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Multiculturalism and Feminism in Immigrant-Receiving Societies: the Example of Genital Surgeries in the United States

Marina Triner

Seminar Paper Submitted to the Political Science Department as Part of the Research Track Program Professor Bashir Bashir 03/10/2011

Table of Contents Introduction Chapter 1: Multiculturalism and Feminism: Theoretical Battles Chapter 2: Enlarging Cultural Imagination: the Partnership of Feminism and Multiculturalism Chapter 3: Feminism and Multiculturalism: Mutual Contributions Conclusion Bibliography . 14 . 26 37 39 3 .. 6

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Introduction As a feminist, I have vehemently opposed female genital mutilation (FGM)1 for quite some time. As Shweder (2002: 218-22) describes it, opposition to FGM is the cornerstone to any ideology held by a liberal-thinking, Western feminist, or even any liberal individual that aims at political correctness. In addition to biased media coverage, academics and researchers in the West have treated FGM as a barbaric and inhumane practice, and many have even advocated it being on the list of evils along with the Holocaust and other genocides. However, campaigning against FGM is not the only visible voice. Both internal and external cultural critics have provided new and fresh perspectives which have opened, I hope, many eyes. They have definitely aided my own. The first, according to Shweder, was former Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta (1983: 132-3), when he described the women who choose to undergo cutting as educated and aware, and the practice as the women s acknowledged and welcomed transition to adulthood. Shweder highlights several accounts that break the long-held stereotypes on FGM, and explains that these alternative accounts open our eyes about the cultural distance between Western notions of beauty, sexuality, and cleanliness and non-Western beliefs on these topics. Shweder s description of the yuck response as a response to unfamiliar cultural customs is a most precise and simple description of why Westerners feel so politically-correct when they join an anti-FGM movement without a second thought. His2 most important conclusion is that

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FGM is also known as female genital cutting (FGC) or female circumcision. In this paper, I use the different terminologies interchangeably in an effort to expose many different perspectives and views on female genital surgery. 2 Though Shweder s article is no doubt controversial, I highly recommend any Western and non-Western individual who aims to receive a balanced view of genital surgeries to read his fascinating anthropological account.

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public policy debates must be evenhanded that we must listen to many voices on each topic to get more balanced opinions, especially with such yuck -generating customs. For me, Njambi Wairimu Ngaruiya s (2004), Dualisms and female bodies in representations of African female circumcision: A feminist critique has been the most eyeopening piece on this topic. Ngaruiya engaged, perhaps not explicitly, a multicultural discourse which argued against separating practices from their cultural context. As a feminist herself, she noted the failure of the feminist movement in understanding culture and its tendency to see western conceptions as righteous and universal. I use her piece in this paper as a starting point precisely because it highlights discourse about female genital cutting that is not in the mainstream, and recognizes that the practice cannot be understood as so radically onedimensional as many feminists have diagnosed it to be. Ngaruiya s piece opened my eyes not only to the misgivings of the feminist movement, but also to the contribution of multiculturalism to a multi-dimensional understanding of cultural practices that seem, on the surface, to harm women. The following paper is not meant to outright reject or celebrate feminist support for outlawing FGC. Rather, a culturally-aware criticism of a criticism of cultural practices helps create a more informed feminism and multiculturalism, which takes into account both culture and marginalized members of culture in creating policy. This is significant especially in immigrant-receiving countries where policy decisions about how to treat minority-group cultural practices are especially vulnerable to using Western customs as the universal standard. In this paper, I hope to create a beneficial bond between multiculturalism and feminism by drawing out the advantages and deficiencies of both. In the first chapter, I provide a brief

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In the third and last chapter. this chapter aims to explore the American historical experience with genital surgeries to highlight that the West must grapple with its own history on the topic when forming policy. bridging between the previous two chapters. how should this policy be made. I develop a discussion on policy and give policy recommendations. My aim is to tackle the issue of who should be making policy on culturally-challenging practices.literature review that begins with Okin s infamous piece on multiculturalism and women and discuss relevant responses to it. Beyond opening the minds of readers on genital surgeries. The purpose of this chapter is also to explore the many meanings of genital surgeries in their different contexts. and how should cultures be represented when their customs are publically discussed and debated. In the next chapter. This chapter provides a background on the debates within feminism about whether multicultural policies take the most disadvantaged members of minority cultural groups in Western societies into account. what is the meaning of autonomy. 5 . I give an empirical account of the historical and modern presence of genital surgeries in the United States.

As Phillips (2002: 115-120) summarizes. etc. mainstream feminism still tends to make a dichotomous distinction between the enlightened liberal democracies of the first world. and welcomes the treatment of different members of cultures differently. Some strands of feminism have even embraced the conception that while men and women really are different. which focuses on exploring gendered inequalities. or mainstream. While new strands of feminism have recently begun to shed light on this problematic history. Feminism: the Dichotomy between the West and the Rest Feminism. This kind of distinction does not recognize differences between women. finding a hidden masculine bias that is harmful to women and to society at large Universalism. has had a long history of white-dominance in discourse and practice. at the same time. ethnicity.Chapter 1: Multiculturalism and Feminism: Theoretical Battles I. feminism has always been very critical of the universal. 6 . also often neglects systematic power inequalities in its definition of equality . class. while feminism engages a universalist discourse of rights and equality . but rather sees harmful differences between cultures. Similarly. ignoring oppression motivated by race. multiculturalism engages cultural relativism . this does not mean that they should be unequal. by which norms of justice are always relative to the society in which they are formed . according to feminism. multiculturalism recognizes the importance and value in cultural differences. creating a hierarchy that finds multiculturalism in liberal democracies as being "bad for women". and the "dark continent" in their treatment of women.

