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Male Genital Mutilation
A Feminist Study of a Muted Gender Issue
Seham Abd el Salam
Cairo, June 1999
B.Sc in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Medicine, Graduate Diploma in Art Criticism,
Post masters Fellowship Research - Supervisor: Professor
American University in Cairo, School of Humanities,
Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology Department
English Version translated by: Azza Ali (Ph. D) and Seham Abd el Salam
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Chapter V: Revealing the nudity of the emperor: The final analysis
I) Analysis of the respondents beliefs and knowledge
A) The respondents’ biases
The beliefs of some respondents about male and female genitalia are based on inherent traditional biases of the patriarchal society. For example, some respondents share the common belief that males are circumcised in an earlier age than females because male genitalia are fully developed at birth while female genitalia need some years to reach full development. This signifies that intellectual respondents - including some medical doctors - do not build their ideas about sexual organs on accurate knowledge of the structural and functional development of these organs. This signifies also that both intellectuals and commoners share the belief that males are sexually and developmentally superior to females, even in infancy. This belief extends to other physical and moral aspects. Thus, men are thought to be generally superior to women all over their life span (Abd el Salam 1998).
The respondents’ belief that infants can tolerate pain more than adults reveals their bias against children. Pain is a subjective feeling that ranges from slight discomfort to severe agony. The only one who can assess the degree of pain is the person who experiences it, or the disinterested observer who detects the objective signs of pain as they appear on the sufferer (Chamberlain 1991). However, those who believe that children tolerate pain are subjectively judging juniors, who are under their custody and who occupy a less social rank in comparison to adults. Some objective studies on infants’ perception of pain invalidate the traditional beliefs about children’s tolerance of pain. Cortisol - which is the hormone that is released by the suprarenal glands in response to pain, shock, and stress - was measured in the blood of infants after circumcision and other less stressful situations, such as binding the children’s limbs or pricking their heels. It was found that the blood cortisol level after circumcision exceeds its level after other stressful experiences (Gunnar 1985; Gunnar 1988; Goldman 1997). This means that circumcision is a sort of severe, painful stress, and that denial of this fact represents a social bias and discrimination against children. It was found also that male children remember the experience of their circumcision after many months from the operation. Circumcised male children’s reaction to the vaccination injections was more intense than their non-circumcised male or female peers.
...psychiatrists found that
the widespread belief
that children forget pain is not realistic
On the other hand, psychiatrists found that the widespread belief that children forget pain is not realistic. Adult men who were circumcised as infants cannot remember this experience because they were circumcised before they acquire the spoken language. That is why such adult men cannot express their memories about circumcision verbally under regular circumstances. Nonetheless, some of them could when this remote memory floated to the surface of consciousness under hypnosis or when they were subjected to a similar experience, like having a surgery (Goldman 1997). In my fieldwork, I observed similar responses. I arranged a video projection about infant male circumcision as part of my activity for children’s right of bodily integrity. Some men in the audience could not tolerate the scene. One of them stated that he felt physical pain when he watched the video. This means that memory of the circumcision pain is not deleted, even after many years. So, my observations match the results of the forementioned psychological studies.
...circumcision was used as
a social tool
to control male sexuality throughout history.
Some feminist men and women respondents thought that MGM is not so significant as FGM because it does not imply curbing and controlling of male sexuality. Nevertheless, according to literature, circumcision was used as a social tool to control male sexuality throughout history. MGM proponent doctors were aware that it curbs male sexuality. Moses Maimonides, a Jewish physician who lived in the thirteenth century, recommended male circumcision to weaken men’s sexual power and pleasure in order to improve their morals and guarantee their chastity (Atay, non-dated, in Abu Sahlieh 1999). Similarly, Victorian British doctors introduced male and female circumcision to the medical practice in the nineteenth century to "prevent" and "treat" masturbation (Wallerstein 1980; Gollahar 1994).
This view mixes God with
father, and tries to give social control
a sacred and philosophical nature.
Other respondents expressed implied perception of the element of social control in MGM, and even insisted that such control should persist on the assumption that it is sacred. An outstanding example of this attitude is Dr. Hazem, who said that circumcision is God’s will at the philosophical level, and the father’s will at the operational level. This view mixes God with father, and tries to give social control a sacred and philosophical nature. Dr. Hazem described circumcision as "tahzeeb," a term that means discipline, trimming and taming of the wild nature. He added that the objective of religion is to realize submission to social customs "inseia‘ lil ‘urf." Of course, taming and submission apply to the weak party. In this example, circumcision is done by the father to the son. Dr. Hazem’s view identifies the father, who is the lord of the family, with the Lord of heaven, and makes the father the Lord’s delegate to implement circumcision/control.
Some respondents thought that the male prepuce hinders erection, and makes the penis look feeble. This view reveals an implicit belief that the prepuce is symbolic of femininity, and hence explains the belief that its retention compromises a man’s masculinity. The language they used to describe the prepuce supports this analysis "the prepuce is nothing but a soft and dangling piece of skin" "hitta medaldela mortakheya." Other respondents stated that they heard some magic beliefs about the prepuce. For example, some of them heard that if a man is not circumcised in childhood he will be impotent as an adult. Such beliefs are similar to the magic beliefs about the clitoris. FGM proponents believe that if the clitoris is not removed in childhood it will grow to enormous size in adulthood, or it may harm the non-circumcised woman’s husband during sexual intercourse. The everyday life experience proved that these magic attributes of the parts that are usually removed in circumcision are not realistic. However, these beliefs that had a mythic basis served the symbolic conceptualization of femininity and masculinity in ancient cultures. It seems that they still serve the same function for people who adopt inherited cultural beliefs without subjecting them to critical revision (Turner 1985; Montagu 1991).
Some feminists also adopt this patriarchal belief...
Most of the respondents, whether they thought that retention of the prepuce has an impact on masculinity or not, equated masculinity to virility and reduced it to erection. Those who thought that the existence of the prepuce affects masculinity explained their belief that it hinders erection, so, its removal is a prerequisite to fulfill complete masculinity. While those who thought that retention of the prepuce does not affect masculinity explained that they believe so because it does not prevent erection, hence, circumcision is not necessary for full masculinity. Using such beliefs to explain the sexual advantages of circumcision is based on patriarchal thought that privileges erection as a symbol of sexual potency, and hence of political power (Paige 1978). I think also that this is the basis of the belief that FGM is more severe than MGM because FGM implies removal of an erectable organ. Some feminists also adopt this patriarchal belief that acknowledges erection while it neglects the fact that both FGM and MGM imply loss of extremely sensitive tissues, and that both procedures violate bodily integrity, and the human right to determine what is to be done with one’s own body.
A minority of the respondents perceived that sex is not all about erection. Salah is one of them. He said that a European woman told him that it is more pleasurable to have sex with an intact man. This statement is supported by a recent research that studied women who married more than once. Some of their husbands were circumcised and some were not. The study concluded that male circumcision has a negative effect on the female partner’s sexual satisfaction (O’Hara 1999).
This belief signifies ethno-national chauvinism...
Moreover, there is evidence that the attitude towards circumcision is affected by personal cultural biases. For example, Nehal thought that Egyptian men are more potent than foreigners because they are circumcised. This belief signifies ethno-national chauvinism, because sexual potency has nothing to do with neither national identity nor geographical residence. On the other hand, Salah, who lived abroad for some years, thought that the sexual potency of Egyptian men decreases after the forties, while European men retain their potency till over age sixty. Both impressions are wrong. Sexual potency has nothing to do with nationality, nor circumcision. It depends on other factors such as general physical and psychological health and social and emotional maturity. While circumcision may interfere with both partners’ feeling of pleasure, it has no effect on potency or fertility. Thus, Salah’s and Nehal’s beliefs reveal cultural stereotyping rather than a real fact.
B) Two ways of dealing with texts: sanctification and critical thinking
Most respondents who thought
that circumcision is a religious order
could not cite any holy text to substantiate their belief.
Egyptians do not usually form their religious beliefs through reflective reading of the holy texts by themselves. They are rather accustomed to build their beliefs through listening to the Islamic theologians’ "fuqaha" interpretations of the holy texts. According to Hisham Sharabi (1988) official clergy monopolized the interpretation of holy texts. They themselves do not analyze the texts through a process of critical thinking, but through the traditional comments on it. Intellectuals share the same way of dealing with the holy texts with the public. Most respondents who thought that circumcision is a religious order could not cite any holy text to substantiate their belief. Even some of them stated that they built their opinion on oral information that they heard from some clergy "sheikhs," or even from laypersons. Such respondents include persons with master degrees, or even Ph.D, i.e. they cannot take citation of references lightly when they write a paper. However, they accepted such negligence in their oral discourse, even if it implied serious attitudes or social decisions. Thus, they accepted amputation of part from their own children’s bodies, or tolerated such an amputation to other children, with the assumption that they "heard" that it is mentioned in the Qur'an or Sunna without critical revision of these texts by themselves. Some respondents even established their opinion on an erroneous analogy. For example, Dr. Nazmi argued that the detailed steps of prayers are mentioned in prophetic tradition "ahadeeth" not in the Qur'an. Thus, by analogy, circumcision should be an affirmed tradition of the prophet "Sunna" because it is mentioned in some prophetic tradition "ahadeeth," even if it is not mentioned in Qur'an. This argument neglected that Qur'an mentioned prayers, if not in details, while this is not the case with circumcision.
Circumcision conflicts with the Qur'anic verse...
