*The ethical implications of male circumcision is ‘If it’s not usually a problem for those who’ve been through it, what’s the big deal’? But Americans also claim to staunchly support independence and free will, whether that means freedom from the desires of the state or another individual, and bodily integrity is a crucial part of that. At a time when debates about campus assault, the sentencing of convicted rapists, and the MeToo and Time’s Up movements dominate mainstream news, Americans are becoming more fluent in the language of consent. So why shouldn’t it apply to babies and their penises?
Female circumcision is a topic we’ve covered in Moves before; a ritual so barbaric that it is widely denounced as little more than torture in the name of religion and men’s dominance—outside of the cultures who practice the tradition, of course. The horrendous, usually unsafe and unanesthetized genital mutilation performed on young girls is meant to “preserve purity” by ensuring a woman is unable to have sex, or enjoy it, and is the cause of immeasurable suffering, pain, and death for females around the world. In the Western World, it is almost universally accepted as an abhorrent, outdating tradition that must be stopped. And in the Western World, where double standards almost always work out in favor of the man, it’s even more interesting that male circumcision is such a celebrated practice. While arguably less violent and debilitating than female circumcision practices, it is still a painful, unnecessary and outdated ritual that causes both physical and emotional pain. Why are our body parts not good enough the way they were made? Why are we—Westerners who pride ourselves on our tolerance, civilized nature, and intelligence—unable to reevaluate traditions that may no longer have a relevant place in our society?
While there’s evidence that circumcision was happening since in the times of the ancient Egyptians, circumcision rapidly gained popularity in the United States in the Victorian era. People were becoming terrified of germs and the penis became known as a “dirty” organ, mainly due to its use in the “dirty sport” –you know that sport that, despite being so horribly dirty, everyone loves to engage in? Anyway, circumcision emerged as a way to reduce masturbation which at the time was another “dirty” action thought to have caused numerous diseases. Throughout the years, the practice of removing a newborn’s foreskin became the norm in this country and something new parents gave little thought to; it was just what everyone else did, and hey, if doctors did it, how wrong could it be? It was even reported that in the 60’s, up to 85 per cent of newborns were being circumcised in the U.S. And in the era of free love, at that!
Whether or not you agree with the cleanliness bit, circumcising a baby is a violation of that individual’s human rights by removing a part of their body without their consent, and without the presence of immediate medical justification. While there is new evidence that circumcision may be effective in the spread of some diseases including HIV, the same effects can be created without mutilation, through education and support. There are also convincing arguments that there could be lasting mental and emotional effects on a child who endures such treatment even at a young age, encoding distrust and violence before they are even old enough to understand these concepts. It may sound far-fetched, but if we are unable to communicate with infants, and they are unable to effectively communicate with us, there’s no telling what they retain from such trauma.
Many circumcisions, both medical and ritual, are done without anesthesia, and there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that the infants in question do indeed experience pain and anguish as a result. Why is this even a point of contention? Why would this surprise anyone? Are babies soulless, unfeeling animals until they are old enough to use the potty and say “Mama”? Are we so able to turn the other way in the face of pain because the person in question can’t physically tell us to stop? I’m not convinced – we are acutely aware of children’s suffering and in most cases go out of our way to alleviate it. But start using the words “tradition” or “religion” or “God’s will” behind even the most barbaric or inane ritual, and the less important parts like the pain and suffering inflicted on innocent children no longer seems to factor in.
Ok, so I’m not religious; admittedly my lack of faith makes it hard to understand the decidedly bloodthirsty and pagan rituals performed in the name of Godliness. I just can’t understand a belief system that tells you, “to prove your allegiance to me, you must cut off the tip of your dick.” It’s like the worst hazing ritual known to man. To get into most street gangs all you have to do is get the shit kicked out of you; I’d take that over unnecessary penis surgery any day.
Circumcision is a religious practice so pervasive that it has become an aesthetic, almost cosmetic ideal for many men. I know women who have grown up and gone well into adulthood without ever seeing an “uncut” man, and as a result, the natural state of manhood has reached mythical status and provoked the type of fear that is usually attached to things people don’t understand. “Circumcised guys are so much cleaner,” some women assert. “Uncircumcised guys look so weird,” is another one I hear. “It’s gross,” is yet another. “Cut dicks look bigger,” is one refrain coming from the men. I actually know women who have lied about the status of their partner’s penises in order to avoid teasing backlash from their girlfriends. It has become the accepted—no, expected practice to unnecessarily cut flesh from a man’s most sensitive area, just so they look better and conform to a standard that no longer applies in the modern world. And when exactly did we decide it “looked” better that way anyway? I guess in a society that demands women to stuff their chests full of plastic and pull the skin of their faces into Halloween-mask grimaces, we shouldn’t be surprised when we prefer the “unnatural” look for our men, too.
If you’ll forgive the awful pun (you know I had to put it in somewhere) let’s cut this outdated, harmful tradition loose once and for all. Let’s celebrate our men and women the way they were brought into this world, encourage a healthy body image and respect ourselves the way we are. Practice your faith, or your hygiene, in a way that doesn’t require mutilation. After all, traditions have their place in society—but every good society reexamines their cultural practices and traditions. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to change the status quo, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can take control over our own bodies, and ultimately, our own happiness.
* INTACTION “… every individual has the inalienable right to an intact body. Only an adult of majority age, with fully informed consent, can agree to needless and permanent body modifications… “ For Information and advice call Toll Free 1-866-6-FORESKIN (866-636-7375)