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Female Mutilation - Kopelman.docx

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Western University
Philosophy 2700F/G

FEMALE CIRCUMCISION AND GENITAL MUTILATION – KOPELMAN  Many girls undergo ritual surgery involving removal of parts of their external genitalia  Usually performed between infancy and puberty these ancient practices are supposed to promote chastity, religion  Tragically, the usual ways of performing these surgeries deny women sexual orgasms  Those wishing to stop them increasingly use the description female genital mutilation  Women’s groups from around the world protect these practices and t he lack of notice they receive  State that they do not believe that such practices deprive them of anything important  Assume that their pleasure comes only from knowing they contribute to their husbands enjoyment  People who want to continue these practices resent such criticisms seeing them as assaults upon their deeply embedded and popular cultural traditions  Do the moral judgments from one culture have any relevance to judgments about what is right or wrong within another culture  There are moral truths but they are determined by the norms of the society. On this view cultural approval of female circumcision/genital mutilation means that the practice is right; disapproval means that it is wrong  Saying that something is approved does not settle whether it is right  Moral judgments do not describe what is approved but prescribe what ought to be approved  We find that we can evaluate some of the reasons given for performing these rituals and that despite our cultural differences about what to value and how to act  Certain moral claims can be challenged, even where we have different cultural values  I review the version of ethical relativism that denies moral authority to cross – cultural moral judgments SURGERY AND ITS HEALTH CONSEQUENCES  In contrast, female circumcision/ genital mutilation has no benefits and is harmful in many ways  Infections are frequent because the surgical conditions are often unhygienic  Scarring can make penetration difficult and intercourse painful  Psychological disturbances in girls due to circumcision are not uncommon ETHICAL RELATIVISM  Female circumcision/genital mutilation serves as a test for some versions of ethical relativism because the practice has widespread approval within the cultures where it is and widespread disapproval outside those cultures  Social scientists often work as descriptive relativists: they try to understand cultural differences and look for any underlying similarities  Ethical relativism is that an action is right if it is approved in a person’s culture and wrong if it is disapproved  Cultural relativism there is no way to evaluate moral claims across cultures; positions taken by international groups like the World Health Organization – societal opinions and have no moral standing in other cultures  Ethical relativism has held an important place in anthropology despite the uncomfortable consequence that acceptance of that position means that practices like female circumcision are right within the cultures where they are approved  Stress the obvious points that different rankings and interpretations of moral values or rules by different groups may be justifiable, or employed to highlight the indisputable influence of culture on moral development, reasoning, norms and decisions  Cross-cultural moral judgments sometimes have moral force  Susan Sherwin maintains that normative conclusions reached by traditional theorists generally support the mechanism of oppression  The distinctive feature of the version of ethical relativism criticized herein is its defense of the skeptical position that one can never make a sound cross cultural moral judgment, that is, one that has moral force outside one’s culture  We seem to share methods of discovery, evaluation, negotiation and explanation that can be used to help assess moral judgments  These shared methods can be used to help evaluate moral judgments from one culture to another in a way that sometimes has moral authority  We seem to share some moral values, goals and judgments such as those about the evils of unnecessary suffering and lost opportunities REASONS GIVEN FOR FEMALE MUTILATION  The primary reasons given for performing this ritual surgery are that 1. It meets a religious requirement 2. Preserves group identity 3. Helps to maintain cleanliness and health 4. Preserves virginity and family honor and prevents immorality and 5. Furthers marriage goals including greater sexual pleasure for men  Main reason given for performing female circumcision/genital mutilation is that it is regarded as a religious requirement  Female circumcision/genital mutilation, moreover, it is not practices in the spiritual center of Islam  Second, many argue that the practice helps to preserve group identity  In addition, the practice is of social and economic importance to older women who are paid for
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