Here we are again at the question of whether there really are universal human rights or whether there are only culturally-normative rights:
Should African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision? Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?
Those questions will be debated Saturday morning in Washington at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting. Representatives of international groups opposed to this procedure will be debating anthropologists with somewhat different views, including African anthropologists who have undergone the procedure themselves.
And once again, as with the issue of this go-round involves the question of whether doing horrible things to women--but not to men--is really OK just because a particular culture has been doing it for a long time.
I would be a little bit tempted to go along with the cultural relativists on issues like this if they didn't seem to so frequently involve disadvantaging women. But given men's sorry track record on the treatment of the generally smaller and weaker sex, and the lack of cognate restrictions on men in the societies that cover, burn, restrict and beat women with impunity, there's no other valid way to see cutting off a woman's clitoris for anything but a barbaric act of a misogynistic and backwards culture.
In this case, the cultural relativists have already scored something of a coup vis-a-vis the New York Times, which refers to the practice of cutting off a screaming girl's clitoris with a shard of broken glass or a dull knife as "circumcision," rather than "mutilation." In framing the issue thus, the Times suggests an equivalence between the common Western practice of slicing off the male foreskin with the what is in effect a clitorectomy. "Castration" would be a more appropriate comparison.