Why The Fight To End Female Genital Mutilation Needs To Include Infant Male Circumcision

Why The Fight To End Female Genital Mutilation Needs To Include Infant Male Circumcision

The Two Procedures Have More In Common Than You May Know
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I knew pitching this article would bring chaos.

Yet, with that in mind last Thursday, I texted, "I want to do a piece discussing how anyone against female circumcision should also be against it for males because of how similar the arguments for them mirror each other," and pressed the paper airplane "send" button.

Then it began. One Odyssey colleague in our GroupMe Chat immediately took umbrage with my word usage: "It is NOT female circumcision. It is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Using the term 'circumcision' diminishes its severity."

From another colleague: "I'm sorry but that is just not the same thing at all. They're two very different things."

I was already in it before the first sentence. And that wasn't the end of it. I understand their position. Female Genital Mutilation has a dark history on this planet. A history wrought with control, violence, and death.

But their disagreements reaffirmed what I knew. More than ever, I had to write this article. Too many misconceptions and too little information lurk in this discussion.

The fight against FGM should not continue without including infant male circumcision - or what I like to call "Male Genital Mutilation" - as an adversary. We need to see both as one unified struggle.

Before I cover each reason, I'll address the emotional block most reading this are having now. Those who say that you cannot compare FGM to infant male circumcision aren't necessarily incorrect. Rather, they're bringing up the horrific infibulation process and comparing it to the in-hospital procedure most American boys experience.

Ethicist Brian D. Earp explains:

"The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as any ‘non-medical’ alteration of the genitalia of women and girls. What this is likely to bring to mind is the most extreme version of such ‘alteration’, which is the excision of the external part of the clitoris followed by a narrowing of the vaginal opening, sometimes using stitches or thorns. It is rarely understood that this notorious form of FGM is comparatively rare: it occurs in a subset of the practising communities and makes up about 10 per cent of cases worldwide. More prevalent, but much less frequently discussed in the media, is a range of less extensive alterations, sometimes performed under anaesthesia by medical professionals and with sterile surgical equipment. These include, among other interventions, so-called ritual ‘nicking’ of the clitoral hood (common in Malaysia), as well as non-medically-indicated labiaplasty and even piercings that might be done for perceived cosmetic enhancement."

That means under the WHO's definition, even this more common instance of cutting, where doctors removed a part of an infant girl's clitoris barely the size of a rice grain, is mutilation. Yet infant male circumcision, which is NOT a small snip and does cause pain, has never received that designation.

Even activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an FGM victim, has stated that FGM's least invasive form is less damaging than infant male circumcision.

With that context provided, I'll get into some of the more common justifications given for male circumcision, and relay why they can be adapted to FGM.

Indifference

Oftentimes, American men defending circumcision will retort, "I don't see the big deal. I'm circumcised and I'm totally fine. I don't think it's mutilation."

The problem is, that indifference extends across gender aisles.

Per anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu, who has expertise in female sexuality, "As an anthropologist who has studied female mutilation rituals in West Africa for many, many years and have written about it extensively, most women do not experience it as mutilation and would never refer to themselves as mutilated."

Quite a few women in Egypt, which has a high FGM rate, also see nothing wrong with the practice. Some in Southeast Asia feel the same way. And yes, even women in Africa.

Just as many men in America, they do not see themselves as victims. So if many mutilated women don't feel like they've been mutilated, does that validate the practice? It's the same logic circumcised guys here invoke to justify circumcising male babies, after all.

Pleasure

Another common sticking argument for people dismissing comparisons between FGM and male circumcision is the idea that, “Female genital mutilation completely removes a woman's ability to orgasm and enjoy sex; male circumcision does not.”

This misconception is rooted in ignorance of how structures in both the male and female genitalia operate, and is one of the more complicated aspects of my argument for me to cover.

FGM's effects are well documented, But even with the risks, it is simply untrue that all cut women cannot enjoy intercourse. A 2007 study of FGM victims found many still capable of achieving pleasure, even with the practice's most extreme form:

Removal of the clitoris, despite widespread belief, does not always stop all sexual stimulation. As the study's curators noted, “In mutilated/cut women, some fundamental structures for orgasm have not been excised.”

