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MGM - the visceral opinion post. 
1st-Dec-2007 11:33 am
earth, hhgttg
OK, here's what I was talking about earlier. I am strongly, viscerally opposed to male genital mutilation, and it's a source of contention with me that it's legal in nearly all western cultures and the norm in the USA.

Yes, I'm aware that calling it that and not 'circumcision' is a loaded term, but you know what? It's accurate. I'd rather we stuck to using "foreskinectomy" for the procedure used to correct an immediate medical issue (e.g. non-retractable foreskin, phimosis, balanoposthitis and paraphimosis) and followed the spade philosophy when talking about mutilating an infant's genitalia. I've been told before that calling the procedure male genital mutilation, likens it too much to female genital mutilation, despite the fact that both involve the cutting of genitalia in infants for religious and cultural reasons. Before people in general started believing in female genital integrity, that procedure was called female circumcision.And if people can call IDX a "partial birth abortion" in order to get it banned despite the fact that it doesn't involve a birth, I'm going to continue to call the muitlation of male genitalia what it is.

Remember when I posted about Michael Medved? Someone pinged me after that to say I'll never understand why "but it's slavery!" isn't enough for these people, and well, it's a bit like that. In fact, it's a lot like that, and I can't understand why "but it's cutting a baby's genitalia!" isn't enough to dissuade people. And yes, I know that a lot of these people disagree with me on this issue - 60% of boys born in America have parents who disagree with me - but personally? I can't get away from the fact that it's cutting a baby's genitals, which is non-consensual by definition. The argument then often involves AIDS, functionality, sensitivity, sexual preferences, etc etc, but by this point i'm often just staring at people in horror, because they're using these arguments to justify cutting a baby's genitals.

I am not here going to link to a whole lot of intactivist claims. They are there, on the internet, and a moment's google search reveals them. All sorts of stuff about performing the 'procedure' without any anaesthetic, the trauma some adult males feel about what happened to them as an infant, various studies about sensitivity, the risk of women catching HIV from circumsised partners etc. I'm not going to go into them, because I don't think intactivists should be quite as far on the defensive, and they're there if you want them.

But I have heard a great many arguments for MGM, and apart from ringing similar to arguments for FGM, they always seem to miss the point.

The WHO say it prevents AIDS.
Condoms prevent AIDS - or rather reduce the risk of HIV contamination so much that it doesn't matter whether there's a foreskin or not. Condoms are really really effective at reducing the risk of HIV contamination. And also? They don't involve cutting things off people.

Foreskins are prone to infection
That's a case of keeping it clean. And before you start on it's hard to keep clean, and as I'm never owned a penis I've had to keep clean, I'm just going to ask if it's that much harder than the complicated fold-ridden permenantly excreting, three-exit plumbing nightmare that I learned to keep clean?

It's not functionally important
Aside from the contentiousness of this issue- neither is your earlobe. Why don't we cut that off babies? Apart from the fact that it's mutilation.

It increases sensitivity
Also debateable. And has been debated a lot. My experience with talking to men about this is that no one wants to admit that sex could get any better. So casting that aside for more lengthy discussion - there's also debate that genital piercings increase sensitivity/heighten sexual pleasure.But no one's advocating doing that to infants.

Straight women/Gay men prefer a cut penis
Well, bully for them. Some straight men prefer a cut clitoris. So FGM is acceptable?

It was good enough for me.
Some men don't mind/have learned to deal with/suffer no ill effects from being cut as an infant. Lots of people who have been victims of illegal activity learn to deal with it with no long term ill effects. That's no justification.

It's part of my religion
Touchy subject, this. But definitely something that makes me cringe even more. Especially these days when people all over the place are saying that religious justification is no justification for various atrocities. I'm all for freedom of religious expression, but I happen to believe very strongly that it ends where another's body begins. See also: should Jehovah's Witnesses be allowed to let their child die for lack of a blood transfusion.

It hurts less on infants
Bzzzt. Adults are less likely to remember pain they suffered as infants. Get it right. But the other major difference between an adult and a baby? Adults are able to give consent.

It looks better
Just NO.

And of course, you may disagree with me. You may think it's no big deal, or something preferable, or just more complicated than I make it out to be, but I cannot get away from my opinion that cutting a child's genitalia for no immediate medical reason is wrong. And I can't get my head around why that's not a universal opinion.
1st-Dec-2007 11:44 am (UTC)
God. I hear you on this. You probably missed the poll I did a while ago on the very subject. (Actually, checking the results, you voted in it, so apparently not.)

But it horrifies me and baffles me that people are okay with this practice. That I know more than one male who finds the thought of foreskins revolting. I just floors me. I don't understand. And furthermore, I don't understand how it so recently came into practice, and how strongly it has taken over. Or why. Or how it stays in practice. YOU ARE CUTTING OFF A BIT OF YOUR FUCKING PENIS.



My only explanation is that these men don't want to admit that they've done something so stupid so they're going to vehemently deny that it was stupid, and then inflict the same stupid thing on other people so they aren't alone in their stupidity. I almost wish I was going to have kids someday, just so I could NOT circumcize my son.

