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Female Genital Cutting

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Created: November 8, 2002
Latest Update: November 8, 2002

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Site Teaching Modules Comments on Female Genital Cutting
From a C- to an A or B

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, November 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Now that we've finally reached our review stage, I have more time to put up your comments and to work with you on academic niceties in your writing. Please check your original against my edited copy if you need practice with grammar review. Please learn to use your spell checker if you need to. But mostly, this is the stage at which we try to clear up misconceptions that even good papers harbor. I will spend more time on your reasoning, on underlying assumptions that you've made, and on your openness to multiple viewpoints. Even if you do take a position, one that really matters to you, you still need to take into account alternative validity claims. Things aren't so, just because we'd like them to be. We don't avoid complicity, just by denial. "[T]he 'truth' can be right out there in front of us, we could be uttering the truth (of whatever sort), but we still don't "know" it insofar as we don't connect affect to our ideas. Marcia Ian, Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society.

This stage is the "writing together" out of which academic discourse grows. This is the material that gives me a graphic image of what you have learned, and of how you have incorporated that learning into your affect, into your knowledge base.

Tiffany Griffin's is one of those wonderful messages that gave me lots of possibilities to put this kind of writing up for you as a model. Please read it carefully, and do your best to apply the process to your own writing. jeanne

On Thursday, November 7, 2002, Tiffany Griffin wrote:

jeanne, i know that the idea of mutilating female genitals belonging to women in africa sounds horrific, but in some way the procedure has proven to beneficial to these women. africa is a place where death-bearing disease runs rampant and, by giving these women the conception that pain is associated with that body part then it would definitely cut down the spreading of aids to women in africa.
jeanne's comments: I agree that if women identify sexual intercourse with pain, they will be more likely to reject that sexual intercourse. And if such intercourse is correlated with disease, they will consequently be less likely to become infected with those diseases.

BUT, and this is a big BUT, you are making an unstated assumption that all those women have a choice to engage or not to engage in sex. Either Africa is very different from Western civilization, of something is wrong with that assumption. Lots and lots of women in the west are raped. They don't get to consent or not consent. Does Africa have no rape?

And I don't mean to get picky here, but torturing someone by removing an organ provided by Mother Earth or the good Lord to provide pleasure in fulfilling the commandment "be fruitful and multiply" (and I don't think it says wait till you're in your 20s to do so), seems to me like a pretty barbaric way to lower teenage pregnancy. Nevermind that it hurts just the girl. Nevermind that it happens mostly to poor and uneducated people. Nevermind that most of us could give pretty good reasons for violence to anyone who tried to harm us in such a way.

This argument comes from an "end justifying the means" approach. We want teen preganancies down, so anything that gets teen pregnancies down is OK. NO, No, No. We don't suspend the constitution and inflict major harm on our own citizens in the interest of some poorly understood social and moral idea. If you want kids to grow big and healthy, teen pregnancy is not a good idea, because it stunts the girl's growth. Teen agers can't get jobs, find affordable housing, and get access to further education when they have infants. That says there's something wrong with our infrastructure. Why can't they gain access to these fundamentals of life? Because we choose not to let them. So let's cut off their organs instead. That'll teach them.

PLEASE, PLEASE be AWARE of UNSTATED ASSUMPTIONS. Think of where your arguments are based. This is why you are required to talk with me about your measures of learning, so that I can explain these subtleties. Sometimes they don't just jump out at you. Sometimes you've heard other people, some who you might respect, say them. OK, then for an A, I ask that part of your measure of learning be that you go back to that respected person and share these subtleties with him/her, so that you can think about them together. That is learning. For you. For us. For the community.

maybe if the usa made this procedure available to those that wanted it, then maybe we wouldn't have so many teenage pregnancies;
jeanne's comments: Again, that might be true. But the underlying assumptions are that girls are responsible for making the choice. You don't seem to consider the possibility of removing the penis, which would also result in fewer teenage pregnancies. And you are also assuming that girls do have choice over sex. Here, your assumption is questionable in two ways at least: (1) violent sex with teen age girls is rampant at least in our country. And (2) there is tremendous social pressure on girls to perform sex acts. This means that the choice is not made in a vacuum. The choice is made by girls in pubescence and pre-pubescence, who are exploring and trying to understand their new social selves and who are scared they may be found wanting in some way. Don't you think that pressure might influence their decision to abstain from sex? For a B or an A you need to show that you recognize these contradictions and have included them in your reasoning.

I think you should also consider that it is illegal to cut parts off people in the interest of getting them to behave in accord with our norms. Tubal ligations have been the source of unending legal contests. They are sometimes regarded as forms of genocide used against the poor, underprivileged, disabled, and difficult.

but instead we make sure that the pleasure of having sex is promoted in everything that we do.

jeanne's comments: Another good point, Tiffany. Sex is promoted not only as being pleasurable, but as being a status mark of achievement and prowesss. There's a basic social contradiction there that we are denying. And the detriment falls heavily on girls, since we tend to view sex as taboo for girls, but just as "boys will be boys" for boys. The first teen age boy that gets pregnant will probably change all that. In order to turn your comment into one with a higher grade, you need to illustrate that you are aware of this contradiction, and you need to show how that contradiction would affect the conclusions you have drawn.

after all, the africian women don't have an abundance of contraception as we do, so this procedure is in some way a contraception for them.

jeanne's comments: No, no, no, Tiffany. We can't let someone harm them and surgically remove perfectly healthy parts of their bodies as a means of contraception. There are viable affordable ways for contraception to made available short of torture, based on our belief that we are right and therefore have the right to torture them. Why couldn't we just make contraceptives available, if, of course, that doesn't interfere with their religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs?

like you said, jeanne, what about the other sixteen things that they need? well genitial cutting in some way affects the other needs. with less children the women will have less have less responsibility and that is helpful to them since they usually depend on others for support.

jeanne's comments: Good recollection, Tiffany. I'm glad you picked that up in our discussions. One of the complaints that women are making across the globe, is that Westerners tend to focus on the horrific, while ignoring that female genital cutting is one of dozens of issues that need attention.

My dilemma is that I didn't make some of these other unstated assumptions as clear as I made that argument, Tiffany. As your message stands I would give you a C -. A C because you clearly express what you have been learning, and you have been learning. The minus, because I'm so horrified at all the stuff I didn't get across to you. So the minus is really for me. Now what you need to do to bring your grade up to a B or an A is to identify sources and begin to clarify unstated assumptions. Cite this exchange as the text that you are using to make the requested corrections. There is the text on genital cutting I was lecturing from. Cite that if you can find it; but I can't just now. Then fit the unstated assumptions in with your sociological assessment of female genital cutting.

You can write this. I'd eventually like to have a nice A paragraph on this that I could put up on the site. But you can also discuss it in class over the next three weeks, and/or visit me in my office and talk about it. I'm going to use this to post for everyone, because it's such a good example of how you can do basically the right thing, and yet still need to make corrections to bring your grade up. It would be nice if students could read your final rewrite.

And you know, you gave me lots to work with, so getting to an A shouldn't be hard.

Hope this helps lots of you. jeanne