If the press release says it’s “voluntary”…

Posted: August 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Media Marketing, Politics, Public Health | No Comments »

There are few things more predictable in an article titled A Lesson in Health: Scaling Up Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision than the false use of voluntary. (all emphasis added)

[Seventh-grade teacher at Kopong Primary School in Botswana, Mothusi Joseph] Kgomo and five of his students who were circumcised that day (with their parents’ consent) are a few of the more than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa who have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their lifetime risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported VMMC programs. …

While the unprecedented scale-up of this lifesaving intervention in countries with high HIV-infection rates is impressive, what’s more remarkable are the people who helped make it happen: fathers who brought their sons to clinics, best friends who encouraged their peers, military lieutenants who set an example for their platoons, tribal chiefs and concerned wives, as well as nurses who took on added responsibilities and roles at health centers, and healthcare providers from neighboring countries who traveled long distances to help their fellow Africans during busy VMMC campaigns. …

This article – by Leslie Mancuso, President and CEO of Jhpiego – is adapted directly from a press release (pdf). That press release¹ declares that “More than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) programs.” It’s always the same. When public health officials say “Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision,” they never mean voluntary. Never. I’d suspect the word will eventually be dropped altogether, just as adult disappeared, except it’s useful for the propaganda needed to circumcise healthy children.

¹ How soon before we get another “news” story about Selemani Nyika, Triza Liyasi’s husband, or Lt. Suwilanji Musamba?


“Enough. No. I will protect my son.”

Posted: August 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Logic, Parenting | No Comments »

There is so much to praise in this post from a mother who researched and rejected circumcision for her son. I like this the most:

So if you’re still reading, you are probably thinking, “Damn, okay you didn’t circumcise your little boy. He didn’t feel the pain, and his penis is just fine. So why are you still talking about it?”

I’d answer you with this: If everyone just stopped talking about it, where would mothers like me who were wavering in their decision find the information and the courage to say, “Enough. No. I will protect my son.” I was so lucky to know a woman who was passionate and outspoken, and at times even aggressive, about educating parents and protecting baby boys. She was such an invaluable resource for my entire pregnancy and labor/delivery and continues to be a good friend. She truly gave me strength. There were times when I may have given in to my husband and others pressuring me, but this woman gave me strength. She made me realize that it IS a BIG DEAL. No baby deserves to suffer through a needless surgery like circumcision. Thank God for her. She sparked something in me, and now here I am trying to pass it on to you.

The full post has a lot to offer. I recommend it.


Comparing Genital Cutting

Posted: July 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FGM | No Comments »

I agree with the gist of Neil Lyndon’s call yesterday for a proper debate on circumcision. I’d express it differently than he did, without the needless attacks, but here he’s right:

Another part of the reason it doesn’t register on anybody’s list of outrages and abuses is that ritual male genital mutilation is inflicted, sanctioned, tolerated and even encouraged not just by people who might be like us – but by our very selves. It’s not some remote, alien barbarism: it’s intrinsic to our own domestic lives.

The argument is “We don’t practice female genital cutting because it’s bad. Circumcision can’t be bad because we practice it. And it isn’t male genital cutting. It’s circumcision.” Cognitive dissonance is powerful.

Such common and unquestioned practice leads people to bluster about circumcision in the same callous tones that old blunderbusses used to talk about the caning of boys at school before it was outlawed: “Never did me any harm. Can’t see what all the fuss is about. What a sensitive plant you must be if you care about such a trivial matter.”

Anyone who has argued against non-therapeutic child circumcision has heard that bluster almost word-for-word.

Today, Simon Hochhauser, Co-Chairman of Milah UK, responds with “Don’t compare male circumcision with FGM“. He is wrong.

FGM, which involves the partial or complete removal of the genitalia, is a crime because it is abhorrent by any measure. It subjugates women, makes intercourse extremely difficult and painful, and can be the cause of a number of serious medical complications, including not only haemorrhage but also urinary retention, urinary infection, wound infection, and septicaemia. Sadly, in the countries where it is most widely performed, hygiene is poor, and thus both hepatitis and tetanus have also resulted.

