African Doctor: Is Female Circumcision So Awful?

On the surface, female circumcision sounds like sexual abuse: it is the removal of a young woman's clitoris practiced by some African cultures as an initiation ritual. While FGC (female genital cutting) has been roundly condemned by many Western women, several African scholars will be arguing in favor of the ritual at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting. Dr. Fuambai Ahmadu of Sierra Leone, a post doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, is one of the scholars who is pro-FGC, and even had her own clitoris cut with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group as an adult. Ahmadu says that her Western "feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage."

Another proponent of FGC, Dr. Richard Shweder, says that Westerners conveniently ignore the fact that they produce their own kinds of genital mutilation in the form of the vaginal rejuvenation of women and circumcision for boys. Shweder says that, "'First World' feminist issues and political correctness and activism have triumphed over the critical assessment of evidence." Ahmadu also has an essay called "Ain't I a woman too?: challenging myths of sexual dysfunction in circumcised women", where she insists that women who have undergone FGC still experience orgasm and a great deal of sexual pleasure.

I asked a friend who has lived in Liberia and works for a post-conflict justice association what she thinks about FGC, and she points out that "There are lots of versions of the procedure. The most severe being cut off the clit, the inner labia, and SEW CLOSED the vaginal hole." That sounds like straight abuse to me. But according to my friend, some modified versions only involve pricking the clitoris. "It's about degrees and when the practice, in its entirety is accepted, there are no ways to moderate the procedure."

What do you think? Is the pro-FGC argument just cultural relativism? Or is the issue more nuanced than Westerners have realized?

A New Debate On Female Circumcision [New York Times]
Ain't I A Woman Too?: Challenging Myths Of Sexual Dysfunction In Circumcised Women. [University of Chicago]