Islamic scholars "Ulama" who studied ahadeeth concluded that one of the criteria of the non-validity of a prophetic saying is its conflict with reason or with Qur'an. Circumcision conflicts with the Qur'anic verse "Our God, not for naught Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire" (Al Umran 3: 191). Other scholars, like Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, hold the opinion that "it is not permissible to inflict pain upon a living creature except if he/she may gain a personal benefit which is greater than the pain" (Afifi 1971; Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh 2000). Moreover, medical, psychological, and social studies participated in defeating the beliefs about any benefits for circumcision (Denniston 1994, Goldman 1997, Zwang 1997, Goldman 1999, Cold and Taylor 1999, Boyd 1998). Thus, we are left only with the painful aspect of circumcision, and according to the Islamic principle "do no harm and accept no harm" "la darara wala dirar," unnecessary infliction of pain on others is not permissible.
This is evidence that medicine is mixed with the sacred.
The respondents not only sanctified holy texts, but also medical texts. This medical text sanctification appeared in the doctors’ belief that male circumcision is beneficial, just because it is mentioned in some medical textbooks. Thus, they dealt with the medical text as a holy text, i.e. it is difficult to subject it to critical thinking. This is evidence that medicine is mixed with the sacred. It also denotes that education (including medical education) implies learning information by heart. In such system, "reading" does not imply criticism of the text by the reader, and the lecturer is treated as a priest, who should not be challenged by the student. Thus, a learner gets the information once and forever, and considers it an absolute fact beyond doubt rather than a relative knowledge that may be trespassed by more updated research. These characteristics of the educational system explain the attitudes of the doctor respondents who refused to accept the results of the new research that described the function of the male prepuce, and insisted to defend MGM because they "read" about its benefits as undergraduate medical students some decades ago. This model of thinking signifies an inability to abandon the old and hesitancy to accept the new. Both are characteristics of conservatism.
Non-critical handling of old
medical texts by social activists
established the idea that male and female circumcision are
essentially different issues, so, it is forbidden to mix them.
Non-critical handling of old medical texts by social activists established the idea that male and female circumcision are essentially different issues, so, it is forbidden to mix them. Nonetheless, this is a non-substantiated idea. On the contrary, there are some documented field studies that suggest the opposite. Although respondents did not express their awareness of any similarities, and listed many differences between MGM and FGM; some anthropological researches described inter- and intra-cultural similarities between them. For example, John Kennedy described circumcision as a rite of passage for both boys and girls in Egyptian Nubia (Kennedy 1970). Hanny Lightfoot-Klein described the similarities between cultural justifications of male and female circumcision. She concluded that American justifications of MGM are similar to African justifications of FGM (Lightfoot-Klein 1997). The French sexologist Dr. Gerard Zwang concluded that FGM and MGM have a common objective: alteration of the natural anatomical structure of the sexual organs. He carried out a comparative study between the physical and sexual consequences of MGM and FGM and found them the same. Thus, Dr. Zwang concluded that in societies that perform both types of genital mutilation, it is impossible to eradicate FGM without eradication of MGM as well (Zwang 1997).
C) The effect of information on bias
The respondents’ belief that their own impressions and ideas are valid information beyond any doubt suggests the existence of a relationship between lack of sufficient and adequate information, and the creation of bias. For example, Nehal thought that historically prophet Ibrahim predated ancient Egyptians; hence, circumcision has begun as sacred divine order since its very beginning. However, contrary to Nehal’s belief, some historians estimated that prophet Ibrahim and his tribe have lived in a period about the time of the middle Pharonic dynasty (Al Khashaba 1999: 105). Thus, Ancient Egyptians predated Ibrahim, and hence, circumcision predated all monotheistic religions.
Accurate information about
male genital integrity
is neither distributed by the mass media,
nor studied in the faculties of medicine.
Another example of the role of lack of appropriate information in creating bias is the belief that most men all over the world are circumcised. Respondents who thought so willingly accepted circumcision in terms of their belief that it is a globally accepted norm by most or all people. However, this is hardly the case. A study about the groups that perform MGM (Jewish, Muslims, North Americans, and some African tribes) found that they comprise only 23% of the world population (NOHARMM n.d.), i.e., more than 75% of human males are intact, and they lead a successful sexual and reproductive life without any alteration of their natural genital anatomy. These responses show that respondents lack accurate knowledge of the world prevalence of MGM. This suggests that a barrier of silence surrounds MGM. Accurate information about male genital integrity is neither distributed by the mass media, nor studied in the faculties of medicine.
Another example is the respondents’ belief that the male prepuce has no function, or that it is a rigid non-retractable structure, hence, dirt accumulates under it in a way that makes it difficult to maintain male genital hygiene by ordinary washing. This belief explains why its holders accept MGM while they refuse FGM. People do not perceive the value of a part that they ignore its function, so, they will not be keen to keep it. The belief that such a part has a harmful function makes the situation worse. These beliefs result from a combination of lack of appropriate information and sanctification of old medical texts. For example, Dr. Nazmi denied any sexual function of the prepuce. He mentioned Masters and Johnson’s 1966 study about human sexuality as a reference. In this study, Masters and Johnson found that there is no difference between the perception of touch to the head of the penis between circumcised and intact men. Unlike MGM proponent doctors, Masters and Johnson’s study did not aim to promote MGM. On the contrary, they aimed to disprove the myth that was disseminated in the 1960s by the pro-circumcision doctors who said that circumcision enhances sexual sensitivity. Nevertheless, Masters and Johnson tested light touch on the penile head and shaft, and they did not test it on the different zones of the prepuce in intact men. Taylor’s study (1996) proved that the areas that were tested by Masters and Johnson have almost no specific receptors of light touch. Such receptors are abundant in the inner layer of the prepuce, which is cut in circumcision. Thus, it is logic for Masters and Johnson to miss a difference in feeling light touch between circumcised and intact men. Consequently, Masters and Johnson study is not accurate because it did not use an appropriate measure for this variable (Hammond 1998). On the other hand, an American field research found that men who were circumcised as adults complained from decreased sexual sensation after circumcision (Hammond 1997). As for respondents who imagined the prepuce as a rigid structure that is difficult to clean, they did not read the studies that described the mobility of the prepuce and its role in ensuring sexual pleasure for both partners (Bigelow 1992; Taylor 1996; Cold 1999) "see also appendix 3".
Patriarchal society teaches
men and women
to guard themselves from the other gender.
The justification of MGM by its capability to prevent cancer cervix in women was defeated (Wallerstein 1980; Paige 1978; Gollahar 1994). [see also: "Penile cancer, cervical cancer, and circumcision" at http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/cancer/] However, it attracted some female medical doctors to agree to MGM. I think that this justification is a patriarchal game. Patriarchal society teaches men and women to guard themselves from the other gender. Thus, each gender considers the other dangerous. Hence, it is easy for women to extend their inherited biases to imagine that the male prepuce is among the masculine dangers.
D) Ideological contradictions
Some respondents expressed their belief that the prepuce has no nerves. Nevertheless, they stated that children suffer pain on circumcision. There is apparent contradiction in this argument. No structure can be sensitive, and hence a person feels pain on its injury, without having nerve supply. However, such contradiction would disappear if the respondents’ observations and interpretation originate from two different positions of social action. Concrete evidence (signs of agony) takes place in the individual body, which feels and suffers. Respondents observed them from the position of an individual relationship between them and the children; thus, they acknowledged the children’s sufferings and stated that children feel pain on circumcision. Nonetheless, they interpreted their observation at the level of the symbolic social body, which should be subjected to cultural and social formation. Being symbolic, the social body is too abstract to experience concrete sensations. Thus, the adults who are assigned to circumcise boys in conformity to socio-cultural traditions do not take into consideration the sensitivity of the individual body (Scheper-Houghes 1987). Hence, interpretation of respondents’ observation originated from their position as senior adults in communal relationship with junior children, where both they and the children are representatives of abstract social categories rather than actual concrete individuals.
Some respondents discovered their ideological contradictions on spot during the interview. Nehal is a good example of such discovery of self-contradiction. She got scared when she briefly reflected upon the interpretation that occurred to her in an attempt to give circumcision a religious significance through associating it with crucifixion. Another example is Dr. Salma, who knew that intact European men are healthy; nevertheless, she never matched this fact against her old information about the potential health hazards of the prepuce.
II) Analysis of the respondents’ experiences with MGM
A) The ritualistic nature of MGM in Egypt
Circumcision is a complex
No single factor or motive can interpret its significance alone.
Circumcision is a complex ritual. No single factor or motive can interpret its significance alone. Anthropologists who studied circumcision in ancient cultures concluded that male circumcision might be a ritual imposed or welcomed by women. However, men also desire it because it gives the penis a more virile appearance by freeing it from its protective foreskin. Hence, a male child acquires symbolic sexual maturity by circumcision. Moreover, circumcision adds to the masculine power by its symbolic representation of the strongest feminine attribute: shedding of genital blood, which signifies fertility. Thus, circumcision acquires its significance as a rite of passage (Bettelheim 1954; Turner 1967; Voskuli 1994). However, Vincent Carapanzano disagrees with this view, and considers it a representation of a Western point of view about pre-modern communities. He interpreted circumcision as he witnessed it in Morocco from the perspective of the circumcised boy. Carapanzano concluded that there is no relation between a male child’s circumcision and his passage to a state of adulthood. Moreover, male circumcision does not cut a male child’s relationship with the world of women. Circumcision separates a child momentarily from women caregivers, just to return him to them in a different symbolic sexual state. So, Carapanzano calls circumcision in Morocco "a rite of return." He also describes it as a rite that is dissociated from its purpose, because it declares a passage to a different stage of life without real passage to such a stage. After circumcision, a boy remains the same as he already was before it, a small child who is sexually and socially immature (Carapanzano 1981).