That’s generally the case, but it isn’t the only case. The relevant comparison isn’t to start (and end) with differences in practice, but to look at similarities in practice and principle. At its most concise, they’re both non-therapeutic genital cutting on an individual who does not consent. The applicable law in the UK (and 18 U.S. Code § 116 in the United States) prohibits cutting any part of the healthy genitalia of a female minor, just as the WHO defines FGM. It isn’t just genital cutting more extreme than male circumcision. The focus is on the rights and how imposing non-therapeutic surgery on a child violates her rights. The same principles apply to male minors.

Consider this quote from the Girl Summit conference in London Mr. Hochhauser cites:

“A girl is a human being and she should be respected,” [Malala Yousafazi] tells the crowd. “A boy has the right to live his life the way he wants and a girl should too. The best solution is educate the girls. Let’s educate her and make her independent. When a girl gets independent she realises she’s a person. She’s a human being, she has equal rights like men have. She’s not only a wife and daughter – she’s a woman too.”

She’s right because the principle is human rights, not girl rights or boy rights. We have equal rights. Girls have the right to not have their genitals cut without need or their consent. Boys have the same right not to have their genitals cut without need or their consent. It’s preposterous to think of the right involved as the right to be free from female genital cutting.

Continuing:

Contrary to what Neil Lyndon wrote yesterday in Telegraph Men, none of this is comparable to the practice of male religious circumcision. Mr Lyndon would have us believe that the practice – known as ‘Brit Milah’ in the Jewish community – should be considered in the same light as FGM. It’s a bizarre argument to make, rather like comparing ear piercing with sawing off a person’s entire ear with a rusty hacksaw.

Comparing genital cutting to genital cutting isn’t a bizarre argument. The introductory list of questions Mr. Lyndon asked contains some of the same problems in the rest of his piece. However, it’s clear he was getting at the principle shared between the two acts of genital cutting. It’s like comparing genital cutting with harm to genital cutting with generally more severe harm.

Brit Milah is a minor procedure. When carried out by a trained practitioner in a clean environment it has no recognised negative impact on the child or on the rest of his life. Of course there are risks associated with any such procedure. …

It’s important to consider the environment where the procedure takes place, which isn’t regulated in the United States, at least. But that doesn’t resolve the human rights issue. There are recognized harms (i.e. negative impact). Circumcision is surgery, which always constitutes harm. The question of net harm is separate, and subjective to the individual circumcised. But there are always costs, including loss of the foreskin, damage to the nerve endings, scarring, and various risks of further harms. We recognize in law and principle that any non-therapeutic injury to the genitals of a female minor constitutes a negative impact. The same is true of genital cutting on males.

The facts speak for themselves. According to the World Health Organisation, circumcision of male babies results in “a very low rate of adverse events, which are usually minor (0.2-0.4%)”. These figures would no doubt be much lower still if they referred only to properly regulated and responsibly carried out circumcisions.

If we grant this as an accurate reflection of the risk of adverse events, and we ignore that every circumcision involves direct harm, that 0.2-0.4% involves humans with rights. The adverse events don’t have to be death to demonstrate that circumcision inflicts harm.

Mr Lyndon’s suggestion is that, while a third of the male population of the planet is circumcised, the practice is not challenged in the same way as FGM has been because culturally we are not ‘comfortable’ taking issue with it. I would like to offer a slightly different explanation: we’re very happy! There are no international movements calling for an end to circumcision because the billions of men around the planet who have been circumcised have not experienced any negative effects. In fact, the religious and cultural significance of the practice means that, to them, it is an overwhelmingly positive event. Put simply, circumcision has not had an adverse impact on their lives.

