A major issue I’ve been thinking about for a while now is that of judging acts/beliefs/values/norms, whether they are your own or someone else’s. Do we ever have the right to say that something is right or wrong? When does something get classified as a universal right or a universal wrong? What if we decide something is “wrong” and yet people are doing it by choice – do we then have the right to stop them? What does choice even mean – aren’t we all socialized to believe certain things, so in the end a choice is never really a free choice?
The clearest example I can think of is female circumcision. Millions of women choose to circumcise their daughters, for a multitude of reasons. Do we have the right to tell them to stop? Many western NGOs and feminists have consistently labelled female circumcision as backwards, primitive, even barbaric. Millions of dollars have gone into programs to end the practice. But is all of this even ethical? Who are we to say that someone else’s practice is wrong? They think it’s right – isn’t that something to take into consideration?
The main argument here is probably that female circumcision is harmful in health terms. Yes. But so is plastic surgery. Yet thousands of American women undergo plastic surgery monthly, yet no one has labelled that practice barbaric, backwards, or primitive. True, these women are at an age where they can make decisions for themselves, but we know that women who are circumcised go on to circumcise their daughters – thus they too make the same decision their mothers made for them.
I personally see female circumcision as something I would never want done to me and that I would never do to my children. But a growing part of me is questioning whether I have the right to tell other women to stop, or to make a value judgement. In Egypt, many women are circumcised because that is what society expects – so social pressure plays a role. Isn’t that also why many women get fat from their thighs put into their face? I’m not trying to argue that they are the same thing. I’m just trying to question whether we can ever deem something as either wrong or right.
Another example is polygamy. A huge part of me gets very sensitive when the topic comes up, because I just can’t imagine that a woman would accept to be married to a man who has other wives. But I react that way because my conception of marriage is that it should be based on love. But there are different reasons for marriage, and there are different types of love. Some people don’t believe in monogamy – who am I to say that’s wrong? Some women don’t mind being in a polygamous marriage – again, who am I to say that’s wrong?
My position as a feminist means that I’m pro-choice. If a woman decides to be in a polygamous marriage – then that’s her choice. Why would I tell her that she’s being oppressed: wouldn’t that be me imposing my own views on her? With circumcision it gets a bit more complicated. While I am wary of saying it is wrong, I can’t bring myself to accept that a woman does that to her daughter. Just the pain itself is enough to make me cringe. But then again, who am I to say it’s wrong?! Agh – I’m going round in circles!
What do you guys think?