The findings match those of European researchers at the World Congress For Sexual Health:

“When Professor Sara Johnsdotter started studying Somali women living in Sweden, she didn't think sex would be one of their favourite topics. After all, they had no clitoris. They'd all experienced the most severe form of female genital cutting-or mutilation, as some prefer to call it. But to her surprise she found they had a very positive view of sex. They had lots of sexual pleasure, including orgasms.”

“After all, the little bump we think of as the clitoris is actually only the tip, she points out. In fact the clitoris carries on deep inside the body. So even if the tip is cut off, there's plenty left for stimulation”

This pleasure argument is flipped when it comes to male circumcision. While experts claim genital mutilation keeps women from enjoying sex, they emphatically deny its effects on males. Such individuals may refer to the male foreskin as a “piece of skin,” therefore easily disposable from a newborn infant.

U.S. media happily trumpeted out a December 2015 Queen's University study arguing male circumcision does not reduce sensitivity (Earp's sharp takedown of that study was recently published at Trends in Urology And Men's Health.)

Other findings, however, suggest the opposite. A 2013 study from Belgium's Ghent University Hospital found circumcised men had “less intense sexual pleasure and orgasm than uncircumcised counterparts.”

That study also found “circumcised men were more likely to report more pain and numbness during arousal than uncircumcised men.”

In 1999, the British Journal Of Urology found that “the tip of the foreskin, and some or all of the frenulum, are routinely removed as part of circumcision. This tissue contains a high concentration of the nerve endings that sense fine touch. After circumcision, the surface of the glans thickens like a callus. The glans is innervated by free nerve endings that can only sense deep pressure and pain.”

This 1998 research paper delves even further into the foreskin's sexual and immunological functions.

Circumcision removes the penis's mucosal membrane, gliding function for smoother movement during PIV (Penis-in- Vagina) intercourse, Langerhans Cells that help combat HIV and thousands of fine touch receptors.

That's a useless flap of skin?

And before proceeding, let's be clear. Can circumcised men have mind-blowing sex lives? Of course. But the same can apply for circumcised women.

While cultural factors may compensate for lack of equipment, so to speak, removing it prevents humans from enjoying a specific intercourse biology designed for them. So why use the pleasure argument as a wedge between FGM and circumcision to denounce the former and defend the latter?

Considering the average foreskin-male or female-has no pathology, is that not more justification to allow children to grow up with their genitals intact? So that one day, upon reaching sexual maturity, they can decide upon any genital modification procedures?

Religion

Religion is a heavy driving force behind male circumcision. Jews and Muslims choose the procedure for their young because of Abraham's edict in Genesis 17:13. And when Europe tried banning circumcision a few years ago, members from both religions united to oppose the effort, arguing it was discriminatory.

Therefore, many argue we should respect infant male circumcision on religious grounds. But if that's the case, then why should we interfere with the Dawoodi Bohra and Shaff'i Islamic sects, both of which have interpreted Islam to mean FGM is mandatory?

All religions are essentially interpretations and reinterpretations of older texts. They have never stayed stagnant and have changed with time. So with that in mind, why couldn't these religions develop new customs over millennia as well?

I'm going off on a small tangent here, but that's the idea behind Brit Shalom, a Jewish naming ceremony for boys that doesn't involve circumcision.

As Jews Against Circumcision puts it, "The argument that Jewish babies have a right to have part of their penises cut off before they are old enough to give or withhold consent, because to do otherwise would deprive them of their heritage, is irrational. Heritage here means doing what we have done. It may seem, at first, to insult one’s ancestors to do other than what they did, but it is equally an insult to our own and our descendent’s intelligence, to cling blindly to customs of the past."

Though Jews who follow Brit Shalom are few today, its development shows that even the most stringent customs can transform.

Benefits

A major sticking point for those who don't believe FGM and male circumcision can be compared is the idea the latter brings "benefits" while the former only brings suffering. It's been stated that infant male circumcision brings better hygiene, decreased UTI risk, decreased penile cancer risk and prevents penile problems.

So the argument goes that male circumcision is justifiable on medical grounds while FGM isn't because it lacks that foundation. There are two major problems with this argument.

Firstly, medical experts worldwide have questioned these benefits (the American Cancer Society even states that it would take 900 circumcisions to stop one case of penile cancer).

