I should probably start this with a trigger warning. I’m going to talk about rape. And FGM.
On Feministe.com the other day, Intactivists were accused of ruining the debate on circumcision. This left me feeling really sad because I love Feministe.com and my son is not circumcised.
Though a long time ago I made a promise to myself that I would never enter into a discussion about circumcision with anyone other than my partner (or my child, if he later wants to get circumcised and seeks my advice or asks me why we did what we did), I’m breaking that now. Lucky us.
I didn’t know there was a debate about FGM. I thought everyone, except for practitioners, all pretty much agreed that it was wrong. Perhaps the only thing left to debate is how to end the practice. I believe that it should be ended through education and making the procedure safe to minimize death, disease, infection, and long term complications (yes, there are ways). Others believe it should be outlawed. But I worry that making it illegal will make it even less safe and won’t help people change their cultural practices. It may instead encourage the practice and make women less likely to seek help with complication and infections. And when I mentioned this to someone once, she said that it was like I was saying that rape should be legal because making it illegal won’t change cultural practices. No. I’m not saying that.
In communities that practice FGM, they believe they are doing it in the woman’s best interest. Though individual rapists may have their own fucked up excuses for rape that Robin Thicke can sing about and there is a huge amount of rape culture, as a society, at least in the US, where I live, I think we can at least agree that rape is not a good tradition nor does anyone think it’s in the victim’s best interest (caveat here being, of course, fucked up rapists and the sick things they say). Rape is not a religious requirement. Women who are raped generally don’t want their daughters to be raped. It’s not thought that women who are raped will make better wives. But these are “reasons” why communities practice FGM and they cannot be addressed by making it illegal. Without getting people to want to change, I don’t think we can get people to change.
The arguments I heard in favor of circumcising my son were pretty ridiculous. I heard that my son should look like his dad and that he would get picked on in the locker room at school. Those were not persuasive to me. His dad also agreed that we should not circumcise (he was more adamant about it than I was), and kids will always find something to tease others about without looking at each other naked. I didn’t think a medical procedure was the best prevention for hypothetical bullying. (I’m now happier than ever that I disregarded this ridiculous argument. My family is moving to a country where circumcision is less popular, so no, I’m not worried about kids teasing him after looking at his junk. I’m more worried about kids looking at his junk period.)
Yes, I’ve heard and read that circumcision can help prevent the spread of HIV. Condoms are more effective. They also prevent other STDs and pregnancy. I’m not buying the intactivist argument that circumcision will lead him into a false sense of security about his risk of HIV, which sounds like it came straight from the “HPV vaccine will make girls have sex” school of thought. No matter what my decision about my children’s genitals, I want to raise him to use sex responsibly, and that includes knowing his partner, knowing if his partner is on birth control (if applicable), and knowing about how to best prevent disease.
Again, I live in a developed nation. If I lived someplace else where condoms were not as available, I would have reconsidered my position. My position was a personal one, not one based in community health. FGM, by contract, is a community health issue. Women are dying because of unsafe conditions. The women that survive are at risk for infection and complications. And, of course, impaired sexual function.
But for circumcision, as a community health issue, it does leave me a little icky saying that we should be circumcising men because it will prevent the spread of HIV. I see this point only if the conservatives get their way and all birth control is banned. There are dozens of other reasons why condoms should also be used, so I feel like advocating circumcision in the US just for that is a little bit over kill, especially when it’s not all that effective at prevention when compared to condoms.
So I resent the accusation that I ruin debate. I’ve had a non-interference policy for years on this matter. And really, in my mind, there is nothing about FGM to debate. We can only brainstorm solutions, and it’s offensive to say that because I didn’t circumcise my son I’ll ruin a discussion on how to end FGM. Actually, I might be a good person to talk to. My husband and I (did I mention we’re Jewish?) were the ones who bucked thousands of years of tradition in favor of individual decision making. My husband and I were the ones who (through just letting her know of our own decision) convinced my pediatrician sister not to circumcise her kid. I might have some ideas if you don’t shut me out of the conversation.