Monday, May 10, 2010

First, Relabel the Harm You Do

The American Academy of Pediatricians has offered qualified support to female genital mutilation on the dubious supposition that approving instances that someone labels a "ritual nick" will magically displace, and thereby discredit, and thereby eradicate, the ugly, cruel, pointlessly despicable reality of it. PZ Myers calls bullshit, as does Andrew Sullivan.

Amanda Marcotte, of all people, has joined those who should know better, with the following as her argument:

PZ titles his post “Whatever happened to ‘first, do no harm’?” This is where I’m forced to jump in and point out that pediatricians mutilate genitals in a far more severe way all the time, and no one bats an eyelash. Obviously, I’m referring to the more common form of circumcision performed in the U.S., where the foreskin of baby boys is removed ... And yet, I don’t blame pediatricians for offering it. Why? Because of the reasons the AAP suggested they should offer ritual nicking of girls---it builds trust through cultural sensitivity. And it’s safer than letting people take the practice underground. Maybe doctors could try to eradicate the practice through refusing to offer it, but I suspect more than a few Jewish Americans would feel like they’re facing prejudice due to their religious traditions.
What the fuck? Plenty of people bat plenty of eyelashes over the pointless brutality of male genital mutilation, as they should. Plenty of people can and do blame pediatricians for perpetuating it, as they should.

Apart from that, this is a spectacularly weak argument. Imagine applying it to the traditional practice of honor killing. For that, would Marcotte ask us to accept "honor pummeling" in the name of keeping things above-board and building trust with those who just want to keep the sluts in line according to tradition? Maybe so long as they promised only to punch and kick with bare hands and bare feet or soft-soled shoes?

There's a clear, bright line here: cutting off pieces of children that won't grow back. This should not be done except in those rare cases of medical necessity, e.g., appendix, tonsil, wisdom tooth, wart, cancerous growth, or the like.

If adults want to slice off parts of their own bodies, or have them sliced off by a rabbi, priest, witch doctor, or other miscellaneous dotard with a sharp rock, I say they're foolish, but it's within the proper domain of autonomous, rights-bearing persons. Adults should go right ahead and "ritually nick" their Achilles tendons or eyeballs or heart valves or lungs or fingers or genitals or brain stem or spinal column if they think it will win the Platinum Package in the afterlife. To each his own pursuit of happiness; to each his own projection of a god who would sooner damn a body than abide it intact.

Leave the kids out of it. Slicing off non-regenerating parts of children's bodies is not acceptable. If the reasons for it are not medical, then the discussion is over, the scalpel (or knife, or saw, or sharp rock) needs to be put away, and the answer is NO -- yesterday, today, tomorrow, and everywhere. It doesn't matter if tradition or old books say otherwise. It doesn't matter who chants or in which dead language. It doesn't matter if the older generation had it done to them in their time.

Whatever its source, the practice of mutilating children deserves all the enmity civilized human beings can heap on it. If that strikes "a few Jewish Americans" -- or everyone else in and beyond Americans and Judaism -- in an untoward or insensitive way, so be it. If the choice is between traditions and children, the tradition needs the cutting, not the bodies of children.

This is not a close one, and people should know better.



Sis B said...


(It amuses me to no end to say "Amen" on your blog.)

Dale said...

Sis B, I appreciate the irony and accept it willingly. After all, it doesn't nick anyone.


a fan said...

Great post. Totally agree.

MinTX said...

I am shocked and appalled at the AAP.
Mother of an intact son