[Solved] female body modification and not mutilation

One of the biggest problems the world has faced since the beginning of man is the intolerance that many hold toward the diverse cultural and religious beliefs that are practiced by different societies around the world. Some differences are trivial, such as the Indian belief that cows are sacred and should not be eaten, that French women don’t shave their armpits, and the belief in different gods, but there have been few topics as controversial as that of female body modification, or very commonly known as female circumcision.

To those brought up being taught that women should always be seen as objects that should not be harmed, female genital mutilation seems a practice too vile to even consider. Many have argued that “FGM has disastrous health effects, combined with the social injustices it perpetuates constitute a barrier to the overall African development” (Shweder) and that it was “devised [as a] brutal means… to curb female sexual desire and response. ” There is such great opposition in the United States alone that in 1996, Congress passed a ban of FGM as an amendment to an omnibus appropriations bill (Smith Obolor).

It is without a doubt that to many, FGM does seem as a brutal practice that was implemented into African traditions to further subjugate women; however, the anthropological perspective proves otherwise. By definition, cultural relativism is a method which anthropologists use to interpret specific beliefs and practices in the context of the culture in which they belong (Lavenda 22-23), a technique that most of the general public seems to either forget or dub as ludicrous.

However, one can’t judge another without at least knowing the historical context or the perception and real intention behind any practice, and at the very least one does not have the right to make assumptions on a subject they aren’t educated on, have never seen it, or have never experienced it. Female body modification, or female body mutilation as it is called by those who are opposed to it, is a coming of age ceremony that is not only embraced in many parts of Africa, but in Europe and even the United States as well (Shweder).

Many turn a deaf ear to contradictions of public beliefs that African women are forced against their will and circumcised in public ceremonies, even though some, such as scholar and anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu from Kono (an African ethnic group), have come forth and given evidence against such presumptions. In November of 1999, Ahmadu delivered a paper at the American Anthropological Association in Chicago stating that “most Kono women uphold female and male circumcision and positively evaluate its consequences for their psychological, social, spiritual, and physical well-being” (Shweder).

She also went on to suggest that women who undergo the surgery feel empowered, feel a sense of belonging with the rest of their peers, and believe that in doing so it will make them more feminine, beautiful, civilized, and more honorable. There are other notable facts about this cultural practice. The main argument is that FGM is a form of male dominance over women. However, as Shweder states, it is a very poor example to choose from for there are many patriarchal cultures in Asia and Europe who, although they don’t perform genital mutilation, exclude women from participating in important religious rituals (Shweder).

Another counterargument aimed to stop this practice is that many women are doing it against their will and if given the choice they would stop. However, just as Fuambai Ahmadu state at the American Anthropological Association, many of these women are indeed in favor with this ritual. In the late eighties and early nineties, a survey was given to a little over three thousand African women which indicated that eighty-nine percent had been circumcised and that of those eighty-nine percent about all over ninety percent favored its continuance and would thus have their daughters circumcised.

Yet another argument many people have is that African women are more deeply oppressed in certain areas of Africa than in others, evident that there are higher numbers of female body modifications reported in certain countries than others. However, logically and sociologically it makes sense that some countries would have a lower number of reported female circumcisions because the practice may not be traditional to their cultural background.

Another general argument is against the ritual is that it violates human rights. It is important to realize that although FGM may seem shocking to the eye, African women do not think about circumcision in human rights terms because they see it as part of their cultural heritage or their religion, just as in a similar fashion opponents argue that they don’t do it for the same reasons. (Shweder). Finally, many people think to realize that their society does not practice such extreme forms of body modification.

However, don’t the “more civilized” westerners get breast implantation, sex change operations, and face lifts (Shweder)? These procedures do not have any type of cultural or religious symbolism behind it and yet people are ready to go under the knife to perform these operations in hopes of looking better than they did before. This practice is part of many African cultures; it is a rite of passage that although it may seem as a crude and savage ritual, it holds much symbolism within the African population.

People all over the world have or have had different rituals that are comparably as shocking, such as Chinese foot binding, body piercing, tattooing, and scarification to name a few (Smith Obolor). People should stop and think about the simplicity their arguments hold compared to those of FGM practitioners. There is an overall assumption that this ritual may lead to health risks and possible death (Smith Obolor), however, wouldn’t one think that if the exaggerations of many Africans were being killed as a result of this practice had proven true, the African populations would have stopped the ritual by now?

The public is quick to judge and exaggerate their own presumed beliefs that it allows for little but intolerance for the unknown to grow. Ripping cultural and religious practices from societies that hold a different set of beliefs without having any sense of cultural sensitivity or cultural relativism is itself an act of oppression and imperialism that itself poses a greater threat to all cultures around the world than a simple religious rite of passage.

Works Cited Lavenda, Robert H. and Emily A. Schultz. Core Concepts in Cultural Anthropology. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Shweder, Richard A. “What About “Female Genital Mutilation”? And Why Understanding Culture Matters in the First Place. ” 12 December 2007 . Smith Obolor, Regina. “Law and Persuasion in the Elimination of Female Genital Modification. ” 2001. 12 December 2007 .

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