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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Trouble With “Objectivity”

posted by on October 27 at 14:04 PM

CNN has a story about a man accused of cutting off his daughter’s clitoris with a pair of scissors that struggles laboriously to present the practice in a “balanced” manner, eschewing the more accurate phrase “female genital mutilation” to describe the practice in favor of “female circumcision,” which female genital mutilation most assuredly is not. It also takes pains to describe the practice of cutting off girls’ clitorises as an “ancient” and “5,000-year-old” custom—or “procedure,” as the article, incredibly, describes it.

Female circumcision is common in Adem’s homeland, and his lawyer, Mark Hill, acknowledged that Adem’s daughter had been cut. But he said his client did not do it, and he implied that the family of Fortunate Adem, who immigrated from South Africa when she was 6, may have had the procedure done.[…]

The U.S. State Department estimates that up to 130 million women had undergone circumcision worldwide as of 2001.

Just to be clear: This is circumcision. This is not.

The article goes on to describe genital mutilation as “a preparation for marriage,” adding, “Activists say the practice is intended to deny women sexual pleasure.”

Hmm… Wonder why they would say that?

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Well said. A point that needs repeating periodically. They are not clipping off any flaps of skin; they're cutting off the clitoris itself. This would be equivalent to lopping off the head of the penis, which is not something most people would be comfortable with. If someone chopped off his son's dick, there wouldn't be much of this "cultural sensitivity" being displayed, that's for sure.

Slavery is also a cultural custom widely practiced in the world, but no one expects to be able to practice it after they come to the USA, and there's no, ahem, pussyfooting around in the press if it is discovered.
This practice is barbaric and people who do it in the USA should be imprisoned and deported if possible. The wishes of "the community" or even the girl mean nothing.

Posted by Fnarf | October 27, 2006 2:20 PM

A preparation for marriage?!?!

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something hacked off your genitals? Christ!

Posted by Dan Savage | October 27, 2006 2:23 PM

I wish the same double-quoted "objectivity" could be dropped from discussions of male circumcision as well.

Posted by Noink | October 27, 2006 2:27 PM

This really illustrates the major problem with the US media in general: They think that objectivity and balanced coverage means giving equal time to crazy people and liars whose views are demonstrably false.

Won't someone please give us a Howard Beale who will cut the bul*&%t and tell people how it really is? I'd hoped it would be Dan Rather, oh well.

Posted by Andrew | October 27, 2006 2:47 PM

As Bill Moyers said, "Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference." If only ECB were so trenchant.

ECB, this oblique post confuses the question of objectivity versus balance. In the title of the post, you imply CNN is trying to be objective and failing. But that is not the problem! The problem is that CNN -- and much of the mass media -- seeks balance in place of objectivity. They are hitting the target, but the target is wrong.

By the way, my favorite breakfast sandwich is an egg cheese bacon aka ECB. You have some good initials.

Posted by Jonah | October 27, 2006 2:56 PM

Full-on genital mutilation often includes not only clitorectomy but sewing up the whole slit, leaving only a small hole at the bottom for menstrual blood. This can then be partially opened up for the husband at the time of marriage. I'm not sure whether the primary purpose is to prevent sex so much as it is to prevent rape. Either way, your bride will be nice and virginal when you take her (though she may be a little sore, and a little -- "Jesus Christ, what happened to YOU?" -- unsexy to fellows who think ladies' goodies are much more attractive as they are than as bleeding tatters.

Posted by Fnarf | October 27, 2006 2:59 PM

I'm with Raoul Duke on this one. Objectivity is bullshit, and at best means conformity to the prevailing bias. That's why I like advocacy journalism.

Posted by Gitai | October 27, 2006 3:08 PM

I think there'd be no question that he'd be arrested and charged with abuse and mutilation if he cut off, say, his daughter's toes. Yet causing the toes to putrefy and drop off used to be an accepted cultural practice. It has been recognized to be a repellent, abusive, and illegal cultural practice. Aren't a girl's genitals regarded as just as valuable as her toes?

