1. A longer version of this paper previously appeared as the introduction to Female "Circumcision" in Africa: Culture, controversy, and change, edited by Shell-Duncan and Hernlund (2000).

2. The expression "the trivialization of culture" was coined by Canadian anthropologist Claudie Gosselin (Gosselin, 2000).

3. For instance, Shell-Duncan et al. (2000) report that among Rendille pastoralists in northern Kenya, excision was, in the past, performed at the time of marriage, legitimizing reproduction. Within the past 20 years, it has become increasingly common for girls to attend school, and a rising number of girls have eloped without being excised. A solution to avoid illegitimate childbearing has been to uncouple excision and marriage, circumcizing girls instead before attending secondary school.

4. Accounts in the literature refer to ancient Egyptian beliefs about the bisexuality of the gods, which possibly merged with pre-existing African ideas that identify the feminine "soul" of a man as located in the foreskin and the male "soul" of a woman in the clitoris (Meinardus, 1967). Although such a discussion is beyond the scope of this entry, interesting parallels can also be drawn to the well-documented Western discomfort with gender ambiguity that has resulted in routinely performing surgery on "hermaphroditic" infants.

5. For example, The Economist (February 13, 1999, p. 45) reported that the U.S. State Department's Human Rights report "lists those African governments that have banned female circumcision, and is used as a guide to allocating American aid."

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