Unacceptable Notions

The United Nations is concerned:

More parents are turning to medical clinics to perform genital mutilation, wrongly assuming that it spares girls physical and psychological damage, a U.N. agency warned Monday.

The U.N. is specifically concerned about girls because it’s full of hypocrites. I’ve discussed that before, so no need to rehash it here. Yet, looking into its concern is informative. In this context, the United Nations is worried that parents are making female genital mutilation (FGM) more palatable by turning it into a clinical procedure. What the U.N. now fears for girls sounds painfully similar to the basic history behind the growing acceptance of male circumcision (MGM) in America. Physicians became the new priests. The technique improved, but the logic didn’t.

The practice leaves lasting physical and psychological scars, in addition to the risks it generates during childbirth, the U.N. Population Fund said.

The comparison between each procedure leaving physical scars should be obvious enough, although far too many people believe the circumcision scar(s) that remain on the penis are somehow normal. As for psychological scars, the only difference I can decipher is that female genital mutilation is often performed on girls old enough to understand what’s being done to them, whereas male genital mutilation in “civilized” countries occurs primarily on those too young to consciously remember the surgery. Many tout this aspect as a benefit.

Obaid also warned that in some nations parents were subjecting “younger and younger” girls to the practice to avoid refusals to participate. Girls generally undergo the rite before the age of 10, often without anesthesia.

If children remembering the surgery is what the U.N. is concerned with, it should cheer these parents for sparing their daughters the memory. Instead, the U.N. correctly gasps at such an obscene development. But why the disparity? Why should girls be protected, yet when the same fact pattern occurs in boys, it’s wise medical practice? In some parts of the world, males are not circumcised until they approach puberty. They’re old enough to remember the anticipatory buildup. Even then, when the comparison is particularly direct, the United Nations (and other organizations) never fail in remaining quiet. Why? I’ve argued before that basic human rights require more than a clean operating room and good intentions. Surely gender does not fall into that realm of more.

In related news, the Population Reference Bureau declared today the 4th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Cutting (pdf), complete with a symposium. I don’t link this here to indict their work. I’m sure it’s useful and any effort to end medically-unnecessary genital cutting on unconsenting individuals will generally get my support. But the glaring omission that the other half of the population is equally at risk must be highlighted. At the symposium I attended in August, the organizers focused on non-consensual genital cutting. Boys and girls deserve equal protection from unnecessary surgery.

5 thoughts on “Unacceptable Notions”

  1. This is one of those times I wish you weren’t such a “nice guy” Tony. A sharp tonguelashing is what these hypocrites deserve, not gentle reproval. I’d like to use some four-letter words here but I know you don’t want me to, so I won’t.

  2. It’s challenging at times because, you’re right, the hypocrites do deserve more. I just read enough people going off unhinged that make everyone who knows the truth about circumcision appear fringe. That doesn’t help, in my opinion.
    I don’t think your approach is an unhinged response I’m talking about. I’ve certainly used four-letter words to express my opinion at times, so I agree there’s a place for well-placed choice words. I mostly prefer (hopefully) witty anger.
    In this case, the U.N.’s stupidity is of the willful ignorance variety. I’d need willful belittlement of concerns over male circumcision to get that worked up. For what I consider many examples of the latter, read through this entry.

  3. “I just read enough people going off unhinged that make everyone who knows the truth about circumcision appear fringe.”
    Simply referring to infant circumcision as genital mutilation will make you appear “fringey” to some people but I don’t think we should allow ourselves to be cowed by this. Infant circumcision is indeed genital mutilation and we should continue to call it what it is.
    The best way to avoid appearing “fringey” is to make sure your words are always accompanied by pictures that illustrate your point (something you should get in the habit of doing).
    If I refer to infant circumcision as genital mutilation on my blog, for example, and I insert a picture of a screaming baby being assaulted by a circumciser somewhere inside the text, I assure you the tables will be turned and those who insist that infant circumcision is not genital mutilation will be the ones who appear “fringey”. Trust me on this.

  4. Circumcision is genital mutilation. I call it what it is on some of the time. You’re right that it paints me as fringe, which I know I’m not. But my use depends on the message I’m trying to convey. If the point is just that circumcision is wrong, genital mutilation is the useful term. But if the point is deeper than that, more specific, then some restraint is useful to get to the deeper point. I want to offend in the right place. Pictures and verbal attacks will end the discussion prematurely, in my experience.

  5. “Pictures and verbal attacks will end the discussion prematurely, in my experience.”
    If pictures end a discussion prematurely, it usually means the person you’re dealing with is an unsalvageable moral leper. I couldn’t care less what people like that think and neither should you.
    Pictures are a vitally important tool that we must use to get our message across. It’s not even debatable, really.
    A few months ago, you took a poll where you asked your readers whether they thought circumcision was surgery, remember? You said the reason you took that poll was because some guy claimed that circumcision wasn’t surgery.
    How do you suppose that guy could’ve been so delusional that he actually believed such a lie? How do you suppose he could’ve been so smug that he actually expected others to believe it?
    If there had been a series of pictures showing what happens during a circumcision right next to that guy’s comments, do you suppose he would ever have made such a claim? Or do you suppose he would’ve kept his mouth shut?

Comments are closed.