is bad for women. she argues. a known defender of liberal multiculturalism. Assuming that most (especially non-Western) cultures engage in practices harmful to women. "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?" In this piece. suggests that culture must be protected because is "allows for meaningful individual choice" (1991: 171-2). Okin determines that most are meant to control various aspects of women's lives. including female genital cutting. Giving endless examples of particular practices. as these can be hidden away 3 7 . Will Kymlicka3. describing the tension she sees between feminism and multiculturalism. especially when it comes to gender issues. She positions the claim for special group rights (as a protection of minority groups surrounded and threatened by a majority culture in losing their special way of life) against the rights of individuals in liberal societies. Okin argues that multiculturalism. a majority of cultural claims and their defenses concern gender inequality. and thus he Kymlicka responds to Okin by accepting that it is important to pay attention to the 'internal restrictions' that group members place on other members. that liberal states do not recognize the variance within cultures and only between. In immigrant-receiving societies. the way it is practices.Claims about the harms of multiculturalist policies have been made by Susan Moller Okin (1997) in her piece. She argues that in the West. and that advocates of group rights do not notice the private sphere. She credits feminism for these accomplishments. Okin still creates a hierarchy in which the non-Western world is seen as the most harmful to women. there are legal guarantees to women's freedom and equal opportunities and families "do not communicate to their daughters that they are of less value than boys". she begins by asking what liberal nations should do with demands of minority groups that clash with the norm of gender equality. Despite acknowledging Western patriarchy.

From the feminist perspective. will not receive protection under the liberal prerequisite. 4 As Azizah Y. there is a clear Western bias in her words4. and take account of the fact that group elders do not always represent them. ignoring the powerful changes made in many societies by non-Western feminists. Okin suggests that it is equally important to examine the coercive power of culture on women. Thus. From the multicultural perspective. These internal restrictions cannot be justified by the rights accorded to minority groups by the liberal state. where she depicts a sharp divide between the enlightened West and the illiberal. patriarchal East. because the majority of cultures are formed on a patriarchal basis. Phillips (2007: 26) summarizes various criticisms put forth about Okin's account. Similarly. Non-Western cultures are seen as unchanging and static. just as it is important to examine inequalities between cultures.argues that fundamentalist groups that oppress group members will not be given the same rights as liberal groups. which she lists throughout her article. women from minority cultures are accorded victim status in Okin's work. 8 . Despite agreeing with this qualification. while simultaneously claiming that Western customs already have. while Western in the private sphere. Sander Gilman (1999) argues that Okin is selective about the kinds of practices she disapproves of precisely because of her particular background. creating a bias in her theory. it is critically important to examine "within-group inequalities". As such. Okin uses a universal conception of Western principles when she enforces arguments onto the non-Western world. policies must be aware of the rights of the least powerful members of groups. Thus. undermining the possibility that their customs could evolve. especially in the private sphere. for this would undermine the idea of increased choice and freedom. Okin finds that a majority of customs. Okin (1998) sees the happiness of the individual in the minority culture to be just as important as the existence and continuation of the life of the group itself. Al-Hibri (1999) argues. particularly the hidden gender inequalities.

Some of the critics5 went a step forward. continuing this essentializing process.feminists are given full credit for changes made over time in the West regarding gender inequalities. the colonized embraced their 'otherness' to argue against imperialism. such as the dichotomy between 'Western culture' and 'non-Western culture'. without considering that they may often belong to more than one culture. noting both the benefits and deficiencies that cultures pose to women. Several of the authors agree with Okin. were practicing the taking away of freedom abroad. As Narayan (2004) warns. Relevant works criticizing Okin are discussed here. in the contemporary world. where cultures are viewed as packages that are distinctly defined and separate from one another. This package. These writers create a richer and more complex picture of cultures. argues Narayan. This colonially-based dichotomy functioned while Western nations. As Benhabib (1999) reminds us. At the same time. glorifying freedom and equality at home. Under this 'package'. Multiculturalism and Feminism: is it Possible from the Feminist Perspective? Several authors discuss cultural reform. also neatly assigns individuals to different cultures. including others from outside the volume. actually envisioning a relationship and a connection between feminism and multiculturalism that is different from Okin s almost outright condemnation. feminism must be weary of replacing the essentialist depictions of gender with essentialist representations of cultures. II. cultures are not and could not possibly be so neatly insulated from one another. and the importance of both multiculturalists and feminists in acknowledging that cultures are constantly changing. 5 9 . Narayan terms this problem the 'package' of cultures. and the positive progress The volume "Is Multiculturalism bad for women?" (1999) is a collection of direct responses to Okin's original piece. changes that cultures undergo are invisible.

This value includes the power they derive from their culture when faced with the local majority culture. may harm women.regarding gender rights is especially ignored by the West. which impacts the status of women. which is so often emphasized by group leaders who choose it over the flourishing and rights of individual group members. which she claims is friendly to feminism. 79-81) clearly recognizes that multicultural accommodation. Despite this criticism. Yael Tamir (1999) builds on this discussion by warning against the issue of group survival. and not only oppression. defined as "a wide range of state measures designed to facilitate identity groups' practices and norms". she finds that Okin presents women who adhere to their religious or cultural traditions as victims who are completely unable to recognize their oppression. Shachar (2001: 65-7) claims that Okin ignores the malleability of culture. Shachar (2000: 65. claiming that women always have an exit option from their groups. Perhaps. She calls this the paradox of multicultural vulnerability (3). However. Okin simplifies cultural membership. Similarly. in their faithfulness. Thus. there exists no coherent 10 . In addition. that favors the protection of individuals who want to reform and change their cultures just as much as the protection of those who want to keep their cultures static. Shachar finds. who often times have the least negotiation power within the group. says Shachar. She advocates a multiculturalism. practices that oppress women are viewed as central to non-Western cultures and to their existence. as it can be both bad and good all at once. women who adhere to cultural norms find value. This policy of accommodation and non-intervention in group affairs is often justified by the state.

