Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Male and Female Infant Circumcision: Which One is Worse?

In the battle against male genital mutilation, intactivists always point out that while male circumcision is defended on the grounds of "religious freedom," "parental choice" and "medical benefits," the same is not true for female circumcision. At the same time, advocates of male infant circumcision always shoot back "male and female circumcision aren't the same!" There are some that even go as far as feigning offense and demanding "How dare you compare male and female circumcision! We're not moving forward until we agree that they're not the same!"

So we hear that male and female circumcision "aren't the same." But what is the basis for this claim? Are we supposed to believe it at face value without any demonstrable proof? When a circumcision advocate asserts that male and female circumcision "aren't the same," what does that person mean? What exactly is he comparing?

I've already written an extensive blog post on the matter here, so I won't spend too much time on this one.

I'm just going to briefly cover a few points of consideration for this debate that tend to be completely ignored, if ever even brought up.

Male circumcision as it happens in the United States to newborns and children is always compared to female circumcision as it happens in the African bush to teens and adult women.
This is a false comparison. Circumcision advocates always compare male infant circumcision, which is usually conducted by a professional, with sterile equipment, in the pristine environment of a health facility (sometimes) with analgesia, with the kind of female circumcision that is conducted in the African wilderness as a rite of passage, which is usually conducted by a shamaness priestess, using raw tools such as a rusty razor blade or a glass shard, under the harsh conditions of the bush. They are also comparing two different genital cutting procedures that are not analogous to each other.

Not all female circumcision is performed in the bush.
In fact, female circumcision is also performed by doctors with sterile utensils under pristine conditions. Some doctors also claim there to be "medical benefits," citing works and studies. They do this out of genuine concern for their patients, and not because they wish to justify their profession I'm sure.

Not all female circumcision is performed on teens and adult women.
Male circumcision advocates elicit an emotional response when they present the image of a teen or an adult woman being forced to undergo genital cutting. Male circumcision is supposed to somehow be justified by the fact that it is often performed on newborn babies that will not remember.

The fact is that circumcision is performed in baby girls in various parts of South-East Asia, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. "She won't remember," however, seems to fail this litmus test.

Not all female circumcision is forced.
As in adult male circumcision, adult female circumcision is also often a rite of passage that a girl or woman is expected to undergo willingly. "Willingly" is a misnomer, as succumbing to social pressure can hardly be called "free will." This seems to be a good enough reason, however, to look the other way, when it concerns male circumcision as it happens in African tribes. In the "mass circumcision campaigns" in Africa, one often hears the acronym "VMMC," which stands for "voluntary medical male circumcision." With all the social pressure to get circumcised, lest one be seen as an HIV risk, one must wonder how much of the circumcisions in Africa are actually "voluntary."

For better or for worse, however, there are communities where a woman submits herself to get circumcised out of her own free will. While this is enough to justify male circumcision in various situations in Africa, "social pressure" only seems to be a problem when it involves female circumcision.

Not all female circumcision removes the same parts.
Male circumcision advocates always compare male infant circumcision as it occurs in the United States, to infibulation, which is a kind of female circumcision that removes the clitoris, inner and outer labia, and the remaining wound is sewn shut to leave only a small hole for menstruation.

In reality, infibulation is the WORST kind of female circumcision, and it is actually the rarest, comprising of 15% of female circumcision globally. There are various other forms of female circumcision, and not all of them remove the same parts of the genitals. There are forms of female circumcision that are as equal to, or less severe than male circumcision. At least in the United States, ALL forms of female genital cutting is considered "mutilation," and against the law.

What is true for female circumcision, is also true for male circumcision.
Just as female circumcision is often performed by shamanesses and priestesses with glass shards and rusty razor blades under harsh conditions, the same is true for male circumcision.

Every year, millions of men undergo circumcision  as a rite of passage in various parts of Africa, and every year, scores of men succumb to infection, lose their penises to gangrene, or die.

While these are concerns regarding female circumcision, they don't seem to be a concern regarding male circumcision.

Perhaps less women would succumb to infection or bleed to death if only these procedures would be done in hospitals. Perhaps it would be less traumatic if only these women were circumcised as babies so that they wouldn't remember the pain and anguish.

The suggestion that African states should provide sterile equipment and proper training to provide "infant female circumcision" would probably not make it very far.

So what is being compared?
The comparison of male infant circumcision as it occurs in America to female circumcision as it occurs in the African bush is self-serving hyperbole.

A more accurate comparison of male infant circumcision as it occurs in American hospitals would be female infant circumcision as it occurs in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.

A more accurate comparison of female circumcision as it occurs in Africa would be male circumcision as it occurs in Africa.

Apples to apples
So what do people mean when they assert that "male and female circumcision aren't the same?"

When someone makes this claim, can we trust that this person has actually taken the time to do their research? That s/he has actually witnessed both male and female circumcision? Adult and minor?

How can we be sure that they're aren't blowing female circumcision out of proportion in order to trivialize male circumcision?