The essential reason for the
to circumcise their sons is their fear of difference.
...This fear reveals the new function of circumcision
as a tool to control any tendency towards
rebellion or non-conformity.
From the Egyptian respondents’ views, I conclude that male circumcision as it is performed currently among modernized middle-class Egyptians is completely different from circumcision as it is originally performed in pre-modern cultures. The nearest forms to the traditional ritual of circumcision as described by Bettelheim (1954) and Turner (1967) are the circumcision experiences of Sa‘eed and Dr. Fahmi’s brother. However, the respondents’ description to their children’s circumcision as was done in the modern medical institution is very far from such traditional form. In modern circumcision, parents feel stress and anxiety. In most cases they either do not celebrate circumcision or they make a small limited party. In the traditional ritual celebration, as it is described by Sa‘eed, adult male and female relatives, and even the circumcised children themselves, rejoice because they still see the traditional significance of the ritual as a procedure to introduce the child to manhood. On the other hand, respondents who felt stress for their children’s circumcision – like Sa‘eed himself, his wife Dina, Dr. Afkar, Dr. Mona, Dr. Hussam and Dr. Yara – felt so because they no more believe in the original meaning of circumcision. It is for them a ritual dissociated from its original purpose, as Carapanzano describes it. They perform an old ritual, but they are modern-minded. Their ancestors celebrated without anxiety because they used to act according to a different epistemological paradigm far from science. This ancient paradigm is magic, which is consistent with the practice. This consistency was lost when circumcision was forced into medical sciences. Thus, circumcision in the modern context is nothing more than sticking to a traditional custom that lost its social significance as a rite of passage. Loss of this traditional significance leaves us with the real, concrete, painful essence of circumcision. Moreover, the essential reason for the intellectuals’ insistence to circumcise their sons is their fear of difference. This fear reveals the new function of circumcision as a tool to control any tendency towards rebellion or non-conformity. In other words, it is a tool that protects the despotic aspect of the tribal social organization that persists as vestiges into the modern nation state, especially in the family institution. Durkheim described the social relations in tribal communities as "mechanical solidarity," because they presume absolute similarity between all individual members of the community. Any disobedience, tendency towards individuality, or transgression of the similarity is considered destructive chaos that deserves severe punishment (Durkheim 1984). Egyptian Society lives a combination of modern and traditional norms. A multiplicity of time periods co-exist in the Egyptian social structure. In other words, modernization and traditionalism are in constant interaction in Egypt (Armbrust 1996). This modern-traditional construct is known as the combination of the ancient in its original form with the contemporary "Al Asala Wal Mo‘asara." This explains the specific form of MGM among the Egyptian middle-class intellectuals. Although it is performed in the modern medical institution, it retains some traditional features. It bears some similarity to the Moroccan ritual. Both include the tradition of returning the child to his mother in a new state.
...obeying her personal
feelings alone is considered an
impermissible individualistic chaos against the dominant traditions.
A recurrent model in the Egyptian ritual as respondents express it is calling the mother to hold the child just after his circumcision. Aisha’s case is peculiar in that it clearly represents the mother’s confusion between conformity to her expected role in an old traditional ritual, that requires her to welcome her child’s circumcision happily and hold him while he feels agonizing pain; and her modern mentality that tells her that she is expected to sympathize with the individual child’s pain. The conflict that was experienced by Aisha with her two sons’ circumcision reflects her awareness of the powerful social opposition to individuality. She said that she was distressed for her first son’s agony after circumcision. Nonetheless, distress alone was not enough to encourage her to revise her attitude towards circumcision of her second son. She said that it was necessary for her to have information about the function of the prepuce and the hazards of MGM in order to change her attitude. This statement shows that Aisha was aware that obeying her personal feelings alone is considered an impermissible individualistic chaos against the dominant traditions. Thus, MGM has a significance in terms of the politics of social control, which maintains the inherited tools of control through embellishing them with terms such as "Al Asala", that means "genuine traditions"; and transferring them to an accepted modern context, which is the modern medical institution. One condition that ensures the modern medical institution’s capability for guarding the continuity of MGM is that medical doctors – most like all Egyptian men – are circumcised. Circumcision of male infants assures circumcised doctors and fathers about their own psychological and sexual health (Goldman 1997).
B) The role of the medical institution
...the medical institution
to encourage parents to circumcise their sons.
Although one respondent (Dr. Mona) said that no doctor would circumcise an infant without his parents’ decision, testimonies of other respondents show that parents tend to postpone their infant son’s circumcision when doctors or nurses do not take the initiative to suggest circumcision of the baby. Medical personnel took such initiative with Dr. Mona’s and Dr. Nader’s younger sons, and with Dina and Sa‘eed’s son. Moreover, Dr. Nader’s testimony shows that the medical institution increasingly interferes to encourage parents to circumcise their sons. For example, when Dr. Nader’s first son was born, the doctors did not have the custom of suggesting circumcision to the parents. When his second son was born in the same hospital few years later, the doctor offered them a combined suggestion to vaccinate the child against tuberculosis and to circumcise him. Suggesting circumcision along with vaccination gives it the form of protective surgery.
(T)he surgeon, ...is
delegated by the community
to impose and implement conformity on the child
to turn him into an accepted community member.
In the first place, circumcision is not surgery. It is a socio-cultural ritual. The accompanying celebrations prove its cultural background. There is no surgery – whether necessary or not – where visitors congratulate the operated upon patient by saying: "hi… congratulations… you turned into a man" "Mabrouk… Ba’et Ragil," or where the parents celebrate after seven days "Sobou," like what Dr. Fahmi’s parents did after his brother’s circumcision. Significantly enough, all of these ritual performances and congratulations took place after medically performed circumcisions. In spite of all the medical myths about circumcision, and although they use modern surgical instruments to circumcise boys, medical doctors themselves do not deal with circumcision as a modern surgery. An example that supports this analysis is the professional malpractice of the doctor who circumcised Dr. Hussam and Dr. Yara’s son; and the behavior of Dr. Hussam towards them. The circumcising doctor neglected sterilization, which is a critical requirement for any modern surgery. Dr. Hussam, the father of the child who is also a physician, surrendered to the inappropriate behavior of the surgeon, and entered the surgery theater without sterilization. At that moment, these two doctors were performing a social and not a professional surgical behavior. They were acting as representatives of the traditional society: Dr. Hussam, the father who is sacrificing part of his son’s body in conformity to traditions; and the surgeon, who is delegated by the community to impose and implement conformity on the child to turn him into an accepted community member. Both objectives (sacrifice and imposing conformity) are not indications of modern professional surgery. Thus, it is not odd for these two doctors to neglect the obligatory medical professional criteria when they perform circumcision. Moreover, the surgeon in this case is a counterpart of the ancient traditional priest who observes and ensures obedience of traditions and offering sacrifices in ancient communities. Dr. Hussam, who felt the circumciser/surgeon’s authority in this context, could not express his opposition to the surgeon’s malpractices; moreover, he followed him in his professionally wrong practices. It is observed also that most doctors who circumcise boys are gynecologists and obstetricians, i.e. they studied female, not male, genitalia. This is also the situation in USA (Bigelow 1992). This may signify an archeological motive to alter male genitalia to give them fertility like females through shedding of genital blood (Bettelheim 1954).
Moreover, the medical institution promotes circumcision through its writings to the public readers. An evidence of the effect of such writings is Dr. Yara’s statement about Dr. Spock’s book. What she read in the translated Arabic version encouraged her to circumcise her son. In Egypt, new editions of translated books are not matched against the most updated edition of the same book in its original language. Authors may revise their points of view over time in terms of the most recent research findings. This is the case with Dr. Spock who changed his attitude from male circumcision in the 1976 edition of his book Baby and Child Care. He even wrote an article in 1989 about the reason of changing his attitude. He said that he used to advise parents to circumcise their infant sons in the previous editions of his manual since 1940, because the prevalence of the ideas that male circumcision protects wives against cancer cervix, and to avoid the psychological trauma if it is done later in life. However, he got convinced of the invalidity of this information, and if it happens that he may get a new baby son he will not circumcise him because he knows now that circumcision is not the wisest choice (Spock 1989). Nonetheless, the publisher of the Arabic version reprinted a translation of an old edition of Spock’s manual, and parents, who have no access to more updated English versions, think that the great pediatrician still recommends circumcision.
C) The backgrounds of doctors’ acceptance or refusal to circumcise males
Some respondent doctors refused to circumcise children as part of their professional practice. They mentioned different reasons for this attitude. Some of them (Dr. Hussam and Dr. Salma) had pure professional reasons, because they do not like surgery. Others (Dr. Laila and Dr. Mona) combined their dislike of surgery with a subjective humane emotion that refuses circumcision because it is a non-justified violation of the child’s body.
...when they circumcise a
child they deal with him,
not as human individual, but as a page on which the society
can inscribe its symbols.
This attitude of medical doctors is based on the general attitude
of the patriarchal society towards children.