must emerge. which she sees as central in guiding and defining minority groups. Women should not be forced out of their cultures to receive rights. 6 11 . This claim is built up by feminists like Okin by positioning minority and Third World cultures as more subordinated than the West. Shachar claims that she focuses on power structures and authority structures. this strategy also masks patriarchal regimes in the West. which are impacted by much more than just their cultures. Shachar argues that a new multiculturalism. Unlike other authors. demonstrating agency and the ability to change structures around them. At the same time. she proposes an original framework of joint governance . Volpp (2001: 1181) partially agrees with Shachar. Using this dichotomy hides the depth of women's cultural experiences and minority women's lives. something which can be traced back to colonialism. but at the same time. Shachar explains that women who stay are seen as giving "implied consent" for their situation. the state has forced members to pick between the two. So far. much as implied consent was seen to be given by women in nineteenth century America who stayed in their marriages. which accounts for these struggles. stating that seeing multiculturalism and feminism as opposites means seeing minority women as victims of their cultures. The key to this approach is recognizing that individual "group members always are caught at the intersection of multiple affiliations" as members of cultures and citizens of states. or governance where groups receive benefits from enhanced external protections. allowing cultural diversity and empowering the at-risk individuals within groups at the same time. lower internal restrictions. As a solution. protecting the most marginalized members of minority groups (8). and the state often fails to recognize the power struggles that women must face in order to exit6.policy or aid with regards to this exit option.

She creates a picture of subordination that is complex and multifaceted. to look deeper into the context and historical development of the practices which they discuss. while non-Western acts are aligned with principles. in non-Western cases. She finds an asymmetry. Norton asks of Okin. and discrete oppressions that occur both within and across white/Western and Third World/nonwhite communities". Relations between women are also subject to subordination and domination. where Western liberalism is aligned with practices. asks Anne Norton (2001: 741-5) in her review essay on Okin's work. not only in how these practices are judged and viewed. Don't all women come from a culture? Okin's title separates women into two dichotomous categories. where women are dominant and subordinate in different spheres all at once. overlapping. 12 . There is an incorrect separation between principles and practices. A "properly-guided" gendered liberal act is seen to reflect liberal principles. academic. a universal and a certain 'otherness'. while a wrongful act by a non-Western man is seen as guided by the twisted logic of non-liberal principles common in third world cultures. Should the question 'is multiculturalism bad for women?' even be examined. and other respondents to her essay. Instead. but even in the sources (in liberal cases. She finds that pitting multiculturalism against feminism restricts dialogue between Western and non-Western women. they should "learn to see and challenge the multiple. thus recognizing these concerns as equal to their own is such an obstacle. from the popular press) used in explicating the 7 Bhabha (1999) similarly asks whether Western practices are truly more gender-equal than non-Western ones.Volpp's (1214-8) most important point is that the concerns of Third World women may impact the identities of Western women7.

13 . and policymakers must find a way to handle them in a culturally sensitive way that respects Western norms as well as marginalized members of these minority groups. Honig (1999) urges Okin to look deeper into liberal practices and their origins. A culturally-aware feminism. Both authors demand contextualization. on equal terms. III. This policymaking exercise is so challenging to Western professionals that it is surely beneficial for a reconceptualization of Western practices. and vice versa. asking which cultures are good for women.meaning of the practices. I will discuss genital surgeries in the United States as an example for culturallychallenging practices in Western society. as well as for a renewed outlook on non-Western practices. the West comes face to face with culturally-challenging practices . under which circumstances. demonstrating how the American experience with these surgeries can draw much from its non-Western versions. The Empirical Example of Genital Surgeries Okin s piece. before looking at foreign practices and passing judgment on them. and a marginalization-aware multiculturalism is especially important for policy-makers in immigrant-receiving societies. including Western liberal culture. This question can also be asked about liberalism. In the following chapter. and how policymakers can reform their biased conceptions of this practice. are important for reforming both multiculturalism and feminism. There. A significant point these authors highlight is the importance of critiquing all cultures. and for which women. Similarly. as well as the debate it promoted.

Such was the response when Margaret Somerville published her book The Ethical Canary (2000). are discussed alongside nonWestern customs. Gilman (1999) and Gollaher (2000) link it to male circumcision. of course. Feminists attacked her for detracting from the horrors of female genital mutilation 8. have not developed without criticism. 14 . such as male circumcision.Chapter 2: Enlarging Cultural Imagination: the Partnership of Feminism and Multiculturalism The non-Western practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) has often been condemned by the West as an evil in need of eradication. to Western feminists and multiculturalists. body piercing. a variety of scholars have linked the barbaric practice with other customs that. cutting. many organizations and initiatives have risen in the West in an effort to eradicate the damaging surgeries that are being forced upon young African women. It has been portrayed. Germaine Greer (1999) links FGM to procedures like operations on intersex babies. Despite this. 8 Darby and Svoboda (2007: 302). are closer to home. male circumcision. These initiatives. in many articles. Out of this conception. while Sheldon and Wilkinson (1998) to cosmetic surgery practices in the Western world. such as female genital surgeries. Despite this. as a practice that has no comparison in the Western world. the response is hostility and shock. authors like Hellsten (2004) have seen both FGM and male circumcision as a violation of human rights because of the involvement of children and the violent nature of the practices. and others. in popular and academic spheres. When Western customs.