I dare say that comparing male infant circumcision as it is performed in US hospitals to female circumcision as it is performed in the African wilderness is a false comparison. It ignores the fact that circumcision is performed in males under the exact same conditions as it does in females. It ignores the fact that there are actually various kinds of female circumcision, some equal to, if not less severe than male circumcision as we know it. It ignores the fact that we would never accept female circumcision, not even the kind that can be compared with male circumcision, or even dwarfs in comparison.

Let's compare the same exact thing:

A baby in South-East Asia undergoes "sunat"
Original Text: "It happens so fast, with a bismillah and a snip,
a little bit blood and that's it, Zahra dah sunat!
She didn't cry even a drop, in fact giggling2 lagi.
I guess it wasn't painful for her, alhamdulillahh.."


The slit clitoris if you can find it (on the lower blade)

You can read the whole thing here:
http://aandes.blogspot.com/2010/04/circumcision.html

We're often told that male infant circumcision is "just a little snip," "he doesn't even cry," and they remove "only a little flap of skin."

Well, let's have "a little flap of skin,"


..and let's compare it to the slit clitoris above.

I'm somehow not convinced that the foreskin is "just a little flap of skin."

And I'm not convinced that female circumcision, as we see above, is "worse."

Remove the same exact amount of flesh you see above from the genitals of a baby girl, that would be "mutilation."

When we actually sit down and compare like with like, I dare say male infant circumcision is more severe than female infant circumcision.

Recap of the facts:
Female circumcision is not always as severe as male circumcision advocates would like their audience to believe. While it is often performed by a shamaness priestess, using raw tools such as a rusty razor blade or a glass shard, under the harsh conditions of the bush, the same is also true for male circumcision.

While male infant circumcision is often conducted by a professional, with sterile equipment, in the pristine environment of a health facility, the same can also be true of female circumcision.

While infection and hemorrhaging to death are risks of female circumcision, the same is also true of male circumcision.

Claims of "hygiene" and "medical benefits," as well as "literature" to back these claims exist for both male and female circumcision. While these seem to be perfectly good rationale to justify circumcision in males, there would never be enough literature that would ever make female circumcision "acceptable."


Conclusion
Comparing the severity of male and female circumcision, citing "potential medical benefits," "religion and culture," and "parental choice" are all red herrings that draw attention from the point that intactivists are trying to make:

Circumcision, male or female, is always abuse, genital mutilation, and a gross violation of basic human rights, when it is conducted on healthy, non-consenting individuals.

Whether it is performed by professional or amateur, in the hospital or in the bush, on babies, children or adults, with pain killers or without, with a glass shard or a scalpel, whether it removes a "tiny flap of skin," or a substantial chunk of flesh, for "potential medical benefits" or for "religious reasons" is irrelevant.

The Bottom Line
The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genital anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails. The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy tissue with which all boys are born.

Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.

Doctors have absolutely no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less stoking a parent's sense of entitlement.

References:
For more information regarding female circumcision as it is performed in South East Asia, I recommend the following article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/magazine/20circumcision-t.html

The WHO classifies female circumcision into four types. Read more about them here:
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

Closer investigation reveals that, contrary to popular belief, women who have undergone infibulation, which is the worst kind of female genital cutting, are still able to orgasm:
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118496293/abstract
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2837-female-circumcision-does-not-reduce-sexual-activity.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17970975

"Studies show" that female circumcision "reduces" the risk of HIV:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1442755
http://www.thebody.com/content/art12238.html
http://www.ias-2005.org/planner/Abstracts.aspx?AID=3138

Additionally:
"Female circumcision results in a reduction of infections resulting from microbes gathering under the hood of the clitoris"
"Attacks of herpes and genital ulcers are less severe and less harmful with women who have been circumcised"
http://www.themuslimwoman.com/hygiene/femalecircumcision.htm
http://www.islamictreasures.com/manners-of-welcoming-the-new-born-child-in-islam-sku16723.html

A mother in South East Asia blogs about her daughter's circumcision, or "sunat," as it is known there. The picture used in this blog post was also taken from here:
http://aandes.blogspot.com/2010/04/circumcision.html
Another blog similar to the one above:
http://malaysiansupermummy.blogspot.com/2010/10/sunat-baby-girl.html

In the following parenting forum for South East Asia, mothers describe their experiences in having their daughters circumcised, their own circumcisions as adults, and there are even some recommendations for doctors who perform it.
http://www.mummysg.com/forums/f40/have-you-sunat-your-girls-29826/

Note that if the forum above were discussing boys instead of girls, it would read like almost any other parenting forum on the internet, such as CafeMom or what have you. Cutting genitals in the name of "religion," "parental prerogative," or "potential medical benefits" is only an issue with girls; never with boys.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent. The photo comparisons provide clear evidence of the truth, that FGM is sometimes far less severe than most MGM.

    In the close up photos provided above one can also compare the relative sizes of the adult hand in each photo and see that the severity in the amount taken from the male infant is even greater.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sometimes, one must compare atrocities and choose the least bad, but in this case, it would be much better to simply ban medically unnecessary genital mutilation of minors.

    We can allow the few medically necessary genital procedures which occur less than 1% of the time for the rare minor with a real medically need.

    Also, we can allow adults in sound mind to have their genitals modified, although, just wanting to sexually mutilate their own genitals should be enough to get the adult declared mentally ill.

    ReplyDelete