Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hatchet Job: Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision

So a sex blogger out there attempted to do a hatchet job on me recently.

I should be flattered, I guess. It's not often somebody pays that much unsolicited attention to me.

In a beautifully written, 1,300 word essay (with footnotes no less - footnotes) this blogger explained in nauseating detail why I was a 'shrill concern troll' for suggesting that Female Genital Mutilation was equivalent to male circumcision.

Which was fascinating, lacking only the minor detail that I'd never claimed any such thing.

Quite the opposite, in fact. In this post I thought I was quite unequivocal in stating:
"Nobody rational would ever think to claim that male circumcision is as bad as female genital mutilation."
Perhaps instead of 'as bad as' I should have written 'equivalent to' but unfortunately, I was under the impression that they meant roughly the same thing.

I actually went over to this blogger's site and attempted to explain her misunderstanding, but she wouldn't post my comments. The fact that they undermined the very basis behind crafting her beautifully written and intricately researched post might have frustrated her. Alternatively, perhaps she's just a raving control freak who always has to be right.

In either event, I thought it was worth putting my thoughts down here.

As you know, I am passionately opposed to the routine circumcision of infants.

The fact that the Center for Disease Control in the United States is considering mandating it for all newborn boys is just horrific to me. Based off the flawed interpretation of three studies conducted in Africa, the CDC believe that they can cut HIV infection rates by 50% by routinely circumcising the 1.25 million baby boys born each year in America.

There are two problems with this theory:
  • 88% of new HIV infections are through injection drug use or male-to-male sex, neither of which are reduced by circumcision. According to the CDC figures, 50,000 circumcisions will need to be performed to hypothetically prevent even a single potential HIV infection.
  • Despite 79% of American men being circumcised, America's HIV rates are between six and ten times higher than countries in Europe, where upwards of 90% of the male population is uncircumcised. The African studies are simply not applicable to the Western world.
So basically, the CDC is suggesting the routine mutilation (and yes, I consider circumcision to be mutilation) of a million babies a year to support an HIV prevention program that simply won't work.

But all that's beside the point. Did you spot what I said in the above statement that would garner further venomous bile from my delightful blogging friend?

Correct - I called male circumcision 'mutilation.'

As far as my erstwhile blogger is concerned, my argument about the CDC's flawed facts and figures is entirely beside the point. All that she's concerned about is the possibility that I directly equated male circumcision with female genital mutilation - by using the same word to describe them: "Mutilation."

I disagree. After all, you can't equate Cheez-Whiz to SCMA-certified Belvoir Stilton, even through they're both technically 'cheese.'

But while I'm not suggesting they're equivalent, I am suggesting that they're akin.
a-kin adjective
  1. allied by nature; having the same properties: Something akin to vertigo was troubling her.
  2. having or showing an affinity; kindred: They are emotionally but not intellectually akin.
They may not be the same - or even close to being the same - but they are linked. Both male circumcision and female genital mutilation violate the genital integrity of a child and that means, however different they are physically, culturally or historically, they both share the same root.

My major problem with my unfriendly sex blogging nemesis is that she utterly refuses to allow anybody to even discuss the suggestion that the two might be linked. It's the worst form of head-in-the-sand intellectual absolutism.

Robert Darby and J. Steven Svoboda, in their article "A Rose by Any Other Name? Rethinking the Similarities and Differences between Male and Female Genital Cutting" discussed how certain communities reacted when this topic was brought up:
"It's generally assumed that the male circumcision was so trivial and female genital mutilation so horrific that any attempt to compare the two was offensive."
They went on to write:
"When the Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville began speaking out against circumcision of infant boys, she was attacked by feminists who accused her of “detracting from the horror of female genital mutilation.

The anthropologist Kirsten Bell similarly found that, when she drew comparisons between the two surgeries for her U.S. college students, the reaction was “immediate and hostile. How dare I mention these two entirely different operations in the same breath!"

The conventional U.S. view is that circumcision is no worse than ear piercing, whereas any form of FGM is the equivalent of penis amputation."
I mean, even while Type 1a Female Genital Mutilation (the removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce, but leaving the clitoris intact) might technically be considered the direct physical equivalent of male circumcision - at least according to Wikipedia and the World Health Organization - but even then, it's not an equal comparison.

Removing the male foreskin is a fairly straightforward procedure (snip!) whereas removing the clitoral hood (even if it contains the exact same number of nerve endings) is a more traumatic and involved 'procedure.'

So, just for the record, let's state that there is no direct equivalent between male circumcision and female genital mutilation.

Got it? How about once more, with feeling:
There is NO direct equivalent between male circumcision and female genital mutilation.
Although, as I said above, I don't think anybody was arguing that there was.

What there is, at the root of both FGM and male circumcision, is the mindset which thinks it's acceptable to violate the genital integrity of a newborn infant - a baby who cannot possibly consent.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's a far more important issue that discussing the semantics of disingenuous feminist dogma.

Robert Darby and J. Steven Svoboda conclude their evaluation of the differences and similarities between Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision with these thoughts - which seem utterly conclusive to me:
"To compare female and male genital alteration is not to trivialize the enormity of the first, as some feminists seem to fear, but to recognize that the physical similarities between the two are real and that they share a similar cultural logic—so much so that they deserve equally rigorous ethical scrutiny."
My sex blogging friend argued that their were 'medical' justifications for male circumcision, whereas female genital mutilation was always and only performed to reduce the capacity for female sexual pleasure. In fact, the modern popularity of male circumcision was ushered in on exactly the same principle - popularised by Doctor Kellogg, who boasted:
"A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment."
Circumcision, whether it's performed on infant girls or infant boys, has clear roots in the denial of sexual pleasure and the reduction of sexual function. The medical justification for the procedure came afterwards - to perpetuate it.

Darby and Svoboda conclude their brilliant essay with this unequivical truth:
"When we accept the fact that foreskins are integral to males, and that males have as much right to a complete penis as women to their clitoris or labia, then we can formulate strategies to combat sexually transmitted and other diseases that are both effective and ethically based.

Violating the genital integrity of a child as a prophylactic against avoidable diseases is a breach of human rights."