Basics do not possess nuance.

This blog entry at Feministe is from last week. It references a strange Erica Jong column that isn’t worth discussing. While I agree with most of the Feministe entry, I do not understand how these two ideas can be in the same work. [All emphasis in excerpts is mine.]

I think I’ve made my feelings on male circumcision relatively clear. But you are out of your damn mind if you think that male circumcision is anything like most forms of female circumcision. The majority of female circumcisions involve removing part or all of the clitoris, which is simply not analogous to the removal of foreskin; a more appropriate comparison would be between removing the clitoris and snipping off the head of your dick. Female circumcision isn’t less bad because women don’t think about their vulvas (trust me, we do – and were you to suggest removing a part of mine, I’d be pretty damned opposed to it, despite my interests in children, writing and politics). It’s perfectly possible to question the cultural practice of male circumcision without playing the “what’s-worse” game with female circumcision.

I am out of my damn mind (with the proper nuance), as any regular reader knows, but I’ll expand on this in a moment. From further down in the entry:

… For me, it’s a basic bodily autonomy issue: Foreskin may arguably not be a huge deal, but I think it’s simply wrong to remove a part of a person’s genitals without their consent.

In my insanity, I’m still able to see all facets of both male and female genital cutting. I’ve never argued more than basic bodily autonomy. But if acknowledging that the victim’s gender is irrelevant to the fact that a basic violation occurred means I’m out of my damn mind, so be it. I do not want that definition of sanity.

As I’ve written before, the WHO recognizes 4 types of FGM. Most are physically worse than typical male genital cutting, and those types are far too common among the four. This is a disgrace to mankind, but so is any form of mutilation, even if it results in less damage than the typical male genital cutting. The issue is one of basic bodily autonomy, not severity of damage. In a perfect world where all unnecessary, forced genital cutting is prohibited, it would probably make sense to enact different punishments based on the extent of damage inflicted. But some punishment would be appropriate in every case because each cut is an assault.

In our imperfect world, we outlaw “lesser” cutting on females and congratulate ourselves on our respect for their rights. Many who see male genital cutting as a violation properly suggest that it should be prohibited. But the moment any moral equivalence is made that both victims are human beings with the same inherent rights, the fight is on. Why? It’s possible to understand the difference in quantitative damage in most cases while realizing that analyzing that is secondary to recognizing the qualitative violation in every case. Knowing that both are wrong is not an argument that the typical male genital cutting is as damaging as infibulation. In other words, don’t read into my words anything other than what I am explicitly saying. Medically unnecessary genital surgery on a non-consenting individual is wrong because it violates basic bodily autonomy. Gender is irrelevant in determining the existence of a violation or the need for prohibition.

Continuing from the last excerpt:

However, I don’t think circumcised men are horribly “mutilated.” I don’t think that there’s anything weird or unattractive about it. I don’t think that they’re all psychologically scarred. And I think it’s shitty to suggest otherwise.

I agree, to an extent. Each individual circumcised male must reach his own judgment about the effect of his circumcision. For me, I consider it a horrible mutilation, it’s weird, and it’s unattractive. But I don’t think this is true for all men, nor do I need to convince any man that he should agree about his own body. Where anti-circumcision advocates attempt that, we are misguided. But those men who believe as I do should not be dismissed. (I do not think the entry “dismisses” me.)

I’ve seen the psychologically scarred comment a lot. It’s generally offered by circumcision advocates who think that “circumcision for(ced on) all males” is a great policy. They can’t comprehend that someone would disagree, even though they readily understand that no female would ever want her genitals cut, even when evidence suggests that some women choose it¹. That’s just the other side of the incomplete analysis usually offered when comparison between female and male genital cutting appear.

The few comments to the entry that addressed this were less than enthusiastic about calling out this nonsense. For example:

Trixie23 says:

THANK YOU for clarifying that female circumcision is NOTHING to compare to male circumcision…it shouldn’t even be called that. Female circumcision is an AMPUTATION!

It is an amputation, except where it’s not. Or where it is an amputation equivalent to male genital cutting.


# Lizzie (greeneyed fem) says:

Also – I know we’re all on board with the FGM not being anywhere near in the same category as male infant circumcision – but can I just point out that most dudes are circumcised around birth?

I’m not a guy, so I don’t know what kind of affect that has on you – but I remember NOTHING about my hernia surgery from when I was two weeks old. I’m pretty sure I would remember someone taking a knife to my genitals at age 11 or 12, which is when most FGM happens.

The surgery is not wrong because you can remember it. Age of imposition is as irrelevant as gender in understanding that medically unnecessary genital surgery on a non-consenting individual is a violation of basic human rights. Those rights are inherent at birth, not when the child reaches 2 days, 9 days, or 10 years old.

¹ Elective vaginoplasty in America is the easiest comparison, but there are examples in countries where FGM is common. I’ll agree that if you want to argue that those women are influenced by cultural pressure, but I’ll argue the same holds true for male circumcision in America. People do many stupid things for reasons directly contradicted by evidence proving otherwise.

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