1st-Dec-2007 11:48 am (UTC)
.... I am staring at your icon in bemusement, and in slight fascination. WOO.

(Also, I suspect that the penis in it is mutilated circumcised. Is that deliberate?)
1st-Dec-2007 11:46 am (UTC)
Ooh. Shiny. One of those cases where I am able to say with honesty that I absolutely and utterly agree with you, without reservation.

Seriously. It's cutting up a baby and that is never okay. If the boy turns eighteen and desperately wants it done then? Sure, go for it, it's up to him. I mean, I'd think it was a stupid decision, but then I also think a lot of body modifications are basically stupid, and that's just a cosmetic personal opinion, not something that I have any justification for. Especially since I have a tattoo and too many ear piercings myself. But I'd also think it was his decision.

Which is important.


(It's kind of similar to how I feel about abortion. Another subject on which I am usually silent.)
1st-Dec-2007 11:49 am (UTC)
1st-Dec-2007 11:54 am (UTC)
I can't get away from the fact that it's cutting a baby's genitals, which is non-consensual by definition.

Well, all surgery performed on babies and young children is nonconsensual.

Surgery is permissible according to your cultural and religious background (I say this aware that we're both atheists), and I assume you're in favor of certain kinds of surgery regardless of whether the patient is able to give consent. You argue here that parents' rights end where their babies' bodies begin, and then a heartbeat later you suggest that Jehovah's Witness parents are negligent for not making choices about their children's bodies.

I'm not saying that the reasons you think of these things differently aren't valid, but your harmful/harmless/beneficial divides aren't universal, and the (only) point I'm arguing right now is that they're a separate argument from whether or not parents have the right to make decisions about their babies' bodies. As far as I can see, there's no way to avoid that.
1st-Dec-2007 11:57 am (UTC)
Possibly the line is drawn somewhere where it becomes necessary for survival? I'm not sure, I'm a little tipsy and theoretically already in bed. But I guess something around where it is in the child's interests for survival vs. cosmetic appearances.

But I feel the exact same way about mothers who have their baby's ears pierced, too. I know it's minor, I know it's culturally totally okay, but it just hits me deep down as wrong. So I may be in the same place as Debi when it comes to arguing about this, ie, totally unable to be rational.

Here, have a squid icon instead!
1st-Dec-2007 12:06 pm (UTC)
This is a fantastic post.

I don't entirely agree with you, but it is a fantastic post.

Given my own experiences (key: my own), if/when we ever have a male child, he will likely be circumsized. But again, those are because of specific experiences I've had in my own life. Obviously, not with my own penis (really, there are things I keep from the internet, that's not one of them) but with people close to me.
1st-Dec-2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
Just to be annoying: why not let your theoretical son decide whether he wants a foreskin or not when he's old enough to decide for himself?
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1st-Dec-2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
Cut guy tastes much nicer, but I reckon this is down to diet and things rather than being cut.

*makes assumptions based on that alone.*

Interested in reading your post, yeah.
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1st-Dec-2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
I incline to agree, but (as against FGM) I know plenty of people who've been affected, who don't seem to be culturally coshed, and aren't that (or at all) annoyed about it. So for everyday purposes, I'm happy to take their lead. Though obviously I'd make a stand should the issue ever arise directly (eg if I had responsibility for an infant male).
1st-Dec-2007 12:20 pm (UTC)
Penn and Teller covered all this and more on their show "Bullshit!"...

Along with graphic visual demonstrations.

Ya know, I bet there's a legal case somewhere in the US where a doctor circumsized a child without the parents permission in order to enforce their own cultural normative.

If not, then my esteem for the human race has just gone up a notch.
1st-Dec-2007 12:36 pm (UTC)

I don't actually have an opinion on circumcision. I find the practice bizarre, and I'd never inflict it on any infant in my care, but it doesn't fill me with rage that other people disagree on that.

On the other hand, I object to a term that conflates it with FGM because FGM covers a whole range of unpleasant things most of which are, in my opinion, way worse than circumcision. Call it pointless and unnecessary genital surgery on male infants. It's an accurate summation that doesn't muddy the waters with the abhorrent practice of cutting off bits of girls' parts that are, I believe, occasionally functional and not just cosmetic. Okay, so it makes for a bit of an awkward abbreviation (PUGSMI?), but it gets the point across without providing any fodder for slightly nutty people to start thinking of FGM as less bad based on the equalisation of terms.
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1st-Dec-2007 01:06 pm (UTC)
*shrugs* Sorry, I'm Jewish, it's what we do. And I know there's been debate about its continued relevance in the Jewish community too, but it's got nothing to do with pain, health or cleanliness. It's the post-genocide question: "Why give Them one more marker by which to identify Us?"

But I believe it's part of a covenant that makes me Jewish. I believe it's a right thing to do, and I believe it's probably best to get it over with while the baby's a baby. If we have a girl, we'll go and get some silver dollars out of the bank to redeem the girl. If we have a boy, we'll get some silver dollars out of the bank to redeem the boy, and then we'll unfortunately be removing a symbolic amount of his foreskin.
1st-Dec-2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
*points above* Yup.

