At Sociological Images, Lisa Wade has decided to promote a report by the Hastings Center on the practice of female genital mutilation. In response to what they consider “hyperbolic and one-sided” coverage by “Western media” without regard to the “cultural complexities” of mutilation, the report claims to offer “a better account of the facts”.
By uncritically parroting the report’s findings, Wade repeats its central mistake. For the sake of “balance”, she and the report both leave a gaping chasm where you might expect to see the most pressing, urgent, relevant aspect of the entire issue: the outrage that children are made to undergo medically unnecessary, disfiguring and disabling surgery upon their healthy, normal genitals without their consent.
However much they’ve tried to dance around what should be the central concern here, and excise any suggestion of moral judgment of FGM (they reserve that for “hyperbolic” journalists), its absence screams throughout the piece. You just can’t avoid noticing how this bioethics think tank seemingly displays no interest in considering the ethics of the very practice under discussion.
And while their intention may have simply been to dispel misconceptions about FGM rather than offer yet another condemnation of the practice, their overall characterization of this issue treats it as something that can be sterilized, prettified, and abstracted away. They repeatedly downplay the reality of mutilation – they prefer to call it “surgeries” or “modification”, stripping away any hint of negativity – with an attitude suggesting that those who oppose it should find something better to do with their time. It is a masterwork of callousness, sure to appeal to anyone who regards women as less than human.
This is underscored by the shortcomings of the “facts” they purport to offer. Their claims are almost wholly irrelevant to the inescapable problems presented by FGM, and provide only a cursory analysis of complex phenomena like cultural attitudes toward women’s bodies before dismissing the very possibility that this could have any bearing on the practice. As a whole, it comes off as pathetically reaching for any remotely plausible reason to oppose the “one-sided” condemnation of FGM, in the name of mere contrarianism.