As an intactivist, I have always described my goal as putting an end to the genital cutting of babies and children who cannot consent. I see this work as incremental, consisting of advocacy, persuasion, education, reason, and – yes – confrontation, such as Intact America’s recent Put Down The Knife! campaign aimed at physicians.
Events that occurred earlier this year in San Francisco, however, made me think seriously about whether I believed “circumcision should be outlawed” – in other words, whether I would support a legislative ban on “routine” (medically unnecessary) circumcision of male infants and children. While most Americans abhor the very thought of female genital mutilation, many simply don’t know that there is a federal law that already prohibits even the most minor cutting of the genitals of a girl under the age of 18. The proposed San Francisco ban was modeled exactly on that “anti-FGM” legislation.
Intact America has not advocated for a legislative ban on circumcision – yet. I believe that before we can reasonably expect routine infant male circumcision to be outlawed, we need greater social and political consensus that it is harmful, and the political power to overcome interest groups who promote their right to carry out the procedure. In the meantime, Intact America and the intactivist movement in general are moving public opinion and parents’ awareness, in the direction of more and more boys being left intact. As this occurs, and as knowledge of the harms of circumcision spreads, we will come closer to the conditions needed to achieve a gender-neutral approach to the genital cutting of children.
However, this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t really impressed and really excited when Lloyd Schofield and others gathered enough signatures in San Francisco to get a limited circumcision ban onto the ballot in that city. Predictable media comments on “those kooky San Franciscans” aside, I thought it was awesome that this local initiative raised the visibility of the circumcision problem to national – and actually international – prominence.
Was there backlash? Of course! And some intactivists have said that the opposition by physicians and religious groups, which ultimately resulted in the measure being stricken from the ballot, means that the initiative was “premature” or – worse – a setback to the progress we have made in recent years.
But I see it differently. I think the backlash is a mark of our progress. The other side is afraid, because they know we are winning, and that their professed right to cut the genitals of babies is being challenged as never before.
Abolitionists didn’t wait for the slaveholders’ permission to call for an end to slavery. Suffragists didn’t wait for women to be recognized as men’s equals before advocating for the right to vote. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t ask if it was ok for him to have a dream of racial equality.
Intactivists do not need anybody’s permission to talk about the American promise of equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, and why permitting the genital cutting of boys belies that promise.
In a future post, I will talk about challenges that arise in crafting a ban on male child circumcision – in particular, the charge that such a ban would conflict with another American principle: the right to religious freedom.
This is a great article. The word is spreading. Thank you for all your hard work. I will continue to do my part as a midwife who will not attend the birth of those who wish to circumcise. So far my clients have all chosen not to after being given all the information on infant circumcision! Making my own small ripple here.
Bravo to you! The expectant parents must certainly realize that you are advocating in their child’s interest.
I cannot wait for this vile act against helpless children comes to an end.. Religious reasons, or not, the mutilation of boys is as cruel and barbaric as the mutilation of girls. Boys are no less precious than girls and we should be as shocked by the brutality of circumcision on boys, as we are about girls.
Here is my “take” on what happend in San Francisco earlier this year. The fact that circumcisers, the ACLU, the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association all reacted is proof that we are making progress. They are no longer ignoring us. That is a good sign as unpleasant the experience might feel.
There is a phenomenon in social change movements that we saw happen this summer. As a cause begins to shift public consciousness and the opposition pushes back, activists can become disheartened because it seems to them that they are experiencing a loss, when in fact the cause is moving forward.
Yes, we are far from calling for a ban, but a ban must occur. Eventually, Congress must rewrite the 1996 Federal Prohibition Against Female Genital Mutilaltion in gender neutral terms and the United States will move a step closer to gender equality.