Thus. the medical profession. When looking at the historical context of the development of genital surgeries in the United States. encourages a more comprehensive approach to understanding this particular custom. shedding new light on the issue of autonomy and agency. my focus here is to create a framework within which third-world practices can be understood in the same context as Western practices. Reading this short historical overview all at once puts FGM in perspective. meaning that both aimed at decreasing sexual pleasure in men and women9. 309. as practiced in the United States. but rather on creating a common thread. 15 . In the following chapter. I will put together a short history of female genital surgeries. and how imperialism factors into such activism have much to gain from such a literary exercise as I perform here. it is also easy to link both circumcision and clitoridectomy with similar roots: they both developed to prevent masturbation. and other institutional bodies. She notes that international health organizations condemn female surgeries on grounds which could also be used to condemn male surgeries. protecting young girls and women and ignoring boys. While these are important comparisons. Carpenter (2004) notes the paradox of UN stance on children. Such a background. 9 Ibid.Bell (2005) similarly argues that understanding female genital surgery requires discussing it side by side with male genital surgeries. Complex debates in both feminism and multiculturalism about who should be involved in eradicating which practice. bridging between the Western and non-Western world in thought and activism. my analysis does not focus on comparison. It also discusses the practices as they developed and were forced upon their recipients by custom. using the example of genital surgeries in the United States. I hope.

for example. Reading this allows changing Western perspectives on the barbaric . my analysis aims to create a more multifaceted and comprehensive picture of genital surgeries. there is another contribution that this analysis delivers which is associated with a more balanced multicultural policy. Kittay (1999) and Harrington (1999). While there is a component of empathy that is present in such an analysis. My purpose is to allow policymakers to change policies about Western and non-Western customs. and autonomy. I do not mean to say that female genital surgeries should or should not be permitted by law. I hope to create a relationship between feminist and multicultural analysis which is beneficial to reforming both. but simply to widen the discussion about them in the Western world. Secondly. 16 . illiberal . and to promote new thinking and dialogue about and between both worlds on more egalitarian grounds. coercion. and to allow a broader vision. By presenting matters in this way. it allows a new conception of female genital surgery as practiced by non-Western communities in the West. First. In addition. rather than presenting them as 10 See. Thus.The purpose of creating such an exercise is twofold. Other. moving policymakers and even Western society away from seeing non-Western practices and nonWestern cultures as foreign and barbaric. something that has been important and written about extensively in feminist literature on the ethics of caring in policy-making10. which is necessary for policy on non-Western practices. and which derives important and useful components from both. reading a history where force was enacted on communities and individuals in order to participate in a particular practice allows a more nuanced and intricate understanding of force.

Because American criminal law did not concern itself with sexual immorality and its prohibition. While it seems easy to categories FGM. 308) provide an interesting and useful list that illustrates how easy to is to categorize this surgery and highlights the reasons this has not yet been done. discouragement of lesbianism. Darby and Svoboda (2007: 306-7. see Toubia 1994. which he believed was responsible for a variety of diseases in A similar exercise of retelling is done by Charles Piot (2007: 231-2). 13 Maguigan (2002: 242). Some have even written about masturbation as the destroying element of civilized society . the medical profession took upon itself to act as the enforcer of virtuous conduct through making the connection between mental disease and sexual behavior14. Around this time. Brown used the procedure to cure masturbation. nineteenth century discourse on sexuality in the United States posited that American women were much more moral than women in other countries. I aim to widen the theoretical implications of policies on non-Westerns living in the West. Genital Surgeries in the United States: Historical Overview There are several forms of FGM. and the multicultural and feminist interaction on the matter. 17 . I. 14 15 12 11 Hamowy (1977: 229). a removal or nicking of a small portion of the clitoris. The first. his description is powerful in evoking a different image of FGM from how the media presented in writing about the story of a girl who fled to the United States to escape it. conceptualizing it as the greatest evil to attack American society. As Duffy (1963: 246-248) points out. as practiced by non-Westerners today12. Though short. was performed in the United States until the 1950s for the improvement of mental health. In the third and last chapter. It was performed by British physician Isaac Baker Brown in 1858 for the first time15. and reduction of instances of masturbation13. and that masturbation was injurious to the health of both women and men in America. Despite this. efforts to do so for circumcision have not been made in mainstream discourse. ibid.single-dimensionally as many anti-FGM organizations tend to do11. 239. the operation of clitoridectomy came into central discourse. For a reference list on the different types of FGM according to the medical profession.

a majority of American and English doctors were against the procedure. including the American Academy of 16 http://www. both female and male genital surgeries were viewed very similarly17. finding that excision of their clitoris led to healing of the mental condition.net/index. A majority of these private companies included male circumcision in health packages. 18 . however. This prominence of male circumcision in the United States continues. As the century came to a close. only under his supervision. due to the belief that this would prevent venereal diseases. for curing masturbation. the procedure slowly disappeared. With the arrival of the twentieth century. together with the moral and health arguments against masturbation. and private health insurance companies were used so that the government had no incentive in establishing national public healthcare. despite statements from several health organizations in the 1990s.women. another doctor began advocating this procedure. thousands of men were forced to be circumcised by the military in their 20s. At this point. the rate of circumcisions in the 1950s exploded to 90%. After the Second World War the United States began to flourish. by the 1930s. gynecologists and obstetricians began to encourage the procedure so much so that it begun to be seen as a natural part of the birthing process. considering it a progressive procedure. however.historyofcircumcision. During the First World War. As most women delivered babies at hospitals. more and more doctors began endorsing using clitoridectomy on very young girls to cure them of insanity driven by masturbation. Arguments supporting the universalization of male genital cutting appeared in the United States as early as 1914 surrounding similar arguments to those used for clitoridectomy: prevention of masturbation and mental and physical disease16. Gradually.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=8&id=73 17 Gilman (1993: 65). In 1867.

both long and short term. There are debates about the health risks and benefits of both female genital surgery and male genital surgery. Interestingly. alternative reports do exist. in a 1998 statement. circumcision for females did not receive the same considerations. as in the United Nations-sponsored publication Broken Bodies Broken Dreams (2006: 51-4). while the risks associated with female surgeries usually wins center-stage. For example. religiousity. One reason which has been suggested for the widespread performance of male circumcision is the interest of the American medical profession in the performance of surgeries for payment. Genital Surgeries in Recent Times While male genital cutting continues in the United States since its inception (not without critics. II. cultural reasons. Although no accurate 19 . however. As I will show in the next section. the health and psychological impacts and risks of FGM are clear. rather than for barbaric . albeit). Despite this. religious and ethnic traditions when deciding about circumcision. The publication also declares that custom.Pediatrics (AAP). The publication states that while health risks and benefits of male circumcision are still under debate. sets the West and the Western medical institution apart from the cruel African continent. Obermeyer (1999) published a comprehensive report in which she concludes that claims of the anti-FGM movement about the health risks of the practice are exaggerated. the AAP claimed that it is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural. thus suggesting new conditions and diseases that require these surgeries. Despite this. female genital cutting has only recently reappeared. there isn t such a sharp difference between the two. who do not recommend the procedure being done to male babies. and the desire to control women s sexuality are at the heart of the practice. Perhaps recommending female genital surgeries only for cosmetic purposes.

