Monday, November 16, 2009

Gerry Mackie's Response

Gerry Mackie has written me an email message about my two recent posts on female circumcision. He has given me permission to reproduce it here: 

 "Thanks for the accurate account of my views! 

 "I also read your analysis of Fuambai Ahmadu. She is serious, and I respect her, although I think you identify, shall we say, the tensions in her argument. Sierra Leone is an outlier to my explanatory generalizations, and I think that FGC will last longer there than anywhere else in the world. FGC in its religious aspect is central to the female secret societies there. There are facets of her account worthy of attention. She chose FGC as an adult, and one reason she did is that her group, and her family, treated her as a child or a stigmatized outcast until she did so. Most, including in Sierra Leone, undergo it as children unable to give meaningful consent--and that is morally objectionable. (But what about male circumcision? Same answer, of moral concern, but less so because it tends to be less damaging.) Not Ahmadu's secret society, as far as I know, but others, have forcibly kidnapped and cut resisting girls. Also, although it may not reduce sexual capacity for some in its milder forms, that may be idiosyncratic, but more importantly, it is almost always intended to reduce sexual capacity or 'tame' the girl. 

 "FGC is highly variable in severity of treatment, and severity of harm, including harm to sexual capacity. It's fair to say that the ordinarily informed person in the United States has not a mistaken but an exaggerated view of its average severity and harms, perhaps biased by their emotional response. Also, as you note, people do this intending to help their children, just as parents in Illinois impose orthodontia on their daughters. Thus, insiders can be initially perplexed by outside opposition. Insiders sometimes feel a moral disgust for the uncut, such as what Ahmadu was subject to before cutting. And insiders are rightly offended when outsiders attempt to change their views with insults or imperial coercion. 

 "Martha Nussbaum's essay on FGC identifies the moral harm: the reduction of a valued human capacity in the absence of meaningful consent. 95% of it is for nonadults. If an adult such as Ahmadu wants to do it, who are we to stop her? 

 "I have less respect for other claims--see the relativist swamp I wade into in the article, 'FGC, A Harmless Practice?' 

 "For more consult my webpage, but I regret I cannot engage in colloquies on the topic."

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