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moderated by Phil Bartle, PhD

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Date: Thu, 24 Mar
From: Rachelle G
Dr Phil,

Thank you for responding to my comment.  I understand you're saying when you mention Hitler and the Nazis.  I was in no way defending their actions, as I'm sure you already know.  I was simply pondering on the importance of defining one's own personal beliefs/values (I'm not sure which is correct here) and being open minded enough to potentially re-evaluate those beliefs/values.  I think it is important to know where one stands in regards to many issues but it's also important to be willing to look at other people's views.


I mentioned in class that I am not an absolutist. I am a cultural relativist. but not an absolute cultural relativist.


Date: Tue, 22 Mar
From: Ryan H

It is interesting to read the different perspectives, Rachel from anthropology and Dr. Phil from sociology.  I would like to add a further perspective to this discussion: philosophy.  Relativism is the philosophical view that truth is relative and not absolute. It varies from people to people, time to time, and place to place.  Relativism has been discounted for the reasons Dr. Phil has cited; if we believe truth is relative to one's surroundings, then all actions no matter how horrific are acceptable, as long as the majority of that culture believes it to be morally acceptable.

If we believe that, then the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi's was morally acceptable, as well, if another culture declares war on us, we can't  condone their behavior because their action are morally acceptable based on their relative culture.  Another philosophical argument in favour of horrific acts is Utilitarianism.  A Utilitarianist would argue that in some cases FGM is acceptable because, in the example that Rachel gave about girls who look forward to the circumcision, the greatest good is being maximized for the greatest number of people.  If we believe in an ethical system (Utilitarianism) by which one acts according to that which will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then Dr. Phil's example of a gang rape is morally acceptable because, although the female was harmed, it brought good (physical pleasure and emotional power) to a greater number of people: the gang doing the raping.  There are other philosophical perspectives that would try to argue that FGM and other horrific act are morally acceptable, but I personally believe there are universal moral truths, like do not harm or kill other people; therefore FGM is not an acceptable practice.


Date: Mon, 21 Mar
From: Bartle

Dear Rachel,
If we want to avoid ethnocentrism and be culturally relative, then we would refer to the values of the culture where an activity is practiced, and their terminology, and not use our ethnocentric values and terminology.

But where do we draw the line?

Should we therefore not judge Hitler and Nazi ethics, the genocide of Jews, Poles, Gays and Communists?  They thought they were bringing "Good" to the world with their "Final Solution."

As an aid worker who has worked in that part of the world, and as a former UN officer, I fear that I cannot maintain strict cultural relativity about acts which are condemned by our UN human rights deliberations and which are so demeaning and painful to innocent girls.

For any activist, who is working to change unfair practices anywhere in the world, their desire to remove those unfair practices must necessarily be non culturally relative.  If they were culturally relative, therefore, feminists would have to accept being domestic servants, homosexuals would have to practice heterosexual life styles, and we would still have laws and values that forbade inter cultural marriage in Canada.  The municipal elders who gang raped a woman in Pakistan would be seen as merely practicing their cultural values, punishing her because her brother had a sexual affair with another man's wife.

Anthropologists and sociologists are human; therefore they have values.  To pretend otherwise is to pretend that scientists are not human, perhaps inhuman.

My personal view,
Phil Bartle

Date: Mon, 21 Mar
From: Rachelle G

Hi Dr. Phil!
This is Rachelle from Soc 160
I've been thinking a lot about the exam question about FGM.  I know the exams are not the place to discuss opinions or feelings which is why I just wanted to share a different perspective that I learned in an anthropology class.  In this anthopology class we were warned against judging the practice of FGM by using the term mutilation.  The word circumcision was prefered.  I read a book called Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl, and in this book the practice was hardly considered mutilation but rather a right of passage if you will.  The young girls looked forward to their circumcision ceremony.  This is not to say that the actual description of the circumcision was not extremely graphic and very painful for the individuals involved.  In our society many people do not give male circumcision a second thought, and in other parts of the world female circumcision is the norm.  I do understand that female circumcision literally eliminates any female pleasure during sexual activity but I do not know how people involved in this act feel about that.  Do you have any thoughts on this 'anthropoligical perspective'?  I guess it's a good idea to take many different perspectives into account when forming an opinion on a matter such as this.  I really enjoy hearing a sociological twist on things!  Thanks for taking the time to read what I wanted to share!


Subject: Soc 100: FGM
Date: Mon, 09 Feb

Hi Dr. Phil,
Hope you had a nice weekend and have made a full recovery by now.

I just have a quick question for you with regards to the 8 of hearts question: "Why is female circumcision a special form of violence towards women?"

I am a little unclear as to what you are looking for when you say "special".

Are you wanting us to refer to the severity of the physical act itself (the removal of the clitoral skin and the suceptability to std's) or to to talk about it comparatively with refrences to the other forms violence against women such as rape and violence in the home.

Sorry for the trouble,

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