Genital Integrity Awareness Week
19th Annual Demonstration/March Against Infant Circumcision
March 26th – April 1st 2012
West side of US Capitol-Washington DC
I urge everyone to try to attend this gathering. If you cannot attend, please help get this message out. We are at a cross roads with our efforts to end RIC. Especially due to the recent statements made our pro-cutting President, Barrack Obama. The idea of our tax dollars being use to circumcise every male in Africa to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic is utter insanity. Please visit our website and Facebook pave for a schedule of our event. Or call me personally. David 321-243-0178 StopInfantCircumcision.org
I agree with freedom of religion but I don’t agree that you can use your religion to be free to hurt other people. Of course, religion is probably responsible for most of the wars and loss of human life in the history of the world.
If you recite a lie five times it becomes the truth.
The initiatives in San Fransisco and Massachusetts brought National media attention to the subject. The more people talk about RIC the better. Truth is on our side. More press and information about religious people who are questioning RIC is also helpful. Personally I will continue to voice my opposition to RIC until it is illegal world wide.
The only way to completely stop the practice is to enact a complete and total ban. Until then, there will always be sicko perverts who continue to perform this disgusting, barbaric procedure on infant males.
Calling for a ban is the right thing, and I feel that it should carry with it the ultimate punishment. I’d love nothing more than to see these pedophile “doctors” and “religious leaders” strapped to a gurney being infused with a three-drug cocktail of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.
In the Roman Empire circumcision was illegal and punishable by death. Honestly, I think the death penalty is appropriate for circumcision as it ruins people’s lives. We can’t hold parents accountable who have already circumcised their son as they probably didn’t realize what they were doing and was not illegal at the time. But once it is illegal a parent would be consciously breaking the law and should be severely punished.
Thank you, Georganne, for courageously holding the torch. You’ve touched on all the right points and helped remind folks that we are winning. The backlash simply illustrates that fact! While some people were discouraged that the San Francisco measure was struck from the ballot, denying voters their constitutional right to vote on it, it was to be expected. There will be more backlash, we can expect it, too. Again, it just points to the desperateness of those who want to cut the genitals of non-consenting minors and the righteousness, strength, and success of our campaign. Those with personal, professional, cultural, or religious agendas will continue to attempt to prove the “benefits” of circumcision but, with most of the world being non-problematically intact, their mission is impossible! Baby boys, like baby girls, have a right to their bodies. And, I for one, am glad I’m with you, Georganne, on the right side of this campaign!
The practice of ritual/religious circumcision illustrates a terrible liability of the religious mindset. Religion is capable of taking morally normal people and giving them divine permission, or in some cases divine commands, to commit immoral actions, the mutilation of children’s genitals being one of the most disturbing examples of this phenomenon. Ethical concepts, such as autonomy and the right to bodily integrity, were simply not part of the bronze age moral zeitgeist. Tribal markings and mutilations would have seemed perfectly acceptable in the blood-soaked landscape of the Old Testament but are no longer compatible with the ethical considerations of modern society. If religious groups are going to be engaged and confronted about circumcision, discourse is only useful in the light of contemporary secular ethics and universal human rights. The validity of divine covenants and magical incantations is distracting and is irrelevant to the conversation. Do we want to have a 2012 conversation, about the ethical and scientific implications of genital cutting, or do we want to have a 2000 B.C. conversation, about the importance of continuing a cruel and harmful cutting ritual devised by bronze age goat herders?
“Those who can make you believe absurdities,
can make you commit atrocities”
Great quote at the end of your comment.
Some of your thoughts are disturbingly offensive.
Well put. I live in San Francisco and voted for the ban on circumcision of infants. I knew the initiative would not survive, but felt it was good press. I do believe the ballot initiative was ill advised. I think a simple advisory would have been more effective.
I participated in a penile sensitivity study in San Francisco and the study confirmed what I already knew, that intact males are much more sensitive than circumcised males. The study was publised in a medical journal.
I admire those who are still keeping the fight going. I’ve supported the movement for many years.
I find the “religious freedom” argument in support of circumcision particularly alarming.
