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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Awful Lens of Food

It's a week later and I find myself still processing an extremely emotional argument that occurred at an otherwise innocuous "welcome back Wheylona" party. Perhaps it was the Irish cream liqueur, or the brown rice, or the tomato and pepper salad... looking back, it seems those three must have combined to cast a wicked spell upon us. Just as a watercress salad, slice of quiche Lorraine and a glass of vin du pay d'oc will unyieldingly result in a lazy, pleasant chat about gardening... so too were we powerless to avoid our fate: a vicious argument about female genital mutilation (FGM)... A customary practice in some African cultures of removing a girl's clitoris (sometimes called female circumcision.)

Partygoers were discussing the barbaric practice as they swallowed down forkfuls of heirloom tomatoes. The situation escalated over bites of brown rice. Now people were expressing outright outrage. Over a swill of Irish cream, one person not only decried the practice, but also the western liberal response of reserving judgment. This fellow was upset at the idea that there are college professors out there so darn PC that they avoid calling this a deplorable human rights violation and think that criticizing a cultural practice makes them neo-colonialists. This is when conflict first arose.

Typically, I'm no defender of teachers. In fact, I hate school, learning or anything to do with books, homework or higher brain function. I'm on record as saying that education is a scam-that the University of Washington is full of self-interested criminals. But, maybe because I was in a mood to play Devil's advocate, I disagreed. I defended the opposing viewpoint that perhaps there was validity to reserving such judgmental stances for our own deplorable cultural practices rather than seeking out others to malign. Historically Europeans have found all sorts of foreign behavior and cultural norms despicable. Rarely have we been so critical of ourselves.

This didn't go over well. I probably should have made more clear that I wasn't defending the practice of FGM (Heck, I don't even like the idea of male circumcision!) And when I look at my own values more clearly, I don't even think it's wrong to judge another cultural practice. For example, I really dislike the Japanese practice of eating octopus or the Norwegian delight in whaling. I guess what I really feel uncomfortable with is the vehement expression of that judgment. I relate more to "feeling sad about something tragic" than I do to "feeling enraged about something unjust." Because I wasn't really able to relate to the anger expressed by others at the party, I came off like I disapproved of their stance against FGM. There were even questions (which caused me to bristle) about whether I wanted to make the world a better place.

Just for the record, I do. I even want to make Africa a better place. I won't chose FGM as the issue that I will crusade against though. When the time comes, I'd rather use money to create sustainable potable water sources. I don't know if that makes me a wuss because I don't want to take up arms against deplorable practices, or just a pragmatist that feels that more benefit can be done helping people achieve the positive things that they desire rather than stopping them from doing the harmful things that they want.

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9 Comments:

At 9/23/2006 10:08:00 AM, Blogger molly said...

I had a meal of grilled veggies and and quinoa salad, washed down with a vodka and tonic amongst friends recently and when I tried to make an argument that because appealing to passion in people was the foundation of a fascist ideology maybe it could be just as positive as it has been historically negative in the hands of the right leaders.

I haven't been invited back since.

 
At 9/25/2006 08:35:00 AM, Blogger ScottyTuxedo said...

I admire your ability to challenge and debate people. I can't do it. The arguments drain so much out of me that now I can just sit and listen to right wing conservative pro-war christian babble and just nod my head and not engage. Maybe I could if I was taller. Anyhow, I feel for you. People are always getting upset with my political stances, but I'm just putting forth a point, why do they tend to take it so personal? I think that even being able to talk about the crises in Africa while eating takes more of a stomache than I have.

 
At 9/25/2006 02:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do they do with the clitori?

 
At 9/25/2006 02:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clitori Helper, when you need a helping hand...

 
At 9/25/2006 05:46:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Moll, I don't think there's anything inherently fascist about appealing to passion. MLK certainly aroused emotion with his speeches... and I doubt your european buddies would think of MLK as a fascist.

Scotty, you flatter me well. But really... how do you manage while surrounded by such conservative folks? You must be a paragon of patience.

Anonymi - you are bad. bad bad people.

 
At 9/25/2006 09:33:00 PM, Blogger ScottyTuxedo said...

Well, I'm not really surrounded by them. My parents are, but I don't talk to them much. And a magician friend of mine is an outspoken conservative religious zealot. But other than that, I'm not around it much.

 
At 9/26/2006 10:28:00 AM, Blogger molly said...

Well, see Scotty, you're religious zealot friend also believes in magic... or in amazing people with slight of hand. I rest my case.

 
At 9/26/2006 02:18:00 PM, Blogger molly said...

Oh, and John...

Hey man, are you accusing MLK of being a facist?!

Now THAT's some hard charging!

 
At 9/26/2006 08:07:00 PM, Anonymous A-mon said...

I dated this doctor for a bit earlier this year. She delivers lots of baby at a large hospital in Seattle where she works and apparently has met a lot of women who come from cultures where FGM is practiced. The word I got was that FGM is often pushed by mothers and women in families. People apparently even fly back to Africa to have this done to their children. Just like daddies want their kids to be like them, mommies seem to fall into the same syndromes at times...

 

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