Feminism and male circumcision

I recently had a baby boy (my second) and of course the topic of circumcision came up. I educated myself on circumcision and how it is totally medically unnecessary to circumcise a healthy baby’s penis and felt that doing so would pretty much amount to mutilating him for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it too. Unfortunately when I made up my mind about it, it was already too late. He was getting circumcised at that doctor’s appointment.
My husband reported that our son seemed fine- that although we were told they wouldn’t use pain relief he believes they did because he seems a-ok. That was until the first diaper change..and every diaper change after that for the next four days when my baby would shake and scream in pain. Fast forward to three weeks later and he needs to be re-circumcised, the first circumcision actually made it medically necessary to circumcise him-again. I felt awful. We had no way of knowing how this child would feel about some of his most private parts being sliced and diced all in the name of conformity- something we as his parents would have to deal with for several diaper changes and cranky nights while he’d have permanently changed genitals the rest of his life. Something he had absolutely NO say in.
When I joined facebook, I also joined something called “circle of moms” and circumcision is a hot topic today. One mom actually posted a video of a newborn being circumcised and contrary to what many people believe its routine to NOT give any pain relief. This baby gave a scream that made me cry, the video is about 5 minutes worth of cutting, pinching and tearing at his penis and foreskin which obviously has a motherload of nerve endings because the child is shaking and screaming in pain. That video and the comment of some of the mothers who say circumcision is best because girls preferred circumcised penises and other boys will tease him reminds me of a video I watched in college that said the SAME thing about female genital mutilation.
What if we saw a video of a little girl’s clitoral hood being removed without pain relief that took 5 minutes. What if we were told by her parents that its better to do this because its cleaner (as if washing it isn’t good enough) it looks better (as if her genitals in its natural form are ugly and needs to be cut away to be more pleasing) and that she’s too young to ever remember the pain so why waste money on pain relief (as if her pain is somehow negligible because its such a wonderful trade-off that she is forced to conform.)
I am now firmly on the side against circumcision and only wish I had actually looked deeper into this before my sons were circumcised. I honestly went along with the crowd on it and thought it was just one of things you do to your sons, get them circumcised.
If one of our rallying cries is bodily autonomy and we’d raise all hell when AAP briefly decided to allow “nicking” of female newborn genitals, does being against male circumcision become a feminist issue on the grounds of bodily autonomy or is it the universal right of a parent to SONS to do with their child’s genitals as they please?

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63 Comments

  1. Honeybee
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Because my husband and every single guy i asked about this, and there werw alot, expressed how thankful they are that the procedure was done to them as a baby.

  2. SociologicalMe
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you brought this up- you’re right, because it doesn’t apply to my family I had totally forgotten about the religious angle. I can see how being circumcised would be important and beneficial to your partner, because of his religious beliefs. And I can completely understand wanting to pass on those beliefs and spiritual benefits to a son.
    I just still really dislike the idea of circumcising an infant. This is both because I don’t like the idea of making choices for a child about his or her bodily integrity before they can consent, AND because I don’t believe in forcing children to accept their parents’ religion. Teaching them the traditions as they grow up is wonderful, but ultimately it should be their decision whether or not to embrace the faith for themselves. Similarly, I wish that the choice about circumcision could happen later in life, when the kid is at least old enough to think about the subject himself.

  3. ElleStar
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I honestly don’t know because I’m against it. And, no cleanliness wouldn’t convince me as my SO is uncircumcised and hasn’t ever had any issues.
    But that doesn’t mean that there’s a well-reasoned argument that wouldn’t sway me in the future.

  4. ebetty
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    that poor child…

  5. cessen.com
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, Honeybee, but I did not consent to having part of my genitals cut off. That my parents consented does not change that. I was violated.
    We’re not talking about some necessary medical procedure, or a beneficial procedure with no demonstrable negative side effects, or some really difficult choice without a clear answer. We’re talking about someone cutting off part of my penis without my consent, and with very little medical benefit (and don’t cite that HIV stuff, because I know how to use a condom; and take note that europe has very little problems with their foreskins).
    And I realize that parents can’t be perfect, and that they will make mistakes all the time. And I absolutely forgive my parents for having me circumcised: they were just trying to do what’s best for me, and they were influenced by the cultural context they lived in. But it was a mistake, because it was cutting off part of my genitals, and it’s a mistake that others can avoid by realizing that that is a violation of a person’s bodily autonomy.
    I’m not trying to crucify parents who have circumcised their children. That doesn’t do anyone any good. But I am justified in feeling violated and being angry at what happened to me.

  6. ElanaFulana
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    “Yes if there was no consent that would be a serious problem – but there IS consent – from the parents. I don’t see how it’s any different then parents consenting to all kinds of intrusive medical procedures that are routinely performed on children, babies, etc.”
    Yes, and those intrusive medical procedures all have a clear purpose – the welfare of the patient who is unable to make decisions for themselves.
    Circumcision is not a medically necessary procedure. It’s cosmetic, and it permanently decreases sensitivity.
    The parents consent is irrelevant. The only person who’s consent matters is the person who’s body is being violated.

  7. cessen.com
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I am also a circumcised male, and I have been traumatized by it. Your insinuation that people go around telling you that your experience is invalid is ridiculous. Your experience is the one that is accepted by our society. Mine? I got no help, no recognition, no acknowledgement.
    I recognize that you do not feel harmed by being circumcised. That’s fine. I’m glad you feel that way. Really, I am. Because it royally sucks to feel how I feel, and even more so when the entire culture around me is telling me that I should just “get over it” and that I’m basically crazy for feeling violated over part of my penis being cut off without my consent.
    So please understand, I am not denying the validity of your experience. But if you claim that it was okay for me to be circumcised, then you are denying the validity my experience.
    If you’re okay with it, then it’s circumcision. Cool. It wasn’t okay with me, so what was done to me is mutilation. Full stop.