Following this.000 girls undergo the procedure each year18. 20 . Thus. the U. critics have stated that this was done in order to please American requests. it threatens to withhold disaster and humanitarian aid to countries who have not implemented education programs about FGM. when many African countries began passing statues criminalizing FGM. government and fifteen states have passed mostly criminal laws against the practice. but does not provide any funding for this purpose. In the United States. These laws specifically ban the African communities in the United States from performing the custom20. governmental reports suggest that around 168. rather than to eradicate the practice. At the same time. attractiveness and good health. As Guine and Fuentes (2007: 224) describe. the federal Female Genital Mutilation Act mandates education about the procedure done on women by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. immigrant receiving-states are faced with a tough situation when it comes to immigrant practices which they are unfamiliar with: they must protect the rights of all inhabitants in their country. since 1996. Davis (2002: 21-3) explains that among the motivations for this surgery are beautification and the wish to conform. but not alienate the immigrants at the same time. The UN (2006: 54) reports that the practice is done for purposes of cleanliness. As a response. cosmetic surgeries remain legal under the law. 18 Maguigan 2002: 241 19 20 Guine and Fuentes (2007: 225). A majority of female genital cutting procedures are done on immigrants or children of immigrants in the United States.S.numbers exist. FGM also reinforces membership and belonging in particular ethnic groups19.

Another common procedure is intersex surgeries on newborns. healthcare professionals. These sources discuss prohibition as a punishment using coercive terms. it has only recently become possible to fix them. using very similar reasoning to FGM. and INS agents. Medical involvement in reaching a compromise (a less intensive procedure performed instead of the original) is also prohibited. criminalization incites nothing but stigma for the population practicing FGM. and male circumcision. During trials related to FGM. rather than encourage change. most of whom are also migrants. rather than offering education about FGM. instead of engaging the community it involves. learning about the existence of the Act occurred through the media. 21 . Like Mackalin (2007: 212) illustrates using the Canadian example. occur in at least one or two of every 1000 births in the United States. In the United States. especially in terms of its appearance. sparking debate over what is normal female or male genitalia. Ehrenreich and Barr (2005:97-10) discuss intersex surgeries in the Western world and the harm they cause to their victims. clitoridectomy. cultural evidence is excluded as legitimate reasoning for the performance of the procedure (unlike the aforementioned AAP policy on male circumcision. While intersex babies have existed since ancient times. In these countries. criminalization has driven FGM underground. who are required to warn immigrants of the ban. will face the possibility of incarceration by INS officials during trial. which legitimizes cultural reasoning). policy in learning from the failures of other Western countries that have criminalized FGM. Intersex babies include babies born with mixed sexual anatomical characters. if change is what is desirable.Maguigan argues that criminalizing. internal or external. Such alterations.S. according to the Intersex Society of North America. These provisions may certainly incite anger and fear. reflects a failure of U. The convicted.

The heterosexual stereotype of a dichotomy dividing humans neatly into two genders also appears in the Western world in the form of genital modification surgeries for cosmetic purposes. 22 . as late as the 1970s. An especially interesting example strongly related to FGM. pornography. for beautification. but not only. Parents are also encouraged to raise the child within the reassigned gender role. American women follow the media. where the clitoris is removed or altered to conform to the standard. Judith Butler articulates this idea in Gender Trouble (1990). excision of the clitoral hood was recommended as an augmentation by medical journals and popular magazines21. which Ehrenreich and Barr bring up. and the norms set by the medical profession in order to be beautiful . While clitoridectomy for the purpose of removing insanity disappeared in the early 20th century. Fausto-Sterling (2000) points out that these surgeries and all that they entail are often done not for life-saving purposes. Firstly. this procedure is often simply. MacNamara (2006) articulates several explanations for cosmetic surgeries. doctors assigned a sex.The protocol for dealing with intersex babies via surgery developed in the late 1050s and 1960s. which is most definitely the case both for surgeries on intersexual babies and cosmetic surgeries. and following they modified the child s genitalia after birth to conform to anatomical standards. but simply in conformance with very average gender stereotypes held by doctors. arguing that gender stereotypes create physical bodies. so that surgery could be performed 21 Darby and Svoboda (2007: 312). and to keep surgeries a secret. or even to assure quality of life later. is a clitoroplasty . Like FGM. Like the desire of non-Western women to fit their own standard of beauty. This initial surgery is generally followed by several other surgeries. One is a push by cosmetic surgeons to pathologize even normal bodies.

are two examples of procedures which have been brought to life by the medical profession.on anyone who does not fit their prescribed norm. and labiaplasty. remind us that special care must be taken especially by multicultural societies when outlawing a cultural practice. Vaginoplasty. including the pornographic industry. in the medical world. Fox and Thomson (2005: 464) have argued that circumcision was defined. as well as by notions of what is culturally acceptable and moral. and by medical associations. which was 23 . notes MacNamara. As Bibbings (1996: 188) argues. thus delivering culturally-selective. The United States policy on FGM highlights an inconsistency in dealing with multicultural practices in the Western world. in an attempt to create a very specific description of the normal vagina . Such a coercive force is exemplified by a woman interviewed in a New York Times article about her labiaplasty. policies on body alterations should be consistent. These discourses taken together imprint themselves on women s bodies. Now I feel free. a procedure which makes the vaginal opening tighter. policy-makers do not consider cosmetic surgeries as harmful cultural practices. Sheldon and Wilkinson (1998). which reshapes the labia. there is a clear discourse on the natural . I just feel normal . converting words into physical form. Male circumcision is also impacted by notions of beauty and the body. When prohibiting FGM as a specifically African-immigrant practice. always in contrast with FGM. while surgeons claim that they aim to make women look as natural as possible. While surgeries on intersexual individuals are done at a young age (though for quite similar reasons). saying. cosmetic surgeries highlight much more strongly the coercive force of a strict definition of the norm. Along with a discourse on the normal . incoherent policy. both by popular media. who discuss FGM and cosmetic surgeries in English law.