Not to mention, the U.S., which circumcises the most infants of any First World nation, also leads its peers in HIV numbers. By contrast, Europe rarely performs infant male circumcision, and their HIV numbers are much lower than ours.

(Also, we can trust boys to wipe their behinds after defecating, but not to clean their foreskins after urinating?)

Secondly, as countries that regularly circumcise male infants promote "benefits" backing the practice, so do countries that perform FGM.

One site I found quoted a doctor on the subject as claiming that "The secretions of the labia minora accumulate in uncircumcised women and turn rancid, so they develop an unpleasant odour which may lead to infections of the vagina or urethra. I have seen many cases of sickness caused by the lack of circumcision."

In that same article, a female gynecologist claims further "benefits," including:

-"It prevents unpleasant odours which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce."

-"It reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections."

-"It reduces the incidence of infections of the reproductive system."



Given that these "pros" are interspersed with praise for Allah, chances are, they're more driven by religious motives than scientific fact. But it shows my point. As American doctors conjure up "benefits" for the multi-billion dollar circumcision industry, so do some doctors in areas where FGM is common.

Rights

Some parents who circumcise their male babies defend it by stating that it's their child, so it's their choice. Since, you know, the individual who actually owns the penis doesn't deserve a say in what happens to it.

But using these ownership terms, could we not argue the same for parents who choose FGM? It's their daughter's in the end, right?

Above these reasons though, the most important reason the fight to end FGM should also include infant and forced male circumcision is simple.

Every single nation that cuts its women also cuts its men. They make little distinction between the two. In both cases, ideological structures uphold the procedures. And in both cases, young boys and girls are subjected to something they were too young to give consent for.

If grown men or women wish the procedure done on them in a healthy and safe environment, more power to them. But when it comes to kids and infants who can't refuse, that's where the line should be drawn. Regardless of what lies between their legs.



Cover Image Credit: Odyssey

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it

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Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

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I Am Pro-Life, And I Am Tired Of Being Attacked For My Opinion

I am pro-life from a secular and logical standpoint.

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We live in a country based on free speech, so why are pro-lifers verbally and physically attacked for merely their stance on a controversial topic? Why is Instagram censoring pro-life voices? Social media users should be given both sides of the argument, then allowed to make an informed decision, but by showing them only pro-choice content, their opinion will be biased.

Harmless pro-life posts are being shadow-banned from popular hashtags, lowering reach and engagement. There is a problem when non-violent, non-hateful posts showcasing people holding up signs that say, "Voices for the Voiceless", are censored.

Why are pro-choicers allowed to share their opinions on social media and be praised, while pro-lifers lose followers for sharing a pro-life post? It is vital that people have different opinions, and shunning pro-lifers encourages homogeneity of political opinions. Pro-lifers should not lose friends. Pro-lifers should not be attacked. Pro-lifers should not be scared of speaking up for what they believe is right.

I am pro-life, but I respect everyone's opinion. Instead of shunning the opposite side, I try to hear them out and understand where they are coming from.

Instead of dismissing pro-lifers as being old white men trying to control women's bodies, why not hear them out and try to understand the reasoning behind their opinions?

I used to be neutral on the topic of abortion, until a month ago, when I saw something that completely changed my perspective. It was around the time Governor Kemp signed the fetal heartbeat bill in Georgia, and it was a hot topic, so I decided to do some research. I came across a sight called "Priests For Life". "Oh great", I thought, "This site is going to impose its Christian views of abortion on everyone." Once on the site, I clicked on a tab titled, "America Will Not Reject Abortion Until America Sees Abortion."

I clicked on the gallery, and was confronted with the cold hard truth. View the gallery with extreme caution, because the images/videos are VERY graphic.

From this site, I also discovered that planned parenthood harvests and sells the body parts of aborted babies. Keep in mind, Planned Parenthood, providing 1/3 of abortions in America, receives $500 million dollars yearly from taxpayers. Having taxpayers' money going toward reforming foster care would be a better idea in my opinion.

The Declaration of Independence states, "Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". The difference in opinion on whether the law should protect unborn children is a major factor that divides the pro-life and pro-choice movements.

