There is a comparison to be made.

I hadn’t planned to offer any discussion of male circumcision from the story in yesterday’s entry about FGM. However, it’s important to highlight this description from the article.

The term female circumcision [sic] covers a range of procedures from minor symbolic cuts to the genitals to attacks that involve the complete amputation of external body parts.

That matches what the WHO says about FGM. The question is obvious, but almost everyone wants to ignore it. Why is even a minor symbolic cut on the genitals of a female minor always unacceptable [ed. note: it is], but undeniably more destructive cutting on males is okay?

Because we can look into the future and find potential benefits? Because we pretty up the surgery with religious or cultural significance? Those can be valid reasons for an adult choosing it for himself (or herself), but when applied to children (of either gender), they are nonsense.

Before anyone gets upset, yes, this matters when comparing female to male genital cutting:

Police said instruments such as rusty tin can lids, razor blades and broken glass have been used to cut them, and thorns used to stitch up the wounds.

I’ve always acknowledged that the difference in degree between female and male genital cutting is significant. FGM is also often done to repress or eliminate female sexual pleasure. I readily concede both points.

But neither point is always the case when a female’s genitals are cut. The justifications can be similar. When those non-medical reasons are applied to females, we dismiss them, often labeling them misogynistic. We see through the irrationality.

With males, we are blind. As I’ve said before, it takes more than a clean operating room and good intentions to justify genital surgery on children. Gender should be irrelevant. This is an issue of cutting the genitals of a child without medical indication.

8 thoughts on “There is a comparison to be made.”

  1. I’ve moved both comments from yesterday’s entry to this entry, since a discussion of the male/female genital cutting comparison makes more sense here.
    Note: I posted this entry this morning. Scott posted his comments at 7:57 and 8:25 last night.

  2. Tony, I’d like to read the full text of the federal Female Genital Mutilation Act, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of it anywhere online despite many hours of Googling.
    In particular, I’d like to examine the amendment to this act that specifically declares male circumcision to be lawful.
    Do you have any idea where I might find the full text of the amended statute?

  3. While I’m on the subject, here’s a question I’d like to ask former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder: if you’re so convinced that male circumcision couldn’t possibly be considered genital mutilation, why did you and your colleagues feel the urgent need to add an amendment to the federal anti-FGM law that explicitly places males beyond its protection, hmmm?
    It looks to me like you panicked after you realized that male circumcision could indeed be considered genital mutilation from both a moral and a legal standpoint.

  4. I’m not aware of any amendment to the FGM Act that specifically exempts male circumcision. Rep. Schroeder disavowed any comparison in her comments on the floor of the House when sponsoring the legislation, but that’s the extent of it, as far as I know. Her comment:

    FGM is not comparable to male circumcision , unless one considers circumcision amputation. FGM causes serious health problems–bleeding, chronic urinary tract and pelvic infections, build-up of scar tissue, and infertility. Women who have been genitally mutilated suffer severe trauma, painful intercourse, higher risk of AIDS, and childbirth complications.

    In the Senate discussion (Page 1, Page 2, Page 3), Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun offered this:

    Male circumcision is a procedure with a long history. It is a common, accepted practice in the United States for male babies to be circumcised. In the Jewish religion, tradition dictates that a baby boy be circumcised when he is 8 days old in a special ceremony to symbolize the covenant between God and the children of Israel. It is quick, relatively painless, and without long-term consequences–for men.
    For women, however, circumcision is another matter altogether. The procedure known as female circumcision is not at all benign. It is mutilation.


    Ironically, that is why women are the strongest supporters of this practice. It is the older women who know best about how an uncircumcised woman in a traditional village will be treated. Girls are taught that with circumcision, they enter womanhood. Mothers encourage the mutilation because they want their daughters to marry–because marriage is the only access to a meal ticket. And men support the custom because a woman who is circumcised is considered chaste. In short, circumcision is a passport into the only role that some societies give women.

    It’s important to remember that they made these statements in 1995, without the transformation in the debate with the growth of the Internet. That’s not a reason to excuse them. It was still intellectually indefensible to make such distinctions based solely on severity of the harm.

  5. From Michael Medved yesterday, talking about Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great:

    … he specifically likens the hideous, indefensible practice of female genital mutilation in “some animist and Muslim societies,” with the circumcision of baby boys which, unlike clitorectomy, boasts abundant defenders (and practitioners) within the modern medical community.

    Obviously he’s focusing on modern medicine. He’s mistaken. The number of defenders and practitioners is his real criteria, and he expects to overwhelm us. Simple majoritarianism, facts be damned.

  6. Tony, I searched through literally hundreds of websites looking for the full text of the law but was only able to find fragments (thanks for the link, by the way).
    While I was searching, I kept coming across references to an amendment of some sort that supposedly reaffirmed the legality of male circumcision. I assumed these references were made in regard to the US federal law, but perhaps not.
    There are so many countries around the world (and some US states) that have their own anti-FGM laws, I could easily have confused one of the foreign laws with ours. In some cases, the names of these foreign anti-FGM laws are nearly identical to the federal one here in the US.
    A few minutes ago, I tried to find one of the pages where these references appeared so I could link to it, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. My Googling returned thousands of results, but none of the ones I scanned were relevant.
    I don’t have the patience to go through another five-hour-long search today, so I’m afraid I’ll just have to leave the matter up in the air for now.

  7. My thought was that it’s possibly a state law. A list of those is here. It’s possible it was a foreign law, but other than countries that circumcise for religion, I can’t think of any that would feel compelled to reaffirm male genital cutting explicitly. That strikes me as strictly an American fallacy.

  8. The impression I got was that this amendment was intended to placate religious minorities who practice MGM (Jews and Muslims). I can’t recall much else, though.
    I didn’t pay close attention to it at the time because it wasn’t the focus of my search.

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