Re: Relativism and Rights (fwd)

Mon, 9 May 1994 13:50:00 PDT

Tracy Brown writes:

"The question here is one of consciousness, I think. Why do women get
breast implants when they know full well that it is dangerous? Why do
women support genital mutilation? Are they duped? I think it is a little
more complicated than that. The word "duped" implies lack of thought about
what one is doing, a passive acceptance of societal norms. In
terms of standards of beauty, I believe people choose those that
they will accept and reject."

The last sentence implies a smorgasbord view of culture: culture presents a
range of alternatives and people pick and choose which one they sill accept.
I doubt that this view can be seriously sustained with data. Rather, I think
we have here, and with many of the views expressed on female infibualtion as
well, a native's defense of her/his culture which places emphasis on
individual choice, avoidance of physical pain, bodily perfection, etc.
that is challenged by practises such as female infibulation.
One of the fundamental contradictions we all deal with is individuality
versus sociality. Children are socialized--which means they are coereced by
one means or another into doing what they otherwise would not do. What
parents do everywhere is to make sure their children can operate well in the
social/cultural world that they live in as they perceive it. If mothers
believe that their daughters must undergo infibulation/genital modification
to effectively participate in that society then the daughters will undergo
infibulation/genital modification. If we believe that for women a perpetual
state of youth and a perfect body is necessary to effectively participate in
our society then mothers will raise daughters who will then undergo breast
implants, tummy tucks, face lifts etc. Do women/men here really have more
"choice" than women/men raised in societies which practise female/male
circumcision or are we all equally caught up in the web of our respective

D. Read