The award-winning documentary on male infant circumcision in America, "American Circumcision," was released last year. Though I kept my finger on the pulse regarding the release of this film, I didn't know it had been completed and even released until I had read that the film actually won the Best Documentary Film Award at the Lone Star Film Festival in November 2017. Up until recently, I hadn't actually seen the film, either. I didn't think I needed to see it, as I've been an intactivist since 1996 or so, and I felt I knew everything I needed to know regarding this complex issue. I finally got a chance to see the film in its entirety, and my assumptions were confirmed, although I was actually rather surprised. In this post, I will give my reaction to it.
The Film Maker, Brendon Marotta, not only covered as many points as he could on this issue; he actually had the courage to interview known male infant circumcision advocates face to face. Knowing what I know about the circumcision advocates he interviewed, I don't know what I would do if I were actually standing face to face with them. Hearing them actually blatantly and deliberately state lies as if they were accepted matter-of-fact, and hearing them deliberately minimize or deny the gravity of what is male infant circumcision, gave me the feeling of wanting to put my hand through the screen and strangle them.
There was nothing new in the film that I didn't already know, but American Circumcision seemed to breathe life into that knowledge. It reignited something in me to watch Brian Morris outright say that intactivists are "causing death all around the world" with total seriousness, to watch Marie Wawer and her partner go on and on about how circumcision is "almost like a vaccine," to watch Edgar Schoen minimize and dismiss men who are angry about their circumcisions, to watch Andrew Freedman deny the religious bias evident in the "convictions to his tribe" he had just finished professing, and yes, to watch and hear video of a baby being circumcised. I wonder what must have gone through Brendon's mind as he filmed the doctor go through the procedure of forcibly mutilating a healthy, non-consenting child's genitals.
I already knew that there were actually people trying to pass off lies as gospel truth on this matter, but it's one thing to know about these things, and it's quite another to actually see these acts on film personified. When I observe someone telling a deliberate lie and I know that what they are telling is demonstrably false, I think one of two things is happening; either the person is idiotic and stupid for actually believing and repeating these blatant lies, or they know that they're lying and are hoping the people they tell lies to are idiotic and stupid.
The situation in America makes me lose faith in science. Deep down in my heart, I want to believe that scientists and researchers out there are interested in finding out the truth. I want to believe that scientists and researchers are neutral, unbiased, dispassionate, and that they are interested in seeking for truth, not reinforce preexisting beliefs apriori. I want to believe that where there is untruth, scientists and researchers will oust it and expel it as such. I want to believe that researchers and scientists can put their own personal beliefs aside and profess the truth, no matter how uncomfortable this makes them feel, and how shaking this is for religious beliefs they've held all along. I want to believe that doctors actually want to practice medicine, not practice superstition. Instead, what I see in America is "researchers," "scientists" and "doctors" use pseudoscience to confirm their own superstitious beliefs. They then push these beliefs onto naive parents under the pretense of "public health."
If something is demonstrably false, it's the duty of other scientists and researchers to call it out, is it not?
What is going on in America?
What is happening on in world stage that other scientists and researchers lack the gall to call Americans on their deliberate superstitious circumcision nonsense?
Brian Morris is neither a surgeon, nor a pediatrician, nor a urologist, nor a doctor of any kind. And yet, it's as if he were the Alex Jones of male infant circumcision; he seems to have no trouble passing himself off as a "circumcision expert" dispensing advice to parents, and news outlets actually look to him as a respectable source, despite his lack in any medical credentials. He goes on and on about how much he "loves science," but then he minimizes or dismisses science and research he doesn't agree with. Worse than that; he actually spends his time trying to discredit authors that write research showing circumcision to be detrimental. You're not a true scientist if you dismiss research and findings you disagree with. WHAT IS THE REASON the University of Sydney hasn't already stripped him of their prestige for using it to pass himself as any kind of "expert" on male infant circumcision?
There are huge holes in the "research" in Marie Wawer's work, and the work of others, and claims on it that "circumcision reduces the risk of HIV." Among other things, their findings simply fail to manifest in the real world, where HIV and other STDs are more prevalent in circumcising United States, than they are in non-circumcising Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries. "Mass circumcision campaigns" are being conducted in Africa based on this. This has led to people in Africa circumcising boys and teens against a parent's wishes, not to mention tribes are using these claims to justify the forced circumcision of men in their communities. What is the reason researchers and scientists around the world aren't questioning these claims and decrying these "studies" and the "mass circumcision campaigns" as the human experiments they are? Would we ever endorse "research" that involved circumcising 1000s of women to "measure how much FGM reduces HIV transmission?" And then pour millions into "mass female circumcision campaigns?"
