Male Genital Mutilation


The rise of sexual assault and harassment allegations and admissions lately have thrust back into the limelight the ideas of and around bodily autonomy. The women and men who have come forward with their stories and experiences have reasserted, forcefully, that each and every one of us is entitled to our bodies and our own personal spaces. This should not be anything new, it should not be anything controversial or shocking. Tellingly these conversations have mostly, and rightly, focused on the female victims of sexual abuse. The perpetrators have mostly been straight men. This narrative excludes many male victims. Issues of bodily autonomy and control over their bodies affect men just as much as it does women. Nowhere is this more apparent than the issue of male genital mutilation, more commonly referred to as male circumcision. 

First, let us establish the basics. The Mayo Clinic describes Male Circumcision as “the surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis.” It is a common procedure done largely throughout certain parts of the world, including the United States. It is most often done at birth when the risks are at their most minimal. The procedure could be done at a later date, but the complications increase the further away from birth. Circumcision is done for any number of reasons. The most popular being religious reasons, preventive health care, or for personal hygiene.

The problem is that circumcision is a non-reversible procedure. 

It should be noted that this procedure is performed hundreds of times every single day. The medical risk is minimal. It is considered to be a reliably safe procedure. The controversy is not really around the procedure being potentially harmful towards the baby, but rather about the choice to have the circumcision done in the first place. The male baby cannot consent to this life-changing, permanent procedure. Critics say that parents should not make this choice for their children since it is primarily a cosmetic procedure. 

Consent and bodily autonomy are important. When an arguably cosmetic procedure is performed on an non-consenting person it raises important questions. To make it even starker just remove the age and flip the genders. No one would ever be in favor of performing any cosmetic procedure on an non-consenting woman. It would be criminal, yet critics maintain that this is what is going on every single day for thousands of male babies.  The entire thing raises questions about how much authority and control parents have over a child's life. Can parents make a life-altering, optional, choice for their children? What is the line? Well, representatives from Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Greenland all recently met in Norway and concluded that circumcision at a child's birth is in direct opposition to the UN Coalition on the Rights of Children. The UN states that “Children should have the right to express their own views and be protected from traditional rituals which may be harmful to their health.” From the point of view of these representatives, it is an open and shut case. So much so that the children’s hospital in Reykjavik has no performed male circumcisions since 2011. 

The cosmetic aspect is only part of it. The other reason to perform male circumcision is that of religion. Now I am not here to tell any individual what they should or should not believe. A person’s religious affiliation is a highly personal and private thing. That is the exact reason why I believe it is unfair and wrong to subject a baby, who does not know any better, to the religious whims of their parents or guardians. The moment a child learns and gains understanding is when a parent or guardian should introduce religious concepts. Performing circumcision as a religious act takes away that individual right. A person could grow up and decide that they do not believe in any particular religion yet they will forever bear the bodily reminder of said religion. It robs the person of their personhood and agency. 

Certain people are not fully onboard with classifying circumcision as male genital mutilation. These critics are turned off by the implicit comparisons to the more widely known Female Genital Mutilation. Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, involves the partial or total removal of the genitals. This process makes sexual intercourse extremely painful or even impossible. FGM can lead to various infections and medical problems. In just these few examples you can see the stark differences between female and male genital mutilation. They believe it is a matter of trivialization to compare the harmless MGM to the brutal FGM.  

Circumcision is a very common procedure, there is no way around that. Estimates say that one out of every three men around the world is circumcised. It is most often performed in a clean, sterile, medical environment by a trained physician. Overwhelmingly it is a safe procedure. Opponents to male circumcision do themselves a disservice by comparing themselves to Female Genital Mutilation, a barbaric and violent act that is used to oppress women all over the world. Instead, the opponents should focus on choice. These are babies who are being subjected to a physically altering medical procedure that is either strictly religious or cosmetic. They did not choose this, in fact, they very well might grow up to be vehemently opposed to it. Who are we to decide these things for others? It might be silly for a lot of people, but I firmly believe in an individuals right to choose. Beyond that, Freedom of, and from, religion is a cornerstone of American life. Opponents of circumcision at birth should not compare the practice to Female Genital Mutilation because it weakens their argument. Instead, they should focus on a fundamentally true and easily defendable position. No one has any right to tell, compel, or force you to do things you do not want to do. We live in a free country and we should give every single citizen the right and freedom to believe what they want to believe.