Re: the seriousness of mutilation

Adrienne Dearmas (DearmasA@AOL.COM)
Mon, 15 Jul 1996 11:57:30 -0400

In a message dated 96-07-13 19:10:14 EDT, swyersh@INTERPORT.NET (Holly
Swyers) writes:

> The entry point to this conversation has largely been through individuals'
> experience with tattoos or other body mutilations within their own
> Is this not telling about the nature of how humans learn (even
> anthropologists)? When we stumble across new things, how do we understand
> them?

One of the things I have found so interesting in perusing category 304 of the
Human Relations Area Files is the detail in which explorers/anthropologists
commented on the new practices they encountered. Some responded with fear and
loathing which prompted them to attempt a dominant posture over those who did
things differently. Hence the history of those who mutilate the body being
"primitive" or being from primitive cultures. Others, however, embraced the
difference and approached it with an open mind. These would be, for example,
the sailors who got tattoos while in the South Pacific and returned to Europe
with them. Some accounts refer to the "strange and exotic" practices
wistfully, as if wishing they were not constricted by their cravat. Some use
terms like lazy, slow and uncivilized to describe a practice which threatens
their world view. So, how do we understand new things? Individually, of
course, and according to our own set of principles. Ever notice there are
people who are inherently accepting of anything new, "go with the flow"
people? Their response to tattooing or whatever is going to be a reflection
of how they deal with living.
> I feel like I have only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the
> sorts of "Serious Stuff" this thread has prompted me to think about. One
> interesting observation - proportionate to other threads on this list,
> one on body mutilation seems to have a significantly larger female
> response. Does this mean anything?

It has been my experience that talking about the body at all disturbs many
people (I though Victorian puritanism was dead?). Talking about genitals in
particular disturbs many more still. Of this group, the majority are men. no
statistics, just experience. Women seem more open to the discussion b/c they
are not immediately turned off by the mention of bodies. I would assume that
this is b/c of menstruation, childbirth, and menopause. Women have to "deal"
with their bodies and their workings more than men do. Now, before this gets
off subject and feminist debated, I think Holly has an excellent point. So
why is there not more of a prescence of this represented in the occurrence of
body mutilations? I have not been able to find any culture that ONLY
practices mutilation of one sex. Even footbinding and corseting, which were
supposed to be for women only, were practiced by fetishists. And don't forget
the prescence of castration in China, and circumcision in Europe. Cranial
deformation (which, although unproved, may have caused physical damage to the
individual) was performed on both sexes, and so on. But Holly is right, men
are uncomfortable with the subject. Could it be a reflection of communication

- Adrienne