Female genital infibulation and power

Michael (moffatt@GANDALF.RUTGERS.EDU)
Sat, 7 May 1994 09:04:47 EDT

Sloan writes: "One aspect to this issue that I have not seen being
articulated is the issue of powerlessness. One reason why female genital
mutilation provokes such response is that the people who undergo this
operation often occupy lower rungs on the power hierarchy. . . Neither
Ray nor other posters have objected to the various forms of body
adornment practiced within, say, warrior societies. The objections seem
to me to coincide with a moral sense (yes, culture-bound) that it is an
issue of powerlessness as well as the specific aspects of the given
practice. . . ."

There's power and there's power. Since the actual practitioners or
sponsors of female infibulation in many cultures (Sudanese, for
instance) are older women, one might argue the practice is about older
women exercising generational authority over relatively powerfuless
younger women ('what I went through you must go through to, if you
want to be a decent woman like me'). Similarly, the bodily ordeals,
genital and otherwise, practiced on young males in many warrior
cultures are gerontocratic -- elder men inflict them, while forcefully
subjecting junior males to other forms of cultural learning ('put on your
bodily adornment now; wash it off now')..
Perhaps the mistake is in assuming one can construct some
universal moral scheme, so one can go out, armed with rightousness,
and intervene in such situations. Perhaps in the end it simply comes
down to simple assertion: 'I assert that no one should have to be
subjected to something as medically horrendous as genital infibulation
(or, possibly, male subincision), and I will make every conceivable use
of my first-world, scholarly connections to bring an end to this practice,
whatever its local justifications.' Michael Moffatt, Rutgers