My sister and I were raised strict Roman Catholic – went to Jesuit schools all through high
school, etc… Due to our mother who is from Central America. I do not mean to offend, but I grew to feel that this faith wasn’t for me, and when I was 14 I informed my mother that I didn’t wish to go through with my Catholic confirmation. I felt at the time I had the right to make this decision for myself.
Unfortunately this did not go over well…I was angrily threatened with being grounded, having my social life and sports and guitar, etc. all taken from me until I consented to go through with Confirmation. I resisted for a long time under these conditions (grounded, no extracurricular activities, forbidden to see friends), but in the end my mother had the say and to get my ‘life’ back I had to give in.
As an adult I currently do no practice Catholicism due to personal choice and still hold the same beliefs as I did in high school. Again, I don’t mean to offend anybody; I just use this example because I believe that parents don’t have the right to force religion on their children. They can share, teach, guide, influence, etc. But not force.
If the “religious freedom” argument is to stand, it must stand for all. When a baby is marked as a Muslim or Jew, his religious freedom has been denied. Everyone has the right to an intact body and to religious freedom. We must defend that right until the child is old enough to defend him- or herself.
The “religious freedom” argument fails, and this is why advocates of male circumcision get extremely defensive and “offended” that we dare to bring out the female circumcision argument.
For better or for worse, female circumcision is also practiced as a matter of religious custom, and when we bring it up, male circumcision advocates have to engage in definitional retreat. It’s no longer about “religious freedom,” but about “established” (?) religions or whatnot. (“Established” meaning their own religion; a self-serving argument.)
And when their “freedom of religion” argument fails, they have to turn to “potential medical benefits.” They may have numerous “studies” (written by the same self-serving bunch) on their side, but the fact that they have to draw attention to a pseudo-medical argument shows that “freedom of religion” and “parental choice” fail as arguments.
Attention must be drawn to pseudo-medicine to draw attention away from the fact that “freedom of religion” and “parental choice” are invalid arguments.
Either “religious freedom” and “parental choice” allow parents to cut children of either sex, for whatever religion, or they do not. The fact that “religious freedom” and “parental choice” can only refer to Judeo-Christian circumcision of only male children shows just how self-serving the argument actually is.
Baby girls are “sunat” in Muslim South-East Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. If Jewish parents are entitled to “parental rights” to circumcise their boys, then Muslim parents are entitled these same rights to circumcise their girls.
I find it interesting that though girls are circumcised in many Muslim traditions, people of both Jewish and Muslim faiths shook hands in San Francisco to come together against a law that bans the forced circumcision of healthy boys. They kind of just “forgot” that the other religion practices female circumcision. They also “forgot” about their differences in the Middle East as well. It would be nice if Jews and Muslims showed the same solidarity in the Middle East, but that’s a topic for a different thread.
You are 100% correct. Circumcising a person without consent is a violation of his religious freedom. A person’s right to religious freedom comes to an IMMEDIATE end the moment that another person’s rights are infringed upon. Religious freedom does not give people a right to impose their religion upon others just because it is their religion to do so.
This is a matter I’ve changed my mind on. I used to think that all infant circumcision should be banned and that is what the intact baby movement should aim to do. Now, I say let the Jews and Moslems have their way simply because you cannot stop them in a million years. They are not reachable; let’s live with it and go for the banning of nonreligious circ, whether in the hospital or in private clinics (where they are mostly done in Canada today).
About 5 yr. ago I publicly said on the radio that “circumcision needs to be banned; it’s not enough to try and discourage it”. The Minister of Health shot back, “This would interfere with freedom of religion and it’s not going to happen”. See – he never said anything about the rights of parents in general; he was concerned only about certain minorities. That’s a toe in the door, if you ask me.
It’s interesting that “religion” is a concern for the Minister of Health. Let’s ask him what he feels about female circumcision.
Ask him about the AAP-proposed “ritual nick” for girls.
What does “freedom of religion” have to do with public health?
They are like cheese and chalk and should never ever be discussed in the same context.
A physician’s duty is to MEDICINE and the well-being of the PATIENT.
