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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

How is 'routine' male circumcision perceived by feminism/feminists?

79 replies

AgentZigzag · 07/08/2011 17:16

I'm just on another thread in AIBU and didn't want to hijack it and so thought I'd take the plunge in the best section to answer the question in the title.

The discussion between posters about why male and female circumcision are viewed differently by people/society made me wonder what kinds of pressures are on the mother of a baby to perform this surgical procedure on their child.

Looking specifically at male circumcision (because that's what the other thread is about, if it's possible to separate the two) is this a pressure entirely generated by men (in religious institutions/families etc) and which is colluded with by the father, who may voice his expectations for the mother to conform in an attempt to influence the possibility of the procedure going ahead with her permission?

Or does this as an explanation of why women have their sons circumcised falsely portray women as powerless in determining what happens to their children, when in fact they're quite able to make decisions for themselves and their families without being coerced by anyone.

I'm tempted to say something like 'I'm probably talking rubbish' or 'please go easy on me' but I won't because that would unmask the lack of confidence I feel I have in discussing feminism and may lead to me being shot down in flames for pointing out my weakness.

OP posts:
SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 17:57

I was looking at that thread a bit. I didn't comment as I feel a bit "meh" about circumcision (male). I think this is because I have always mixed a lot with Jewish people and it was seen as something totally normal, and that has rubbed off on me a bit.

I think the reason female and male circumcision is viewed differently is because female circumcision is much more invasive and dangerous?

And yes I think there is a point there about a difference in reaction between something that men are perceived to be doing to each other and something that men are perceived to be doing to women (although it is often women who carry out FGM there is an idea that they wouldn't do it if it wasn't for men's rules about it through religion or culture).

I probably should think about it more and read more arguments about male circumcision TBH. Generally though I am an athiest and know that if I did think about it the answer would be that it is unnecessary and so why do it.

BertieBotts · 07/08/2011 17:59

I'm against routine male circumcision, but I don't know that it is a feminist issue.

Riveninside · 07/08/2011 18:08

Im against routine male circumcision. Its mutilating a babys genitals. If they wish to become religious when older and have it done then fair enough. But it shouldnt be imposed on any gender by parents.

purits · 07/08/2011 18:11

Haven't read the other thread, but I think that all 'amendments' are bizarre. A child is born - perfect, as god intended - and religious people decide to start hacking bits off it.Confused

Irrespective of the gender of the child, how can you possibly justify doing that? It is barbaric.

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 18:14

AgentZigZag I think that in answer to the question of whether this is being done to babies and the mothers are powerless to stop it, or whether the mothers should be viewed as having agency to decide what happens to their children, misses the religious thing.

Talking about male circumcision in Judaism here,

The reason that parents (men and women) have this done is because it is a deeply held religious cultural thing. It's just "what you do". I would imagine that there are as many fathers that worry about it, as there are mothers. And I would imagine that for many people it's as simple as, it's what you do, it's the way it's always been done, so it's going to be done.

I think maybe you need to come at this from a different angle?

Animation · 07/08/2011 18:33

It really is astonishing to me that in this day and age we can go round chopping parts of a baby's penis off - as a matter of routine, with no medical reason.

From what I can fathom, this is a procedure passed down from generation to generation, and I get the impression that parents either don't think it through whether it's best for their baby, or else they feel some cutural coercion to conform. If they don't comply there appears to be negative social consequences. They are bullied and ostracised.

Yes, it's a feminist issue because mother's are colluding with this practice. The foreskin protects the glans penis and urethra from infection and also renders the penis more sensitive during sexual activity. Why would a mother want this part chopping off?

This is a violation on an innocent male baby, and although I can't imagine men coming forward to complain about it, I suspect that on some level they feel degraded.

holyShmoley · 07/08/2011 18:41

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StewieGriffinsMom · 07/08/2011 18:46

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MysteriousHamster · 07/08/2011 18:57

What I find really odd is on some American boards when the discussion comes up and nearly all the pro-circumcision camp does it not for religious reasons but so the baby can 'look like daddy' or because the dad wants the baby to 'look like him' - because obviously when people see the both of them they'll only think they look alike if their willies are cut the same.

This to me does mean the issue can have a feminist slant. How much say do these women really have about their baby's skin? And often the mother is of course the one who will end up caring for and tending to the child afterwards.

MirandaGoshawk · 07/08/2011 18:58

< I suspect that on some level they feel degraded.> Er, Animation what is your basis for this statment? The Jewish males I've worked with were very proud of this outward (so to speak!) sign of their connection to Abraham.

From a Christian viewpoint, circumcision is an irrelevance because people become "heirs to the promise" (i.e on a par with Jews) by belief in Jesus and following his teachings (and, in some cases by adult baptism).

As to female circumcision, it doesn't feature in the Christian culture and so is from an unfamiliar one and we have no hesitaion in condemning it, for all the reasons we all know about.

I regard myself as both a Christian and a feminist. I have no problem with Jewish babies being circumcised - it seems to be a joyous rite of passage and usually without any ill-effects. Female circumcision, OTOH, I would condemn as not Islamic but cultural, and demeaning and unnecessary, a matter for education.