Mr. Hochhauser assumes too much. To summarize, “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

Maybe there are some people who do consider it to have been a negative experience and who feel that they would have liked to have had the choice. But I would contend that there would be many, many more people who would feel much more aggrieved if they had been prevented from undergoing the procedure as an infant, as mandated by their faith.

To summarize again, “Heads I win, tails you lose.”

I consider it a negative experience and want my choice. Many men throughout the world, including Jewish and Muslim males, oppose circumcision and wish they hadn’t been circumcised. Human rights aren’t based on what the majority values. And I’m guessing Angelo Ofori-Mintah and Goodluck Caubergs would like their choices back. (Those two were performed badly, but the question begins with whose choice it is, not how it’s done.)

Nevertheless, both groups of people have rights which must be respected, so how should we reconcile them?

Normal practice, where there is a question about the religious and/or physical well-being of an infant, is to defer to their parents, who we tend to assume have the best interests of their child at heart. Parents don’t always get it right – hence the campaigns against FGM – but any equivalent campaign against male circumcision would have to be accompanied by an overwhelming body of objective scientific evidence that demonstrated significant harm to the child. As far as circumcision goes, there is no such evidence. Some scientists even claim that it is medically beneficial.

Mr. Hochhauser keeps stacking the deck in his favor. This time it’s “an overwhelming body of objective scientific evidence that demonstrated significant harm to the child.” We already have overwhelming objective scientific evidence. Circumcising a child removes his foreskin, a normal body part. That is harm. The alleged challenge is in demonstrating that this removal amounts to “significant” harm. But that criterion is subjective and meaningless. That correctly isn’t the standard applied to female genital cutting. The focus is rights. The burden of proof rests on the imposition of genital cutting, not the withholding of genital cutting. The child’s body belongs to herself. The child’s body belongs to himself.

Mr Lyndon dismissively characterises the view that male religious circumcision isn’t comparable to FGM as “nitwit feminism in which males are of no consequence at all”. I disagree entirely. … it is deeply irresponsible to attribute the different treatment of these topics as some sort of underhanded feminist conspiracy. To do so threatens simultaneously to generate unwarranted attacks on religious practice, and undermine the important campaign against FGM.

I agree with everything I didn’t remove in that paragraph. But the comparison is not false because the messenger botched the delivery.


Mike Gatto has fans. Mike Gatto is still wrong about circumcision.

Posted: July 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD | 1 Comment »

I’m still convinced he’s probably doing nothing more than a form of weird trolling, but I’m still fascinated by what Daulton Gatto is doing with this. Yesterday I got two posts, including my promised addition to the “enemies” list. It’s as ridiculous as I expected. Awesome.

First, BREAKING NEWS: Mike Gatto Has a New Enemy, and His Name Is, uh, “Tony”:

Our blog’s loyal readers will be familiar with the antics of “Tony,” another incoherent babbling lunatic who lives in a bizarre fantasy world where Mike Gatto supports genital mutilation. Well, as you can see in the next two links, Tony insists on posting cowardly pingbacks to my brilliant and devastatingly well-reasoned critiques of his stupid arguments which claim to show that Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments.

Daulton:

My earlier points about ad hominem apply again, above and on the “enemies” list post. What I really enjoy, though, is that my “stupid arguments claim to show” something I have not written or implied. I do not believe “Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments.” Why do you state my claim as something unconnected to what I’ve written? Is it poor reading comprehension? Is it willful misrepresentation? Maybe it’s just lazy trolling? I’m curious and don’t want to assume an answer, but there is an explanation for why you’re punching a strawman. What is it?

With AB768, Mike Gatto introduced legislation stating that male circumcision in California can only be regulated at the state level. AB768 protects the practice of male circumcision and the exercise of parental authority to have a child circumcised for any reason throughout California. I stated that he believes male minors do not have the same rights to their bodies as every other citizen of California. I don’t even assume that he and his wife would have any sons circumcised. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. But he incorrectly believes he and every other parent has the valid authority to choose, and, in his capacity as a legislator, to protect that authority in law.