both for the West and the non-Western world. III. 24 . the same scientific operation was not delivered. using the example of genital surgeries presented here. Bringing Together Feminism. male circumcision became the routine. and the penis is seen as the strongest of all. They find that because male bodies have always been constructed as resistant and able to handle violence and harm. feminists can promote greater gender equity. I will present a list of guidelines useful to policymakers. has occurred out of a Western cultural need. 311. I will discuss more elaborately the theoretical implications of a relationship between multiculturalism and feminism. even the slightest. medical reasoning for approving circumcision. In the following chapter. both for legal statues and for educational purposes. The male body is constructed as susceptible to injury. and female bodies have always been discussed under the discourse of gentleness and the need to be protected. circumcision remained legal while female genital surgeries did not. as well as for the medical profession in dealing with genital 22 Ibid. Multiculturalism. but while clirotidectomy declined. while because the same need did not exist in Western culture regarding FGM. with female genitalia is seen as unthinkable in Western policies. finding benefits for the procedure. and Genital Surgeries By putting genital surgeries back into their cultural context. So is the case with standards of beauty that shape cosmetic surgeries in the West. As Darby and Svoboda have shown.seen a standard and benign medical procedure against a barbaric and unacceptable practice. This was a historical process in which both surgeries were sanctioned for the managing of sexuality. While any alteration. carving up male genitalia is accepted and welcomed22.

25 . These complexities will now be used in creating a more beneficial alliance between feminism and multiculturalism. and has highlighted the complexity of Western forms of the practice.modification surgeries in a more coherent way. My aspiration is that the above discussion has helped reshape single-minded views on FGM.

but it seems that feminism can inform multiculturalism s unaccomplished understanding of the hierarchies created within cultures. just like multiculturalism may inform feminism s reformation of Western universalisms and cultural blindness. liberal multiculturalism tends to promote the protection of minority cultures. such as policy about genital surgeries in immigrant-receiving societies. In this chapter. they have tended to highlight the real-life experiences of women through women's eyes. A similar phenomenon occurs with multiculturalism. I will dissect two central questions about policies on immigrant practices: who should be involved in the policy process on the practices? And how should the practices (ideally) be represented to wider society when legislated upon? My discussion will center on the two major themes of choice and autonomy as they relate to culture and 26 . but it can also contribute to creating well-needed reform of local Western practices. Instead of a celebration of culture. can not only contribute to understanding immigrants better. conjuring up those same stereotypes about this group which they try to campaign against. "women".Chapter 3: Feminism and Multiculturalism: Mutual Contributions Phillips (2007) reminds us of a very important similarity between feminism and multiculturalism. While feminists have tirelessly campaigned against gender stereotypes. Creating policy that is informed by both strands of thought. thus simultaneously campaigning as a group. which does not allow majority cultures to borrow from and to appreciate the richness of cultural diversity. Both multiculturalism and feminism recognize that cultures and genders exist. where cultural group rights' campaigns may bring back the stereotypes held by the majority culture about minority cultural groups.

particularly marginalized individuals who do not 27 . I. Culture and Choice Kymlicka (1996: 83-101) argues that the virtue of liberal multicultural policy is its ability to support individual identities and expand the range of choices given to these autonomous individuals.multiculturalism. encouraging the elitist. Thus. a fact which is observable from the title alone. Such a hierarchical conception of cultures. even imperialist. Kymlicka proposes that democratic societies must protect cultures in order to maintain choice. thinking that Okin engages in her piece on multiculturalism and women. liberal multiculturalism also tends to confuse between protecting the autonomy of individuals. Discussing autonomy of cultures conceals the importance of protecting the autonomy of individuals within the groups. Kymlicka answers Okin s argument about the inability of cultures to fulfill the freedom of rights for women by stating that cultures are always changing. despite its recognition of the importance of providing choice. Kymlicka makes a distinction between liberal and distinctly illiberal cultures. By suggesting this. where I discussed the example of genital surgeries in the United States. versus protecting the autonomy of cultural groups. and thus are always liberalizable. Diversity is not celebrate for its own sake. and examine its benefits. distinguishes some cultures as superior to others. The discussion will also relate to the previous chapter. I will also address polyglot multiculturalism as an alternative to protective multiculturalism. seeing liberal cultures as superior due to their ability to provide freedom of choice. but only because it provides choice. In The Rights of Minority Cultures (1995) the confusion between protecting the rights of individuals versus protecting the rights of cultural groups becomes even more evident. and will give policy recommendations that take these concepts into account. Furthermore.

