John Tierney raises the issue of female genital mutilation, wondering whether “African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision?” My short answer is, of course, if they’re deciding for themselves as an adult without pressure. There’s far more difficulty, of course, since those ideal conditions don’t appear to exist in countries that practice FGM. Anything that doesn’t meet my short answer must be condemned.
But Mr. Tierney’s question isn’t really my focus here. I’m more interested in the comments that result from his article. There is a mass refusal to permit any comparison of male and female genital cutting in our society. It’s reflexive, to the point that evidence to the contrary is ignored outright. As such, I knew going in I’d find them easily. I highlight a few here to show the intellectual rigidity that vehemently opposes female genital cutting, even with the patient’s consent, while any possible concern over male genital cutting is dismissed.
I can’t believe such ignorance. Please lets get the facts right. Female mutilation is *not* circumcision. The name says it all, circum-cision means “cut around”, i.e. cut around the extra skin on a man’s penis, which has many health benefits — penis cancer is unknown among circumcised men, plus the penis is allowed to grow more freely without a constricting fold of skin.
There is no health benefit whatsoever [to FGM] and much less an “aesthetic” benefit as has been claimed. …
*** The sole real purpose of female genital mutilation is to prevent women from feeling sexual pleasure. ***
There’s much more in there, but this excerpt is enough. Aside from the mind-numbingly ridiculous claim that the circumcised penis “is allowed to grow more freely”, notice the immediate rush to claims of health benefits for male genital cutting. Or I should say, notice the immediate rush to inaccurate claims of health benefits. Circumcised men get penile cancer, and the healthy foreskin is not a risk factor for penile cancer. Regardless, because we’ve studied and found potential benefits, it now slips the bounds of medical ethics we hold for every other invasive procedure on healthy children. Why?
I’ll just point out that aesthetic claims are subjective to the person making them. Still we allow aesthetic claims from parents to influence the decision to circumcise their sons. It’s possible that Ms. Landau would reject them, too. (More on this in a moment.) What matters is that she knows why female genital cutting is performed, despite evidence to the contrary. Mr. Tierney quotes Dr. Fuambai Ahmadu:
It is difficult for me — considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own — to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to — they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers.
I do not know anything about Kono women, so I’m not willing to judge the validity of what Dr. Ahmadu says. I’m skeptical, especially since it appears that minors are subjected to FGM. But reasonable skepticism does not support Ms. Landau’s conclusion without evidence she fails to provide. (Note: This absolute claim is common, appearing in virtually every discussion of FGM.)
Back to male genital cutting, Ms. Landau later states:
Male circumcision on babies can be objected too because it is done without their consent, but it does not harm a man’s health and ability to feel pleasure.
It most certainly harms a man’s health if he doesn’t make it to adulthood. Death as a result of male circumcision is rare, but it occurs. [ed. note: The five links in the next sentence are NSFW.] And other complications frequently occur, including a 100% incidence of scarring and a 100% removal of erogenous nerve tissue. He may be able to feel pleasure, but he does not feel pleasure the way he would if left with his normal, healthy foreskin. Is that not a human rights violation?
The New York Times and John Tierney do this issue a tremendous disservice in continuing to refer to this practice as “circumcision”. Unlike circumcision, there is nothing cosmetic about this procedure. It removes a girl’s clitoris, not exactly on a par with removing foreskin. To call it an “initiation rite” also diminishes its brutality. This practice is about sexual control through a most unsanitary and barbaric “surgery”. How people can equate this with circumcision completely misses the tragic reality of this disgraceful act. Very sad indeed.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe that subjective cosmetic justifications would make it acceptable, if they existed, but I know the blanket statement that FGM removes a girl’s clitoris is not always true. Regardless, it’s about sexual control. Evidence to the contrary, however unconvincing, be damned.
Remember, too, that medical male circumcision began in the United States to “cure” masturbation in young children. Does the research that finds alleged potential medical benefits legitimize away the original beginnings? If so, what’s to stop us from now seeking potential medical benefits from female genital cutting?
The comparison with male circumcision is misleading. Not only is it less invasive, with much lower risk of serious complications, there IS actually scientific evidence to back up health benefits. …
I have yet to see any science that could justify ritual female cutting.
I wonder if M.I. would permit any. It would be hard to find any if we’re not allowed to look. If we’re not allowed to look, I go back to my question of whether or not medical research on males is now legitimized, as it applies to children, despite its start. Do we sweep the past away and accept only the facts we like?
These debates merely reinforce the only politically correct, if not factually correct, position regarding medically unnecessary genital cutting: women ar
e always oppressed through surgery and men can never be oppressed through surgery. Gender should not matter in the ethical rejection of forced genital cutting without the individual’s consent. Our society incorrectly demands that we consider it relevant.