After years of condemning the practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics has rewritten their policy on female genital mutilation, advocating for state laws to allow doctors to give a "ritual nick" to girls' genitalia.
The policy statement, titled Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors, was issued on April 26, 2010 (ironically, this was also the same date that Congress passed new laws making it illegal to take a girl outside U.S. borders for the purpose of FGM). In their release, the AAP suggested that doctors be allowed to cut or prick girls' clitorises. The 2010 statement has also revised the way the AAP refers to FGM; in 1998, they called it "female genital mutilation," but now they are terming it "female genital cutting (FGC) or ritual genital cutting." This, apparently, is the politically correct way of describing the forced removal of a woman's sexual organs:
"Mutilation" is an inflammatory term that tends to foreclose communication and that fails to respect the experience of the many women who have had their genitals altered and who do not perceive themselves as "mutilated." It is paradoxical to recommend "culturally sensitive counseling" while using culturally insensitive language. "Female genital cutting" is a neutral, descriptive term.
Equality Now points out that "neutral and descriptive" is not what we need. We need terms that convey the pain and violence of the procedure, that accurately reflect the prejudices and misogyny behind the practice. A statement from the human rights organization perfectly encapsulates all that is wrong with the APP's revised policy:
FGM is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination that is performed on girls to control their sexuality in womanhood, guarantee their acceptance into a particular community, and safeguard their virginity until marriage. Taina Bien-Aime, Equality Now's Executive Director explains, "Encouraging pediatricians to perform FGM under the notion of 'cultural sensitivity' shows a shocking lack of understanding of a girl's fundamental right to bodily integrity and equality. The AAP should promote awareness-raising within FGM-practicing immigrant communities about the harms of the practice, instead of endorsing an internationally recognized human rights violation against girls and women."
Also weighing in on the controversial topic is Andrew Sullivan, who fully supports Equality Now's position. However, he adds something new to the debate: the issue of male genital mutilation (MGM). Although he admits FGM is "far, far worse," he mentions his displeasure in the fact that many activists who condemn FGM do not display the same concern over MGM. He writes,
MGM is an indefensible denial of core human integrity and autonomy - and yet its widespread acceptance has helped make "female genital cutting" more acceptable. If men or women wish to mutilate their own genitals as adults, that it their choice. But forcing this onto infants, male and female, even if it is just a cut or a nick, is a form of barbarism.
Sullivan makes an interesting argument - especially considering the nature of the AAP's statement. They do not advocate the complete removal of the clitoris, but rather a "ritual nick," language that could also be used to describe male circumcision. Perhaps it is time we stopped bowing to tradition and quit messing with the genitalia of our children - maybe we should, as Sullivan suggests, let people decide for themselves what they want their sex organs to look like.
Update: To clarify, the AAP does not support the complete removal of the clitoris and labia, which is one form of FGM. They have, however, come out in support of non-threatening, minor cutting — a "ritual nick," as they call it (a small cut, designed to placate parents who want to participate in a tradition that has misogynist and dangerous roots). Although the AAP has suggested the "nick" as a lesser of two evils, we continue to believe that no type of female genital cutting should be tolerated no matter the degree.
AAP Is Advocating For U.S. Pediatricians To Perform Certain Types Of Female Genital Mutilation [PR Newswire]
Ritual Cutting Of Female Minors [The Daily Dish]