At the same time. particularly of marginalized individuals within the group. is restricted. 28 .enjoy the benefits allotted to the group by the state. it is important to acknowledge the possibility that culture can be a coercive force upon women s lives. and both in Western and non-Western cultures. liberal cultures as superior to other cultures. both consciously and unconsciously. Criminalizing the practice makes the assumption that women (and mothers who choose it for their daughters) who undergo genital surgeries do not choose them. as unlike women in liberal societies. When looking at the empirical example of United States policy on genital surgeries. the discussion on choice within the liberal multicultural framework brings up two problematic issues: (1) The conception of Western. they are helpless and cannot change their condition. In sum. By discussing choice in terms of group rights. This assumption follows along with Okin s conclusions about the need to protect women in illiberal cultures. The criminalization of female genital mutilation portrays cultures practicing female genital surgeries as backward and barbaric. These issues suggest a few policy recommendations that could be useful in developing policy that is accommodating of the most marginalized members of minority cultures. individual choice. and (2) The inability to deal with the rights and freedoms of highly marginalized individuals within minority cultures. and the derivative property of Western cultures not being able to learn from other cultures to reform their own imperfections. these issues become especially evident.

which aims to protect minority cultures from the coercive powers of majority cultures in democracies. minority cultures should not be portrayed as backward and foreign. This type of multiculturalism endorses protecting minority cultures because they are the reality. where unfamiliar practices enter Western societies. In such a meeting between Western culture and non-Western practices. but rather to take the more practical first step of protecting them. borrowing from cultures far away is an open possibility.II. polyglot multiculturalism is a variety of liberal multiculturalism which aims to celebrate cultures and allow different groups to borrow from one another s culture without living in that culture. in a globalizing world. Minority Cultures Contribution to the West Goodin (2006) distinguishes between two types of multiculturalism: polyglot and protective. While it is easier to borrow from choices present nearby. Kymlicka s theory does not aim to celebrate them. it is practical for policymaking concerning immigrant-receiving countries. While recognizing the intrinsic value of having a variety of minority cultures. On the other hand. and 29 . He establishes that Kymlicka argues for protective multiculturalism. not because they are normatively desirable. Polyglot multiculturalism still hinges on the idea of a wider context of choice the fact that individuals can borrow from options from all cultures around them. there are two recommendations that could be useful for a balanced exchange and dialogue between cultures: (1) In the process of debating over non-Western practices. While polyglot multiculturalism does not work in every society.

circumstances. which is associated with exoticism. and even particular women that react to these.(2) Debate on such practices should promote a dialogue in which both the majority culture and the minority culture re-examine their customs and have the chance to reform on equal terms. Narayan reminds us that the package of cultures essentializes cultures and conceptualizes them as separate from one another. the West is written about as a dynamic. The same 30 . In this kind of framework. lack of change. and even eroticism. She asks to see cultures as dynamic. developing policies that do not essentialize cultures or label them as primitive allows for open debate about cultural practices. Thus. As has already been discussed. while the rest of the world is treated in terms of culture . in many texts. changing. it could never learn from non-Western examples because they are much less progressive. such as Okin s piece and Kymlicka s theory mentioned above. both Western and nonWestern. as Norton argues in the first chapter. Though this may seem obvious. practical policy discussions are not done on equal terms: the West could never develop because it is already perfect. developed sphere that has the power to teach the world the path to progress. In the example of FGM. This kind of inequality could be balanced out by. a non-essentialist reading of cultures also requires societies to see Western cultures as a culture. it was argued that criminalizing the practice in the United States would make it harder for individuals to step forward and engage in dialogue about the practice. In addition. and inseparable for one another. contextualizing the particular practices. looking deeper into the context and historical development of practices. because this would cause their culture to seem primitive. and most importantly.

Similarly. Many notable articles and broadcasts in the popular media. ignores the history of genital surgeries within Western societies and acknowledges the emergence of these practices by the arrival of immigrants only. as well as works by renowned researchers. It is evident that the United States has had a very surprising experience with genital surgery. further deepening the fault-lines between West and East. their emphasis is more on the understanding of non-Western practices.contextualization must be done about Western liberalism and Western practices. Gunning (1991: 205) offers a very similar exercise to the one performed in the previous chapter: examining one s own cultural context to find very similar culturally challenging practices to FGM in order to understand the experience of African women who practice genital surgeries. rather than the development of a deeper Western sense of self. This kind of emphasis once again creates an unleveled playing field: it advocates that the West should be the active. changing entity. 31 . Despite this. There are still mainstream forms of genital surgeries practiced in the United States today. like Fran Hosken s (1981) review of genital mutilation globally. Though both authors suggest that these strategies also aid Westerners to better know their own cultures. their historical development and modern status. Meyers (2002: 486) also suggests introspection for the development of empathy towards practices by outsiders. the legal framework specifically relates to female genital surgeries as practiced in African cultures. yet this history is not often brought up in public and even academic discourse. Several researchers discuss empathy and introspection as tools to equalize the ground for evaluating culturally-challenging practices. leading to a renewed reading of Western and non-Western cultures.

and remain silent on the status of women in our society [emphasis in original]. by focusing on patriarchy outside the West. it is thus time to approach multicultural exchanges with a sharper vision of our own vices. Westerners are blinded from seeing their own faults. Regardless. referring to clitoridectomy. Part of the blindness to local Western practices in the Western culture is the fear of internal criticism. she asks to remember Western history not for the goal of equating Western and non-Western practices. As Tamir (1996) puts it. but for the goal of contextualizing and situating each culture correctly. support the struggle of their women against their primitive. While women in both Western and non-Western cultures could choose to see genital surgeries as barbaric and patriarchal in their cultures and fight it together. they could also choose to see that genital surgeries are a source of agency and strength for them and their daughters. As Tamir (1996) summarizes. inhuman culture. by arguing that this approach may divert Westerners from their own historical context and privilege. and analyzing each culture in its own unique setting. Her comment is important in that. non-Western cultural impact is also important in demonstrating paths for change in the West. restricting dialogue between women and men of different cultures 32 . allows us to condemn them for what they do to their women.While Western involvement is necessary to promote new thinking about cultural practices. and emphasizing the distance of the practice from our own conventions. Pedwell (2007: 64) criticizes approaches of transnational and cross-cultural empathy. like my approach. like the ones used by Gunning and Meyers. and see the multicultural debate less as a way to understand them and correct their ways than as a way to understand and improve our own culture [emphasis in original]. As Volpp argues.

