There has got to be something very tragic, and very wrong, with a society impaired by its own cultural blinders. It is very disconcerting that while human rights advocates fly half-way around the globe to decry the genital mutilation of girls and women, the very same people display a willful ignorance to the genital mutilation of boys in their own countries. While their cameras faithfully bring back images of girls being restrained as they have part of their genitals forcibly cut off, they somehow fail to capture images of the boys who are enduring the same in the very same countries.
Every so often, we'll see pictures of the forced genital cutting of boys in the media, however the tone in presentation is different. While the presentation of the images of forced female genital cutting encourage an audience to deplore the actions depicted, the presentation of the images of forced male genital cutting encourage an audience to accept what they see in the scope of "cultural relativism." "Horror and torture" for girls and women, "the preservation of age-old coming-of-age tradition" in boys. Why the sexist double-think?
It is a glaringly obvious inconsistency to defend the forced genital cutting of one sex, but condemn it in the other, yet when advocates of human rights point out this inconsistency, we are often met with hostility. "How dare you compare male and female circumcision," retort some, especially those defending male infant circumcision, "they're not the same thing!" This is said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if these claims were immediately self-evident.
I must ask, on what are they basing these assertions? Of the people that make these claims, how many of them have actually witnessed a male circumcision, let alone a female one? Can these claims actually be substantiated, or do they expect us to take their word for it at face value? What double-think are they using to condemn the abuse of female children, while defending the abuse of male children?
Girls remember, boys don't
It is often said that female circumcision is worse because it is performed at an age when the girl will be old enough to remember.
Girl "receives" sunat, at a "free" circumcision event in Bandung, Indonesia, west of Java.
In people's minds, male circumcision is justified, because to their knowledge, it is performed in babies, when boys will be less likely to remember the pain and trauma. But are these same people aware that in other cultures, boys are circumcised at older ages? What is their reaction in these cases?
In the Philippines circumcision is a rite of passage known as "tuli." Most males undergo "tuli" as preteens, particularly during their school summer break from March to May. Here, boys in Marikina, east of Manila, "receive" their "free" circumcisions.
Male circumcision is a religious ritual
The forced circumcision of boys is often defended as a "religious tradition." This argument doesn't seem to hold when defending the forced circumcision of girls, however. For better or for worse, the circumcision of girls is ALSO seen as a "religious tradition," and in some cases, it is seen as a religious duty.
Kurdish girl being circumcised
The image above is horrific. Most would decry what is being depicted here as child abuse, and rightly so. But would this be the same reaction if the sex of the child in this picture were different?
Muslim boy being circumcised
In Islamic tradition, boys are traditionally circumcised at older ages. Does this picture of a Muslim boy being circumcised rouse the same horror and disgust as the picture before? Why? Why not? What is the mental reasoning of why what is happening in these pictures is not the exact same thing?
What's being compared?
When people say "female circumcision is worse," what are they actually saying? What are they comparing male infant circumcision to? In order to sensationalize female genital cutting, but downplay male genital cutting, advocates of circumcision always compare the circumcision of babies to the infibulation of women. The fact of the matter is that there are actually quite a few variations of female circumcision. The kind of female circumcision most people know, where all external genitalia is removed and the vaginal opening is stitched up, known as Pharaonic circumcision or infibulation, is actually the worst kind of female genital cutting, and it accounts for only 15% of cases globally. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that there are many kinds of female circumcision, and not every kind removes the clitoris. Would we be more accepting of the kind of female genital cutting that was equivalent to or less severe than male infant circumcision?
In Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the Islamic circumcision ritual for girls ranges from rubbing turmeric on the genitals, to pricking the clitoris to draw a symbolic drop of blood. In other instances, the procedure is more invasive, involving what WHO classifies as “Type I” female genital mutilation, defined as excision of the clitoral hood, called the prepuce, with or without incision of the clitoris itself. The amount of flesh removed, if any, is described by circumcisers as being "the size of a quarter-grain of rice, a guava seed, a bean, the tip of a leaf, the head of a needle." They use a small pair of sterilized scissors to cut a piece of the clitoral prepuce "about the size of a nail clipping." In some areas, they do cut the clitoris itself. In these countries, surveys show that over 95% of the female population undergoes some sort of genital cutting procedure, and the women seem to be doing fine.
In Indonesia, an infant girl undergoes "sunat" to fulfill religious and cultural tradition.
Not too far away, an infant boy undergoes circumcision for precisely the same reasons.
(Notice the mother: "Shh! Quiet!")
It is only through sexist double-think that we allow ourselves to feel disgust for only one of these pictures.