I mean, if some loon cultist type decides that women can't be tempted if they're blind, and his "cultural habits" demand that his wife and daughters be blinded with sticks, would we tolerate that in the name of religiocultural tolerance? Gawd, I certainly hope not.

Posted by Geni | October 27, 2006 3:09 PM

If you squint really hard, you'll notice that they quote someone as calling "female genital mutilation" in the next-to-last paragraph.

Posted by Joey in SF | October 27, 2006 3:15 PM

I highly doubt that men in countries where FGM is performed ever look at their wives' genitals.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 27, 2006 3:30 PM

I'll probably get flamed for this but the distinction between circumcision and genital mutilation is not male versus female. It's consenting versus non-consenting. Adults can choose elective genital surgery if they wish (a forced cultural norm is not choice). But any time a non-consenting individual has his or her healthy genitals cut and altered, it is mutilation.

Posted by Tony | October 27, 2006 3:47 PM

Keshmeshi: they're missing out. Girlie bits are GOWAJUSS.

Posted by Fnarf | October 27, 2006 4:15 PM

What parts of multiculturalism (multiclitoralism?) & diversity don't Erica C. understand? Aren't CNN objectivists (Ayn Rand would understand) objectively & dispassionately spinning themselves into pretzels by bowing to the mandates & mantras of the progressive jihad?

Tolerance & diversity are the first sacraments of secular progressive fundamentalism; multiculturalism is your catechism. Diverse stuff happens in diverse places: last time I was in Africa, clits & foreskins were dropping like flies. Get used to it.

(And what wicked sexism prevents Erica C. Barnett from getting vexed about male genital mutilation? Check with Charles & check Charles: chances are he's been snipped & clipped as part of the passage from puberty to ... whatever he passed to.)

Posted by clit lit 101 | October 27, 2006 4:34 PM

Again: male circumcision is not remotely similar to clitorectomy.

On the subject of multiclitorism, I recently discovered that female kangaroos and most other marsupials have two vaginas. Don't know about the clits, but you could look it up.

Posted by Fnarf | October 27, 2006 5:06 PM

Anytime Ayn Rand gets introduced into a conversation, you know the IQ has dropped. The only thing that woman ever did for people of normal intelligence is write a romance novel about architects. (Just be sure to skip to the end of any of Howard Roark's speeches, or you may die of boredom)

Any sort of invasive home surgery, especially perfomed on a child, should be recognized for what it is - a VERY BAD THING. Just as a home abortion or a home circumcision would be.

...and spare me any comments on the ritual of bris. It's been a long week, and we've already dumbed everything down by exhuming Ayn.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 27, 2006 7:06 PM

Y'alls would be surprised at how few people know that there is such a thing as FGM. I didn't hear of it until college.

Posted by Mike in MO | October 28, 2006 5:25 AM

Speaking of getting flamed, I'm about to be.

Actually, the best way to refer to this practice is Female Genital Cutting. There are a couple of different forms, as described above. Now, given, this practice seems disgusting to Western culture and even to some people within the cultures that practice it. That being said, reveling in our disgust doesn't really do anyone any good.

Cultural change needs to come from within. Just as with Iraq, where running in and saying "This is horrible! Poof! You're a democracy" hasn't worked, condemning people as backwards and wrong doesn't really work. In fact, it will probably cause people to stick to their guns more, since they view their cultural traditions at stake. Education and, if nothing else, clean tools are the best ways to get people (especially women in this case) to change their practices.

Finally, for an interesting perspective. One of the case studies I read about this has an interesting exchange. The informant asks the interviewer if she can ask her a personal question. When the interview consents, the woman asks if "everything goes in" during sex in Western culture. Her concept of the female vagina uncut was so massive and gross that it could fit the testicles as well. Many women interviewed found pictures of uncut vaginas aesthetically displeasing.

Everyone has their point of view – simply deciding that we’re correct and that we know how to fix the problem, often leads to greater problems.

Posted by Brie | October 28, 2006 8:41 AM

Again: male circumcision is not remotely similar to clitorectomy.

I didn't say it was, quantitatively. The difference is significant. But qualitatively, they're identical, cutting the healthy genitals of a non-consenting individual. We don't allow that for any other surgery on children.