Science has no place for religious superstition.
Jews and Muslims may have their beliefs etc., but this should have absolutely no bearing on medical policy.
The practice should be banned from hospitals unless it is medically warranted procedure.
If this leaves adherents of religions that circumcise boys as stark naked as adherents of religions that circumcise girls, that’s none of the Minister of Health’s business.
The problem accepting Jewish and Islamic religious circumcision is that one day the first ammendment will be used to force our courts and country to accept all religious female genital cutting. I feel that ALL genital cutting of a minor child should be outlawed,
There is a grain of truth there. Europeans coutries are now faced with the possibility of Sharia law. When that happens, no baby will be spared. I suggest even grown men will have to submit unless they wish to lose their heads.
I’ve been saying this for years. We, the US, is a democratic society that believes in the people electing thief leaders. Once the Muslim/Islamic population out numbers all others, they will indeed be able to vote in people of thier faith, including Sharia law. just like in Europe, we will one day have to accept all religious practices. Not quite what are forefathers had in mind.
Word to your mother…
…and your father!
People think because they are smart enough to conceive that they can play god and force another human being to do something. We don’t own our children. They did not ask us to be born. Imagine all the babies up in heaven getting ready to be born, now imagine if they could not choose to whom they would be born to. Furthermore , God allowed them to vote as to what kind of world they would like to be born into both economically and with respect to genital cutting. How would the babies vote?
Of course, for me this is a moot point because I don’t believe in heaven or hell or God as espoused by mainstream religion. Nevertheless, the people who seem to be advocating this nonsense genital cutting typically are religious!
I must admit something, though. I, too, was one of these people being born into a religious family and indoctrinated since being born. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to change your way of thinking if the seeds were planted the day you were born.
The Bottom Line
The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genital anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails. The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy tissue with which all boys are born.
Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.
Doctors have absolutely no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less stoking a parent’s sense of entitlement.
Bettie, you said “let the Jews and Moslems have their way simply because you cannot stop them in a million years. They are not reachable”
I think the stat is that in Norway, only 40% of Jewish parents circumcise. It really has to do with what the cultural norm is. If we change the cultural norm, then I think just about everyone is reachable.
I think once the majority of people in the U.S. know the truth we can just outright criminalize circumcision. If a Jew or a Muslim chooses to break the law then they can go to jail like all the other criminals. And that’s whats going to have to happen. A few thousand people are going to have to go to jail before they realize that this law is for real and will be enforced. That’s obviously not going to happen yet, but it will eventually.
I guess my comment could have gone to any blog post, but nonetheless I have a request for Intact America.
I live in Texas and work in preschool ministry at our church. I have changed a lot of diapers, and just by my estimates, in our church alone the circumcision rate is over 90%. Circumcision is also the norm among my friends and family who have baby sons. The national rate of 50% is a great number (although not low enough yet) but is not reflected in my area. My intact son is still a minority, unfortunately.
So, is there a way you could better reach the South/Southwest?
The best way to reach people in your area is to start a local campaign! Find other mothers who have intact sons and start a group. Get material together to give childbirth educators and midwives in your area. Get a copy of the NOCIRC 20-minute educational DVD, which you can see on both the NOCIRC and Intact America websites. If you can’t download it, request a copy or two (one as a loaner, one for your resource library) from either NOCIRC or Intact America. Write a letter to the editors of your local newspapers. Staff a booth at a local baby fair and distribute information. That’s what’s being done nationwide because we have to think globally and work locally. Clearly, the babies in your area need you!
I think I’m going to put an ad in my local paper. In my area it’s taboo to talk about. When i ask people if they are going to do it to their baby boys they pause and realise what i am actually asking. Then they answer, of course, because its clean and all sort of lame reasons. I think maternal instincts tell moms not to do it and after they have subjected their baby to harm they bury it forever.
I often say that if mothers “listened” to their maternal instincts, they would never agree to letting somebody circumcise their baby. The problem is that the medical system takes over, and tells people that doctors know better.
