Because Sometimes More is More
I’ve written on this a few times, and I agree that there’s a vast disparity among people who identify as feminist. Some feminists, on one hand, seem to be more open and interested in male circumcision as an issue — perhaps more so than the average person, and that’s something that I cannot help but be impressed by. On the flipside are those feminists who seem to be negatively inclined towards circumcision advocacy solely because it centers around men. It’s a real Jekyll and Hyde kind of dichotomy, wouldn’t you say? I have largely stayed away from talking about feminism directly since it’s not the topic of my blog. I also try to take the high ground in general, but I admit that sometimes it’s hard to resist being pulled into the nastiness.
Keep in mind, also, that when someone writes something disparaging about the damage and trauma caused by circumcision, it’s something that I usually can’t help but take personally — in a way that’s often accompanied by a tangible physical reaction involved. Sometimes I try to be diplomatic and an educator, and at other times I choose to lay the smackdown. I would say that 99% of the time this is warranted, and it’s also one of the few avenues of extracting justice that are available to me. There isn’t much help or recognition available to those who are harmed by circumcision; research into sexual function and possible circumcision reversal treatments isn’t really happening to my knowledge, and I can’t, for example, sue the hospital the circumcised me. As such, I feel like it’s well within my purview be angry at times, especially in the controlled manner that I express my anger in.
The whole thing is also frustrating in that it makes it more difficult for me personally to understand issues faced by women, which is something I am interested in. Who’s a “real” feminist and who isn’t? Which feminist viewpoints are valid and which ones are being taken too far? It’s also hard to get involved in any kind of discussion without running into the peculiar ground rules that men cannot possibly be disadvantaged in any way, or have valid original input to share. To be honest, I feel that a good part of any bad rep feminism may have is earned. In the past couple of weeks there have been three prominent feminist blogs (aboutmaleprivilege, thatfeministmoment, thatisnotfeminism) publishing derogatory posts about intactivism, so why shouldn’t I respond when that happens? I don’t expect feminists to be concerned by, or even interested in circumcision any more than I expect the average person to be; I simply expect a default stance of neutrality as a basic form of courtesy and respect.
I appreciate you reaching out to me, anon, and you can always address me either publicly or privately about any topic you’d like.
Male privilege is foreskin advocacy groups. The fact that you think your circumcision is somehow on par with female genital mutilation is so gross. You haven’t been mutilated, amputated, invaded, or abused. Stop pretending your non-issue is the same as the systematic mutilation of girls and women by a patriarchal system of oppression and control.
Male privilege is calling me an angry, man-hating lesbian idiot who needs to get a grip. I don’t hate your foreskin. In fact, I don’t even give a shit about it and your non-problem. Stop looking for a way to be “oppressed”. It’s so fucking offensive.
This post, as well as the range of responses that followed it, confirms my dualistic view of feminism. One the one hand it’s filled with people who are engaged in self-advocacy, important critical examination of society, and a genuine pursuit of social justice. And then there are the misandrist shitbags for whom feminism is a game with a point based scoring system, who will circle around like vultures and denounce and belittle any attempt of advocacy by, and on behalf of, males — just because that distracts from their own advocacy ever so slightly.
And while we’re on the topic of gendered privilege, let’s take a brief look at the response the American Academy of Pediatrics — the same governing body that is largely responsible for allowing circumcision of male infants to continue — received when they advocated the medicalization of a reduced form of FGM that is far less extensive than male circumcision. It was squashed like the bug that it was, with the help of a massive response from mainstream media, human rights organizations, politicians, and an online petition list overflowing with signatures. So when it comes to genital integrity advocacy groups, who has more societal privilege, me with my with my unevenly scared, surgically altered penis or OP with her/their pristinely intact vulva?
You don’t think “MY BODY, MY CHOICE!” should also apply to circumcision.
wait I’m a feminist and I totally believe that circumcision should be a choice..
Straw feminism: You’re doing it right.
I can see why you’d view this as a straw argument, given that there are numerous feminists who are strongly opposed to circumcision, but this criticism actually holds a lot of truth. I’ll give you just a few examples.
When I spoke out against infant male circumcision, one response that I encountered was an angry reaction from some feminists. They accused me of detracting from the horror of female genital mutilation and weakening the case against it by speaking about it and infant male circumcision in the same context.
Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision [to criminalize childhood male circumcision in Germany], but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing
This kind of view is regularly repeated when the issue of circumcision is omitted from relevant discussions, or acknowledged in a strictly limited fashion—particularly when a comparison to female circumcision is involved. And then there’s stuff like this.
I’ll be blunt. Many feminists ignore or oppose criticisms of circumcision because it’s a clear instance where men are disadvantaged under women (in Western countries), which contradicts their central idea of equality being a one way street.
Hey, thanks for the ask! I think that looking at male circumcision from a feminist point of view is intriguing because feminism seeks to critically examine harmful aspects of social practices—and circumcision certainly has its share. Feminism also doesn’t take much pause over concerns for “religious freedom”, or “parental choice”, or “social norms”, or even the secondary health benefits that are all brought up in defense of circumcision. There’s also a lot of attention given to issues of bodily autonomy, sex positivity, body acceptance, and equal treatment among the sexes. The major sticking point, however—and this is something that the essay you reference addressees—is that feminism primarily focuses on female-centric concerns, and circumcision is a male issue. At the same time, there are legitimate gynocentric concerns that can be brought up in regards to male circumcision.