I know this won't change your mind about anything, Debi, but I've been to a bris -- I've seen a circumcision done. My mom was the one who held him, and it's supposed to be this great honor. The baby screamed for about twenty seconds, all the guys in the room cringed sympathetically, and then the baby was awake and fine and quiet for another half hour, upon which time he fell asleep like any infant would. I was expecting something way worse, but the way the mohel organized the event, it was surprisingly beautiful.

The bigger debate at the bris was actually kind of funnier: my cousin's branch of the family comes from very Conservodox roots, and the wife's side of the family is very Reform -- they thought that it was a bit savage to have the ceremony in public. The mentality was a total look into the city-peasants divide that we don't think we have anymore in America, and which crops up in odd ways. I don't know, maybe that makes more sense if you're Jewish? But I was interested.
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1st-Dec-2007 01:48 pm (UTC)
It is a very normal thing in the US (I guessed that might be where you live). I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I'm USian too but I live in the UK now and it's only since I moved here (where it's as uncommon as it is common in the US, it's an opt-in thing rather than opt-out like it is there) that I've heard much about this. I think it's still very much below the radar in the US where most people just haven't thought about it because they assume circumcision is going to happen and there's no point having an opinion about it.
1st-Dec-2007 02:52 pm (UTC)
I.... don't have an opinion on this one. I have been, and I've never really thought about it before.

The brain's a bit fuzzy this morning, but let me see if I'm reading you right. Your problem is that we're talking about a surgically invasive procedure which is made without consent and which is medically unnecessary. I can see that.

Question time! I assume that you'd have the same objections in any non-consentual situation whether we were dealing with infants or not. Is that right? If we were talking about something like mandatory private-part-chopping at 18 the same issues would arise?

I also assume that we're talking about strictly medical procedures and not all the huge number of other decisions parents make without an infant's consent which are medically relevant, right? I mean, you're not dealing with the same reaction for voluntary innoculations or choices about breast-feeding or not are you?

I don't even know if these are both in play, but if they are then the second one strikes me as at least a little problematic. Not that I think you're wrong in your reaction: it's hard to say someone's visceral reactions are wrong after all. And I'm not saying you don't have a point. It's just... heh, oddly enough I think I'm in the same position you are: I just don't see what the problem is, and I have a hard time figuring out what your specific problem is. I'm guessing that's a cultural artifact on my side since it's sort of assumed that you will be around here...

Still, good on you for sharing,
2nd-Dec-2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
Gah. When I left for work yesterday I totally wanted to get back to you.

but I worked my ass off, slept, logged on to a bunch of comments, and am only capable of screaming hysterically BUT IT'S CUTTING BITS OFF A BABY.

Which isn't all that helpful right now >_>.
1st-Dec-2007 05:42 pm (UTC)

I have been backed into never having this conversation with most people, because a) most of my Jewish friends get very angry very quickly and b) I'm not allowed to have an opinion because I don't have a penis. But I agree with pretty much everything you've written here - it's unnecessary. The bloody thing is there for a reason. ARGH.
1st-Dec-2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
I suppose I should feel more viscerally against circumcision, seeing as how I believe that my younger male cousin had one that went wrong and (from what family whisperings have informed me) left him in a fair amount of pain until he grew old enough to have it repaired with more surgery. But in my mind, I tend to look at it as I look at the scarification practices or the lip or ear piercings that you see in some tribal communities -- I've seen pictures of young girls and boys with scars on their faces or increasingly large rings in their ears and lips, and though it looks odd to me from my standpoint and probably does hurt the children at times I have a somewhat difficult time trying to justify outright opposition to it.

FGM, on the other hand...everything I've read about it says that whatever cultural or traditional reasons are given for it, it always comes down to this: if having sex is painful for women, they won't be likely to have premarital or extramarital sex. There does not appear to be any reason for it apart from ensuring that sex = pain. If that idea was the underlying idea used to justify circumcision in men in all cases (as in the abovementioned statement about how circumcision was supposed to prevent boys from masturbating), then I'd be a lot more inclined to be outright opposed to it.

I don't know. I think it's something I may end up discussing with friends a little later on this week.
1st-Dec-2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
ok, as a boy who went through with it, I'm going to chime in on the cleanliness part-

Do you know how hard it is to get a young boy to even take a bath, let alone make sure he washes EVERYWHERE? Most preteen males of my expierience are against the idea of cleanliness in any way shape or form.

Personally, I've never given it much thought. It happened, oh well, now my penis looks like a mushroom instead of an anteater. I'm cool with that.
1st-Dec-2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
*chimes in* The one thing I can say on this subject is that I know a mother who had her son circumcised because of all the non-religious reasons it's popular, and then regretted it and wouldn't do it again, given the chance. The son in question has never seemed to mind, aside from those first times in bathrooms where he realized he doesn't look quite like some of the other boys.

So, I don't have a strong opinion on it, but I can see why people would object to it. At the same time, calling it male genital mutilation seems, intentionally or not, to be equating it with female genital mutilation, and I'm not sure that's a fair comparison.
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