Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I was having a conversation with e yesterday, about an NYT article on female genital mutilation which came up again when I was reading this post from Bitch PhD in response to it.

The good doctor made the good point that the article wrongly implies or assumes that FGM is a muslim practice. It's not. E made the point that it's hypocritical to decry that particular culture's practice when women have been so wrongly treated throughout time in our own. This, I think, is both a good and bad point (bood? gad?).

First, although 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone' is always a worthy talking point, it's also rather limited - because no human is without sin. So, taken as is, it kind of shuts down the discussion. Second, I think it is logically fallacious to attack our own cultural history as a reason not to fight against what many see as a human rights/women's rights violation - it's not a logical strike against the argument against FGM, it's a strike against our culture. Finally, I think it would be wrongly self-limiting to attack the wrongs against women in our culture but expressly not those of another.

That said, it was a gad point so let's cover the other side of things.

First, yes, it is hypocritical.

Second, who are we, sticking our noses in other people's business? I'm reminded of discussions on Mill, about the limits of freedom. This is sticky. In India, there used to be a practice called Sati (or suttee) where widows threw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyre. In theory, it was voluntary, though in practice a great deal of social pressure (absolute ostracization for those who refused) as well as even drugs or actual force was involved in enforcing the practice. Now, in theory or not, this was a cultural practice. It was outlawed, fought against, and ENDED by the British. It would be damned hard to sustain an argument against ending the practice, and I don't like the grounds that that rests on (more on that in a moment)(also - wouldn't the same argument sort of hold in our own culture?). Why can we pick and choose the cultural practices that are ok? What about halal butchering? What about wooden discs in lips, or sexual rites of passage involving young boys and older men?

Third, what if they're right? There exists the possibility that the practices based on a religion are RIGHT. I mean, for example, if someone's religion tells them that women are only pure if a piece of their clitoris has been nicked off, and their religion is right, how dare we...

But how do you argue against that? It's not logical, it simply is.

Gear change.

Personally, I go about with a hope for some sort of ultimate objectivity, a la deity perhaps, because it seems that without such a thing there is no hope of ultimate understanding, or connection, among mankind. The sheer variety of humanity seems to me to be an argument both for and against this. Sadly, I have the feeling that the argument in favor of cultural practice rests on subjectivity, apartness, and lack of ability to understand. Simply put, if Sati is ok, but I find it abhorrent - aside from disingenuous rationalizations, I have to say "I don't like it but I don't understand, either".

But who (no one) wants to be wrong? If you've got a God, or gods, then generally you assume (have faith) that they're right, so you're right, and ...

I'm going to go take a cold shower.

1 comment:

K said...

More than anything, this made me think of the article I read (can't for the life of me remember where)on polygamy and the fight against it in the US. The logic for fighting it was that 1)we're good Christians and it squicks us out (1870s argument) and 2) it's been proven again and again by survivors that this system hurts/abuses women and children alike (more modern argument). The US policy on such things is that religious belief is sacred and cannot be legislated, but religious practice can, and should, be restricted if it breaks laws, and especially if it hurts someone (even with their supposed consent).
I was also reminded of this:, which references the article I wanted but couldn't find (this is an article about the book). It's hard to know where to draw the line on being nonjudgemental - but as a human family there are some things (mutilating children, culturally required suicide, etc) that are evil trancendent of cultural context.
And on your last point - why have I been laboring under the delusion that you were an athiest? I think that might have been an intellectual flirtation you had when we were 19.