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Critical Theory Can Do More Than Human Rights
The framework of critical theory offers greater perspective.
If someone makes the statement that the circumcised body “looks better” this doesn’t violate anyone’s human rights, but most survivors and activists who oppose circumcision would be uncomfortable with this statement, yet not able to articulate why in the human rights framework.
In the framework of critical theory, words are deeply important, and it makes perfect sense why this statement would not just feel uncomfortable but morally wrong.
First, this statement plays into cultural systems around bodies, gender, sexuality, etc. By saying this idea, the speaker is reinforcing systems of systemic pedophilia. Since these systems are what cause children to be harmed as much if not more than individual actors, the speaker is complicit in and contributing to systemic pedophilia by making this statement.
The statement also contributes to cultural trauma towards survivors. By hearing someone reinforce the attitudes and cultural systems that caused them harm, survivors are reminded of their own trauma and may have their own feelings about their body and the sexual assault it endured triggered. The statement might have an impact on their relationships or social circle, depending on the audience it was made to, which could cause further cultural trauma to survivors.
The statement also centers the speaker’s sexual desires, rather than survivors or the person(s) whose body they are actually talking about. By centering themselves, the speaker marginalizes survivors. By centering their sexual desires as what is most important about children’s bodies, the speaker engages in systemic pedophilia.
The statement is not a human rights violation. It’s a form of systemic pedophilia and an act of cultural harm. The statement might not be direct individual violence, but it contributes to and perpetuates violence.
There is a lot more happening within children’s issues than human rights. The human rights discourse can only go so far. The critical process I applied above could be applied to any statement that relates to children and children’s issues.
It also gives language to what children’s activists already intuitively feel, creating hermeneutical justice. Before, such a statement might make us uncomfortable, but we could not articulate why. With this, we can, and we can articulate it in a way that demands social change.
While this might take a paragraph to articulate now, eventually ideas like those above will be condensed into memetic ideas so clear and simple they might even be just an individual word, like “racism” or “sexism.” These words will become assumed parts of people’s reality, rather than an “argument.”
Are you starting to understand the power of theory?