There’s a saying that in polite conversation you should avoid talk of politics, religion and money. But throw genital mutilation on the table and taboo has been taken to a whoooole new level.
I totally understand that genital mutilation is a bit of a heated and shall we say, awkward topic. But it’s one certainly worth discussing, since our country has a rather colorful history of practicing, encouraging and – in the case of female genital mutilation – eventually shaking off the procedure more commonly known as “circumcision”.
During the Victorian Era, both male and female circumcision on non-consenting minors was considered acceptable, ethical and even medically beneficial. While involuntary female circumcision never became a widespread routine procedure on infants like involuntary male circumcision has become, they were both promoted by the very same doctors, using the very same arguments we see today to promote the completely elective procedure.
Medical Reasoning for Circumcision of Both Males and Females
The following excerpt quotes are from actual American medical journals:
“…that the girl who becomes irritable, disagreeable and hysterical may become charming, interesting and possessed of all feminine graces when her prepuce [clitoral hood] is forcibly peeled away from the glans of the clitoris, and we have made a distinct step forward in civilization…” [Is Evolution Trying To Do Away With The Clitoris? Transactions of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Vol. 5, 1892, pp. 288-302]
“I for one have circumcised as many girls as boys, and always with happy results.” [Circumcision of Girls. Journal of Orificial Surgery, Vol. 7, July 1898, pp. 31-33]
“Many neuroses and even psychoses have their origin in pathological conditions of the hood of the clitoris.” [Circumcision in the Female: Its Necessity and How to Perform It. American Journal of Clinical Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 6, June 1915, pp. 520-523]
“Circumcision will relieve one of the greatest causes of masturbation.” [Why not circumcise the girl as well as the boy? Texas State Journal of Medicine, Vol. 14, May 1918, pp. 17-19]
“The same reasons that apply for the circumcision of males are generally valid when considered for the female.” [Circumcision of the Female. General Practioner, Vol. 18 No. 3, September 1958, pp. 98-99]
“If the husband is unusually awkward or difficult to educate, one should at times make the clitoris easier to find [by amputating the clitoral hood].” [Female Circumcision: Indications and a New Technique General Practitioner, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 1959, pp. 115-120]
In short, circumcision of girls was pursued in the medical realm for the exact same reason it was instituted for boys: To deter masturbation, to treat obscure nervous disorders, and to promote perceptions of overall health. Other explanations for female circumcision (which is now echoed for male circumcision today) was an imagined protection against disease or parasites, and to prevent the accumulation of secretions and smegma. And, as with circumcision of boys, the medical case for female circumcision has always contained a strong element of cultural or aesthetic preference.
But the tides have turned for girls through feminist efforts demanding bodily autonomy for women of all ages. A Federal law went into effect in March 1997 in the United States making any non-medically necessary cutting upon the genitals of a minor girl, for any reason, religious or otherwise, a federal crime. Read the U.S. Female Genital Mutilation Law here.
While girls are currently federally protected from genital mutilation, boys in America are still subjected to the Victorian Era procedure of forced genital mutilation every single day. And it is justified using the same demeaning, degrading and dehumanizing language and reasoning as the 1800’s era quotes listed above.
How Americans View Female vs. Male Circumcision Today
Despite the similarities between male and female genitals, the nature of the surgery and the justifications offered for its practice, it is surprising that male and female circumcision receive such strikingly different reputations in modern day America.
The responses are as stark as night and day. If you say you are for female circumcision, you are lauded as anti-woman devil spawn from the depths of hell. If you say you are for male circumcision, you are patted on the back by the “we’re all good parents” herd, and assured it’s a valid choice that is yours, and yours only, to decide. (Not, ya know, the one with the actual penis in question.) In short, although the two procedures are near identical in its implications and practice:
– Forced genital mutilation on a boy is generally seen as a mild and harmless adjustment which should be tolerated, if not actively promoted.
– Forced genital mutilation on a girl is universally seen as a cruel abomination which must be stopped by law, no matter how culturally significant the procedure it to its practitioners.
– If you call circumcision of boys “genital mutilation”, you are accused of emotionalism and extremism.
– If you fail to call circumcision of girls “genital mutilation”, you are accused of trivializing the offence and being anti-woman.
This, despite the fact that it is the same exact procedure performed for the same exact reasons. Both procedures are performed on non-consenting children, both procedures are permanent and irreversible, and both procedures carry the same immediate and long term risks.
Every day, news articles and Facebook status updates reveal a startling amount of botched circumcisions – some severe enough to result in the loss of the entire penis and even death. And largely, society turns a blind eye or ignores the true cause of the 117+ deaths and the thousands of botched procedures that occur annually. As MotherWise Blog puts it:
A baby with a serious heart condition is circumcised, bleeds profusely, and dies. But we’re not supposed to blame it on circumcision, because the baby had a heart condition.