The article specifically addresses the migration of populations that practice female genital cutting into Western countries. and it is easy for insiders to claim that they alone can critique their own practice because they understand it best23. in documents intended for health care professionals. and reformation.restricts the possibility of mutual learning. Other professionals who are impacted by these practices should similarly learn this history. However. the reality is that insiders may often be too submerged in their own cultural biases so that they are unable to see the troubling aspects of their own cultures (thus. the better. and the ways clinicians must deal with the phenomenon. Autonomy and Coercion It is easy for outsider critics to drop out of critiquing a practice because they don t understand it. it is first important to make lawmakers aware of their own (and their nation s) local history with particular practices before they learn about practices of immigrants. lacking agency). which appeared in Sexual and Relationship Therapy. training them on how to handle cases of genital surgeries. To accomplish an equal platform for cultural dialogue. III. detailing how the practice was used in their own society in the past. For example. Cultural uniqueness provides the opportunity for everyone to learn from one another. An example for this is the 2002 article. dialogue. Female genital mutilation: cultural and psychological implications . Phillips concludes that the more critics who are engaged in dialogue with one another. Phillips point engages with two important 23 Phillips (2002: 128-9) 33 . highlighting the cultural aspects at play. information on the history of the practice should be included.

causes groups to be pushed further to the margins in society as a whole. Tamir describes both Western and non-Western cultural norms as coercive on women equally. but it is the responsibility of the state to set up proper exit options for women who need them. While Okin lacks an analysis of Western culture as oppressive to women and of non-Western women as willing and able to reform their cultures. protect liberalism? Receiving state support to address intragroup inequalities. without state intervention. and the idea that agency is the exit option.questions: who is allowed to critique practices? What is autonomy. and how far can the agency argument. Tamir has also argued that multiculturalism must protect women (or individuals) who seek to reform their cultures. especially if this entails exiting their culture as a whole. As mentioned in the first chapter. 24 Macklin (2007: 220) 34 . Shachar correctly points out that women are benefited and harmed by culture at the same time. an analysis of cultural practices both in the West and non-West must draw from feminist analysis that treats liberal accounts of autonomy with suspicion. Tamir s (1996) response to Okin engages in a superb account of the coercive power of culture. Many feminist researchers have discussed autonomy in the context of culture and cultural norms. such as state outlawing of female genital mutilation in the United States. which she sees as no less damaging than clitoridectomy. women in most cultures may have trouble escaping particular customs which they are against. creating a theoretical and practical dilemma24. On the other hand.

who writes about female genital cutting in particular. Meyers suggests that the issue of autonomy. and in turn. Their accounts thus came out as elitist. 25 See Cudd (2006) and MacKinnon (1991) 35 . reveal a woman s true inner characters and values. portraying women as lacking the ability to promote change. when exercised. The workshops are meant to develop revolutionary thinking on culture and choice. and must conceptualize autonomy as a set of skills that could be gained. can be promoted through education towards autonomy. skills which. finds that women who accommodate and women who resist cutting can be autonomous. many feminists25 have been known to recognize Western (and non-Western) cultural norms as coercive. rather than outside of it. and culture has nothing to do with defining autonomy. rather than to guide women for or against particular practices. Unlike these accounts.Similarly. the idea of the evolution of cultures and their reform. As a result. and even imperialist. 484-9). arguing that culture is imbued with patriarchy and male-dominance. Meyers (2000: 470. These accounts have been vigorously problematized for not giving enough space to female agency. must couple autonomy with self-discovery and transformation. She suggests that educational programs must conceptualize autonomy as a part of culture. certain social contexts can be more conducive to autonomy than others. These autonomyenhancing educational workshops recognize that women (and their daughters) may or may not choose to go through genital cutting. it seemed that these researchers saw only themselves as able to recognize the blindness of western and third world women living under the tight grip of cultural norms. Nonetheless. and seeing women as unable to break through these dominant conceptions and practice agency.

36 . and norms as a way of creating a more complex and multi-dimensional understanding of these ideas.On the topic of the autonomy of marginalized members of minority groups. policymakers should concern themselves with: (3) Creating workshops to empower the marginalized members of minority groups and their autonomy (rather than education for or against particular cultural customs). and (4) Personal learning about the concept of autonomy. coercion.

these members would also be more likely to engage in such a policymaking procedure. and cultural leaders would be wise to embrace this change and support those who promote it. and by inviting as many critics as possible. they do not provide monetary funding for these programs. Embracing cultural change preserves cultures.Conclusion Meyers discusses a very important and necessary addition to any Western policymaking on culturally-challenging practices. internal and external. but to creating antagonism and resistance on the part of traditional culture-group members. 37 . When marginalized members of cultures are empowered to speak out and act against aspects of their culture. because change is inevitable. when engaging in policymaking and cultural reform from the outside. they could support those who promote cultural change themselves. contributing to the revolution of their own culture without having to be under the heavy burden of exiting it. and those who promote it may exit the culture under heavy burden if not supported. nor do they promote programs that focus on increasing autonomy and choice. cultures are always evolving. As Meyers suggests. Such policymaking does not lead to supporting cultures and their transformation. While Western states could not force cultural leaders to support change and cultural reformers. including Western and non-Western women. I would also add that the workshops she discusses should include a variety of participants from a variety of cultures. While United States laws on female genital cutting do promote educational programs specifically on cutting. to educate policymakers and health professionals on practices by contextualizing them in Western and non-Western histories. The best way to do this is to develop and sponsor workshops that promote women s (and other marginalized members ) agency and choice.

This bond also sheds light on the importance of heeding attention to disadvantaged members of minority groups. and how this policy should be created. and yet still succeed in preserving the rich diversity of cultures which our globalizing community can gain so much from. While Western researchers engage in debates about who should create policy on culturally-challenging practices. and using the point of view of these members as a starting-point for revolutionizing culture. as well as highlighting how a bond between feminism and multiculturalism helps highlight it. 38 .The example of genital cutting in the United States has served as a powerful case-study for understanding how cultures conceptualize themselves and their outsiders. Cultural change and transformation both help to reform parts of cultures that are harmful to particular members. I hope that this paper has been instrumental in bringing up this point. they often times forget how this policymaking process can impact their own cultures.

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