A piece in The New York Times on female genital mutilation didn’t feature the term, instead, the editor chose a more politically correct phrase that completely sanitized the practice of Muslim butchery.
Celia Dugger, the Times’ editor of Health and Science, explained her decision to describe the horrors a Michigan doctor is accused of doing to two 7-year-old girls as “genital cutting” instead of “female genital mutilation” because the language is less politically charged:
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.
According to The Daily Caller, Dugger’s editorial choices have flowed into other NYT reports: “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.”
But critics say whitewashing the term hides the true horror young girls experience in what's often dubbed a “cultural” practice.
“But the time has come to deny for ourselves as activists and thought leaders the comfort of euphemisms,” said sociologist Hillary Burrage. “Let’s drop the use of language which softens our horror of FGM, and speak the truth we know.”
Another, the United Nations Population Fund, argues why we must continue calling it female genital mutilation: “It establishes a clear distinction from male circumcision. 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.”