As reported earlier by Accuracy in Academia, Ohio State University Professor Rebecca Wanzo argued at last year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) convention that the practice of female genital circumcision [FGC] abroad was equivalent to the U.S. restricting funding to abortions in foreign countries.
“What if we replaced FGC with the issue of restricted funding for reproductive health care?” she argued. “U.S. restrictions on such funding can disable women and in the case of supporting abstinence only education, regions that experience high rates of HIV put women at risk of death.”
“The kind of critiques of culture’s disabling that [Ayaan Hirsi] Ali brings to Islam and non-western countries would then be appropriate as well,” she added.
However, this year at the MLA, Professor Tobe Levin roundly condemned FGM/C, which typically involves the removal of portions of young girls’ sexual organs. “In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made ‘pure’ by having their [privates] cut out,” writes Ali in her autobiography, Infidel, before describing her own experience. “There is not other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five,” she continues.
Some Somali anti-FGM authors, Prof. Levin said, were cut at the age of seven. She said that the lack of English translations of narratives by those who oppose FGM, and the “indifference” of U.S. and British publishers “encouraged her” to “found in September 2009 [her] own publishing company called Uncut Voices Press to translate books against FGM in order to make such extraordinary work available to [the] local leaders.”
The feminist professor insinuated throughout that patriarchal dominance is, at least partially, an explanation for FGM. She also argued that the authors she discussed “contribute to our global multicultural intersectional use of girlhood as a site of intolerable violation that is generally met with unacceptable indifference on the part of the victims’ own societies and our own.” (The panel was discussing “Girlhood and Nationhood,” or, girl studies.)
“As an academic I would add the failure of intellectuals to heed these girls’ words is especially egregious,” she argued.
Prof. Levin, who teaches the European campus of the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) also asserted that FGM is not a “rational issue. “It is inextricably rooted in emotion.”
For more reading: Another Meaning for “Difference”
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.