In my last post, I looked at fallacious medical arguments in favor of routine neonatal circumcision. Careful examination of the facts and application of logic to the available information led to the conclusion that there is no medical excuse for the practice. In debate on the topic, when those arguments are taken off of the table, proponents move their goalposts, offering claims that rely on social attitudes to support their advocacy.
Male circumcision isn’t comparable to female circumcision and shouldn’t be treated as the same kind of violation of the individual.
Rape that involves coercing an individual into an unwanted but nonviolent sexual encounter isn’t as physically damaging as using violent physical force to rape, but it’s still a crime because it’s just as much a violation of the individual. So is raping an unconscious person. Abuse does not become harmless or acceptable simply because you can cite a more physically damaging form of abuse.
Regardless, the claim is incorrect. There are different types of both male and female circumcision, each varying in the degree of damage done. The types of male circumcision include some which are more mild than all of the types of female circumcision, but they also include some which are more destructive than all of female types. Both procedures have many factors in common. If the existence of a worse type makes a less severe cut acceptable, then the objection to female circumcision is just as invalid as the objection to male circumcision. Because it does not, both objections are equally valid.
This is a medical choice. Parents have the right to make medical choices on their child’s behalf.
All forms of cosmetic surgery are medical choices. Circumcision is elective; it’s performed without a medical need, mainly for cosmetic reasons that have no benefit to the child, and it does permanent damage to the patient’s genital organ. That makes it an abuse, not merely a choice. Under that definition, foot binding would be considered a medical choice. Female circumcision would be a medical choice. Starving your child to induce weight loss would be a medical choice.
A child is not property to which a parent may do whatever he or she wants. Child abuse in other forms is illegal specifically because children have the same right as adults to freedom from abusive violations of their bodily autonomy. That a doctor performs it does not justify giving parents license to subject their child to a permanently damaging violation of it.
This is a religious choice. Parents have the right to raise their children in the church of their choice, and outlawing circumcision violates the family’s religious rights.
Religious rights hit their limit at the point where a parental choice is an abuse of the child. Some religious traditions allow for arranged marriages in which one partner is too young to have the understanding necessary for consent. Laws in the U.S. do not, and the right to religious freedom does not supersede that.
This is not because the law is all-powerful or religious rights don’t exist in the U.S. but because that is a human rights violation, and being the parents of the individual being violated does not eliminate the individual’s rights.
We also accept laws limiting parental discipline of a child to prevent abuse, even though some religious traditions hold that harsh corporal punishment is beneficial to the child. Religion cannot be used as a legal defense against repercussions for drugging a child or denying a child needed, lifesaving medical treatment or food. It is not an excuse for imposing an elective procedure that is damaging, painful, and permanently alters his body.
Opposition to circumcision is anti-Semitic. It has nothing to do with protecting children. You just hate Jewish people
The Jewish community is not united on whether or not circumcision is a requirement. An alternative ritual, called the Brit Shalom, is increasing in use as people realize how abusive it is to cut off part of an infant’s genitals.
Cut: A Movie by a Jewish Intactivist.
Questioning Circumcision. A Jewish Perspective By Ron Goldman, Ph.D.
Beyond the Bris Weblog by Rebecca Wald.
Jews Against Circumcision (Bay Area)
Circumcision Questions (Letter from an Intact Jew). | Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Opposing circumcision does not make a person anti-Semitic.
Circumcision is the norm. If I don’t have my son circumcised, he will look noticeably different than his peers and will be ridiculed for it.
It used to be “the norm” to send little boys to risk their lives working long, hard days in coal mines and other dangerous jobs. Slavery was once a cultural norm. “It’s the norm” is not and has never been a legitimate excuse for abusing anyone.
We teach our children to resist peer pressure to engage in dangerous behavior like drug and alcohol abuse, reckless sexual behavior and reckless driving. Why should they heed to those lessons if it’s acceptable for parents to give in to peer pressure to harm their children?
If the child’s father is circumcised he should be, as well. If he looks different than his father, he will feel like there is something wrong with him.
Once a child is old enough to start questioning why his father looks different from him, he’s also old enough to understand the explanation that what was done to his father was unnecessary and damaging, and because his parents’ generation knows better than his grandparents were told, he has not been subjected to it. It is ridiculous to argue that a child should be abused to avoid questions about abuse his father suffered.
He might want to be circumcised. It’s better to do it in infancy when he won’t remember it than during his adulthood when he will. In adulthood the pain of the procedure and healing process might affect his decision. Doing the procedure in infancy is a way of protecting the patient from needless suffering.
This is another example of a fallacious appeal to probability; the supposition that some men may as adults want a circumcision does not make that interest inevitable or even common. This is in effect an argument to impose on a large population something most of them will not want, all based on the supposition that a few of them will.