Georganne, from Intact America
The way I see it is that the medicalization of circumcision and the medicalization of birth (read appropriation of birthing) intersect and one reinforces the other. It is a slippery slope. Look at how doctors wanted to begin the medicalization of female circumcision, too.
The foreskin is part of the immune system.How idiotic to willfully rid your body of this protection.Circumcisersshould be tried having committed crimes against humanity
In W. Hollywood, they are banning the sale of fur :
But you can’t ban baby torture. Sheesh! Not that I like fur or its production. My dad trapped but then stopped. I don’t think he ever liked doing that. I saw a dead trapped rabbit in our unheated porch when I was a child and was frightened by it. Maybe if some of those dummies in Texas who Amanda discussed here need to see a closeup of a baby being cut. You never know.
Ritual circumcision is a violation of religious freedom. IF you consider baby boys as persons with rights.
Girlwriteswhat: Yes, of course ritual circ is a violation of the child’s religious freedom to not be permanently marked in a particularly oppressive way. But in the English speaking western world, religious rights are being violated day in and day out in ways not involving baby boys’ bodies, and the parties who feel offended are yakking up a storm, day in and day out, as they should. There’s a hierarchy involved where religious rights get respected or ignored, which is why it does no good to lump religious and regular circumcision together.
No need to craft anything formal, just say it’s already against the law and that law is not being obeyed. That the people who indeed know better come back and say, “Banning circumcision ain’t gonna happen under my watch” is irrelevant. They are scared and toying with us is their response.
what anti-circumcision fanatics WON’T tell you: http://goo.gl/kKPgD
The study is flawed. Circumcision might prevent female to male HIV transmission, but not male to male or male to female. Promoting circumcision to prevent HIV transmission is a waste of resources, as there are more viable preventatives that don’t require surgery.
Someone in the above link said circumcision is “just like a vaccine” as a preventative.
Vaccines don’t remove healthy tissue from a non-consenting human being.
Lets just admit the error of our ways and stop this senseless procedure.
What circumcision fanatics won’t tell you:
That they only read and repeat headlines they like without ever looking into the “studies” they use to promote circumcision.
Tell us, Molly.
How do “researchers” know it is circumcision that is causing the reduction in HIV transmission and not condoms and education?
Are they just circumcising the men and not emphasizing condoms and the fact that without them circumcision is worthless?
Tell us, Molly.
What are the rates of circumcision vs. HIV transmission in the US?
What are these rates in other African countries?
What are these rates in other countries in Europe where circumcision is uncommon?
Japan? The UK? Denmark? Germany?
What are these rates in countries where circumcision is near universal?
For example, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, etc.?
Do your homework.
Then tell us why, despite all this “research” in Africa, the rates are what they are.
If female circumcision was 100% proven to completely eliminate HIV would you accept it as a cure? Would you go and get yourself circumcised to protect yourself? Would you circumcise your daughters to protect them? I bet my life that you wouldn’t do any of that! You would say something like, “where just going to have to learn to deal with HIV but we can’t even consider female circumcision because it is not even an option to look at.” But when it comes to male circumcision if it might reduce HIV by just 1% then we better do it cause its all in the name of fighting AIDS. This blatant hypocrisy and double standards are why people are learning the truth. The truth can’t be stopped. And besides, even if its was true that circumcision prevented HIV who are you to say that it is a good thing for me? I would rather be intact and die at 40 from AIDS then live to be 80 and be circumcised. Male genitals should be treated with the same respect as female genitals, not treated like garbage that is literally thrown in the trash .
I think you have astutely surveyed the present situation.
We must continue our education process.. and on many levels.
Wonderful post Georganne. Keep up your great work!
May you be quoted widely and often for this:
“Abolitionists didn’t wait for the slaveholders’ permission to call for an end to slavery. Suffragists didn’t wait for women to be recognized as men’s equals before advocating for the right to vote. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t ask if it was ok for him to have a dream of racial equality.
