Friday, November 9, 2012

Circumcision and Female Genital Mutilation

Please check out the newly developed and very easy to use genital mutilation comparison sheet before reading this post...

True for BOTH Male Genital Mutilation and Female Genital Mutilation
Sometimes called "circumcision"
Involves the cutting of part of the person's genitalia
Alters the appearance of the person’s genitalia
Typically causes some bleeding in the genital area
Is often carried out without the consent of the person being cut
Is supported by religious groups who believe its practice is important to their faith
Is often described as a way to ensure "cleanliness" of the genital area
Is sometimes described as a rite of passage
Religious proponents say criminalization of the procedure infringes on the practice of their faith
Negative effects are often downplayed by those that practice the procedure and those that have allowed it to be practiced on their children
Reduces sensation/pleasure during sex
Proponents claim it keeps various bad things from happening to the child
Proponents express worry that if they don't cut the child it will affect how desirable the child is to the opposite sex

True for Male Genital Mutilation only
Legal in the United States
Profitable for US medicine
Endorsed by some US doctors

True for Female Genital Mutilation only
Illegal in the United States
Not profitable for US medicine
Not endorsed by US doctors

Why do so many people take issue with comparing the US male circumcision phenomenon with female genital mutilation that takes place in other parts of the world?  The procedures are far more similar than they are different.  To maintain that "circumcision" in the US is so much different than female genital mutilation is downright ethnocentric.  Americans think it's different because they need it to be different.  This is part of the cognitive dissonance that always permeates the circumcision debate.  Americans who believe circumcision is a good thing for children believe so in part because it is what they know, it is the "right" thing, culturally speaking, to do.  All the poorly supported medical research is just an excuse for them to do something they wanted to do anyway.  (I'll bet if a doctor did research “proving” that keeping your son's hair short will help him do better in school, TONS of people in mainstream America would say that's why they cut their son's hair.)  Thus when someone like me tries to tell them, "Hey did you know they do the same kind of thing to girls in other parts of the world?" they vehemently deny that it can't possibly be the same thing at all.  People who cut female children are disgusting and backward but somehow those that cut male children are enlightened.  To accept that these procedures are essentially the same thing is to accept that circumcision is a cultural practice and, as with many cultural practices, the people that practice them don't see them as culturally correct practices they see them as TRUTHS that are essential to survival.  To accept that circumcision isn't a simple truth, that's it's not something they HAD to do is so frightening, so horrible they will go to any extreme to protect themselves from this reality.  It is essential to all the cultural mores that define who they are and how they function in daily life to maintain the belief that female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation are two radically different things.  Well, I hate to break it to ya… They’re not!

Let's be real: People have been cutting genitalia for thousands of years.  Lots of different superstitions, religious beliefs, and cultural ideas have grown up around both male and female genital mutilation over the years but the essence of the practice remains the same: mutilators forever alter the child’s appearance and his/her future sexual experiences.  Those who facilitate or support mutilation of either sex do harm to children who can’t advocate for themselves.  If you’re going to be one of those people I say at least be consistent and support female genital mutilation too.  Women and men are supposed to be equal after all.