Posted by olvlzl.
In the Boston Globe today, an article about the persistence of female genital mutilation in the Unites states brings up some basic questions. Pat Schroeder, remembering one of the problems faced by the effort to outlaw this most basic violation of the most basic of women’s rights, recalled some people said that “you can’t be a cultural Nazi and tell people they can’t bring their culture here,”. Where to start?
Does this practice of trying to enforce women’s virginity by destroying a part of her anatomy and inflicting lasting pain and health problems constitute “a culture”? What is “a culture” anyway? Isn’t it an anthropological concept that is at best ill-defined at best, and at times sentimental yearning of a rather sordid variety
And does “a culture” have rights? If it does, do its “rights” trump those of the rights of half of the population to their right to bodily autonomy and integrity? I’m very skeptical of “a culture” having rights outside of the rights held individually by those who are at times rather artificially classified as possessors of “the culture”. Actually, it’s more common for people to talk as if a culture claims rights on individuals. I am certain that the individuals have the right to not be forced or coerced into letting someone mutilate their genitals no matter what their families or wider communities want.
It can be added that the age group on which female genital mutilation is most commonly practiced is not sufficiently mature to withstand family and societal pressure. Their foremost right is to the protection of society and its help in attaining the maturity and autonomy to make such a potentially destructive and irreversible decision on her own, when she is an adult. And even for adults, I’m not sure it should be allowed, it should certainly be discouraged.
Remembering well the arguments over this issue when it was first brought to the attention of people in the west, the ability of liberals here to ignore the individuals’ rights in favor of “the culture” seemed bizarre. It was like the attention paid to the destruction of the Mostar bridge or the Afghanistan Buddhas* while ignoring that people were being killed and enslaved in the same places. It combined sentimental condescension and inconsistency in a dangerous way. Even this strange effort to perverse an entirely odious cultural practice had the same feel as the habit of our corporate media to pay attention to objects instead of even entire groups of people.
People are alive. Their bodies and their minds make them a very concrete though quite intangible “locus of rights”. They have some rights that are absolute, that to bodily autonomy being the most basic and absolute. It is when an individual acts in ways that impinge on other peoples’ rights that their rights have gone beyond their limits. Why should “a culture” have this right when individuals don’t?
“Cultural Nazi”, wasn’t it really nuts to apply this phrase to an effort to give women the ownership of their own bodies? Do these people even think about what they’re saying?
* Impermanence is one of the most important part of Buddhist teachings, some say the most important. I’ve always thought it was enormously ironic that the Taliban, in an attempt to destroy any trace of Buddhism, was actually demonstrating the truth of one of its central teachings. Just goes to show how not thinking something through to the end can have unintended consequences.