A toddler is put under general anesthesia to be circumcised, and he dies shortly after he wakes up. But we’re not supposed to blame it on the circumcision, because it was probably just the anesthesia.
A hemophiliac baby is circumcised, bleeds profusely from his circumcision wound, and dies. But we’re not supposed to blame circumcision, because the baby was hemophiliac.A healthy baby is circumcised, an artery is nicked, he bleeds out and dies. But we’re not supposed to blame circumcision, because it was the severing of the artery that caused the blood loss.
A healthy Jewish baby receives a “metzitzah b’peh” circumcision, contracts herpes due to the oral suction, and dies. But we’re not supposed to blame circumcision, because it’s tradition and not all mohels have oral herpes.
A healthy baby is circumcised, the Mogen clamp slips, and a large portion of his penis is amputated. But we’re not supposed to blame circumcision, because it’s the fault of the clamp, which has caused similar injury in the past.
A healthy baby is circumcised and the doctor takes “too much” skin off, causing buried penis. But we’re not supposed to blame circumcision, because it was probably just the fault of the doctor.
Can you imagine the outrage from our society if these were news reports and status updates regarding infant daughters, not sons? Every botched circumcision procedure is nonchalantly shrugged off as a small price for boys to pay should reminds us of our moral and sexist decline in respect for young boys as a nation.
Changes in Modern Thought Concerning Male Genital Mutilation
The power of the strong to determine the fate of the weak – principally if the weak are male – has been inbred through laws and policies and discussions on circumcision for well over a decade. What would be repellent to some Americans if perpetuated on females simply seems normal, and even desirable if inflicted upon males.
But there is good news! Among both the young and the old, a backlash is taking place. People are sensing that something is desperately wrong when the strong dehumanize and mutilate the weak, citing personal and sexual preference or “parental choice” to justify it.
More and more doctors, nurses, and hospitals and refusing to perform the procedure on ethical and medicinal grounds. From groups such as Doctors Opposing Circumcision to Nurses for the Rights of the Child, more and more medical professionals are joining the rest of the world in rejecting routine neonatal circumcision. Because the fact is, no national medical organization in the world recommends routine circumcision of male infants. The United States in unique in its devotion to male genital mutilation.
Because more medical professionals are refusing to perform the elective procedure, an increasing number of insurance companies are likewise refusing to foot the bill for circumcision, which often results in repeat visits to treat the numerous infections, hernias and problems circumcision frequently causes.
But perhaps most influential is the growing tide of “intactivists” – anti-circumcision activists – comprised of concerned parents, “regret” mothers, and circumcised males speaking out in protest of their rights being violated and their genitals mutilated as children. Information concerning the truth of routine male circumcision is being taken to the streets in visual and graphic outreach via rapidly growing groups like Bloodstained Men and their Friends and Intact America. The revival of moral discourse has encouraged mothers to actively educate and pursue conversation regarding the controversial issue of circumcision. It is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore and impossible to trivialize the horrors of routine male circumcision.
People are beginning to reject the status quo and are starting to think through the issue for themselves, and men and women from all walks of life, all religions and all political spectrums are coming together to confront the morality of irreversibly altering a child’s genitals against their will.
In the midst of ethics dominated by Darwinian thought, many are beginning to question why nature would evolve a foreskin that would require immediate and complete removal. And in the realms of Intelligent Design, many Christians are re-examining Scriptures, and questioning perpetuating an Old Testament covenant ritual that has been fulfilled in Christ who paid the ultimate price so that we no longer have to cut our sons or slaughter our livestock. (Click here to read my article, Should Christian Parents Circumcise Their Infant Sons?)
Times and attitudes are most certainly changing. The circumcision rate in the United States is now below 40% (and much lower in some parts of the country), down from 81% in 1981. More than 60% of all baby boys in the U.S. leave the hospital intact, as more and more parents realize that circumcision is unnecessary and wrong.
And although laws vary from state to state, there is a rising tide of teenagers pursuing legal action against their physicians for being involuntarily circumcised as infants, and an increase in lawsuits from grown men suing physicians for physical, sexual or psychological harm suffered from infant circumcision. Without a doubt, circumcision is becoming less lucrative for doctors, insurance agencies and hospitals. It’s becoming less favorable among parents and families. And it’s becoming loathed and deeply resented amongst men victimized by the procedure.
Without a doubt, society is catching on to the moral schizophrenia reflected in demonizing female genital mutilation, but allowing and applauding male genital mutilation.