The flaw is easy enough to understand. AB768 does not include critical information about the risks, harms, and ethics of non-therapeutic child circumcision. The practice of male circumcision involves individual human rights. If this parental authority to impose non-therapeutic genital cutting were legitimate, it would apply to their daughters, as well. California already prohibits this, correctly. AB768 permits the violation of human and constitutional rights of California citizens. Mike Gatto should not have introduced it. No one should’ve voted for it. Gov. Brown should not have signed it.

**********

True to his word, he added me to his enemies list. The last paragraph introduces an amusing assumption about what I believe based on what I wrote.


Will I be an enemy of Mike Gatto because he’s wrong on circumcision?

Posted: July 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD | 2 Comments »

After my post yesterday morning, I can give credit where it’s due. Daulton Gatto responded with something resembling an argument. “Tony” Comes Back for More addresses an aspect of my original criticism of alleged sweet dude Mike Gatto and the unprincipled legislation he introduced.

To the fun, with all commentary directed to Daulton:

Yesterday, I published an insightful commentary on an anti-circumcision/Mike Gatto attack article written by some dumb douche named Tony. Today, I discovered that Tony posted a cowardly pingback rather than an actual comment on my critique, then did the digital equivalent of hiding behind his mommy by running back to his own stupid website to thump his chest amid the supportive grunting of his fellow anti-circumcision wackos.

I used a “cowardly” pingback for two reasons. One, I know how the Internet works. The pingback to your post alerted you that I responded. The cowardly move there would’ve been to disable my pingback so I could reply to your post without you knowing about it. Anyway, I’m not sure that “This post sucks and the guy who wrote it is a douche.” deserves much more credit than a mere pingback.

Two, in my experience people who engage in ad hominem and/or link to sketchy sources tend to delete unfavorable content. I don’t assume you would do this. I also don’t assume you would not. I don’t know you. This way, my side of the record stays.

It’s funny — no wait, it’s hilarious – to hear you throw around terms like “ad hominem” when it’s crystal clear that you lack even a basic understanding of sound logic and reasoning. …

Ad hominem: “You attacked your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.” Pussy. Giant douchebag. Stupid. Douche. Dumb douche. Foreskin crusaders and wackos dance pretty close, although the former probably just demonstrates how little you seem to understand about what I’m for and against. And my anonymity matters how to the validity of my position? You didn’t rebut any part of my original entry in your first post.

… Consider the following statement from your original post, which is without doubt the single dumbest one amid a burgeoning torrent of stupidity:

The part you excerpted was clunky. It isn’t embarrassing or shameful like AB768, but I should’ve been clearer. Still, the point expressed later in the original post was the key, based on that intentionally ludicrous analogy. Is the legal age of majority the valid line for when forced genital cutting is no longer acceptable on males? There is obviously a younger, informal age at which we think it’s unreasonable to impose circumcision on a healthy boy without his consent. The correct age is birth. We must recognize the mistake in treating this human right as if it’s a permission granted to boys by society at its discretion.

Every part of an individual’s body belongs to the individual from birth. Proxy consent requires a stricter standard than the subjective and speculative “wide array¹ of health and affiliative benefits.” There is no asterisk within self-ownership for “foreskin of male minor offspring”. Removing normal, healthy bits without a person’s consent – at any age – violates that person’s human rights, which California already recognized and protects for female minors. Mike Gatto legislated propaganda to strengthen protection for this human rights violation of male minors. That is not sweet behavior.

Another word out of you and you’re going on the enemies list. You’ve been warned.

It will be an honor.

