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Quick links to products available in the Campaign for Genital Integrity . . .

     INFORMATIVE VIDEOS: 
    
Facing Circumcision  Eight Physicians Tell Their Stories
     Restoration in Focus  
Instructional Video for Foreskin Restoration
     They Cut Babies, Don't They?  
One Man's Struggle Against Circumcision
     Whose Body, Whose Rights?   Award-winning documentary seen on PBS!

THE BOOK THAT EXPOSES IT ALL: 
    
Circumcision Exposed
Rethinking a Medical and
Cultural Tradition

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Perhaps some day all religions will leave the innocent genitals of babies alone.

Male Circumcision is a Feminist Issue Too

Pamela Bone
The Melbourne Age (Australia), Monday, 14 March 1994


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Sydney radio station 2UE recently held a talkback program on the proposed NSW Government legislation that would outlaw female genital mutilation. A man speaking in heavily accented English telephoned the station to say he was opposed to the laws, and that he had had his two daughters, aged five and nine, "done" last year. When the radio host, Brian Carlton, asked why, he answered "because women have a dirty little spot there that must be cut away."

Germaine Greer once said most women have no idea how much men hate them. Let’s not generalise, however. Most Australian men would find the above statement as shocking as did Brian Carlton and the dozens of outraged callers who followed.

The man said "circumcision" would help to keep his daughters chaste, and that it was required under Islam. It is not required under Islam, as some Muslims are tired of pointing out. Unfortunately there are a lot of other Muslims, including some Muslim leaders who think that it is. Some years ago an imam in Melbourne told me I didn’t need the operation but women from hot countries did.

There was also a talkback on genital mutilation on Radio National’s ‘Australia Talks Back’ last week. It is a topical issue, because the Federal Government as well as the governments of NSW and Victoria are considering legislation against it. Halfway through the Radio National program, a woman called to complain that though the program was supposed to be about female circumcision it had quickly become a discussion about male circumcision.

I’m sorry, but this column is about to do the same thing. First because I don’t think you can talk about one without the other, and second because I think male circumcision is a feminist issue too. This may offend a lot of women who have pointed out, rightly, that it is a misnomer to describe what is done to the genitals of little girls in some cultures as "circumcision" and that the male equivalent would be to cut off the penis.

The custom of clitoridectomy or infibulation is as cruel a cultural marking as it is possible to imagine. Nothing could more starkly symbolise men’s oppression of women and women’s participation in their oppression. Almost everyone in this country finds the practice abhorrent.

But there are forms of female "circumcision", such as a scratch to the clitoris, that however distasteful they might be, may be no more damaging than male circumcision. (Who can tell? Not babies, certainly.) Yet bring up the subject of banning male circumcision, and you are likely to get reactions ranging from amusement to defensiveness to hostility; because most Australian men, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or atheist, have been circumcised. (And it never hurts us, they will say. How do they know?)

In Victorian England circumcision was widely recommended as a "cure" for masturbation in boys, and sometimes girls, too. In Australia in the 1950s allowing a boy to go uncircumcised was barely respectable. Even in the 1960s, 70 per cent of male infants born in Australia were circumcised.

Today the figure is about seven per cent in Victoria and 15 per cent in NSW and Queensland. The decline has paralleled the rise of women’s liberation. Can this be coincidence, or is it because women in recent years have been less willing to accept unquestioningly the dictates of a male-dominated profession? Isn’t infant male circumcision a product of patriarchy too when it is done to babies who are incapable of giving consent as they are of protesting against it.

Religious groups that practice circumcision point to supposed benefits - such as surveys (since invalidated) which seemed to show that partners of circumcised men are less likely to develop cervical cancer - as if this were the reason they were doing it. The majority of medical opinion today says there is no medical justification for the routine circumcision of baby boys.

It is, however, still a religious requirement for both Muslims* and Jews. Although there seems to be no questioning of the practice in Muslim communities, Jews in the US and more recently in Australia have begun to challenge its justification; David Bernstein wrote recently in the ‘Australian Jewish News’ that "the Brit Milah (the circumcision ritual) is the most primitive and atavistic of all Jewish rites, a direct and unmodified legacy going back to an age when adulterous wives were stoned to death outside city walls". [*Note:: This is a common misperception. Neither male nor female circumcision are commanded in the Qur'an proper. For clarification, visit To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah.]

As Bernstein said, male circumcision is a physical mutilation too, not as radical or horrendous as clitoridectomy, but mutilation none the less. The time may be fast approaching; he wrote, "when we have to justify circumcision, not only to the society in which we have chosen to live - but perhaps to ourselves as well".

If you decide to ban only the more severe forms of genital mutilation, which are only done to girls, where do you draw the line? By putting it outside the law, there is a risk it will be performed without medical attention and lead to more complications or even deaths. Yet for the sake of little girls, how can you wait until education or integration into the wider society solves the problem?

There is no way this society, at this point in time, could legislate to make male circumcision illegal. Yet we are exercising double standards if we say the genital mutilation of infants is all right as long as that child is a boy. Perhaps the practice will begin to be abandoned when adults start asking courts to award damages against their parents for having them circumcised as babies. Perhaps some day all religions will be kind enough to leave the innocent genitals of babies alone.

More Pages Related to Male & Female Circumcision

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