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14.5.07

Why The FGC Post Is Obligatory

Dora has a good post summarizing the problems with how many feminists talk about female genital cutting in ways the reinforce racism. The basic principle of progressive politics, as I see it, is that everyone should have a say in anything that affects them. This entails a right to control over one's own body, and therefore Dora is right to conclude:

there is always the option to support the women who are helping themselves.


In seeking the causes of the paternalistic and othering strain of feminist thought about FGC, she correctly points to the racial and imperialist assumptions of white first-world people. But I think a share of the blame can also be laid on anti-feminists, in recognition of the fact that any discourse is in part shaped by reaction to its opponents.

One of the most common charges made by conservatives against any type of leftist thinking is "moral relativism." Leftism by its nature advocates change from the well-known way of doing things, and tries to avoid privileging a single way of life, making it vulnerable to being portrayed as "anything goes." On the other hand, almost nobody -- even on the left -- is actually a moral relativist.

One common way that conservatives try to exploit the seeming tension between the left's commitment to diversity and its inability to accept relativism is to pose the dilemma of FGC. FGC makes a very appealing case for conservatives who want to force leftists to defensively denounce relativism, because the combination of body modification and sex makes the practice particularly viscerally horrifying to Westerners.

The FGC dilemma puts the left on the defensive, and the "stop it or allow it" choice makes it difficult to bring out the non-paternalist and non-relativist solution described above. The prominence of this dilemma leads leftists to spend lots of time dealing with this issue, either reactively or preemptively. Indeed, Dora even titles her post "The Obligatory FGC Post."

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