Fear that adult men would not opt for circumcision if given the choice is no reason to circumvent their right to refuse by performing the cut during infancy. Rather, it means that argument is a counter to itself, as the act of opting out indicates aversion to, not interest, in the cut.
Neonatal circumcision is a violation of bodily autonomy. With no benefit to the procedure this is simply an argument that it’s better to get child abuse in early because an adult has the power to stop the abuser.
Circumcising a boy in infancy doesn’t spare him pain. It subjects him to it at a time when he’ll have no understanding of it or frame of reference for it. All he knows at that moment is that a big person is causing him incredible suffering. His entire experience of the procedure would be wrapped up in pain, fear, and dismay; trauma. Such trauma is known to cause life-impacting psychological response. There is evidence that boys and men experience varying degrees of psychological impact from being circumcised as infants.
Finally, if the argument that circumcision is harmless because the child won’t remember it has merit, so does the argument that sex with a woman drugged into unconsciousness is harmless because she won’t remember it.
I’m glad I’m cut because…
Acceptance of one’s current status does not justify imposing it on others, or supporting the imposition by others, regardless of what that status is. Some people regularly donate blood. It’s a kind and generous thing to do. It does no permanent harm to the donor, and can save lives. Blood donors gain emotional fulfillment from knowing their gift helps save lives. That would not justify forcibly removing safe amounts of blood from everyone capable of donating. Why should it be taken seriously in the context of a debate on circumcision?
A circumcised penis is more aesthetically pleasing than one with a foreskin.
What other cosmetic surgeries do we perform on healthy infants, damaging their otherwise healthy bodies to sacrifice function for arbitrary aesthetic standards? Would you support traditions like foot binding and neck stretching, which impose unhealthy and painful alteration on women’s bodies to fit aesthetic standards? Prevailing social attitudes do not make child abuse pretty.
Women prefer cut men to uncut men. Uncut men aren’t clean and women won’t want to engage in oral sex with them.
It’s incredibly sexist to suggest that all male bodies should be altered to fit women’s preferences. The suggestion treats male sexuality as unimportant and relies on the presumption that women’s interests outweigh men’s basic human rights in value and validity. Nobody would suggest performing breast enhancement or vaginal tightening to please men. If they did there would be an explosion of feminist outrage. Rather than embracing this argument, it would be more reasonable to ask why there isn’t an equal explosion of outrage at the suggestion that male infants should be surgically altered to please their future female sex partners.
It’s also untrue. There is no reason to consider them less clean. The regular bathing practices which keep the rest of the skin on a man’s body clean work just as well the foreskin. While the foreskin does have function that preserves moisture, it does not create an environment that is any more moist than the skin of a woman’s labia, which isn’t considered unclean.
Women also aren’t uniform in their preferences, and many women who are averse to uncut male genitals only feel that way because they’ve been misinformed. Male circumcision is worst for men and boys, but it’s also bad for women in a variety of ways, including reduced sexual function and damage to the circumcision victim’s relationships.
That any woman might ask her partner to experience pain and forgo healthy sexual function including permanent loss of pleasurable sensations and significant risk to himself to suit her aesthetic preferences is not a reason to opt for the cut. It’s instead a good test of which women are worth getting involved with. A woman who rejects a man because his penis is intact has not just told him that there is anything wrong with him, but that she is too ignorant or selfish to be worth his time or deserving of his attention.
In the past, continuing the barbaric practice seems to have been excused by medical ignorance and perverse social attitudes. The continued presentation of those attitudes in modern discourse indicates a discriminatory bias against male sexuality and the basic human rights of boys and men. We as a society should be past this by now, when we are striving for better recognition of human rights, and we have a full range of information about the anatomy with which we’re dealing and the effects of unnecessarily removing any part of it. It is time we stopped tolerating the search for excuses to continue infant genital cutting as a routine practice, and simply abandon it.
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Hannah, this is a good round-up of all the arguments against MGM, and a good refutation of all the arguments for it.
Hannah, thanks for doing these articles. Male genital mutilation is a fairly contentious subject, even, surprisingly, within the MRM where many actively seek to quash discussion on it—the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand—or worse, argue in favour of the procedure.
Do you plan to publish these anywhere else? I ask, because judging by the amount of participation I typically see in the comment sections of articles published at Honeybadgerbrigade.com, it would seem that few people actually read them. Perhaps this is because most have figured out they can just watch the shows on youtube, and so the HBB site doesn’t receive a lot of direct traffic. If this is true, it’s a shame because you’re a good writer who covers important issues. Have you considered doing a reading of your articles on your youtube channel for additional exposure?
