Looking at power struggles primarily within national boundaries reifies the nation-state and misses larger issues of control in the international system. Using the example of female genital cutting (FGC), we consider the relative importance of local constituencies versus international normative influence in creating national policies. We find that the occurrence of anti-FGC legislation in countries where many individuals support the procedure, the timing and character of national legal action directed against FGC, and the uniformity of political action all lend weight to the importance of international norms. At the national level, we find (1) reform is often a top-down process in which national laws are developed to change rather than reflect local attitudes, and (2) African stales tend to work around local communities by adopting bureaucratic policies to combat FGC (Western countries, in contrast, tend to adopt formal laws). At the international level, our findings suggest (1) the structural position of international actors influences whether they deploy assimilative or coercive reform strategies, (2) contradictions among international ideals limits Western hegemony, and (3) international ideals can simultaneously empower (by offering options) and disempower (by disengaging states from local constituencies) local individuals.