure a girl’s proper marriage, chastity, beauty or family honor,” as UNICEF reports, only suggests that those ends have been warped beyond recognition. Reducing FGM to a “nick” or a “cosmetic” procedure would not alter the symbolism of the procedure: to enforce a distorted vision of the proper relations between men and women — and, by extension, of what constitutes human flourishing. We in the West have good and defensible reasons for rejecting FGM. To permit it, in “de minimis” form or otherwise, would be to reject our own tradition and imply that the view of femininity that leads to FGM is acceptable, or tolerable.

It’s not. Mutilating our daughters is not a “value” on which we can “compromise.”

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