Other respondent doctors accepted to circumcise children. Their attitude is based on their negligence of the individual body. They dealt with children at the level of the social body, which is symbolic and does not feel pain. In other words, when they circumcise a child they deal with him, not as human individual, but as a page on which the society can inscribe its symbols. In order to treat the children’s bodies at that social level, doctors should have a strong belief that a child is not a fully qualified human. Doctors’ negligence of the feeling of the child during circumcision suggests that they hold such belief. For example, Dr. Nader said that he couldn’t describe the feelings of the children whom he circumcised because they were not big children. They were infants who are too young to have any feelings. Dr. Yara expressed a similar belief. She said that she could hear the children whom she circumcised scream, however, she used to concentrate on what her hands do, and she never stopped to consider the feelings of the children. This attitude of medical doctors is based on the general attitude of the patriarchal society towards children. Male children, like women of all ages, are considered as a social category of a lower status than adult men. They are not accounted as independent individual subjects, but they are rather clients of the social group. Moreover, doctors are encouraged to accept such traditional social bias against children by their adoption of the medical myths about the benefits of circumcision and the hazards of the prepuce. They fall under the hegemony of these myths because they learnt them when they were in a weak position, as medical students under control of the authority of the medical education institution, which is one of the powerful conservative social institutions. In conclusion, respondent doctors who refused to do male circumcision at all, like Dr. Laila; or who did a few circumcisions and then decided to stop, like Dr. Khadiga were motivated to take this attitude because they sympathized with children as individuals. On the other hand, those who did a lot of circumcisions, like Dr. Yara and Dr. Nazmi, neglected the individuality of the child, while they took all other social and mythical considerations into their accounts.
D) Mechanisms that promote acceptance of MGM
Analysis of the experiences of all respondents – from medical or other professions – reveals the mechanisms that encouraged them to circumcise their own or other children. Following is a description of these mechanisms:
a) Dissociation of experiences
The main feature of this mechanism is that the person separates her/his concrete life experiences from their traditional beliefs, even if they are contradictory. One example is Sa‘eed who lived without circumcision for 11 years, and he never suffered from urinary tract problems except after circumcision. Nonetheless, Sa‘eed was worried and afraid that dirt may accumulate under his son’s prepuce and harm him, so, he circumcised him at one year of age. On the other hand, a person’s skepticism about the validity of circumcision may start with observation of the contradiction between the widespread traditional beliefs about circumcision and his/her concrete experience of circumcision. One example is Abu el Fotuh, who expressed his shock and astonishment from the prevalent belief that circumcision is painless and harmless, just like cutting nails, while he observed that his son’s face flushed with distress during his circumcision. Then, he started to doubt his previous beliefs about male circumcision. Even an absolute MGM opponent like Dr. Laila said that if a senior surgeon performs the procedure of circumcision it would be less cruel, in spite of the fact that she compares a child who is being circumcised to a rabbit that is being slaughtered. This means that she dissociates the bloody scene that she observed from her belief that medical practice makes perfect.
b) Naturalization of the pathological signs
This mechanism implies the interpretation of a pathological sign as natural. Doctor respondents alone used this mechanism for the justification of their own and other children’s circumcisions. For example, Dr. Afkar interpreted her son’s and nephew’s bleeding after circumcision as natural. She used the same mechanism to justify children’s pain after circumcision. She said:
"They screamed and were in pain, but I had a feeling that this is natural, a natural experience they have to go through, one of the natural painful obligatory experiences in order to belong to the social group, just like piercing girls’ ears
This justification is also based on the idea that similarity between the tribe members is necessary, and that younger individuals should tolerate painful experiences to please their seniors. Both are characteristics of pre-modern social organization (Durkheim 1984).
Dr. Yara also used this mechanism to explain her son’s anxiety after circumcision. Her interpretation of his behavioral change attempted to free circumcision from any doubt. She explained the baby’s anxiety as a natural sign of development that has nothing to do with circumcision. She used quantitative methods to validate her analysis of her son’s qualitative behavioral changes. She stated that according to quantitative methods, it is impossible to find a link between two variables when there are other variables that may affect the constant one. Thus, she hypothesizes that naturalization of the signs of anxiety that appear after circumcision is a scientific argument.
c) Pathologization of physiological body structures and functions
...a result of flawed
studies, done by doctors who included a majority
of Jewish and circumcised men.
The belief that the prepuce is dirty and is a cause of various types of infections and cancers makes it easy to take the decision of its removal at any price, even in exchange of pain and suffering for the child and his parents. This belief is based on the medical writings that accumulated since the nineteenth century, as a result of flawed studies, done by doctors who included a majority of Jewish and circumcised men. (Wallerstein 1980; Hodges 1995). However, this mechanism is also based on the belief that anything which is out of its traditional place or category is polluted, and hence, dangerous (Douglas 1965). Thus, the male prepuce is considered polluted because it has feminine features (soft, passive, and protective). Cutting it from the masculine body could only counteract its polluting effect. The same applies to FGM. The female body is purified by cutting the clitoris, which has masculine characteristics (rigid, active and invasive). Both male and female circumcision are called "tahara" i. e. purification. Circumcisers surround circumcised male and female children with all anti-pollution symbols for the purpose of purification. They dress them in white (as what happened with respondents), feed them ritually pure food, or fumigate them (Boddy 1989). The white gown is a visual analogue of the verbal expression of circumcision as "tahara."
d) Privileging culture over nature
This attitude of disrespect
of nature and privileging culture
is a typical well-established patriarchal attitude.
One of the most stressful conditions that pushed Dr. Yara to circumcise her son against her critical thinking about circumcision is people’s argument that he will grow as the only "abnormal" man in the society. The dominant cultural norms consider the natural masculine body structure abnormal. According to these norms, normalization is achieved by cultural interference to alter nature by cutting the prepuce. This attitude of disrespect of nature and privileging culture is a typical well-established patriarchal attitude. It is the basis of discrimination against women because they are nearer to nature and more far from culture than men (Moore 1988). In the case of male circumcision, the discrimination is against symbolic instead of actual femininity.
e) Generalization of rare cases
The prepuce is prone to rare accidental injuries, e.g. if it is trapped in the trousers’ zipper. In such case, some doctors cut the injured prepuce, while others prefer to break the zipper and give medical treatment to the injured part. However, Dr. Khadiga justified the necessity of infant male circumcision by that during her work in a hospital in England, a man came with a zipper injury, and the British doctors elected to circumcise him. From this incidence, Dr. Khadiga inferred that the male prepuce has no important function; hence, it could be safely sacrificed, even without its being injured, in order to avoid future injury. Thus, she inappropriately generalized this rare case to promote mass infant circumcision.
E) Circumcision and gender power politics
(C)ircumcision prepares a
male to be the power holder
in his relationship to women.
Dr. Mona expressed her awareness of the gender power political aspect of the greeting phrase that was said to her son after his circumcision: "This time you are injured, but you will injure in the future." This means that circumcision prepares a male to be the power holder in his relationship to women. The American psychologist Ronald Goldman has a similar interpretation of circumcision as a cultural practice. He argues that one of the reasons of persistence of MGM in USA after it faded away in Europe is that the American men are socialized to be aggressive and violent. Circumcision is an accepted part of such socialization. Goldman concludes that adults will do to the society what was done to them in their infancy and childhood (Goldman 1997).
Women willingly offer male
children to the patriarchal society
as a sign of their acceptance of submission
to patriarchal gender power politics.
There is also a common aspect of some respondents’ experiences. Whether circumcision was done in a modern medical context, like Dr. Mona’s sons, or in a traditional context, like Sa‘eed’s own circumcision; women played an active role in the implementation of circumcision. Female nurses suggested circumcision of the baby to Dr. Mona when she showed some tendency to postpone it, and the female members of Sa‘eed’s family used to hold boys tightly in order to fix them for circumcision. Such female collaboration in circumcision signifies that male circumcision as it is performed now in Egypt carries a very ancient cultural feature as a tool to separate male children from women’s world and introducing them to the world of men (Turner 1967, Turner 1985; Hastings 1980). Women willingly offer male children to the patriarchal society as a sign of their acceptance of submission to patriarchal gender power politics.
Analysis of the respondents’ experiences reveals a difference between the reaction of men and women; and the old and the young towards MGM. This is evidence of the relationship between MGM, gender politics, and social control. Analysis of the responses of the four couples towards their sons’ circumcision shows that mothers are more expressive of their perception of the sons’ sufferings from circumcision than fathers. Mothers are also less careful or more hesitant to let circumcision be done than fathers. However, after a period from the actual implementation of circumcision, mothers equally try to justify circumcision and interpret its consequences as harmless. The respondents’ testimonies show a relation between age and rank and denial of circumcision hazards. The more senior respondents – in terms of age, or social, or professional ranks – expressed more denial to the fact that male circumcision is painful and unnecessary. This attitude is an additional sign of the relationship between circumcision and patriarchal gender power politics. In patriarchal social organization, aging and possession of leadership offices or ranks imply possession of power. Such powerful individuals usually sympathize with the weak within limits that do not threaten their status as responsible for social control (Janeway 1980).
F) Respondents’ experiences and circumcision myths
The respondents’ experiences reveal the mythic nature of the widespread beliefs about circumcision. One of these beliefs is that circumcision prevents urinary tract infection. However, Sa‘eed who lived with an intact body till age eleven never suffered from urinary tract infections except after his circumcision. Another belief is that children do not feel pain as sharply as adults, and that male circumcision is a safe procedure, and the boy later on in life does not remember it. However, the experiences of both Dr. Yara’s son and Aisha’s two sons’ prove the opposite. Respondent mothers stated that these children suffered from shock and pain. Moreover, Dr. Yara’s son showed signs of anxiety for many months after circumcision. The son of Dr. Salma’s friend, Dr. Mona’s sons, Dina’s son, and Aisha’s sons experienced change of the sleep and feeding patterns after circumcision. The signs that are experienced by those children match the signs that are described by Goldman (1997). The statements of respondent doctors show also that infant circumcision is painful. Dr. Fahmi’s statement shows that local anesthesia is not effective. Dr. Nazmi’s statement shows that doctors are aware of the hazards of general anesthesia. Some respondent doctors observed different degrees of bleeding after circumcision. Bleeding was mild in some cases, like with Dr. Afkar’s son and nephew, and severe in other cases, to the extent that Dr. Khadiga’s senior residents recommended blood analysis before male circumcision to avoid the recurrence of such severe dangerous bleeding.
