On Female Genital Mutilation, “Designer Vaginas” and Consent

A surprisingly common apologist response to my recent post on the relationship between religion and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) has been to try and draw an equivalence between FGM and cosmetic surgery,  as epitomised by the following post by Halibut on Sheffield Forum:

This is a practice growing in use within the West, in America and in the UK and among wealthy, white largely nominally Christian people.

They pay large sums of money to plastic surgeons to do it for them.

The thread has since been removed by mods so sadly I can’t provide a link.

This argument is so transparently fallacious that it practically rebuts itself but given it’s seemingly popularity it requires a response.

There are all manner of activities which adults voluntarily take part in and sometimes pay money for that we rightly regard as both immoral and criminal when they are done to children, the key factor which distinguishes the two is of course consent.

Adults, many of them “wealthy, white largely nominally Christian” regularly indulge in all manner of sexual behaviour with each other, on occasions “they pay large sums of money” to sex workers to facilitate this behaviour. So long as they’re all freely consenting, practising safe sex, not betraying a personal commitment to fidelity or hypocritically secretly indulging in practices they condemn in others I have no objection to this and certainly don’t think the criminal law should be involved. The key proviso there is ‘freely consenting’, it is the lack of consent which makes rape wrong and (amongst other things) it is the lack of a capacity of children to consent to sexual activity which makes paedophilia inherently immoral.

I’d hope that Halibut and his fellow travellers wouldn’t defend paedophilia on the grounds that “wealthy, white largely nominally Christian” adults in “the West, in America and in the UK” perform the same acts on each other. The same applies to physical abuse of children, which isn’t rendered moral by the fact that adult boxers and other martial artists habitually punch and kick each other.

Consent is the key factor which can render all manner of practices (some of which like cosmetic vaginal surgery I disagree with and make me feel rather queasy) perfectly moral. Take tattooing and other forms of body modification for instance, an extreme example of which can be seen on the right. Doing that to an non-consenting adult or child would be monstrous,  yet such body modification is rendered moral when freely chosen by adults.

The same principle is what distinguishes FGM from some women’s quest for a ‘designer vagina’ and what makes trying to equate the two to excuse the former so disgusting. If I became aware that a female acquaintance of mine was contemplating having a facial tatoo, getting a labiaplasty or some such procedure I may well contemplate trying to dissuade them from doing so but respect their right to do what they want to their own body.

There are other objections to FGM of course such as the way it is so often carried out by untrained practitioners, in appallingly unsanitary conditions, with no follow-up care. Consequently, mutilated girls not uncommonly suffer all manner of infections and ‘complications’ including death. In other cases girls’ genitals are mutilated by accredited doctors in well kept modern surgeries with extensive follow up care. Consent however and the lack of it is what really matters.

Credits for Photos:

Tattooist : piercing (Chris Willis) / CC BY-NC 2.0