¹ “Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision” by Morten Frisch, MD, PhD, et al. (pdf)

… The conclusions of the AAP Technical Report and Policy Statement are far from those reached by physicians in most other Western countries. As mentioned, only 1 of the aforementioned arguments has some theoretical relevance in relation to infant male circumcision; namely, the questionable argument of UTI prevention in infant boys. The other claimed health benefits are also questionable, weak, and likely to have little public health relevance in a Western context, and they do not represent compelling reasons for surgery before boys are old enough to decide for themselves. …

This was published after Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB768 into law. Its logic was expressed numerous times in various forms long before Mike Gatto wrote his ignorance into his bill.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Daulton Gatto defends Mike Gatto (no relation)

Posted: July 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Politics | 3 Comments »

Remember back to the ballot initiative in San Francisco that sought to protect the same genital integrity rights for boys in San Francisco that are already protected for girls throughout America. In response to that, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto drafted a bill in 2011, AB768, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law that October. That’s when I wrote about Mike Gatto:

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto is an authoritarian. He believes that male children do not have human rights equal to the rights of their fellow citizens. Mike Gatto believes that freedom and liberty involve parental ownership of the genitals of their male children. He believes that the individual right involved in child genital cutting is exclusively the right to cut a male child without medical need. He believes that subjective, non-medical “affiliative benefits” are enough to justify surgery on a child, even if the child does not or might not want to be forcibly affiliated. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto prefers mindless, unquestioned deference to parental choices about non-therapeutic male child genital cutting.

California already established that there is no arbitrary, unspecified age before which parents own the genitals of their female children. They may not allow someone to take a scalpel to the genitals of their daughters for non-therapeutic reasons, even if those reasons include a parental preference for forced “affiliative benefits.” The only factor involved in any decision to cut female minors is the presence or lack of medical need. That is the ethical, scientific view, which succinctly demonstrates that genital integrity exists within human rights. Mike Gatto believes that male children have only a mere subset of human rights, a subset that does not include genital integrity. It is a flaw in his character that Mike Gatto believes the full range of human rights only belong to male adults, female adults, and female children.

That is still accurate upon current reflection almost three years later. Look at the bill proposed and signed into law. It states that “[m]ale circumcision has a wide array of health and affiliative benefits.” Even if the first argument is assumed robust and true, discussion of the risks and costs of circumcision is nowhere to be found. Gatto, those who voted for it, and Gov. Brown all willingly enacted propaganda into law. Without a full consideration of what’s involved, including costs and the implications to human rights, they abdicated their responsibility to represent the interests and rights of every California citizen in favor of only those with power. That was, and remains, unethical.

Yesterday, I received a comment (#4 on the post) and pingback on that article from Daulton Gatto, who states that he is unrelated to Mike Gatto. The best writing is brief, so in that respect, Gatto’s comment succeeds. He uses the first twelve words of his comment to offer a brilliant insight into its author. Bravo.

The pingback is to his blog post, And Now, Another Episode of “Mike Gatto vs. the Bizarre Foreskin Crusaders”, which is in response to “Flawed Circumcision Defense: California Assemblyman Mike Gatto”. It’s a pretty good troll job, with plenty of ad hominem and not a word of rebuttal to my criticism of Mike Gatto’s flawed argument. It’s impressive. I suspect he’s having a laugh to amuse himself. Whatever. Taking it “seriously” will be interesting. The relevant part (graphic, immature, dudebro language, but you probably guessed that):

Which brings me to this piece of shit blog post, written by some crackpot wacko identified only as “Tony.” Tony is evidently a large pussy and a giant douchebag too frightened to admit full authorship of his own work and too stupid to employ anything resembling sound logic in his juvenile and laughable arguments. I will let his barely comprehensible babbling speak for itself while I cackle in laughter at the very suggestion that “Tony” is capable of recognizing a flawed argument in the first place.

In the meantime, I just want to once again explain on behalf of Mike Gatto and whatever cool dudes are still left in this douchebaggy world we live in just why it is that foreskin sucks and isn’t sweet at all.

Chicks much prefer dudes with circumcised dicks. Circumcised dicks get more pussy and they get to jizz on more chicks’ big tits. That’s a proven scientific fact. Mike Gatto, as a well-established sweet dude and charismatic stud, is clearly working harder to ensure the next generation of Californians get to fuck as many of the hot-ass chicks walking around this state as possible.