  8. cessen.com
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t citing the entire feminist community (if it’s coherent enough to be called such). But if you read some of the comments below, you may note that quite a lot of them are essentially denying the validity of my experience. So while I realize that it is, indeed, derailing to bring up male circ in those contexts, and I realize that there are feminists that care about these issues too (this thread’s existence is evidence of that), this is not what makes me think many feminists are hostile to the issue. It is not hard to pick out the hostility.
    And these experience-denying reactions are what I’ve gotten from everyone, everywhere (except guys in europe, since they don’t generally circ over there) ever since I started talking about this. And you know what? It hurts. So ****ing much. And people think I’m just crazy, as if it’s ridiculous that I would feel violated that part of my genitals were cut off against my will. And it’s even worse because very few other guys feel this way (or at least are vocal about it) so I have zero support from people that understand what I’m going through. And most of the people I encounter just say, “But all the guys I know don’t mind, so you must be full of shit.” (Well, they say it in nicer terms than that, but still.) I am glad that most guys don’t go through this. I do not deny their experience. I celebrate it. I am happy for them, because going through this sucks. I wish I could just get over this. But I can’t.
    Participating in this thread at all is extremely triggering for me, and I’m not even sure why I keep checking back, because it just makes me extremely angry and helpless and sad and panicky. It’s bad enough to be circ’d against my will. But I think what has actually had far worse of an impact is how people react to me because of how circ has affected me. I’m sure it has made my psych/emotional issues much worse than they otherwise would be. And that in turn makes people think I’m even more crazy. Repeat ad nauseam. It would be a lot easier to put it behind me if people would just acknowledge that what was done to me was bad, and that it shouldn’t have happened, and that we should stop perpetuating this. But most people don’t. Including a hell of a lot of feminists.

  9. TD
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Most people think they’re acting morally, even if they’re committing the worst of atrocities.
    Some of the worst criminals in history have thought that their cause were just, a huge proportion of those did it in the name of religion, when has that ever exonerated them for their actions?

  10. Phenicks
    Posted June 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    It wasn’t propoganda, if you watched the video and pay attention the whole through, the person talking is THE DOCTOR PERFORMING THE CIRCUMCISION and he clearly states there is absolutely no medical reason why he is doing this, its solely because the parent(s) want him to. He explains that there are many many nerve endings in the foreskin (obvious answer to if there is a difference in sex before and after is yes, its like asking a woman is there a difference in sex now that she no longer has her clitoris as far as anaotmy is concerned they serve the same purpose in sexual activity).
    As far as using religion to justify circumcision just keep in mind that religion is a reason why parents of daughters are fighting for their right to do what parents of sons can do to their children’s genitals on the premise of religion and culture. Kinda put things into perspective no? I mean how can we argue that the parent’s religious belief shouldn’t force a girl to continue a pregnancy but ti could force a boy or girl to have their genitals mutilated? There is no escaping the hypocrisy with logical, reason and integrity intact.
    My son’s circumcision wasn’t botched, pretty much he started to heal and there was nothing anyone could do about it- healing adhesions happen but the horrendous part after the fact is that because he wears diapers urine and feces get IN BETWEEN those adhesions and infect him and makes him itch and burn and he cant do anything to get any kind of relief. Not to mention that its an infection and would only get worse and in some cases completely disabling his prior ability to urine because all of the urine would get trapped inbetween the adhesions. That’s why he had to see a urologist to get recircumcised- it became a medical necessity and that’s a risk most don’t tell you about.

  11. makomk
    Posted June 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “Most feminists are sympathetic to men’s rights issues, but get annoyed when those issues are brought up in an attempt to derail a conversation about women’s rights.”
    Except that they’re usually brought up as a result of said feminists making some indirect claim about male experiences or treatment. For example, recall Feministing’s commentary on the AAP’s proposal to allow pricking as a legal symbolic alternative to FGC. This claimed that the proposal was evidence of misogyny, which is to say that it was only OK because it was being done to girls rather than boys. Yet the proposed procedure – which is currently illegal in the US – is far more minor than the mutilation entirely legally carried out on 60% of male kids’ genitalia there. Nevertheless, the AAP were forced to withdraw their suggestion while male circumcision remains entirely legal, common and mostly uncontroversial.
    In this case, claims of derailing are nothing but an attempt to exclude and ignore inconvenient evidence that contradicts the argument being made.

  12. makomk
    Posted June 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    The UK used to practice circumcision quite a lot, but not so much nowadays. These days, about 4% of boys are circumcised, compared to nearly 80% in the US. (I quoted 60% elsewhere for the US figure, but that statistic’s not comparable to the UK one.)

  13. Phenicks
    Posted June 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Because male circumcision is legal and female circumcision is not. You can allow someone to literally use scissors and other surgical cutting tools to remove 66& of your son’s penile nerve endings (the foreskin) WITHOUT anesthesia or any other pain relief but if you numbed your daughter and pricked her labia with a pin you’re doing hard time with spilling what is literally a drop of her vaginal blood.
    When circumcision goes wrong and the male infant has a severe enough injury that his penis may be very small parents have the options of actually forcing their son to have a vagina. There is pretty much nothing you could do to your daughter’s genitalia that was legal that comes with such a stipulation. SO yes the emphasis was to show there wre things you could do to your sons genitals that you could never do to daughter’s genitals that were legal. The point is, you shouldn’t be able to fool around with your children’s healthy genitals at all without their consent.

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