Moreover, the actual practical experience of medical doctors defeats their theoretical justifications for circumcision as a sort of surgery. All children who were circumcised by respondent doctors presented with no pathological signs or symptoms that may justify administration of any medical treatment, let alone surgery. All children showed signs of distress during and after circumcision, even some doctors observed complications. Moreover, circumcising doctors did not make any pre-operative analyses, nor did they give anesthesia as they do with other surgeries. With negligence of all surgical prerequisites, we are left only with cut. Cut without all other terms of surgery is a ritualistic and not a surgical cut.
(C)ircumcision does not
serve the main objective
mentioned by respondents: to make all males look the same.
One of the modern ways to promote circumcision is the myth of the necessity of similarity between the child and other male members of the community, especially his father. However, according to the respondents’ description of their children’s circumcision, there is no standard degree of circumcision as it is performed in Egypt to make all circumcised men look similar. In some cases the cut is less radical than others. In other cases, the circumcision scar has a ragged or scalloped shaped edge. Thus, circumcision does not serve the main objective mentioned by respondents: to make all males look the same. The only common aspect among circumcised men is that they experienced genital cut. This is additional evidence that circumcision is not a surgery with standardized degrees based on systematic scientific knowledge. It is done randomly according to each circumciser’s belief or taste.
(T)he surgeon who
circumcises boys is playing the role
of the ancient priest/magician who implements the bloody ritual.
Another evidence of the ritualistic nature of circumcision is Abu el Fotouh’s statement that it is better to impose circumcision on the individual because if it is left for him to decide according to his free will, he will feel embarrassed to ask a doctor to circumcise him. Of course, no one feels embarrassed to ask for any surgery. The statement that asking for circumcision is embarrassing suggests that it is a bloody secret ritual not a preventive or therapeutic procedure. Consequently, I suggest that the surgeon who circumcises boys is playing the role of the ancient priest/magician who implements the bloody ritual.
III) Analysis of the respondents’ attitudes towards circumcision
The respondents’ attitudes towards MGM could be categorized into two main groups. One category includes respondents who either promoted absolute continuity of MGM, or thought it is wise to keep silent about it. The other category includes respondents who thought that it is necessary to raise MGM as an important issue worthy of being revised, and that it is possible to discuss with people the value of respecting their sons’ bodily integrity. Each group mentioned justifications that revealed some biases. Such biases are deeply rooted in gender power politics, which are the basis of the different attitudes.
The group who promoted the continuity of MGM show characteristics of the professional intellectual (Gramsci 1971; Said 1996). Their attitude is based on three main ideologies. Conformity with the dominant and well-established social traditions is their key ideology. Second is the traditional feminist ideology (female chauvinism), which considers gender issues as women’s issues in the first place. Third is the pragmatic policy. The ideologies of conformity and female chauvinism have a common characteristic. Both deal with the body at the symbolic social level, not at the concrete individual level (Scheper-Hughess 1987). The pragmatic ideology implies reticence to handle difficult issues. The pragmatic measure of prioritization of adopting issues is not how fair the issue is, but how much the social arena is prepared for struggle.
On the other hand, respondents who agreed to raise the issue of MGM show the features of the free thinker (the amateur thinker according to Edward Said (1996)). They do not fear the idea of opposition to the dominant traditions, and criticism of the well-established value system. They are ready to venture with a new, vague experience in order to defend a fair cause.
A) The traditional feminist attitude (female chauvinism)
Dr. Afkar is one representative of this attitude. She justified her reticence to raise the issue of MGM by that unlike FGM; men do not complain about MGM. She imagined that men are freer to express their sexual problems than women. She did not deny the existence of sexual problems among men, particularly among educated middle-class men, however, she negated any relation between MGM and such problems. She explained that the fire of knowledge curbs biological functions. She added that it is not women’s role to adopt men’s issues. Accordingly, even if men have complaints, they have to raise their issues by themselves. She justified this attitude by that men are more capable of achievement than women. I argue that Dr. Afkar’s justifications signify that the traditional feminist attitude that favors women’s reticence to raise men’s issues is based on an acquired feeling of helplessness that makes women think that they are less capable of achievement than men. Such feeling is dominant in traditional patriarchal society, and it seems that even feminists retain some of its traces. Moreover, feminists retain the feeling that they are delegated by the society to implement the muted gender issues (Janeway 1980; Abd el Salam 1998). This sense of delegation appears in Dr. Afkar’s idea that when a father leaves the decision of MGM to the mother, it means that he leaves it to society’s opinion. Thus, a mother is not free to select to leave her son without circumcision, because she is not representing herself in this situation, and she has actually no personal say in the matter, even if it appears on the surface that she is the decision maker as regards her son’s circumcision.
Dr. Khadiga is another respondent with a traditional feminist attitude. She thought that MGM should not be raised except after all FGM proponents stop to attack strugglers against FGM. She added that because she is a feminist, she is not ready to bear confrontation of MGM proponents as she did with FGM. She stated that she is ready to stand against any harmful practice for women because women as a category do not find sufficient social care, but she is not ready to do the same for men.
These traditional feminist ideas that express reticence to raise the issue of MGM because it is a men’s issue and they are not men signify that they adopt gender segregation at the political level. They think that they are responsible for defending women only, and that men have to defend themselves. Thus, when one of such feminists agrees to let her son be circumcised, she does not deal with his body at the individual level, as the body of her baby son who needs her protection and kind care. She rather treats him at the level of the symbolic social body, the body of the threatening male, with whom she is in conflict (Scheper-Hughes 1987). This attitude is similar to the attitude of fathers who accept to let their daughters be circumcised. Traditional feminists take also the pragmatic considerations into their accounts. They see advocacy against FGM as a call that will bring a change in the social politics for the interest of women. On the other hand, they think that MGM eradication will not bring such a change. Women’s adoption of such accounts will be impossible without negligence of their children’s sufferings, and dealing with a male child as a symbolic of men who control women, hence they do not sympathize with him. This logic is similar to male legislators’ logic. When they manage personal status legislation they consider the wife, who should be controlled by the husband, not the daughters and sisters who should be protected by fathers and brothers.
(F)eminist respondents used
to underestimate the sexual hazards
of FGM in order to avoid hurting the feelings of circumcised women,
and because there are not enough studies about FGM sexual consequences.
Traditional feminist attitude implies also indirect pressure on men. Some traditional feminist respondents stated that they would back the issue of men’s genital integrity when men express explicitly that they experience sexual problems because of circumcision. As long as men keep silent, women should not raise this issue. Nonetheless, these respondents are well aware that women kept silent for a long period about FGM. They did not talk except when they were encouraged to do so. Moreover, these feminist respondents used to underestimate the sexual hazards of FGM in order to avoid hurting the feelings of circumcised women, and because there is not enough studies about FGM sexual consequences. However, when men were concerned, these feminists required them to say openly that they had sexual problems because of circumcision. The whole attitude signifies that traditional feminists consider gender issues in general, and the issue of genital mutilation in particular, as issues of conflict between men and women in the first place, and not as issues of men’s and women’s equal rights. The young boys and girls suffer the results of such a conflict, because they are the ones who suffer injury and pain.
This part of the traditional
feminist respondents’ argument is true,
but the problem is that it represents half the truth...
I conclude also that feminists fight FGM at a general ideological rather than a specific humane level. This explains their reticence to attack MGM, because such a struggle will not serve their ideological ends. They do not deny that MGM, like FGM, implies a degree of genital mutilation. However, in spite of this similar aspect, they see a specific ideological difference between MGM and FGM. They consider FGM as an essential part of a whole system of female subjugation, while this is not the case with MGM. For example, FGM is linked to the female body taboos, deprivation of young girls from play, and limiting women’s mobility in the public space. Thus, the adoption of the ideological approach in dealing with the issue of genital integrity explains feminists’ reticence to address MGM. This part of the traditional feminist respondents’ argument is true, but the problem is that it represents half the truth, because the ideological approach means also that feminists do not see a link between the patriarchal society’s control of the weak children’s bodies in order to create the patriarchal style of the feminine/masculine images; and the socio-political control of women. That is why such ideological approach has no space for the individual body that suffers, irrelevant from the gender of its owner, because the ideological approach reduces the body to its symbolic level, with no consideration to its concrete human reality (Scheper –Hughes 1987).
a) Development of a different feminist awareness
There are evidences of an emerging different feminist awareness, which considers that feminism is not all about realization of pragmatic interests of women as a gender category and negligence of all other means of political control of other weak parties. The well known feminist phrase "The private is political" applies also to all weak social categories, whose priorities are usually pushed to the end of the list within patriarchal power politics (Smith 1987). Male and female children are among such weak groups. New feminist awareness is acquired gradually in the context of fieldwork and ongoing revision and criticism of one’s attitudes. When I analyze my own attitude towards MGM I find that I acquired awareness of the issue gradually, just like respondents who showed a tendency towards revision of their attitude. For example, Dr. Laila is a respondent who worked against FGM for a long time, without thinking of carrying out a similar struggle against MGM, till she developed awareness of the issue, and started to change her attitude. I remember a similar self-experience. I was working to prepare a manual on reproductive health with a male colleague. He suggested describing the male prepuce as "the piece of skin which is cut on circumcision." I objected to this definition. After discussion, he got convinced and canceled it. However, when the manual was published, I noticed that the accompanying illustration was of a circumcised male. My initial lack of attention to this illustration indicates that I had an incomplete awareness of the issue, because I objected to the symbolic written words, but I overlooked the more concrete drawn illustration.