Regarding the article itself, here is a link to another, written by Christiane Northrop, one of the doctors behind http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org (linked on Hannah’s site):
In this article, Northrop discusses the “Wellness Checks” being routinely conducted on uncircumcised baby boys in the United States. During these examinations paediatricians attempt to forcibly retract the baby’s foreskin, often resulting in paraphimosis, which, ironically, frequently leads to the doctor performing a circumcision to correct the problem—conveniently eliminating the evidence of their malpractice in the process. Yet circumcision is not necessary to correct paraphimosis:
It may surprise some to know that these doctors are being trained to do this, and that they will not guarantee no retraction as it is “part of our normal well-baby exam, and required by our insurance regulations.”
There are no accurate records being kept of young boys circumcised as a result of a Wellness-Check-Gone-Wrong, so it is likely that circumcision in the United States is more prevalent than the roughly 60% reported.
Has anyone researched the (financial?) relationship between medical insurers and pharmaceuticals, testing labs, and other companies, which routinely purchase foreskins from hospitals and medical clinics? Circumcision procedures are heavily subsidized in the United States, even in those states where it is not covered by Medicaid, though I’m not entirely sure by whom. Perhaps it’s the drug companies themselves? Are medical insurers receiving some sort of kickback for each circumcision performed? Are doctors? It might explain why so many doctors are complicit in the push for the procedure, in spite of the American Paediatrics Society declaring, “Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make.” Yet insurance companies, and by extension, doctors, are making that decision for us.
Interestingly, when the UK National Health Service stopped paying for non-therapeutic circumcision, doctors pretty much stopped performing it on baby boys (except at the request of those parents wanting it for religious reasons):
What ever happened to the Hypocratic Oath?
“I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them.”
More research is needed regarding insurance companies but circumcision is lucrative for doctors who do it in that they can charge a few hundred dollars for a few minutes’ effort. It’s profitable later on for companies that sell products to provide lubrication during sex, because of the damage done causes an eventual need for them. Companies that buy and sell the foreskin make a big profit as well, and they would have incentive to fund and promote research supporting advocacy for the procedure. So there are multiple hands involved in that.
I think the best way to get people to read this is to reference it in discussion, using a link. Bringing the reader here gives them a chance to see some of the other interesting information available on the site.
Very well done. I like how compact and to-the-point it is. I can’t imagine an argument that hasn’t been covered here! Thank you for writing this. Now I have something to refer people to whenever I get into an argument about this.
You omit the most powerful (and seldom articulated) “social” argument in favour of American RIC: the belief that many/most American women will refuse to sleep with an intact man. Hence to not circumcise a baby boy puts the young man he will become at risk of repeated rejection when he begins his dating sex life. Let me grant at the outset that during the second half of last century there were, and today in Facebook there are, women who find the male foreskin sexually repugnant. The question remains: why should parents feel compelled to cater to such women, given that there are American women who say they prefer intact, and other women say they have no experience with intact but have an open mind about it?
Parents who think in this way are assuming that the young women of their sons’ generation will have, 20+ years in the future, the same opinion of the intact penis that they had 10-20 years earlier. This assumption is unwarranted, because how women think the penis should looks is socially constructed, and social constructions can and do evolve over time. When it comes to the tip of the penis, the world today is quite different from what it was 30-50 years ago, and further change in coming decades is likely. Taboos surrounding the human genitalia are crumbling. I like to point to a little fact: most of the penises shown in the Wikipedia entry “Human Penis” are intact. This fact alone may do more to normalise the foreskin in America, than all intactivist agitation combined. In the past, all porn focusing on the male foreskin was by and for gay men. This is no longer the case; there are Tumblr blogs that focus on the intact penis and are aimed at straights. Keep in mind that nowadays, women of high school and college age often do look at penis porn, and that European and Latino models are common in internet porn.
This belief also ignores the fact that women interact with erect penises, and that erection usually makes the foreskin disappear. There are American women who were unaware that their regular partner of 6-12 months was intact until he told her so.
Ultimately, the main problem with the foreskin in the American bedroom is simply that it is unfamiliar. That is unlikely to remain the case for long.
Hasn’t anybody tried to boycott doctors who do this?
Maybe the recent case in Florida will motivate people.
In a recent debate on this topic, I came across this woman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuambai_Ahmadu
She opted to get FGM as an adult, claims her sex life is fine, and like other pro-FGM women, notes the sexist double standard, except that they want girls getting FGM to be viewed the same way as circumcised boys.
It seems to be that countries that perform FGM simply treat female bodies just like male bodies, and they view FGM as part of an “initiation” to womanhood, rather than womanhood being something innate.
This was also pretty interesting: “Some people in Africa believe that bodies are androgynous and that all male and female bodies contain male and female parts.
So a man’s foreskin is a female part. And for a female, the covering of the clitoris is a male part. The idea of becoming a wholly formed female includes being cut—having any part that is somewhat male-like removed from the body.”
From here: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-anthropologist/389640/