The New York Times systematically removes the phrase “Female Genital Mutilation” from its coverage of the controversial ritual – because it believes the term is “culturally loaded” and unfair.
Instead it refers to “genital cutting” – a far softer term which is rejected by campaigners against the barbaric practice.
The Times has been doing this for years – but only made its stance explicit when a reader asked the paper to explain the unusual choice of words in a story last week, headlined Michigan Doctor Is Accused of Genital Cutting of 2 Girls.
The article used “genital cutting” ten times. It used “female genital mutilation” once – and only in a direct quotation from a Department of Justice official.
Heat Street reported the same story, but called FGM what it is.
In a reply published last week , health editor Celia Dugger defended her decision by citing a trip she took to west Africa in 1996. She said:
I began writing about this back in 1996 when I was an immigration reporter on the Metro desk covering the asylum case of Fauziya Kassindja. I decided in the course of reporting that case — especially after a reporting trip to Togo, her home country, and the Ivory Coast — to call it genital cutting rather than mutilation. I never minced words in describing exactly what form of cutting was involved, and there are many gradations of severity, and the terrible damage it did, and stayed away from the euphemistic circumcision, but chose to use the less culturally loaded term, 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.
In this decision The Times is at odds with most campaigns against the practice, including officials in the US government and the United Nations. Both groups maintain that using proper terminology is an important part of eradicating the appalling practice.
For example, the United Nation Population Fund backs the term FGM, which it says “emphasizes the gravity of the act and reinforces that the practice is a violation of women’s and girls’ basic human rights”.