MrsReasonable · 07/08/2011 19:03

There was a thread touching on this recently, I'll repost what I said there:

It is downright hypocritical to say male circumcision is OK, not a big deal, etc, but FGM is brutal, horrific.

Separating circumcision by gender is unhelpful - it is better to separate the types, and there are many different types, .

It is also not the case that male circumcision is not as dangerous or harmful - about 120 boys die in the US each year from it.

"Why, as feminists, as mothers, as general badasses, are we willing to overlook this as a human rights issue? ?Because it?s always been done? is a horrible answer. We are not those who acquiesce to the status quo. When we do, we are no better than the patriarchs we claim to fight against, perpetuating a harmful practice because it?s always been done that way and we can?t be troubled to stop it."

TrillianAstra · 07/08/2011 19:06

As a feminist I am against sexism. Sexism includes "saying something is ok for one sex and not ok for another"

I am against cutting any bits off any people without either good medical reason or proper informed consent. Regardless of their gender.

As far as I know there is no good medical reason to remove most baby boys' foreskins, and they are incapable of giving informed consent, therefore I am against circumcision.

TrillianAstra · 07/08/2011 19:07

I don't know if it is a feminist issue per se, but that is my opinion on it as a feminist.

ledkr · 07/08/2011 19:08

mysterious There were a few of those comments on the other thread,wants to look like Daddy. Well i have 3 boys and their penis didnt look like Daddy's untill they were adolecent at which point it was unusual for them to be naked in front of us.
I disaggree with it due to the babies lack of choice and imo inflicting any kind of unecessary pain upon a tiny baby is just not right.
Many things happen in the name of religion,mostly to females,many are not right though.

BelleDameSansMerci · 07/08/2011 19:11

I agree with Animation and MrsUnreasonable. The argument that it's a deeply held cultural belief is also true of female circumcision...

ledkr · 07/08/2011 19:18

Yes BelleI aggree, as is opression of women and mistreatment of children,biggotism and hypocrisy.
As i said,many things can be fobbed off as cultural but it doesnt mean they are ok in modern society does it.

MirandaGoshawk · 07/08/2011 19:29

As a feminist, please let me clarify something. I totally agree with you all and the reasons you give, against both male and female circumcision. It should only be necessary to mutilate in cases of medical need.

However, I understand the Jewish POV too. They have to/want to do it, in order to 'belong', and usually it's no big deal for the baby. Because the holy literature, handed down by God, requires it.

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 19:36

I'm in absolute Shock at mrsreasonable's post.

How did you get your font to turn blue????? Grin

Animation · 07/08/2011 19:37

"They have to/want to do it, in order to 'belong', and usually it's no big deal for the baby"

So they don't have much choice then if they want to "belong". The alternative is to be cast out I assume.

And as for no big deal to the baby - maybe cutting off it's little finger is no big deal either, it would cry and then get over it. But cutting off it's little finger would probably be illegal - but removing a significant part of it's penis would not.

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 19:45

Little children get their ears pinned back and have corrective surgery for squint, stuff like that, that is unnecessary.

Just throwing it out there.

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 19:48

Braces? I have never had them myself and understand that they can be very sore and certainly can affect things like how food tastes, which is a big thing. All to conform to the dominant aesthetic.

I know people say it's easier to keep teeth clean if they are straight, but let's be honest, most people do it because it's just what you do. My teeth aren't straight and I'm able to clean them just fine.

I think these practices need to be looked at from the POV of what is normal in different cultures. To pretend that Uk protestant types don't do things to their babies/children which are unnecessary and painful in order to adhere to cultural norms is incorrect.

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 19:52

I'm not saying that people aren't allowed to have views on what is and isn't acceptable, obviously.

Just that analysing why Jewish mothers let this happen (as per the OP) should not be done outside the fact that it is a total cultural norm and religious requirement, and that there are practices that happen in the UK which are similar in that they are unnecessary, yet most UK mothers go along with them in order that their children adhere to cultural norms surrounding appearance (and which are not absolute).

Animation · 07/08/2011 19:56

I think ears pinned back, squints and braces are corrective and useful procedures. Chopping off parts of a penis is not. The penis is also located in a very private and personal part of the body - and shouldn't be tampered with by adults for non medical reasons.

HandDivedScallopsrgreat · 07/08/2011 19:58

I think it can be a feminist issue because the roots of the practice are patriarchal, whether it is religious patriarchy or cultural patriarchy. I do think it should be separated from FGM because the reasons for doing it are very different: control vs religion/cleanliness. Also the implications are very different for both procedures.

The fact that women condone this is for similar reasons that they condone other sexist/misogynistic practices: because it has been normalised, they don't give much thought to the wider aspects and implications, their husbands condone it, they have been brought up accepting it etc etc

SardineQueen · 07/08/2011 20:01

That's very interesting animation. They are only corrective insofar that our culture has deemed it undesirable to have a squint, sticky-out ears or wonky teeth. 40 years ago wonky teeth were the norm and no-one had any ill-effects from wonkyness.

The procedures that you see as "corrective" are actually wholly unnecessary.

You are deciding what procedures are necessary and what are not based in part on your own cultural norms.

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