Trigger warning: FGM and genital cutting discussed in detail. Some links in this post contain NSFW images.
Comments are no longer being published on this entry. Intactivists have not taken kindly to my post, and the commentary became deeply inappropriate, as one commenter detailed the mutilation he wished to inflict on my genitalia. If this is what they do to an anti-circer, I hate to see what sort of misogyny these men inflict on a woman who circumcised her sons. I’m no longer allowing a platform to encourage that sort of comment. It’s disgusting and shameful.
Circumcision is an issue I never invested much thought in before a friend of mine became pregnant with her first son. My child is female, and female circumcision isn’t just culturally abnormal in America, but also illegal, so it’s really not an issue that directly impacted my life. Still, as my friend shared intactivist resources, and as I read about the realities of infant male circumcision, I came to realize that this was a human rights issue that really pulled at my heartstrings, and I became committed to the cause.
There are a myriad of reasons why I am passionately anti-circumcision. It is a painful, dangerous procedure that runs the risk of serious complications for the baby. It causes permanent sexual side effects for males when they reach sexual maturity, including decreased sexual pleasure. Circumcision is not “normal” throughout the world, and the derision of intact males can be downright xenophobic. And when you learn that the so-called “benefits” of circumcision–such as decreased risk of STDs and a “cleaner” penis–are myths, and that even the religious reasons for circumcision have been misrepresented, it seems logically impossible to argue in favor of this elective surgery.
But there is an aspect of intactivism that is largely ignored, and one that is very important to me, as a woman arguing against the forced genital cutting of baby boys: Intactivism is a largely feminist battle, and yet women are constantly facing scorn for taking up the cause.
First, I’ll approach this from the most obvious standpoint: Biological motherhood. It is a mother’s legal right to advocate for the rights of her child, and that includes refusing consent for circumcision. In cases where custody is legally given to one parent or the other, the custodial parent is allowed to make the decision; for a mother having just birthed her son, the decision falls by default to her. Motherhood is the only legal parental role immediately determinable upon birth, and a mother has the right to refuse circumcision until/unless the child’s father proves paternity and has legal custody. If the mother acknowledges the boy’s father on the birth certificate, she is legally able to file an injunction against the father to prevent him from having surgery performed on the infant without her consent.
Why might a mother choose to go to such lengths? Aside from simply desiring what is best for her son, there is another biological factor at play. A mother who chooses to breastfeed her son will face increased difficulty if he is circumcised. The pain of the surgery can affect a baby’s ability to latch, therefore negatively impacting the mother’s milk supply, and causing difficulties nursing. Since breastfeeding is best for both baby and mother, every woman has the right to advocate for her ability to do so without outside interference.
But even if you adopt your sons, or choose to not have children at all, there are a multitude of reasons why male circumcision affects women, and why we have the right to campaign for male genital integrity. For one, circumcision decreases not only male pleasure during heterosexual intercourse, but also that of their female partners. The foreskin increases tactile sensation during sex, and helps provide lubrication which can prevent painful vaginal tearing. Male circumcision causes increased risk of pain and sexual dysfunction in hetero-, bi-, and pansexual women, and that is certainly a matter of feminist concern.
Yet perhaps the most compelling reason for feminists to take up the cause of intactivism is the negative reaction often presented by pro-circumcision males. We’re told that we have no place in the discussion, because we do not have penises. (An especially ignorant response, as most circumcised males arguing this case were circumcised at birth and are equally ignorant to the realities of an intact penis, or were the victims of forced retraction before they reached sexual maturity and suffered side effects directly from that violation that taint their own ability to understand how a normal, healthy intact penis works.) Our concerns are dismissed based entirely upon our sex–a feminist concern if I’ve ever heard one. How can any feminist woman stand by listening to an argument that boils down to, “I have the penis, I make the decisions”? We have every right to stand up for our sons, and we must not let men silence us.
All of this said, there is also a flipside to the movement that I feel the need to address through a feminist lens. I am troubled by the intactivist use of the term “Male Genital Mutilation,” and the constant comparison to Female Genital Mutilation. I believe circumcision to be amoral and unconstitutional, and I hope for it to someday soon be illegal, but the sweeping comparisons to FGM are outright appropriation. Yes, male circumcision is analogous to female circumcision (that is, the removal of the foreskin on a male is comparable to the removal of the clitoral hood on a female, though “female circumcision” is often used to refer to removal of the entire clitoris; this is why using the terms as direct comparisons without further detail is careless and unwise). Yet FGM is a term used to describe an array of horrors that are inflicted upon women and girls which go far beyond circumcision. For the term “Male Genital Mutilation” to be used, the acts would have to be comparable, yet no one is purposefully amputating the glans/head of the penis (FGM can include complete amputation of the clitoris) or amputating the entire shaft of the penis (FGM can include stitching shut the vaginal opening). This is why feminists balk at the term “MGM” to describe male circumcision, and it’s a fair criticism to make. Since all cutting of female genitalia is illegal in America, it is of course fair that the same consideration be given to males, but male circumcision simply is not comparable to the dark extent of FGM, and this comparison is used as a scare tactic, and the term used as buzzwords to attract attention. I far prefer the term “Male Genital Cutting,” as it is more accurate, and less inflammatory and offensive to those familiar with the horrors of FGM.
A real problem is that misogyny is rampant within the intactivist movement, even among those who call themselves feminists. Appropriating the oppression of women to champion your movement is misogynistic, and decrying women who support circumcision as misandrists is ignorant at best. Mostly, they’re women who have internalized societal misogyny so strongly that they demure to what the men and “experts” in their lives have to say, because surely, us little ladies can’t be smart enough to make these sorts of decisions for ourselves. And while internalized misogyny is a frustrating wall to hit, the answer is not to attack those women, call them “circumfetishists”, and scream about how much they must hate men, and how this “proves” that misandry is real and is a demonstration of how women oppress men. No. But the problem is, the real answer has no immediate gratification. Providing women with resources, information, and facts, all calmly and with a hand out to support them if they need help…well, that takes a lot more time and effort than it does to call them misandrist sickos and run off for back-pats from your intactivist buddies. Actually working to tear down the misogyny that prevents mothers from advocating for their sons is too damn hard for most intactivists, and that refusal to do what’s necessary, that laziness in the face of a true answer, it not only makes the movement inaccessible to the common person, it also makes it unappealing and downright oppressive. And as much as we should argue tooth and nail for the genital integrity of all children, we should not do it at the expense of an oppressed minority. We should not do it with misogyny.
I have personally championed intactivism, misogyny-free, with great results. Not everyone’s mind will change, but I can remain secure in the knowledge that there are people out there in the world, having babies, planning to have babies, some who even had sons they circumcised before we met, who have now decided to not circumcise any future sons, simply because of the facts I calmly and fairly presented to them. It’s not the flashy approach, but in an issue so steeped in female oppression, we are best to tread lightly, lest we win one battle while losing another war.