If baby girls are protected from unnecessary genital cutting apart from any inquiry into health benefits, why shouldn’t baby boys?
Many people distinguish between male genital cutting and female genital cutting by stating, “Well, male circumcision has health benefits!” This statement is invalid for two reasons: (1) the medical community worldwide is far from a consensus on the supposed health benefits of male circumcision, with most medical bodies worldwide recommending against circumcision as a health measure, and (2) you can’t use the supposed health benefits of male circumcision as a distinction until we actually research the health benefits or lack thereof of analagous forms of female circumcision. But we haven’t, so “health benefits” is not a true distinction between male cutting and female cutting.
We have created an entirely separate discourse between the genders on the issue of genital cutting and enshrined it into law. This dual discourse is entirely arbitrary (we could just as well ban male genital cutting without looking into health benefits while always looking out for health benefits for female cutting), and therefore the protection afforded by the FGM law is entirely arbitrary. I will spell out the separate discourses below for future reference.
- Discourse with respect to female genital cutting: ban it (including the forms far less invasive than male circumcision) without ever having researched the health benefits or lack thereof in the same conditions in which we study male circumcision, despite the fact that the female genitals have more folds and are more prone to smegma, odor, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, hygiene issues, genital cancer, and contracting HIV and most STIs from heterosexual intercourse. And you’ll probably recognize quite quickly that these are all health issues, interestingly enough, that have been proposed at one point or another as a justification for male genital cutting. So why not apply the same scrutiny to female genital cutting as to male rather than simply banning it? Wouldn’t women have even more to gain from various preventative measures, surgical or non-surgical, since their genitals are more prone to infection to begin with? Why the separate discourse between the genders, especially in this age when gender equality is so passionately pursued in every sphere? Female genitalia = more folds, more prone to infection. Yet the discourse is, “Ban all forms of female genital cutting, no matter how minor, and no matter what the parents want, without inquiry into potential health benefits.”
- Discourse with respect to male genital cutting: constantly look for new medical justifications and hold that up for the reason why it should be legal and a “parent’s choice”. Male genitalia = a single fold, less prone to infection. Yet there is no regard for the male child’s right to his own genitals (as is granted to female children), and the discourse is to constantly look for justifications for cutting, despite the male’s lesser tendency to infections.
These separate discourses are sexist regardless of your stance on whether circumcising babies is ethical or not. I am of the persuasion that the excision of normal, healthy, erogenous genital tissue from a non-consenting minor’s perfectly healthy penis or vulva is not ethically permissible for prophylactic reasons, nor at the parents’ whim, nor for the sake of the parents’ religion and culture, and that parents may only give proxy consent to such a procedure after all less invasive treatment options have been exhausted. Therefore, I believe that this separate discourse is sexist against males in that it, negatively speaking, does not afford them protection from the unnecessary excision of erogenous genital tissue and, positively speaking, guarantees the female’s right to grow up with all of her erogenous genital tissue but not the male’s.
If you believe that circumcision is permissible to perform on infants, and that it has the potential for health benefits, then you would have to argue that the law is sexist against girls because it does not permit the study of surgical procedures that could spare them from painful genital infections and life-threatening diseases, which they are, in fact, more prone to than males. The same tissue, mind you, that comprises the fold of the male foreskin exists on the folds of the female vulva, and the same Langerhans cells that are hypothesized to create an entry point for HIV on the fold of the foreskin exist on the folds of the vulva as well, yet no one thought to research the health benefits of excising female folds. The separate discourse is astounding, defies all logic, and is entirely sexist.
The fact of the matter is that the health benefits or lack thereof of minor forms of FGM (say, labiaplasty or clitoral hood excision) have never been studied in sterile Western environments in which American male circumcision is performed, and the West at large considers it unethical to do so, so it is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy to say, “Female circumcision has no health benefits.” We all know that cutting a girl’s clitoris off with a rusty razor blade and sewing her vagina shut is harmful, but what about cutting off infant girls’ labia at birth in sterile, anesthetized conditions? It is simply an unfounded assumption that cutting vulvar tissue in sterile environments has no medical justification and confers no health benefits.
In fact, it is ILLEGAL to research whether the excision of vulvar tissue in infancy has health benefits due to the U.S. FGM Law. It is simply a given under American law that a female’s right to grow up with all her genital tissue should trump any potential health benefits of excising any of her genital tissue preventatively at birth or in childhood (which, again, have never been studied in the same conditions that we study male circumcision), despite the fact that her genitals have MORE folds, require MORE maintenance, and are MORE prone to hygiene issues and infections–including UTIs, yeast infections, and the transmission of HIV and most STIs via vaginal intercourse–than the male genitals are. This being the case, how does it make sense that we gladly permit the study of excision of male genital tissue but have prohibited the study of excision of female genital tissue? It doesn’t. This differing discourse between the genders is sexist and should be remedied.
The sexism under U.S. law in this matter is despicable. I can’t think of a law that so plainly discriminates on the basis of gender–and in such a violent way. Put simply, the U.S. FGM law is based on the assumption that ALL baby girl genital cutting is wrong on its face, regardless of any potential health benefits (which have never been researched in sterile, anesthetized Western conditions–the conditions in which we examine male circumcision). If this is the reasoning for protecting baby girls’ genitals–genitals that have MORE folds and are MORE prone to infection than male genitals–how is it not sexism under the law to not apply the same reasoning to baby boys’ genitals? Why should the discourse differ between the genders? It shouldn’t if we’re truly about EQUAL protection and not ARBITRARY protection.
>>> This all being said, it’s at least plausible that removing a girl’s labia at birth would have NOMINAL health benefits in that there is one less fold of skin to rinse in the case of hygienic incompetency, just like removing a boy’s foreskin at birth may have NOMINAL health benefits in that there is one less fold of skin to rinsein the case of hygienic incompetency. Labial adhesions affect up to 2% of girls aged 3 months to six years, and “about 20 per cent of girls with labial adhesions develop asymptomatic bacteriuria (bacteria in the urine without symptoms of infection) and up to 40 per cent experience urinary tract infections.” Cut the flaps off at birth, and you eliminate the risk of this happening. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/labial_adhesions
>>> Moreover, sometimes during puberty, a young woman’s labia minora become hypertrophic, meaning they extend past the labia majora. This is a risk factor for UTIs. No labia = no labial hypertrophy = reduced risk of UTIs. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23442511 And the authors of the study confess, “There is currently a paucity of published literature describing reduction labiaplasty performed for functional reasons.” Compare that to the overflow of American research on male circumcision. It’s a complete separate discourse on genital cutting between the genders, and it’s sexist and wrong. Full study here.
BUT THIS IS ALL RIDICULOUS. WE CAN TREAT UTIS WITH ANTIBIOTICS, NOT EXCISION OF NORMAL, HEALTHY GENITAL TISSUE.