Intactivists do not need anybody’s permission to talk about the American promise of equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, and why permitting the genital cutting of boys belies that promise.”
Wonderful article as always. I live in Texas and when I brought up the subject of my son being intact at his day care, at least I was told he wasn’t the only one. So while there are many mutilated toddlers (for now), my son is not alone in being intact. 🙂 Sometimes education is not enough. It has to be made against the law, like FGM was, since most parents will not break the law to do this to their child. Those who do, I hope they rot in jail! 🙂
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Regarding the circumcision ban effort in San Francisco, I wasn’t holding my breath. I knew that some way or another, the effort to ban circumcision in San Francisco would not succeed, but I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did.
The judge struck down the measure to ban circumcision that activists worked so hard to get on the ballot, before anyone even got to vote on it.
I knew that this law didn’t have a chance. As a matter of fact, I don’t think such a ban will, nor SHOULD pass, because America is not ready for a ban on circumcision.
Still, it would have been nice to see the measure given due democratic process, and put before the people for them to vote on. The people would have voted and the ban would have not passed by a majority vote. That’s usually the way democracy is supposed to work, right?
To make matters worse, it looks like California passed a law to prohibit local municipalities from enacting bans on non-therapeutic circumcision for boys. Stepping ahead of every medical organization in the world, the law declares that male infant circumcision is “medically beneficial.” Circumcision advocates are also trying to work on a similar law on the federal level.
The instatement of these laws may appear to be an obstruction of the intactivist cause, but by taking the legal circumcision battle to the State and Federal levels, male infant circumcision advocates have inadvertently helped the intactivist movement.
It’s easier to fight codified sexism and discrimination than it is to fight de facto sexism and discrimination. The enactment of these laws brings the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors from a “non-issue” to the forefront.
The issue is “official,” on both the state and federal level, which means it can no longer be ignored. Codifying something into law means that eventually it can be repealed.
Even with these laws, we shouldn’t lose heart.
Now that the issue of circumcision is in the limelight, we should seize the opportunity to educate others about it
Today’s blog post — “The Problem with a Religious Exemption to an Anti-Circumcision Ban” — addresses the issue of religion and circumcision:
A law banning RIC will happen when the vast majority of people are not circumcising their boys because they view it as genital mutilation and not before then. People will change the law. The law will not change the people.
In the interim, to speed things along, we could pass laws that the people might be ready for like banning circ in hospitals. When New Zeeland did that circ nearly went a way. Public reasoning would be: Babies are too young to schedule surgery during the mothers stay in hospital. Hospital born infections are particularly dangerous concerning surgery on the new borne.
When I first learned that the bill was removed from the ballot and that California passed a law making it illegal to ban circumcision I was angry at first, but the more I think about it this new law actually proves that we are a lot closer to victory than we think. They never needed a law before, now they do. The lies and propoganda aren’t working anymore and passing a law is their only response. Society is going through an enormous paradigm shift and the transition is going to be long and rough. We are in the middle of the transion phase right now and this new law is part of the transition process. It is an act of desperation on their part and will backfire because it only highlights and triple underlines the blatant inequality and unfairness. I think all of us should intensify our efforts at this critical crossroads in history. We are winning and this new law is proof of that.
I fully agree, Chris. There’s no need to fight, if you don’t think the other side has a chance of winning. We are winning.
Isn’t it already unlawful to sexually mutilate and torture an infant? Yes. Isn’t it already against the law to have a pedophile sexually molest a baby? Yes, it is. Whoever is ‘circumcising’ an infant is ALSO committing sadistic pedophilia, more like pedophobia of the worst kind, it’s a sick practice and it is the sexual molestation of an infant. It is already outlawed via the Geneva Convention, and the USA has laws against the sexual molestation of an infant, which is what non therapeutic circumcision is and does.
Try getting any legislator or judge to understand those basic truths. They are no doubt victims and perpetrators themselves, in deep denial of personal loss or inflicted pain.