Worried the term “female genital mutilation” might sharpen the divide between those who oppose brutally cutting away a little girl’s genitalia to deprive her of sexual pleasure and those who practice the “rite,” one New York Times editor instead refers to the ritual as “genital cutting.”
“There’s a gulf between the Western (and some African) advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite, and I felt the language used widened that chasm,” NYT science and health editor Celia Dugger explained Friday. She also said the widely used term (FGM) is “culturally loaded” in the explanation, which came as a result of inquiries from The Daily Caller News Foundation regarding a reporter’s decision to use the term “cutting” in a recent story about a doctor in Michigan.
The doctor was allegedly caught mutilating innocent little girls as young as six and charged with a felony. Performed in American culture and subject to American laws, female genital mutilation carries a sentence of up to five years.
Dugger said she made the decision to ditch “mutilation” for “cutting” after traveling to sub-Saharan Africa for an immigration story in 1996. While she says she never “minced words in describing exactly what form of cutting was involved” and the “terrible damage” it inflicted on young girls, Dugger apparently wanted to soften the instinctive horror by many who oppose the brutal practice by using “cutting” instead.
Other human rights organizations have frowned upon using the term “genital cutting,” saying that it does not accurately describe the suffering placed on young girls.
“It establishes a clear distinction from male circumcision,” the United Nations Population Fund explained. “Use of the word ‘mutilation’ also emphasizes the gravity of the act and reinforces that the practice is a violation of women’s and girls’ basic human rights.”
Dugger has apparently pushed the editorial direction of the TheNYT to follow her lead. The only time “female genital mutilation” appears in an April 13 report from NYT reporter Jacey Fortin on the Michigan doctor is in a statement from an acting assistant attorney general within the Department of Justice. Otherwise the piece uses Dugger’s preferred term “cutting.”
Hillary Burrage, a sociologist who writes against the practice, argues against using other terminology to describe the mutilation of young girls.
“But the time has come to deny for ourselves as activists and thought leaders the comfort of euphemisms,” Burrage said at the 2016 Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Walk-A-Thon to End the practice. “Let’s drop the use of language which softens our horror of FGM, and speak the truth we know.”
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