If you look at the link Erica posted about FGM, Type I without excision is quite similar. Should we support that, or is all genital cutting on girls unacceptable? To me, the answer is clear; it's not acceptable. But neither is the male version. We don't allow assault just because murder is worse. Why should we allow cutting of healthy male genitals because the damage is almost always less extensive than cutting female genitals?

Worth highlighting, if you follow that link about FGM, you'll see multiple reasons commonly given for FGM. Many of them should be strikingly familiar to us. Pointing out that it shouldn't be done to males doesn't make FGM any less reprehensible.

Posted by Tony | October 28, 2006 8:45 AM


such a good case for continued ignorance and mutiliation.

I suppose the AZtecs really believed that human sacrifice was OK.

Killing girl babies at birth.

This new beed of soft and fuzzy feminists makes me sick. The can do no wrong third is OK since the ignorance has been around centuries.

After all, there are the mores of the tribal tyrants and old men.

Posted by Jack | October 28, 2006 10:22 AM

I agree that we usually cannot force our ways onto other countries, but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't criticize such a deplorable practice. To suggest that people would change things if they could is naive. There are generations of women that have been raised to believe that this is the only way for things to be done. There are also hundreds of women granted assylum every year because of FGM. These are women who don't want to leave their countries, but are so traumatized by their experiences that they have to. Women who know that they alone (and even along w/a supportive husband) cannot stop a group of people for carrying off their screaming 7-year-old daughter, pinning her down, and cutting away a part of her body.

And the affects cannot be underestimated--urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, extremely painful sex, miserable birthing experiences, and the re-sewing up after birth.

I'm not saying that we should go in and wage war against FGM, but we can oppose the practice.

Posted by Ginger | October 29, 2006 12:59 AM

Tony and Brie: The rancid epitome of political correctness run amok.

Posted by mickey | October 29, 2006 1:55 AM

Me? Politically correct for equating cutting the healthy genitalia of a non-consenting male with cutting the healthy genitalia of a non-consenting female? Are you serious?

I said FGM was reprehensible. What more do you want? I didn't say we should allow it because we can't judge another culture. I believe we can and should judge another culture if it permits the imposition of barbaric, medically-unnecessary surgery by one group against another group of its citizens. And stop it in any way possible. What's politically correct (and rancid) about that? Because I implied that it's reasonable to judge America until we stop perpetrating the exact same nonsense against males? No.

You have to try harder than that if you want to defend such a ridiculous accusation. Explain why it's rancid political correctness to make the statements I've made. Tell me where you think I'm wrong.

Posted by Tony | October 29, 2006 4:39 AM

Objectively speaking, Catalina DeLay, my ref to objectivism was a pun. If I'd known it would pump up a knee-jerk platitudinous sermon from you, I wouldn't have bothered.

& speaking of jerks, there's always 'fnarf'. Doesn't 'fnarf', whatever it is, have anything better to do than to flog this blog?

(Personally & parenthetically, I'm not down with snipping & clipping, particularly when done in Africa with dirty knives or the rusted lids from tin cans. But that's just because I'm an unreconstructed cultural imperialist who believes in cleanliness & Godliness, not necessarily in that order.)

Posted by Santa Catalina .... romance, romance, romance | October 29, 2006 11:49 AM

That's MRS VEL-DURAY to you, Santa...

I'm surely sorry I struck a nerve with you. It must be hard to be so humorless. Can't you do a telethon for that or something?

Of course, the real tragedy is that if you'd read further along (i.e. the second paragraph) you would have seen that we basically agree.

Poor thing....

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 29, 2006 4:25 PM

Actually, Mrs. DeLay, I did read to the next graph, & that's when my disquiet began. If we seem to agree on something, anything, then it means I'm ready for a retrofit. Must be doing something wrong.

(And, by amazing coincidence, I almost noted last time that you have no sense of humor. Although humor, in the context of genital mutilation -- & that's what it is -- is something we should probably avoid. Have learned my lesson. Thanks.)

Posted by Mrs. Fnarf | October 30, 2006 9:56 AM

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