Now please tell me, “Tony,” just what the hell is wrong with that?

I’m not convinced by that long-winded version of “nuh-uh”. But it’s still sweet trolling ad hominem.

There is a question for me at the end. So, Daulton, just what the hell is wrong with that? You haven’t linked to anything suggesting this stunted fantasy is a scientific fact. Generalizations based on whatever gave you that limited worldview don’t eliminate the risks or direct harms from circumcision. They don’t discredit the human rights principle already in California law. You haven’t made any argument applicable to anyone other than yourself or someone who shares your particular preferences. That isn’t a valid basis for laws permitting the violation of the rights of others.

You did manage to link to a circumcision fetish website. It’s the same site with a history of endorsing¹ female genital cutting as a fetish. Good job.

If you have a coherent rebuttal, I’m willing to listen. If you only have more ad hominem, I’m always up for another good laugh. If your trolling was a limited, one-time engagement, thanks!

¹ The Internet is forever, no matter how vigorously Circlist’s operator(s) tried to hide the past with the content you see today. I’ll guess that research is a mysterious stranger to you. Convince me I shouldn’t guess that.


When all you have is a hammer

Posted: July 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, HIV, Logic | No Comments »

I’ve written about the blog The Case Against Intactivism before. I don’t expect much when a rare new post comes through RSS from paper0airplane. There are valid criticisms to be made about the behavior of some activists. To that extent, I don’t mind paper0airplane approach. I avoid engaging in those behaviors because they’re flawed and unhelpful. And I’ve criticized bad behavior in the past. I have no concerns about my credibility on this, or the credibility of many others I interact with, so paper0airplane’s posts aren’t about me. That’s why their general focus is frustrating¹.

So it is again with the latest post, AIDS workers baby rapists, which highlights examples of idiots celebrating the deaths of prominent AIDS researchers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 because the researchers maybe had connections to circumcision. I don’t know what else to say about those intactivists beyond this: any individual engaging in this behavior is an untrustworthy ass and no ally of mine. Personally, I’m for individual rights. That includes the right to not have one’s genitals altered for non-therapeutic reasons without one’s consent. It also includes the right to not get blown out of the sky by murderers. Obviously. This isn’t complicated for most activists. But that doesn’t sell a canned argument.

It’s also clear how short-sighted these idiots are. I have no idea which portion of those who died were involved in research promoting circumcision for HIV risk reduction. All or none, it doesn’t matter. Their deaths are bad for the push for bodily integrity over circumcision without consent because some of the smartest minds searching for an end to HIV are now dead. Even if every one of them pushed circumcision, their absence means fewer knowledgeable people looking for a cure. I’d guess that means a push for circumcision is more likely, or at least likely to continue longer than if the researchers were still here working.

But, again, regardless, celebrating their deaths is ugly, garbage behavior. It’s wrong. I do not support it.

**********

The point I still take from paper0airplane’s overall approach is that the good intactivists should call themselves something else because the bad intactivists are ruining the term. Well, sure, if your gig is talking about any activists as if they’re all guilty of what the idiots among them do, you’d suggest this change. A flaw in that rests with paper0airplane. If I call myself an intactivist and don’t engage in awful behavior, why am I the one who should abandon² the label? The label is a decent, if goofy, expression of what this activism wants. I don’t call myself an intactivist precisely because it’s so easy for others to smear or to lazily blame me for the terrible tactics of others. But whatever I call myself, it isn’t my responsibility to relabel myself because paper0airplane criticizes too broadly.

¹ We can all play this silly, unfair game. But I’m not willing to suggest that everyone who supports non-therapeutic child circumcision must own Vernon Quaintance. That isn’t a reasonable demand.

² It’s reasonable to abandon it because enough people associate it with the actions of a few. The cause and effect issue there would be an interesting discussion.


