Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why feminists shouldn't condone male circumcision

It's outlined in United States Code Title 18, Section 116:
Whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

In applying subsection, no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person, or any other person, that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.

This law expressly forbids any elective alteration, cutting, surgery or mutilation of an infant girl's genitals - even for so-called 'religious' reasons. It's America's statement that female genital mutilation is absolutely outlawed in the United States (and thank God it is.)

Yet while a baby girl's genitals are quite rightly sacrosanct, male infants are routinely circumcised in American hospitals - raising a very interesting question about why a girl's genital integrity is taken as a matter of course, but a boy's isn't.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this part of the circumcision debate is how feminist dogma isn't just unsupportive of a little boy's right to keeping their genitals intact - it sometimes actively opposes that principle.

I find it deeply worrying that the feminist movement - supposedly intended to bring equality between man and woman - fights viciously to reinforce the mindset that a boy's right to genital integrity is somehow less than a girl's. It's the anathema of everything feminism is supposed to be about.

Many feminists argue that any negative discussion of male circumcision is offensive. It detracts from the horror of female circumcision - a disgusting practice designed to exercise power and control over a woman's sexuality. To suggest that male circumcision is 'undesirable' is to suggest that it's somehow equivalent to female genital mutilation - which it's not.

Female genital mutilation differs from male circumcision in three regards:
  1. It's physically far more traumatic than male circumcision.
  2. It's only purpose is to reduce a woman's sexual pleasure and maintain dominance over her.
  3. There are no reported health benefits to female circumcision, unlike male circumcision.
To this end, many feminists bitterly attack any attempt to even discuss the ethical implications of male circumcision - shutting down the debate before it even begins. I've encountered more than a few so-called feminists lately who condemn female genital mutilation while simultaneously defending male circumcision.

This is wrong.

This is offensive, dogmatic and it flies in the face of the so-called principles that feminism supposedly stands for. It's time people stood up and demand that their voice be heard - that they be allowed to speak out about this issue without being muzzled by outdated, sexist feminist rhetoric.

What do we ask for? A level playing field.

Simply that the genitals of little boys are viewed as possessing the same legal rights as those of a little girl. That the law which protects a girl from elective genital alteration equally protect a little boy.

Equality between the genders. A principle feminists should support, not oppose.

And if little boys and little girls had the same rights, what would that mean for the practice of male circumcision?
Whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the genitals of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

That anybody who surgically alters an infant's genitals would be committing a criminal offense.

What about those who'd wish to circumcise their child for religious reasons?
In applying subsection, no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person, or any other person, that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.
They would equally be committing a criminal offense.

United States Code Title 18, Section 116 contains a clause about medical necessity - as in, if there's a pressing medical reason to perform surgery on an infant's genitals, it can be done.
A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner.
But does male circumcision represent a 'necessary' procedure for the health of the infant?

There are arguable health benefits to circumcision. It reduces the chances of being infected by HIV through heterosexual sex - although so do condoms. It reduces the changes of penile cancer later in life - although the chances of developing that are already infinitesimal.

In fact, the benefits of male circumcision are largely hypothetical - and certainly nothing that's either statistically significant or which couldn't be accomplished more effectively with responsible behavior upon reaching adulthood.

The fact is that male circumcision is unnecessary surgery performed on a child who is incapable of consent.

If the current law was applied to boys as well as girls (which, by everything America stands for, it should be) than male circumcision would most certainly be defined as a criminal offense.

So why are we treating boys and girls differently? And why do some feminists insist on perpetuating that double standard, instead of fighting it?

6 comments:

Caroline said...

I am a feminist and 100% opposed to circumcising children- of any gender. Thank you for writing this post. We need more like you!

champagneandbenzedrine said...

No, Caroline - we need more like you! Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to post.

champagneandbenzedrine said...

Hi Joel,

Your comment is more than welcome here. I'm not sure what Clitic hopes to prove by only allowing comments that agree with her, but frankly I think her policy is a little pathetic.

You made a GREAT comment with some very valid contentions. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

cinnamon girl said...

Yes, yes, yes.

I am a feminist who is absolutely opposed to the routine circumcision of boys as well as girls.

I've been criticised for 'judging women on their choices' but frankly, if their choice is to mutilate their child for no medical reason then I think my criticism is justified.

Adrian Colesberry said...

Terrific post. I join you in being against all kinds of genital cutting and am heartened that there is a feminist stance that stands definitively against this practice and for universal genital integrity. The main concern I have regarding all kinds of genital cutting is over the clinical trials from Africa coming home to roost. The CDC and parts of the medical establishment are on the verge of recommending universal male circumcision in the US. They justify their position by pointing to how removing the foreskin reduces the number of Langerhans cells and eliminates a moist place where viruses can hide. (Langerhans cells are an immune system cell that, when overwhelmed by virus, passes HIV to the bloodstream.)
First off, none of this is a good enough justification for male cutting. Secondly, at the same time as they are justifying their own favorite genital modification, they are also providing a cogent justification for all genital cutting, male and female: A woman's Langerhans cells are on her clitoral hood and her labia and an intact vulva is nothing but a moist place with plenty of little folds. Anyone trying to defend the practice of female genital cutting could use this information to legitimize the practice as being just as "healthy" and "clean" as male cutting. It's just crazy! Anyhow, thanks for your post. Here's the link to the CDC factsheet, if you're interested. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circumcision.htm

David said...

Another point I've not seen recognized is this: Judaism and Islam require male circumcision as a rite of purification requisite for the covenant with God. Women are not a party to that covenant. Impurity in women is important only insofar as it effects the purity (physical or spiritual) of men.