Access to more updated
information is a factor that helps the development
of new feminist awareness of male bodily integrity.
Access to more updated information is a factor that helps the development of new feminist awareness of male bodily integrity. Such information may support feminists to change the basis of their attitude, from the traditional belief to the modern knowledge system. My analysis is that without updated information, feminist intellectuals will remain prone to the effect of the hegemonic gender power politics. An indicator of this effect is Dr. Laila’s old attitude. She used to face other doctors’ attack of her objection to MGM with silence, because she was not yet armed with information in order to challenge their hegemony. Her objective observation of the severity of MGM was not sufficient to make her insist to bring an end to a well-established tradition of the medical institution, which is entitled to enjoy hegemony over the human body.
...it would not work if
feminists defended women’s bodily integrity
while they accept violation of men’s bodies...
Dr. Salma’s responses also show signs of emerging new feminist awareness. When she knew the updated information about the function of the prepuce she had to choose one of two options. The first option is to disseminate these information on principle of justice and fairness. The other is that feminists should not carry out this task alone. The first option is based on Dr. Salma’s belief that she should not keep silent towards torture and physical violation of any human group. She said that it would not work if feminists defended women’s bodily integrity while they accept violation of men’s bodies, because defense of bodily integrity is part from a wider comprehensive worldview that adopts the perspective of the weaker party in any bilateral relationship. She argued that the basis of this worldview is that if the world is organized according to terms that fulfill the needs and protect the rights of the weakest social categories, most probably, those who rank higher on the social hierarchy will be sure to get their rights as well. Thus, social security will extend to cover all people. Dr. Salma’s second option was an expression of her anger. She was angry because in any issue that needs the adoption of a radical attitude; only feminists and political Islamists take effective action. All other social groups, including men, do not actively share any radical attitude. That is why she thought that it is necessary for men to move and take the initiative in the issue of MGM
The hesitation of feminist activists to fight MGM "because they are not men" is not an unjustified attitude. Men and women in the Egyptian society do not know each other well so as women can safely take the initiative to fight for an issue related to male sexuality, in spite of the fact that the opposite already happened. The first advocates against FGM in Egypt since the 1920s were male doctors. Women’s fear to take the initiative against MGM could be explained by that women imagine that men are more sensitive than women to their sexuality. Thus, women imagine that raising the issue of MGM will cause sexual panic among men at the national level. They did not imagine the possibility of a similar situation among women when they raised the issue of FGM. Feminist activists warned me a lot against dissemination of my information on the assumption that knowing it will hurt men. Giving my feminist friends reasoning the benefit of doubt, I hesitated for a long time to disseminate my information about the functions of the prepuce to my male friends and acquaintances. My hesitance is based on that I am a non-circumcised woman. My experience with circumcision is not a concrete personal one. I got my information through reading and fieldwork. Surface observation tells me that women suffer and complain from circumcision, while men do not. However, deeper analysis of field observations suggests that this is not the full truth. For example, in one workshop about FGM a group of girls from a non-governmental organization sang a song about a girl begging her mother to spare her the suffering of circumcision:
Why do you circumcise me and hurt my feelings,
This injury will leave a big scar in my soul.
"Leih titahrini we ti’zi masha‘ri,
Yefdal garh kebeer gowaya"
Males are socialized to
submit to the non-written social instructions
that men should deny any hurting experience in general,
and the painful memory of circumcision in particular.
The words were written by one of their male colleagues. Before writing the song, he listened to the memories of his wife and female colleagues about their circumcision experience, and represented them in the song. The author of the song was sitting beside me while the girls were singing. At this part of the song, he sighed and said: "We also experience circumcision and are injured." Then he paused for a moment and continued: "But our circumcision does not result into hurting our feelings." I have an interpretation of his instantaneous retreat to denial. The whole situation indicates that males are socialized to submit to the non-written social instructions that men should deny any hurting experience in general, and the painful memory of circumcision in particular. The young man was encouraged by the moment of open emotional expression to express his discomfort about MGM, only to retreat soon to denial. Denial restores to him his image as a man who should accept his circumcision. Moreover, the fact that he is the writer of the song indicates his hegemony over his women folk by giving them voice, and bringing their expression of their private intimate feelings to the public space. If he publicly confessed his equality with women in being hurt, he will lose this symbolic hegemony.
B) Attitude of conformity
a) Conformity to the dominant socio-cultural traditions
Holders of this attitude, like Dr. Hussam and Dr. Hazem, accepted the continuity of MGM because it conforms to the average social norms, i.e. it goes with the behaviors of average people. According to these norms, the measure of acceptance or refusal of any bodily practice is the extent of its prevalence among average persons, irrespective of the quality of the practice in question. Thus, such respondents refused to let any son of theirs to have a tattooing while they accept their circumcision, in spite of the fact that circumcision is usually forced on the individual, whereas he chooses tattooing by his free will. This means that conformity as they adopt it is of a quantitative and not of a qualitative nature.
b) Conformity and the emergence of a new intellectual awareness
Conformity is not limited to the observation of the dominant middle class socio-cultural traditions. It implies as well following the traditional cultural paradigm of the educated middle class intellectuals, which is based on modernity and enlightenment. Modernity in general does not value adaptation of humans to nature. It rather values submission of nature to theory and technology. Thus, it takes a lot of time and effort for modernists to revise old theories and techniques in terms of new discoveries of the natural structures and functions. For example, Dr. Hazem, who is a conformist, said: "Humans have always changed nature to impose its conformity with theory." Nevertheless, Dr. Hazem is aware of the limitations of the modernist paradigm, for example, the destructive impact of its environmental applications. He stated that such awareness got intellectuals to take a stance, and re-think their modernist attitudes towards the natural environment. He added that he can consider my research a post-modernist study because its essential argument is about why we change nature, and is based on a new belief system that refuses forced violation of nature. Analysis of Dr. Hazem’s statements reveals that valuing conformity is elective. Although Dr. Hazem was well aware of the limitations of modernity, he elected to accept interference with the natural children’s bodies, while he disagreed with the interference with the surrounding nature. My interpretation is that the attitude that agrees with cultural interference with nature combines modern and traditional reasoning. It is based on the traditional patriarchal conceptualization of the ego/alter relationship as a relationship of submission/conformity, in contrast to the opposite attitude that implies interaction with nature and acceptance of the other.
Electivity shows that conformists, unlike traditional feminists, are not likely to change attitude towards MGM through getting updated information. Information that implies a call to accept the other takes time to settle before they can help to develop a new world view different from the paradigm of submitting nature to preset cultural theories. This interpretation is particularly relevant when the new information may compromise the self-image of the conformist intellectuals. For example, if a circumcised man happens to know that the prepuce is important to sexual pleasure, he may insist to defend circumcision. One reason of this predicted behavior is that it expresses refusal of the different other, and that it is part of the denial, which is a psychological defense mechanism of one’s self image. Some respondents started as conformists who agree to MGM as a well-established tradition, then they changed their attitude after deep reflective thinking. Information was not the factor that encouraged them to change attitude. For example, Abu el Fotouh is still unable to believe in the validity of the new information about the sexual function of the male prepuce, however, he changed his attitude, taking into consideration that all humans are entitled to the right to genital integrity, irrespective of age or gender. I suggest that this ex-conformist respondent changed his attitude "in spite of" the information, not "because of" the information.
(F)eminists are more
probable to change attitude
on the basis of updated information.
The story of the child Simsim (see chapter 3) is a strong evidence of the inclination of intellectuals to conformity. It indicates also that feminists are more probable to change attitude on the basis of updated information. Before getting updated information, feminist respondents who knew Simsim attributed his problems to one reason only: lack of circumcision, without consideration of any other possible interpretations. For example, shy children of both genders can refuse to undress in front of others. However, because these respondents already knew that Simsim is intact, they interpreted his probable shyness by his feeling different from other boys. Another example is Dr. Salma’s interpretation of Simsim’s regression to nocturnal enuresis when his mother traveled and left him. Dr. Salma suggested that such regressive behavior is a result of Semsem’s reluctance to let other family members help him with using the bathroom, and she did not consider the probability that wetting his bed is a sign of Simsim’s anxiety because of his mother’s absence. However, after Dr. Salma knew the updated information she changed attitude. Although she still thinks that Simsim’s behaviors are due to his lack of circumcision, she started to think about other solutions to his problems. Instead of recommending circumcision, she suggested giving him psychological support and raising his self-awareness of the advantage of his intact status.
c) Conformity to medical myths
Medical justifications that
push people to seek circumcision
for baby sons are an example of modern medical myths.
