Leonard, L. (2000). Interpreting Female Genital Cutting: Moving Beyond the Impasse. Annual Review Of Sex Research, 11158.
Research/ Theory and Questions for Policy/Practice
In this piece, the author delves into opposing arguments regarding the right of individuals and/or activist groups to protest against African female genital cutting vs. groups who claim the ritual of cutting a cultural and religious allegiance to associated tribes. The point of Leonard’s publication is to move the current landscape of research beyond the impasse of whether genital cutting is wrong or right, and instead bring renewed perspective to the existing literature and approach the subject through revived lenses.
While the author largely notes that majority of academics have described genital cutting as weird, inhumane, or brutally abusive,he also brings to light relativists who argue such practices to be misunderstood and taken out of context by Western outsiders whom should leave the debate of “clitoredectomy” to Africa, him or herself. In all, I am understanding of the authors want to move past the impasse as well as cautioning academics from straying to soon to judge the practice and make correlations to patriarchy, oppression, etc. However, his proposal is to 1.) collect a greater amount of empirical data and 2.) understand the groundwork before attempting to explain with bias. His suggestions, are, in many parts what seems groups such as psychoanalytic’s, feminists, and human rights advocates have tried to do. So, in essence, it what Leonard aims to offer is in refining the work that has already been done, based on a larger sample of empirical data, and essentially further the discussion (or arguments) of wether genital cutting is an open forum capable of being addressed by Western natives.
From my stance, a more affective way of surpassing the monotony of opposing literature is in laying out a framework wherein the concerns of inhumanity can be addressed in a manner that is culturally sensitive to the sacred vows of African tradition. Instead of debating the morality of genital mutilation (which has been done, and will continue to be done, regardless of the amount of empirical research available), it seems of greater efficiency to approach this event from a medical and educational perspective that empowers members of enacting tribes. The idea is to offer individuals with the opportunity to make well-rounded decisions for themselves rather than being forced by imported Western policy to disregard the religiosity of their village teachings solely due to foreign opposition.
Overall, I can appreciate the authors want to move the conversation past its current stand still. However, we differ in opinions regarding how this should be done. What good is it to any given injustice or differentiating cultural practice to merely publish papers and argue their validity. Granted, research is an important piece of assessment, but what about groundwork? At what point do we utilize the mobility of our hands to offer service to a people in need, in exchange for lips to solely employ judgement?