There may readers that delude themselves yet. Their minds will simply refuse to allow for male and female circumcision to connect. Groping for an alibi to keep them separate, and groping for reasons to continue to justify one while condemning the other, they cling to whatever they can find.
The reasoning may go something like this:
"Well, it may be true that boys in other cultures suffer, but at least where I come from, boys are circumcised at hospitals, in sterile environments, with clean utensils, by professionals, and local anesthetic. They won't remember anything because they're circumcised as babies."
Perhaps a boy circumcised as a newborn may not remember his circumcision. But is pain and whether or not it is remembered really the problem? Could we make the forced female genital cutting of girls more acceptable if it happened at hospitals in sterile environments with pristine utensils by the most caring of professionals? Would female circumcision be more acceptable if it were performed in a baby girl, when she would be least likely to remember? Or would it still be child abuse?
Because it is precisely what is happening right here:
A baby in South-East Asia undergoes "sunat"
Original Text: "It happens so fast, with a bismillah and a snip,
a little bit blood and that's it, Zahra dah sunat!
She didn't cry even a drop, in fact giggling2 lagi.
I guess it wasn't painful for her, alhamdulillahh.."
The slit clitoris if you can find it (on the lower blade)
You can read the whole thing here:
And a parenting forum here:
The following is an excerpt from a parenting forum in South-East Asia (the last link above). If you asked me, it reads just like something right out of CafeMom, but regarding girls instead of boys. I've underlined the parts that jump out at me:
A_LIM: Have you Sunat your girls?
My husband is Malay and I am expecting a girl. My husband said he wants our girl to be sunat . What does this involve? and where can I do it? I have heard of male circumcision and my two boys from a previous marriage who have been circumcised. But I have never heard of female circumcision? he also said I should consider doing myself is that possible at my age?
Like your thoughts
NursMama: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
yah... i also dont know how to explain how its done although i witnessed both my gals' procedures myself both done at different clinics by female Muslim doctors...
dont think it's like the cutting for boys.... it's more minimal.... baby can recover by the next day?
as for yourself..... errrrrrmmm... i'm not sure.... you might wanna ask the doctors wther its ok or not? i can give you the clinics address/no if you want
Ros0818: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
Yup, i brought my girl to d same doc; Dr Elly Sabrinadont worry. It will be very fast & quick!
It's done within a few seconds... I brought my baby der when she's about 2mths old. Doc will then give you a cream to apply on your baby. My girl recovers very fast. She gave a quick shriek during the process but after that she's fine. She never even cry after that. you can just give the doctor a call if you want to find out more.
nora23: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
Went to Dr Balkis at Bedok. My 1st gal was then 6 mths old. It was very fast and only a pint of blood. My gal didnt cry and everything was per normal seconds after e sunat. Planning to bring my 2nd gal when she is 6 mths too.
In sunat process, nothin is done on e clitoris. Only a small part of e clitorial HOOD is snipped. The Dr even showed me e snipped hood, very very tiny fraction.
As for adult female muslim convert, I dont think its necessary to sunat. But its not wrong for you to do it either. Its best you consult muslim female doctors on e procedures and healing.
A_LIM: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
I actually decided to go for Sunat. It is available for adults, so I thought I would go before I do it to my daughter. I think I will be in a better position to know if it is ok for her after my surgery. My hubby is also happy Im doing it.
They told me it will take about 15 - 20 mins. They did not explain fully what they intended to do, but they said something about cutting the hood of my clitoris, and said they would not touch the clitoris
Has anyone been through this as an adult or young girl?
haffa: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
Auni had her sunat done last Tuesday. I brought her to Dr Adidah's Clinic located in Tampines. I didn't see what the doc did coz didn't have the heart to but my sister saw through the whole procedure which took about 5mins. Auni cried a bit only but i felt sorry for her . I was so glad it was over..phew.
A_LIM: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
Did sunat a week ago. Actually very mild. They basically removed about a third of your hood and leave the clitoris in tact. So basically your clitoris is exposed rather than covered by the hood. No pain and recovered in under a week.
Thanks for everyone for there help
tika: Re: Have you Sunat your girls?
yup stonston yer right. different families, different customs. there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I guess i failed to see to some Muslim families, customs are just as important as religion. To each his own aye.
Does any of this sound familiar? This is quite a contrast to the horror I am told female circumcision is supposed to be. There's not a doubt in my mind that if I showed this to parents discussing their son's circumcisions in an American forum, these same parents would be horrified. Their cultural blinders would not allow them to consider that there is anything wrong with what they have allowed to happen to their own children. It is only through carefully engineered double-think that we allow ourselves to justify what happens to boys in our own culture, while condemning what happens to girls in other cultures.
So in the end, what is it?