Science is the current epistemological paradigm of our time. Theories are now the scientific meta-narratives, compared to myths, which have been the ancient meta-narratives when magic was the dominant epistemological paradigm. However, each time period produces its own myths, since a myth is "a tool by which a society organizes its world, manages its problems, keeps a self image, and ensures that all of its members adopt this image" (Crip 1999: 208). In this sense, myths not only exist in ancient writings only, but they exist also in medical texts, feminist writings, and other modern discourses. My view is that myth is any oral or written ideological discourse that does not enjoy scientific methodological reliability and validity. Accordingly, the modern medical institution has its own myths. Medical justifications that push people to seek circumcision for baby sons are an example of modern medical myths. Some nineteenth century doctors concluded these justifications from the results of flawed studies. The methodologies of these studies were criticized (Wallerstein 1980; Gollaher 1994; Paige 1978), however, MGM proponent doctors still promote and generalize them. Critical revision of these studies suggests that they are myths in the ancient sense, not scientific theories. The statements of medical doctor respondents are practical evidences of the invalidity of such studies. All respondents who circumcised male children stated that the children presented as healthy boys with no pathological signs. These testimonies indicate the mythical nature of the "medical indications" for MGM.
This justification is part
of the social politics that serve to define
each gender as dangerous to the other, and hence help
to perpetuate tension between men and women.
One "medical indication" for MGM deserves more analysis from the perspective of patriarchal gender power politics. It is recommending male circumcision to prevent cancer of the uterine cervix. In the final analysis, this justification for MGM means that a natural male body is dangerous to women. To make it safe, society must interfere to alter it. This justification is part of the social politics that serve to define each gender as dangerous to the other, and hence help to perpetuate tension between men and women. When women present their male children to the surgeon’s scalpel to eliminate this "danger," they implicitly collaborate in the replication of this type of gender power politics. Following is an elaborate analysis of the mechanism by which MGM serves the ends of patriarchal gender power politics. In a previous study (Abd el Salam 1998) I concluded that men are the main power holders in patriarchal societies. They are keen to keep their dominant position, which will be impossible within a context of healthy and loving relationship with women. Thus, to keep such a non-egalitarian relationship, men should perceive women as a dangerous gender. I add here that the continuation of this situation requires that women perceive men as a dangerous gender as well. Body and sexuality are good tools to establish this perception of the other gender. Hence, MGM and FGM with their promoting myths could be effective tools to carve, not only the feminine and masculine bodies, but also images in a way that establishes the type of gender relationships that serve the ends of the patriarchal social system. When the nineteenth century doctors started to promote MGM as a preventive surgery, it was difficult for the intact adult men of the time to accept the application of such surgical rituals to their own bodies. However, it was easy for them to accept it for the bodies of their sons. According to traditional patriarchal family relationships, sons are part of the property of the patriarch who heads the family. Moreover, a boy is both male and young; hence, he is an appropriate and pliable object to fulfill the gender political objective of this symbolic wound. I consider that MGM still plays this role in our modern time, as effectively as it did in previous times, the role of continuous perception of each gender that the other is a threat.
Medicine is a social
institution that is concerned with
the preservation of the traditional patriarchal gender politics.
In earlier social organization, where magic was the predominant epistemological paradigm, the traditional priest/healer played a double role of theorization and implementation of circumcision. When religion became the dominant epistemological paradigm, this role was split. Theorizers became the religious clergy (Jewish rabbi, Christian priests, and Muslim sheikhs), while implementation was left to traditional healers, such as health barbers and Jewish mohels. In modern societies, with science as the dominant epistemological paradigm, the role of controlling bodies to preserve the gender power balance moved from the religious to the medical institution. Medical institution gradually possessed the double role of theorization and implementation of circumcision. No matter the type of the epistemological paradigm, MGM always served perpetuation of patriarchal gender power politics through stressing women’s belief in the traditional dangerous image of the masculine body. This is achieved at the symbolic level by defining the male prepuce as dirty, infectious, or even lethal to women, and at the social level by turning the issue of MGM into a muted taboo, which is forbidden to be questioned or problematized. In a previous study of female sexuality (Abd el Salam 1998), I found that body symbolism is interlaced with social politics that affect women’s everyday life, particularly in issues related to sexuality. It seems that the same is true with all rituals with relation to the male body and sexuality as well. Thus, every one accepts amputation of male babies’ prepuces in obedience to the theories which were created by the medical institution. Medicine is a social institution that is concerned with the preservation of the traditional patriarchal gender politics (Foucault 1975). Medicine uses its theories to defeat and intimidate any one who cares about children’s suffering and dares to question the medical myths about the validity of circumcision and the numbed sensitivity of children to pain. Conformists are overwhelmed by medical theorization. They mute the voice of their conscience, neglect their good common sense, and surrender to conformity to the hegemony of the dominant epistemological paradigm: "science."
Medical doctors will not give up this privilege easily.
Modern western society gave medical doctors the privilege of getting children to pay the price of conformity in flesh and blood. Medical doctors will not give up this privilege easily. In Egypt, Ancient Egyptian priests had this privilege. Over time, it moved to their successors; traditional circumcisers and health barbers. Modernization of medicine in contemporary Egypt followed Western medicine. Thus, medical doctors took over the implementation of circumcision. In ancient communities, MGM was a rite of initiation of boys into adult manhood. It had no medical or surgical significance. In modern/postmodern societies, circumcision retained its function as a tool to carve males’ bodies to conform to the patriarchal conceptualization of masculinity. However, this function moved to the background, giving way to the medical justifications, which surfaced and viewed circumcision as a surgery with no ritualistic or initiation significance. Introduction of MGM to medicine made it possible for such an ancient procedure that had developed in ancient, simply organized, pre-modern communities to continue in more sophisticated modern community.
Medical students and young
graduates get such training in a context
of power relations where they are the weak party.
Medicalized circumcision reveals also the power relations within the institution of medical education. These power relations enhance turning medical students into tools to implement circumcision, which is a painful and a medically unnecessary procedure, though it has traditional social significance. Medical students and young doctors are trained to mechanically perform aggressive therapeutic techniques against what they consider as pathological phenomena according to their education. Mechanical performance here means that they should dissociate themselves emotionally from the person on whose body they apply their techniques, since emotional dullness is considered a feature of scientists (Chamberlain 1991). Medical students and young graduates get such training in a context of power relations where they are the weak party. It is not easy for them to challenge their professors and senior specialists. Thus, they identify with their senior professionals rather than with the sick or healthy individuals who come under their medical care. For example, young doctors are trained to perform some "minor" surgeries without anesthesia, with stable hands and without emotional sympathy with the suffering individual. Sometimes, such situation is imposed on a young doctor because of lack of facilities, such as local anesthetics, for emergency sutures. In other times, senior surgeons order junior doctors to do so because they believe that some categories of people are less sensitive to pain than others, so they can be operated upon without anesthesia. This belief has a background in the nineteenth century medicine, when anesthesia was a new discovery. In these early years, anesthesia was given only to whom doctors considered as members of sensitive social classes or categories and was denied to the less acculturated or civilized groups, who were believed to be more tolerant to pain (Chamberlain 1991). I have a significant personal experience in this context. When I was a newly graduate medical doctor, a senior surgeon convinced me to remove an infected nail of a soldier without anesthesia, on the assumption that he will tolerate pain. However, the soldier fainted from pain. After this accident, I insisted not to perform any minor surgery except if the hospital administration provided sufficient and adequate anesthesia for the patients. This example shows the extent of the hegemony of the institution of medical education. It makes junior doctors neglect their theoretical knowledge and human emotions. This is also a good example of the context of power relations, which are the basis of doctors’ adoption to the circumcision myths.
"Study these dirty
parts and their surgical management carefully,
because half of your income will be gained
through performing such surgeries."
Moreover, the institution of medical education provides medical students with biases and interests along with theoretical information and practical techniques. Medical students learn that excretory organs are dirty by definition, and that operating upon them serves their financial interests. For example, one of my surgery professors used to advise us: "Study these dirty parts and their surgical management carefully, because half of your income will be gained through performing such surgeries." The situation is complicated by the fact that doctors do not usually read about the most updated medical discoveries. Their only reference is almost what they learnt as undergraduate medical students.
When the medical
justifications fade out, the hidden aspects
of circumcision will be revealed, as a tool to control
male children’s sexuality, and a symbolic instrument
to perpetuate the traditional gender power politics.
This was a description of the power relations that control the development of doctors’ attitudes towards MGM. However, different power relations within the society and the medical institution could be created by doctors who had the chance to know the updated information about the function and structure of the male prepuce; and the hazards of MGM. They can challenge the justification of MGM as a protective surgery, which is the essential basis of people’s acceptance of their sons’ circumcision. When the medical justifications fade out, the hidden aspects of circumcision will be revealed, as a tool to control male children’s sexuality, and a symbolic instrument to perpetuate the traditional gender power politics (Boyd 1998; Goldman 1997). Then, the assumed "differences between FGM and MGM" will disappear, and the real ugly face of MGM will be unveiled, exactly as FGM.
C) The pragmatic attitude
Some pragmatist respondents are convinced that MGM is a violation of male children’s bodily integrity, and that it is fair to spare male children such violation. However, they accept keeping silent about this issue on the assumption that it is not practical to raise it as they do with FGM. The basis of this justification is that such respondents consider gender issues as women’s issues in the first place. Accordingly, FGM is a gender issue and a violation of women’s rights. That is why they consider raising the issue of MGM as an impractical effort, because it is a minor gender issue, if it is at all; since it does not concern women. Pragmatists find a compromising solution. They show intention to advise their relatives and near friends not to circumcise their sons. However, if they hear someone promoting MGM in a public session, as it usually happens in seminars about FGM, they will keep silent. They justify their attitude by that arguing with MGM promoters is hopeless. It may even have a negative impact on the campaign against FGM. More in depth interviewing of these respondents about their pessimistic predictions of public argument about MGM disclosed that they are concerned in the first place about their self and public image. Men and women pragmatic respondents are equally afraid of being accused by the public as indecent persons or agents of the West. They also fear any consequent backlash of conservative forces, and think that they cannot face them. Nevertheless, the same forces that promote MGM in the name of religion always attack activists against FGM, whether they talk about MGM or not. Pragmatist respondents always endure and confront such attacks because they are personally convinced that FGM is a gender issue and a violation of women’s rights.