I actually hadn’t heard of this paper, and was only able to find an abstract online, but I’ve read other similar writings, including last year’s blog post Why Circumcision is a Feminist Issue, the essay How Male Circumcision Harms Women, and the very interesting and in-depth inquiry Male Genital Mutilation (Circumcision) A Feminist Study of a Muted Gender Issue. Here are a few feminism-based idea that I’ve learned from reading on the topic:
Ultimately, I strongly agree that male circumcision has relevance to feminist interests. I don’t think you can create far-reaching social progress while major issues faced by any specific group are neglected. I think this is why some feminists readily accept criticisms of circumcision after being made aware of them. At the same, other feminists seem to find opposition to circumcision to be in conflict with their primary agenda—perhaps for political reasons.
In the United States, male circumcision at birth is legal whereas female genital alteration at birth is not. This is unfair. I’m not going to try to argue this in favor of being somehow secretly against women, it’s just wrong. This one is all yours, MRAs.
Anyone who’s able to acknowledge the seriousness of circumcision from within a feminist discussion of gender politics gets a significant boost of credibility from my point of view. It’s an obscure problem that’s easy to overlook or dismiss as insignificant.
I appreciate your balanced approach on the issue, especially given that you’ve gone out and done some independent research after the topic was brought up to your attention—which is why I’ve chosen to engage with you since our first encounter.
I haven’t really read far back enough on your blog to comment on the arguments brought up by the person you mentioned, and I also feel like it might be more helpful and interesting to speak more generally. It sounds like there may have been some mistrust on your part in terms of the way they were framing the issue, as well as due to general ideological differences between you two. Perhaps you were also suspicious that this person was using the issue of circumcision as a means to winning a broader argument without necessarily having a strong understanding of the reasons why circumcision is problematic, or being genuinely concerned about it for that matter. (I’m not commenting directly on whymisandryisreal in either direction.) Is my perception somewhat accurate or not? If so, this is a problem we all face when engaging in polemic discussions, and dare I say that proponents of every side of every issue ever are capable of cherry picking arguments that they don’t necessarily understand or fully believe. This reality challenges us to keep a level head and avoid slipping into an ad hominem mindset, and to treat every position independently, on it’s own merits.
I don’t feel that feminists in particular should feel ideologically bound to advocate against circumcision because I generally see feminism as a female-centric movement. There is, however, the commonplace claim the “feminism is for equality”, or even that ”feminism is the only legitimate mechanism for gender equality”, which ring hollow to me given the frequent feminism erasure and rejection of male-specific issues such as circumcision, as well as the occasional specific opposition to anti-circumcision advocacy. This I have a problem with, and I’m basing my perception on the numerous shitty opinions Jezebel published on the topic over the years, the various comments I’ve seen on tumblr (like the highly derogatory anons you received), and concrete examples such as “women’s rights advocates” opposing the recent court ruling in Germany. I know that there plenty of feminist-identifying intactivists, but I’m not sure whether that’s because of their feminist ideas, or in spite of them.
I’ve also very rarely seen anyone downplaying FGM while speaking out against circumcision (and I’m more than willing to criticize them when it happens), whereas the reverse situation is much more common. From a personal perspective I can also tell you that I’ve never deliberately sought out this comparison. When I first learned about the controversy surrounding circumcision it made me very anxious and upset, but I didn’t think (or want to believe, rather) that it was as damaging as what is commonly attributed to FGM. I saw the comparison as a matter of principle and as a tool for understanding the underlying aspects of these cultural practices. It wasn’t until I became aware of the degree of innervation of the prepuce, and the 2007 touch sensitivity study that I began to see MGM as a more direct corollary to FGM.
who understand the seriousness of FGM would pretend like male circumcision is no big deal.
Every human being is entitled to bodily integrity regardless of their gender.
EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
The fact that I advocate against male circumcision does not equate to the downplay or otherwise condoning of FGM. It just means I also don’t condone unconsented male circumcision.
It’s really that fucking simple.
Um, excuse me. Intactivist rad femme over here… Don’t stereotype plz.
^ but anyone that clams to be a feminist but is not against circumcision* needs to step back and think about it for a minute, it is a serious infringement on human rights
*circumcision of minors, i am all for adults choosing what to do with their own bodies
You know, I’ve been thinking a bunch about this question myself. On the one hand there seems to be a prevalent attitude among tumblr feminists that male-specific issues cannot exist, and that any male person bringing up any such thing must be a “short, unattractive man who cannot get laid” and is only projecting his frustrations outwardly. Furthermore, there is the specific attitude (although one not endemic to feminists) that male and female genital cutting should be segregated and “are in no way comparable”. In fact it was just such a post that prompted me to create this tumblr account.
On the other hand, some of the most fervent advocates against circumcision on Tumblr tend to be self-identifying feminists, as evidenced by this post. Many, many of the accounts that follow this blog also belong to folks with “feminist” in their sidebar.
So, I’m encouraging anyone and everyone with an opinion on this topic to chime in. Is there a dichotomy or inconsistency in terms of how feminists tend to relate to the issue of male circumcision?
An excerpt from Battlestar Genitalica, a critique of the present day treatment of underage male circumcision in the feminist blogosophere.
Author Lisa Braver-Moss in her interview at Beyond the Bris. Curious if if people have thoughts.