Why Circumcision is a Feminist Issue
I am the badass mama of two intact boys. A feminist mama. A gentle, peaceful parenting mama. I know, every day, that I screw up as a parent. I also know, every day, that the choices I make for my sons are the right ones.
Starting with the first. I did not cut them at birth.
Oh, no. Don’t get me wrong. As a single woman in America, I thought circumcision was the “normal” thing. And I suppose it was. But that doesn’t make it the right thing.
When I was pregnant with my first son, my mom made the (now obvious) statement,
“I hope you’re not going to circumcise if it’s a boy.”
I had barely thought about that. I knew I’d have a peaceful, natural birth, but I hadn’t thought much past that. To the gender.
And that’s where this issue lies: the gender.
We, as feminists, believe that our cause is based on the sole reasoning that women are equal. Guess what. Our boys, born every day, a million cut every year, also deserve that equality.
If we expect that our baby girls deserve better than genital cutting–simply because of what sex they were born–then why not our boys?
Here is the base: If you would not cut a baby girl, you should not cut a baby boy. Some might argue that FGM is “much worse” than male circumcision. First off, research both. There are many different “levels” of FGM. I don’t agree with any of them, but some involve only a nick to the hood or comparable. Would you have that done to your daughter? And you can agree, then, that a “nick” is less damaging than ripping the prepuce away from the infant penis without anesthetic. So some forms of FGM are “worse” than male circumcision. Well, I say that rape is “worse” than sexual assault, but I wouldn’t wish either on anyone.
And incidentally, some of the exact same reasons are given for FGM as male circumcision: religion, cleanliness. I answer this simply: We should not push our ideals on someone else’s genitalia, period. Ever.
We argue against FGM. But what about the million boys born in America who have no voice? There are 20,000 nerve endings cut off of the penis when circumcised. There are many reasons given, and every single one of them have been debunked.
- It decreases the risk of penile cancer. Let me get this out of the way first: Penile cancer is one of the rarest forms, accounting for less than 1 percent of cancer cases in men. There is conflicting data on whether circumcision decreases the risk for penile cancer, but I hardly think that we should cut off a healthy functioning sexual organ over such a minute risk. We wouldn‘t cut off the breast buds in little girls, now would we?
- The risk of phimosis, or a foreskin that won’t retract. Just as in the female body, let’s learn and know what’s normal for the intact male. The foreskin gradually retracts between infancy and adulthood. And guess how. Nope, not by parents or doctors forcing retraction. (That’s actually quite harmful and can lead to much bigger problems.) It does so naturally, with the help of gentle stimulation over the years. Now, I think we can agree that boys will often take care of that themselves, yes?
- HIV and other STDs. This is in the forefront of the pro-circ movement right now. I could show you a study that says that it’s actually the number of sex workers in a given area rather than the circumcision rate for males. I could also point out that most of Europe is intact, and if we’re comparing the HIV rates in industrialized countries, the U.S., with its tradition of routine infant circumcision, still wins. It’s not a logical argument. It has no basis in reality. And also, it has to make us shake our heads: I would rather teach my sons to respect their own bodies and those of their partners by using protection. Circumcision is hardly a free pass to have unprotected sex, and that argument should be dropped from the dialogue.
There will always be a new study. And it will always be proven wrong. Circumcision is a solution in search of a problem.
Baby boys in America start their lives out with a violence: pinning then down, “cleaning” it away. Who can reconcile that truth? It’s not fair. It’s not equal.
Finally, this is an issue of bodily autonomy. Every day, we fight for our own. We fight to “Keep your laws off my body.” Does that only apply to the uterus, and only when discussing abortion? No. We must understand that it is his body; it must be his choice.
Why, as feminists, as mothers, as general badasses, are we willing to overlook this as a human rights issue? “Because it’s always been done” is a horrible answer. We are not those who acquiesce to the status quo. When we do, we are no better than the patriarchs we claim to fight against, perpetuating a harmful practice because it’s always been done that way and we can’t be troubled to stop it.
Let’s let our children come into this world without violence. Let’s leave them be, perfect in the way they were made. We were. We are. Don’t our sons deserve the same respect?
Attorneys for the
Rights of the Child
2961 Ashby Ave.,
Berkeley, CA 94705
J. Steven Svoboda
Webmaster & Newsletter Editor
Gender Equity Strategist
Director, ARC Kentucky
Director, ARC Australia
Associates of Attorneys for Rights of the
Child receive no compensation. All contri-
butions are tax deductible and go directly
towards paying the expenses of protecting
children’s genital integrity.
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