Freedman and Schoen would deny it, but it is obvious their judgement is colored by their conviction to preserve the traditions of "their tribe." When a Muslim doctor advocates for FGM, we don't call it "persecution" to blast him or her for it. We don't treat the situation with kid gloves so as to avoid being called "anti-Muslim." There is an ongoing case in Chicago, where a doctor is in hot water for performing FGM on girls in this country. Her allegations are no different than those of Jewish advocates of circumcision; "This is our culture, it is our religious right." Why is it only with male infant circumcision that suddenly, we want to "respect people's cultural and religious beliefs?"
Here we have Andrew Freedman openly declaring his fidelity to his "tribe," but we're expected to believe him when he says this doesn't at all color his judgement, he "wants this to be a choice for parents." Only 0.6% of the population is Jewish. Why do American parents, 99.4% of which do not to belong to this "tribe" need to have this "choice?" Why does eliciting any kind of "choice" from parents have to be public health policy? And why are doctors expected to perform a superstitious, religious ritual for parents? The question becomes, what if parents want the doctor to perform female circumcision "because it's their religion, their tribe, and they should have the choice?" Since when is it a doctor's duty to superstition and religion and not medicine?
It's not talked about in this film, but Edgar Schoen was Jewish (he died in 2016), he was an avid male infant circumcision evangelist, and he was connected with many proponents of male infant circumcision. He was connected with Neil Pollock, he himself a Jewish mohel in Canada, whose sole source of income are his male infant circumcision clinics, and who goes to different countries, taking advantage of the male circumcision/HIV gravy train to promote circumcision. He was connected with Daniel Halperin, one of the "researchers" trying to push circumcision in Africa. Edgar Schoen himself went on a campaign to try and convince European medical organizations to endorse male infant circumcision as public health policy, but he was rejected, every single time. A Jewish circumcision evangelist, you couldn't find anyone more biased on this topic than Edgar Schoen, and yet he somehow found his way into the AAP, and helped change public policy. The AAP was on its way to aligning itself with medical organizations in the rest of the world, but it instead took a step back into the 1800s, and it was all due to this man.
Brendon touches on a topic that is often a no-go zone when it comes to this conversation. Both activists against female genital mutilation and advocates of male infant circumcision shut down the conversation whenever female genital cutting comes up. "Don't compare the two," they say. "They aren't the same." They expect for the conversation to end there and then, and refuse to continue beyond that. The fact of the matter is that most people who utter these snappy sound-bites don't actually know what they're talking about. Most only heard from somewhere, or saw it in propaganda against female genital cutting, or female genital mutilation, and simply memorized all these points because they sound good, and are often effective in shutting down the conversation. "Don't compare them," they say. Well, somebody had to have, in order to come up with the idea that they're "not comparable." I myself used to believe that male and female circumcision are "completely different," until I actually started looking.
The more you investigate, study and compare genital cutting, the more you realize that actually, both male and female circumcision are quite comparable, if not identical. You come to realize that every aspect of male and female circumcision is the precisely same. The claims, the truths, the lies, everything. Everything that you can say to justify male infant circumcision can be used to justify female circumcision. Everything that you can say to condemn female genital cutting is also true of male genital cutting.
Female is horrific and performed in the African bush by amateur shamans using crude utensils such as rusty blades and shards? The same is true for male circumcision. Male circumcision is performed by trained professionals in the pristine conditions of a hospital using sterile equipment? The same is true for female circumcision. Female circumcision is used to subjugate women and control their sexuality? The whole reason male circumcision exists in the west was to stop boys and men from masturbating. In the Chabad website, it is written on various pages that the subjugation of Jewish male sexuality is the very goal of male circumcision. (Other Chabad references here and here.) Male has "potential medical benefits?" Well, so does female circumcision. Male circumcision is an "important religious cultural custom?" Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, so is female genital cutting. Female circumcision causes complications and death in girls and women? Well male circumcision causes complications and kills also. Male circumcision can be performed in infants so that they don't remember the pain? This is precisely what they do in South East Asian countries.
We talk about "severity," "intent," the professional status of those who do this, the cleanliness of the utensils use etc. as if any of this actually mattered. As if female genital cutting could be justified if it were made "less severe," if we made it about "medical benefits" instead of sexual detriment, if it were done by trained professionals in a hospital using clean utensils instead of out in the African bush. As if the moral acceptability of forcibly cutting healthy, non-consenting minors hinged on the outcome of "studies" or "research." In the end, we have determined there would never be enough "benefits," never enough "studies," never a procedure "minimal" enough that would ever under any circumstances justify the forced cutting of a girl or woman. WHY the double-standard for boys and men?
Brendon actually interviews two women who underwent what we would call "female genital mutilation." One of them actually recognizes and acknowledges the parallel of what what happens to boys daily in this country, and what happened to her. The other woman, a westernized, by all means American woman, recounts her story of how she was taken away for her female genital cutting ritual. Instead of being angry, the second woman "embraces" what has happened to her, and actually advocates that forced female genital cutting be practiced freely. If you heard her talk and closed your eyes, you would think she sounded like any other American mother advocating for male infant circumcision. If she had a deeper voice, you could confuse her for a man minimizing his own circumcision. "It's our culture, it's our choice." According to her, her forced genital cutting has not impaired her ability to experience sexual pleasure and orgasm.