Some pragmatist respondents refuse to raise the issue of MGM because according to their personal accounts, such an issue will need more time and effort than they are ready to spend. Some factors make FGM an easier issue. The information about structure and functions of the female genitalia was discovered a long time ago and is widespread among the public, while such information about the prepuce is newly discovered and is ignored by the majority of people. History is another factor. Efforts against FGM in Egypt started since the 1920s, at the political level, these previous efforts make it easier to work against FGM. They state that past history is even more helpful than valid information about female genitalia and hazards of FGM. Thus, they think that the updated information about male genitalia is useless because it is new. Moreover, they think that the easier political instrument to use in issues of genital integrity is the conflicting theological interpretations. The concerned theologians here are the outstanding clergymen of the contemporary religious institution, because ancient Muslim theologians had a lot of conflicting ideas about MGM, just as they have about FGM (Abu Sahlieh 1999). However, pragmatists do not consider this old theological conflict as a pliable tool for instant use.
Pragmatists state that they are reluctant to raise the issue of MGM because it is not a priority. Their agenda gives great consideration to the dominant power balance. I argue that priorities vary with the different interest groups. Groups that have a voice can impose their priorities on the agenda of social activity. In the issue of MGM, the main interest group is the male infants, who have no voice. Hence, their issues are not considered a priority.
...men are socialized in a
way that makes them reluctant
to loudly express anxiety about male sexuality.
Moreover, pragmatists build their attitude on men’s silence about their circumcision. Women’s complaint from FGM is a tool that helps activists who work against FGM. This factor is lacking in the case of MGM and will make it more difficult to raise it as a social issue. This justification neglects that men are socialized in a way that makes them reluctant to loudly express anxiety about male sexuality. Moreover, unlike females, most males are circumcised as infants, before they acquire the capacity to express themselves verbally (Goldman 1997). Nonetheless, practical experience tells that when men are encouraged to express their emotions about MGM in an understanding and relaxed environment, they can reflect upon their experience and express their dissatisfaction with violation of their bodies. This happened with my preliminary field experience with some Egyptian men, as it happened in USA after raising the issue of MGM (Bigelow 1992; NOHARMM 1994; Boyd 1998; Hammond 1999). Such dissatisfaction is a sufficient reason to give men the right to be encouraged to speak loudly against MGM, and to demand that the society listens to their voice, and to highlight women’s duty to claim protection of their sons from MGM.
a) Pragmatic attitude as a political bargain
...raising MGM as an issue
may break the terms of
their unwritten political bargain with the conservative forces.
The above-mentioned pragmatic considerations reveal that pragmatists deal with the issues of weak social groups as a political bargain. Accordingly, I argue that the pragmatic intellectuals who are proponents of the right to bodily integrity make an unwritten deal with the conservative social forces. The terms of this unspoken deal imply that pro-bodily integrity activists accept some conservative practices, such as MGM that provides symbolic carving of traditional masculinity, in exchange of letting the activists oppose FGM, which is a traditional way of symbolic carving of femininity. This bargain explains the panic of pragmatists from raising the issue of MGM. It explains also their attack of any one who dares to raise it. Pragmatists take this attitude because raising MGM as an issue may break the terms of their unwritten political bargain with the conservative forces. They imagine that respecting these terms is required in order to achieve a partial success in gender issues. In this way, gender politics activists implicitly tolerate discrimination against male children through their reluctance to address MGM. I argue that such pragmatic bargain takes the stability of the patriarchal social system into consideration. This attitude of the pragmatist intellectuals who work for equal gender rights contradicts their declared endeavors for social change. Because patriarchal system implies gender and age discrimination, it is not sufficient to raise women’s issues alone in order to bring about an effective social change. Tolerance of MGM, as a type of age discrimination, socializes people into submission to hurting their own children. Such submission curbs the development of critical thinking, which is a threat to despotic ruling system at the family and state levels. Moreover, given that male children are particularly valued by patriarchal family system, MGM is significant to replicate the terms of the patriarchal hierarchy, which requires submission of lower to higher rank groups. Because of the particular value of male children, getting people to tolerate mutilation of their sons’ bodies as a price for conditioned social acceptance is a stronger tool to ensure their submission to authorities than getting them to tolerate FGM. Thus, pragmatists are right in that holders of hegemonic social authorities at all levels are likely to stand against any efforts to liberate people from the suffering of hurting their own sons. Nonetheless, they are not right in neglecting the potential impact of such efforts on bringing about a social change for the benefit of the more vulnerable social groups.
D) Accepting positive deviance: the social value of fighting MGM
They are aware that raising
the issue of MGM
will lead to long term social debate...
Respondents who showed a tendency to take out active steps to raise the issue of MGM explained that all humans have the right to get access to the most updated knowledge about their own and sons’ bodies and lives. Such respondents do not feel afraid from the expected initial shock and reaction when MGM is raised to the first time. They are ready to absorb and deal with people’s shock. They are aware that raising the issue of MGM will lead to long term social debate, which needs patience, calmness, and understanding of people’s resistance to change. They consider change of gender social politics as an integral issue. Consequently, the idea that raising MGM will compromise efforts of FGM eradication is invalid. The role of the intellectuals who seek social change is to problematize every small aspect of the everyday life, even those aspects that turned into a regular custom, so that people no more feel them as problematic. This analysis is based on phenomenological feminist thought that encourages in depth critical exploration of any "regular" social phenomenon to disclose the problematic areas of the social power politics behind it (Smith 1987).
"THE EMPEROR IS NUDE"
The fable of the child who revealed the nudity of the emperor is an appropriate metaphor of the current Egyptian intellectuals’ attitudes towards MGM. The fable is about an emperor who was deceived by some of his court men. They mislead him by telling him that they will dress him in very elegant magic clothes. Only smart and intelligent people can see these clothes. They will be invisible to stupid or foolish persons. They acted as if they are dressing the emperor, while in fact they did not put any clothes on him. The emperor doubted the situation, but he did not dare to declare his doubt, lest he should be called stupid or foolish. The Imperial procession paraded the streets, with the emperor nude. All people felt afraid to say that they see the emperor nude, except one child. The child cried loudly: "THE EMPEROR IS NUDE". The "wise" adults tried to mute the child’s voice, but in vain. After a moment, adults increasingly whispered, then uttered, and then cried loudly "THE EMPEROR IS NUDE".
I find this fable a significant metaphor that represents the different attitudes of Egyptians towards MGM. The "wise" men of the empire who refused to declare the evident nudity of the emperor are analogous to the conformists. The courageous child who declared the emperor’s nudity equals respondents who refuse conformity and are ready to take the challenge to disseminate information against the long established social convictions about MGM. The first mistake of the emperor was that he did not believe the concrete fact of his nudity. Instead, he selected to believe the "experts" who alluded to him that their empty hands are dressing him in elegant magic clothes. His second mistake is that he went too far in believing them and went out nude to meet the public. The analogues of the emperor are the pragmatist and traditional feminist (female chauvinist) intellectuals who participate by their silence in the continuity of MGM, and the medical doctors who perform circumcision. The experts who deceived the emperor equal intellectuals who theorize and justify MGM, especially members of the medical and religious institutions. The silent mass who do not dare to declare the emperor’s nudity equal the public majority who circumcise their sons in conformity to traditions, and the intellectuals who do not dare to express their doubts about MGM for fear of being accused as rebels against the well established social traditions. However, it is impossible to hide or neglect concrete realities forever.
Using the same policy of
silence towards MGM
will not help to encourage people to stop FGM.
Uncritical thinking has negative impact on all issues.
Like the masses of the story that were encouraged by the child’s insistence to shout out that the emperor is nude, Egyptians will start at a point to revise their beliefs about MGM in terms of the updated information about the structure and function of the male prepuce, gender rights and children’s human rights as they already did with FGM. I think that the attitude of the pragmatic intellectuals delay the development of critical thinking. This delay has negative social implications, because people can only voluntarily let go of old painful traditions as FGM and MGM through critical reassessment of their beliefs and behaviors. FGM continued by inertia because people uncritically conformed to the instructions of the representatives of patriarchal society for long periods of time. Using the same policy of silence towards MGM will not help to encourage people to stop FGM as some intellectuals imagine. Uncritical thinking has negative impact on all issues. Denial of information and interaction about MGM will extend the reluctance to critically revise social traditions for a period, but not forever.
Slaves only can participate
in bargains to get some gains for themselves
at the expense of the rights of other oppressed groups.
The first step towards social change is to liberate us from fear of explicit confrontation of realities of life. Women were long subjugated in the name of patriarchal social values. Feminist activists are sure to care for a real change to correct gender power balance. Success in this endeavor will not be realized by feminists’ tolerance of MGM, which is a painful discrimination against male children in order to establish male image according to patriarchal conceptualization. Slaves only can participate in bargains to get some gains for themselves at the expense of the rights of other oppressed groups. It is true that slaves’ ways of bargaining may bring them some temporary and limited gains, however, it is impossible for them to achieve absolute conclusive liberation through such ways.
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