Following on previous entries regarding female genital mutilation, John Tierney updates the conversation with an opinion from Dr. Fuambai Ahmadu, “a native of Sierra Leone, who grew up in America and then went back to her homeland as an adult to undergo the rite along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group.” I’m not impressed with Dr. Ahmadu’s reasoning.
I also take note of readers’ concerns about consent. While I have serious issues with the concept of consent and how it is applied asymmetrically to African practices of female genital cutting, I do agree with Rick Shweder that a possible way forward would be to consider limiting certain types of genital cutting to an age of majority, for instance, the age at which a girl can consent to marriage, abortion or to cosmetic surgery. A minor procedure can be allowed for girls under the age of consent, as is the case with infant male circumcision. Defining what such a minor procedure would entail and what might be the appropriate ages of consent is an important step that must include the voices of the “silent majority” of women who are affected.
The way forward is to look for solutions that would empower women (and men) to choose what to do with their own bodies. …
My position is “pro-choice” on any form of female and male genital modifications (with the exception of minor cuts, such as circumcisions of male and female prepuce discussed above) and a complete rejection of the motto “zero-tolerance of FGM”. …
That’s an interesting notion of choice. Dr. Ahmadu conflates the prerogative of a cultural group¹ to exclude those who do not conform to its rituals with permission to require inclusion through involuntary participation among those who reject its rituals. This ignores the real issue, the use of force on a healthy, non-consenting individual.
Pro-choice should mean what it implies, which is complete consent or refusal. There are no other valid competing interests on the individual when critiquing elective genital surgery. If the person agrees, for whatever reason, it is his or her choice. If the person does not agree, for whatever reason, it is forced. If the person cannot consent, for whatever reason, the assumption must be that he or she would not. Force violates his or her rights as an individual to self-ownership. Permitting force relegates the body part(s) under consideration to property status, possessed without limitation by another. That can never be right.
Introducing subjective qualifications (i.e. minor cuts) is then a diversionary tactic based on a relativist notion of what people should not mind based on the good opinion of others. It is not a principle that recognizes the individual. It rejects a coherent conception of human rights.
Dr. Ahmadu’s minor is my major. Her blessing of my forced circumcision as a cultural rite is irrelevant to the point of offensiveness. I believe in choice. She believes in choice, unless force is necessary to achieve her outcome.
¹ Do not read this as a synonym for government. No government has such authority, nor do citizens possess a right to use government to exclude citizens from society.