In my humble opinion, I believe an unborn child should be protected by the law once a heartbeat is detected. We cannot dehumanize unborn children with euphemisms such as "clump of cells" or "potential life". We were all once "a clump of cells", and we still are. Can you name one non-living thing with a heartbeat? There is none.

The level of development of a human does not detract from his/her rights. All lives matter!

The most common pro-choice argument is "My body my choice." Yes, your body your choice, but when it's not your body, it's not your choice. The baby has its own unique set of DNA, its own organs, its own limbs, brain activity and a heartbeat. Just because a woman carries a baby does not give her a right to end his/her life.

Some may say the fetus cannot survive on its own, but a 1 month infant cannot either. A one month old infant depends on the care of a mother or guardian, and if it were to be left without food or water, it would not be able to fend for itself. Someone on life support cannot survive without the incubator. Elderly people with dementia depend on the care of staff in senior centers for survival.

The parasite argument is also a common one. Basic biology can refute this one. An unborn child in the womb is not a parasite, because for it to be a parasite it would have to be a different species than the mother, which would cause an adverse immune response.

"Everyone has the right to choose," is found on almost every pro-choice protest sign, and yes I agree. You have the right to choose to do whatever you want, but the second your actions harm another human's rights, a line must be drawn.

A women's right to choose ends when her baby's right to life begins.

Another common argument that is condescending towards pro-lifers is that they are pro-birth but not pro-life. Tell that to the thousands of pro-lifers adopting multiple children, giving them the best possible life. Tell that to the people outside of planned parenthood with signs that say "I will take your baby." Tell that to the numerous churches helping pregnant women. Tell that to the government who is giving single mothers tax breaks, food stamps and countless other resources.

The foster system may be flawed, but that is not justify ending the life of a child. More than 18,000 American families successfully adopt newborn babies in the United States every year.

Regardless, suffering is inevitable; you cannot end a child's life because he/she will live a difficult life. Instead, legislation should be passed to improve the foster care system and the adoption process. When a child is not aborted there is always hope, a chance, a possibility.

Some "pro-lifers" say, "I am pro-life for my body, but pro-choice for everyone else". This reasoning fails in many ways. You never hear anyone say, "I would never abuse my child, but I would never take away a parent's choice of if they want to abuse their child or not". Being pro-life means advocating for the defenseless, which means every single child, not just your own.

Women can do whatever they want with their lives, as long as their actions do not end the heartbeat of another human being.

All over social media, you see people sharing posts that say the women will be sentenced to 99 years of jail for having an abortion and 30 years for a miscarriage, but this is false. Often celebrities are the ones using their platforms to share these false statements. People should also fact-check the things they see on Instagram before believing them.

One line all pro-choicers say is "No uterus, no opinion". Let's not forget the people who made abortion legal were old, white men. This line is hypocrisy at its finest. If the line was "No prostate, no opinion", World War III would break out.

Most people are outraged by the fact that majority of the politicians who signed the heartbeat bill in Georgia were men, but let us not forget that Georgia residents vote for these representatives knowing the policies they advocate for. Around 40% of Americans are pro-life, and around 40% of women are pro-life, but these percentages are significantly greater in Conservative states, which explains the election of conservative representatives in Georgia and Alabama.

Pro-choicers often paint an image of pro-lifers as men who want to control the bodies of women, but that could not be any further from the truth. Abortion allows men to use women and not be held responsible for the consequences. Banning abortion teaches men responsibility and loyalty.

The purpose of the pro-life movement is not to control a woman's body but rather grant an innocent, unborn child the fundamental right to life.

Regardless of my pro-life stance, I do believe abortion should be allowed in RARE cases; for example, when the mother's health is in danger.

I agree these anti-abortion bills put a lot of stress on the mother, so I am all for increasing the involvement of the father. Whether it be increasing the amount and frequency of child support payments or making the father co-parent, it takes two to create a child, so the father should pull his weight.

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. once said, "Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. The mother decides his or her fate."

This article is not meant to shun anyone who has had an abortion or is pro-choice. I respect your stance 100 percent. The purpose of this article is to address the social media bias towards liberal views of abortion and the stigma of leaning toward the right on abortion. There is no one right answer to this debate. It is not always black and white; that is why the abortion debate has been going on for decades.

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