It is often claimed that female circumcision destroys a woman's ability to orgasm, but here we have one of many women saying from personal experience that this is simply not true. We seem have invented this maxim that "as long as a person can still experience sex, as men are still able to after circumcision, then it's OK," only, it's turning out that it's based on pure myth and propaganda. Another researcher, Sarah Johnsdotter, who has talked with hundreds African women, reveals that even women who have undergone the most severe form of FGM, "infibulation" (sowing up the vulva to leave a small hole), are still able to enjoy sex and orgasm. So is forcibly cutting a girl or woman justified now? I don't know about my readers, but for me, the answer is "no." When an action is a violation of basic human rights, it doesn't matter that you can still enjoy sex afterward.
Brendon's film shines light on these claims that "male and female circumcision are worlds apart" and "should never be compared," and reveals them to be simply hyperbole meant to allow people to criticize the practices of another culture, while protecting their own. The closer one looks, if one dares, the more one realizes that not only are these practices "comparable," they're identical. Either both should be allowed to continue based on "religious freedom" and "parental choice," or both must be condemned for being the basic human rights violations that they are.
One of the aspects this film touches upon are the different attitudes we have towards the male and female sex. While it's acceptable for women to be victims, damsels in distress if you will, it's not acceptable for men. It is expected that males be strong, stoic and resilient; "whining" and "complaining" is seen as "weak" and "unmanly." Men protesting wrongs that befall them is a joke. In fact, it's "comedy" in America to cause damage to a man's genitals. Someone kicks a man in the testicles and hilarity is supposed to ensue. It's no surprise, then, that in America we try to make a joke of circumcision, and we belittle and dismiss men when they say that they are unhappy that this happened to them. When a woman expresses discontent that something has happened to her, the world is ready to listen. There are women's crisis centers and hotlines for women seeking support. Nothing for men. Most men have to look for help at women's crisis centers.
A common quip used by male infant circumcision advocates is that "men will get over it." Edgar Schoen himself is in this film telling men to "Get a life! Most men are happy they were circumcised." (I don't remember exactly, and I don't want to scrub through the video to get the exact quote.) Well what if men aren't happy, and that the reason they don't come forward is precisely because they're afraid they'll be ridiculed and laughed at instead of being given support? Men do complain. It's just that we as a nation have decided to pretend we can't hear them. This is funny, because at the same time, we bellyache that "men don't listen" or that they "have trouble articulating." We expect men to respect other people's bodies when their own bodies weren't respected, to listen when nobody listened to them, to speak up when they hurt after we've told them all their lives from day one that their pain and suffering doesn't matter.
The film touches on so much more. He touches on the misinformation American doctors inadvertently or quite deliberately give parents, how circumcision botches are not recognized as such, how some parents don't learn about the risks and adverse outcomes of circumcision until it's too late, how in America, there isn't a system of monitoring the adverse effects of circumcision, how hospitals, doctors and medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics don't seem to be interested (Why would they be, if male infant circumcision is a money maker for them?), how historically it was believed that babies feel no pain, desensitization due to circumcision, restoration, efforts to ban the practice, Jewish voices in the intactivist movement, the numerous lawsuits for botched circumcisions and the lawyers behind them, and much more that I probably missed.
This much can be said; when it comes to knowledge concerning anatomically correct male genitals, America is in the dark ages. Male infant circumcision was once the rule of the day in English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, but they've since moved on, and no one buys into the "medical benefits" there. The practice has been banned in hospitals in Australia, much to the chagrin of Brian Morris. Male infant circumcision is pseudoscientific pseudo-medicine that should have gone the way of blood-letting and head trepanning, and yet, for whatever reason, American doctors continue to cling to it. America can surely benefit from an overhaul in medical curricula; the most any American physician learns about the anatomically correct genitals is how to cut the foreskin off. In America, most males are circumcised, as is the American psyche; Americans are only ever exposed to circumcised penises in health and medical textbooks.
Americans need to sit down and actually have a real conversation regarding male genitals. No, not on how funny it is to kick men in groin and jokes about how one should never buy gribenes from a mohel. A genuine, serious conversation. Americans need to learn to hear circumcised, gentile and Jewish alike. Put down your spring-loaded dismissal lines and actually listen to what they have to say. It may be uncomfortable, but such a conversation is becoming increasingly unavoidable and long overdue.
American Circumcision is an introspective, well-researched beginning to this conversation.
"American Circumcision" Wins Best Documentary Film Award at the Lone Star Film Festival
Politically Correct Research: When Science, Morals and Political Agendas Collide
Official American Circumcision Film Website