What is it that makes female circumcision "worse" and "not comparable" to male circumcision?
Some may yet expound:
"Female circumcision is different from male circumcision, because it is meant to subjugate women and control their sexualities."
Closer inspection reveals that in our culture, this was precisely the reason it was done to boys.
"...with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for it is... the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible...
The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision...
...violent concupiscence and lust that goes beyond what is needed are diminished. The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened."
~Rabbi Moses Maimonides
"A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision...The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind... In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement."
~Dr. John Harvey Kellogg
But in the end, is "intention" what defines abuse? Because for better or for worse, just like parents who circumcise their boys, parents who circumcise their daughters have the best of intentions.
Yet others may say:
"Female circumcision completely eliminates a woman’s ability to orgasm."
Closer investigation reveals that women who have undergone infibulation, which is the worst kind of female genital cutting, are still able to orgasm:
To sensationalize female circumcision, others will say:
"In Africa, women are often circumcised unsanitary conditions, with crude materials such as rusty blades or glass shards. They are performed by amateurs, they are left with impaired sexualities and sometimes they bleed to death."
But they will fail to mention that in Africa, boys and men endure the same thing. They will fail to mention that every year, scores of men bleed to death, or commit suicide, because their penises fail to heal properly and fall off due to gangrene. Some men live the rest of their lives with stumps where their penises used to be. Oh, but never mind them. It's a time-honored right of passage, and circumcision has been proven to protect against disease. Well... at least they won't get any more STDs, right?
Finally, some will say:
"Studies show male circumcision could have health benefits. The same is not true for female circumcision."
But what if it were? At least on the surface, advocates of male infant circumcision seem to care about a myriad of "health benefits." But let's examine this line of thinking further: what if female genital cutting offered the same "benefits?" Would we consider them? What if "studies showed" that removing a girl's clitoral hood and "redundant labia," could "help prevent HIV transmission?"
Because there are few studies that show precisely this:
"Female circumcision results in a reduction of infections resulting from microbes gathering under the hood of the clitoris"
"Attacks of herpes and genital ulcers are less severe and less harmful with women who have been circumcised"
How supportive would we be of further "research" into the matter? What would we think if the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins, the CDC etc., funded "research" in female genital cutting in Africa? What about countries where female circumcision isn't as "severe?"
Is there a number of "potential medical benefits" that would ever cause us to re-consider female circumcision? Would there ever be enough studies to convince us to submit our daughters to have part of their genitals removed? How much would be acceptable for us to remove from our daughter’s genitals? What if "studies showed" that female circumcision could be performed without removing the clitoris or a woman's ability to orgasm? What if all that was removed were a little "flap of skin" 10x smaller than the foreskin? What if it were proven to be "cleaner" and cut back on the fish smell? What if "studies showed" that circumcising your daughter "reduced the risk" of prostate cancer in her male partner? Would we consider it then?
But let's ask a different question, would circumcision advocates be interested in finding alternatives to circumcision? Would they support research in finding alternative ways to provide the same "medical benefits" as male circumcision? What if doctors and scientists announced “We have great news! This new vaccine offers the same protections as circumcision and more! Now we don't have to circumcise babies anymore!" How would circumcision advocates react? Would they let out a sigh of relief, or would they panic? Would they gladly abandon the practice? Or would they scramble looking for other "reasons" to do it? The answers to these questions would speak volumes.
The fact of the matter is that neither the allegations of "medical benefits" nor the production of numerous "studies" would never be enough to justify the forced genital cutting of girls. Why this double-standard when it comes to the circumcision of boys? There are better, more effective, less invasive ways to treat and prevent disease. Instead of investigating these, instead of seeking to make the practice of forcibly cutting off part of a healthy, non-consenting boy's penis obsolete, why are we spending millions of dollars on "studies" to find ways to make the practice a requirement?
So in the end, which do you cut?
In the fetus, both male and female genitals develop from the same genital tubercle.
On the left is a male fetus, on the right a female.
Who is the monster?
On the left, a ritual circumciser of boys,
on the right, a ritual circumciser of girls,
both of them proudly displaying the tools of their trade.
Which child gets your sympathy?
A girl and a boy as they undergo ritual circumcision.
And does age really change anything?
Do we actually care about any "medical benefits?" Or is that merely an empty excuse? Is pain and whether it could be remembered or not really the problem? Isn't the principle of taking a healthy, non-consenting child and cutting off part of that child's genitals, the exact same principle?
Circumcision is child abuse. No matter what age, no matter what sex.
The New York Times wrote an excellent article on the kind of female circumcision performed in Indonesia, "A Cutting Tradition." Read the article here: