I just started my socialanthroplogy course today. I had to buy a compendium, as you all know, a studen'ts literature list tends to become miles long, this course is no exception. I have to prepare reading one of the articles in that compendium for Friday's lecture, and when opening it, the first article that grasps my eyes is female circumcision.

I couldn't read the article much, it was disgusting, even more so of how hard it was to accept that these women didn't care about the damage done to their body more than a loss of their genitals. I understood the author tried to keep a neutral tone as much as possible, but the subject is very touchy in the West. The author described that here, compared to the society she studied in Africa, a woman is not a real woman until she experiences orgasm. We have scientifically proven that all female orgasms are done by stimulating the clitoris one or another way (it should be noted that the g-point has its nerves linked to the clitoris, being the clitoris' backside, so this is probably also seen as a rather indirect clitoris stimulation).

The author gave more examples of how female's sexuality is a part of their identity here in the West, while it really isn't in parts of the world were circumcision is practiced. Putting the physical damage aside, we already know and can well prove that a female who have underwent circumcision will have issues even with simple things like urinating, my question is, do we have the right to take this part away of one's culture, disgusting as it may seem in our eyes?

I understand this is a very hard issue, but one should be very aware of the bias I just mentioned. However, I am willing to take this on a completely different level than the author who observed this practice: namely from a religious viewpoint. How in the world can this ever be justified towards a boy or a girl through religion? And that is why I am writing this here, on the AN, because I think this is the right place to open up that discussion. I watched a video on Youtube, where a woman in a small African tribe was explaining that if they didn't circumcize the girl, she would be killed by her clitoris when she gave birth. The clitoris would move up through her head and then do so on her parents and their relatives etc. It was thus as such forbidden. On this video, there was a comment that said "I have never heard such crazy things in my whole life" or some such. I had to point out that to believe in a god, angels and all that found in Christianity is probably seen as strange if not even more strange in the eyes of this African woman.

Obviously, circumcision is probably a very futile act no matter how you look upon it. A human has right to his or her own body, what to do and not to do with it. A child cannot decide for its own when the circumcision is done. The average age is between the age of 2-4. This is of course, all parents doing. Just like it's all parents doing when girls are getting married away, thinking they will never do the same to their children, yet they do it. They do it because it's culturally expect of them, and I guess that pressure can become very huge. However, I don't think that pressure is any worse than coming out as an atheist in the Bible Belt. The negative connotations are just the same. The difference is however, that while you certainly can become an outcast from society and not an accepted member of many certain circles and loose your friends and family, I would assume it might be even worse in a small African tribe where you are completely dependent that the tribe works functionally. And I guess this is the key-point of it all: survival, the fear of being alone. I believe that if more women in countries where circumcision is performed would stand up against it and openly speak up against it too, you would find yourself a different group identity, and this might free other women in turn who previously were too afraid to speak up themselves.

The issue is harder if we speak about male circumcision, particularly perform in Judaism and Islam. Judaism is a generally accepted religion in the West; and as such, it suddenly somehow becomes a lot harder to speak up against male circumcision. While it certainly isn't as damaging (which I guess just really depends on that there isn't that much to remove from the male genitalia more than the foreskin, removing more would probably cause such serious illnesses such as urine infection etc which would end up with the child dying) I also think it is as wrong for the same reason I mentioned above: a man has the right himself to control which parts who should or not should be removed, child or not.

It is also true that circumcision in MANY cases is only backed up with some circular and stupid religious logic behind it (such as the clitoris popping out of the woman's head, killing her), I cannot in any way support circumcision in this case either. Not only do I believe every human has the right to control his or her own body just like I believe in free abortion where the woman has the right to choose herself whether she wants to keep her child or not, this also applies to circumcision, but I also do believe that these cultural habits backed up by religion has no right in a world of reason. We do not believe a clitoris will kill the woman if she isn't circumcized, simply because we can prove it is false. Neither do we believe that if she isn't circumcized, she will not be as well received with her prayers than if she were. Generally I have nothing against other cultures, some parts can be nice to hear about and to learn more about, but circumcision is something that I think has got nothing to do with modern culture. I cannot in one or another way see ANY logical reason behind it. Even wearing a veil has some logic, it's a protection against the sun. Circumcision however, does not.

I realized this became a lot longer than I expected, but I will reiterate my question in case someone missed it on the way: do we have the right to control another culture because there is a part of it we oppose?

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I think we do have the right to condemn such behavior because it causes irreparable harm to another individual. Much like we condemn slavery, murder, and abuse, female circumcision should be condemned. Why? Because it causes irreparable harm to the individual. Male circumcision, although I am against it, I am less willing to condemn outright.

I don't feel comfortable saying we have a right to 'control' another culture though unless it is happening in our own nation. We should be letting it be known that the practice is not acceptable to most of the planet and work to better educate the culture(s) or religions that engages in the practice.
I guess the issue boils down to that you are doing something without the agreement of the other individual. Especially children cannot understand why this is being done; and neither do they have the choice of deciding whether they want to or not due to lack of this knowledge alone. However, we are doing the same in return as well, ie deciding over another culture of what is right for them to do while they might not understand our stance why we do it in return.

This also applies to Christianity, parents whom indocrinate their children because they think it is the best for them. This is pretty much what we do in the Western world also. These native tribes are "crude and uncivilized", therefore we suddenly have the right to decide what's best for them.

As such, I do feel very torn in this question, because at one end I don't think what they are doing is right, even just putting physical ailments aside, while on the other hand the culture should have its own right to decide how to do things. However, it is also very hard for me to sit and watch not only because of my own moral point that the children should have the right to perform the circumcision themselves if they want to, but also because it is not done in the name of reason. This wish however, also makes me a big hypocrite as I such stated previously and that too, goes against my morals. Treat others of how you yourself want to be treated. I am quite sure Westerners want our cultures to be respected too, with all its illogical fallacies.

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