“…but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

Posted: July 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FGM, Logic, Religion | 1 Comment »

Rebecca Steinfeld describes Elissa Strauss’ essay, How Female Circumcision Is Different From a Brit Milah, as “badly researched & poorly argued”. Ms. Steinfeld is correct.

Fighting against female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, is a no-brainer of an issue. Who could support the use of often unsterilized blades to slice off, in the least-invasive case, a portion of the clitoris, and, in the worst case, the whole clitoris and the labia, which are then sewn together, leaving just a small hole for the release of urine and menstrual fluid?

Obviously, but the inclusion of “often unsterilized blades” is irrelevant in the ethical analysis of FGM compared to male circumcision. Using unsterilized, non-surgical equipment is egregious, but that is a violation of medical standards within the context of a rights violation. The violation is wrong, even if it is performed using top-notch equipment with trained staff in a sterile environment. Of course, the appropriate strict standard implied is neither required nor adhered to for religious male circumcision, so the distinction hardly matters.

The degree of harm is relevant to the act. It should inform punishment. It is not relevant to the core ethical principle.

But before we Jews start fastening our anti-FGM pins to our messenger bags and sharing petition links on social media, we have to contend with the elephant in the room. You know, the one with the mohel on top.

Indeed, many fighting female genital mutilation see male circumcision in the same light, viewing both procedures as a violation of basic human rights because both are done without consent or reasonable medical justification. …

Yes. This is the place Strauss should’ve stopped. She proved the comparison. Instead, an appeal to authority:

The World Health Organization sees a big difference between the two procedures, describing female circumcision as having no health benefits and as “a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.”

FGM may reflect deep-rooted inequality. That’s debatable, given that the common idea that it is imposed by men on women is more complicated than normally stated. The last sentence, though, applies to male circumcision. That’s the comparison. Both are non-therapeutic genital cutting. Imposing that on a non-consenting individual (e.g. a minor) violates that individual’s rights. There is no asterisk on the right to bodily integrity for whichever distinction a person needs to impose it.

The WHO casts male circumcision in a very different light, describing it as “one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures worldwide, and is undertaken for many reasons: religious, cultural, social and medical. There is conclusive evidence from observational data and three randomized controlled trials that circumcised men have a significantly lower risk of becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).”

I’ll grant these unequivocally, despite potential objections. So? They do not negate the ethical objection. There are any number of non-invasive preventions and treatments available to achieve these benefits. Some of them, such as condoms, are still necessary after circumcision. The ethical issue exists in part because not everyone shares the same preferences. Some would choose their foreskin and its alleged risks over circumcision and its alleged benefits¹.

Both female and male circumcision are motivated by custom: the surreptitiously stubborn notion of “This is what we do.” But the cultural setting accommodating the customs, as well as the physical ramifications of the procedures, reveal stark differences, and to ignore them is to demean the experience of the 135 million women and girls around the world who have had their genitals mutilated.

Those stark differences are often real. But Strauss already demonstrated the valid ethical comparison, before the added question begging. Mentioning that more extreme aspects of some FGM practices exist maybe shows that one is more wrong, but it doesn’t change that both are wrong.

Opposing non-therapeutic male child circumcision does not demean the experience of any female victim. This argument is a common fallacy. It’s clear that their experience is traumatic. The violation is obvious, real, and unethical. The results are usually more extreme than the results of male circumcision. The comparison is one of ethics, not harm. It is not a competition of victimhood. As I’ve often said, a punch to the face is not the same as a knife in the stomach. Because the latter is worse, the former isn’t a violation? That’s silly.

A common trope appears in the comments that feeds directly from Strauss’ approach. Twitter user CpaHoffman posted this comment (emphasis added):

Jews circumcise their male babies because we are commanded to by the Torah; it doesn’t hurt them (if it did, we’d have died out long ago). Female genital mutilation is not a “moral equivalent” or even on the same planet. Yet the lunatic fringe needs to drag it into every discussion of circumcision and needs to compare the two as if they were different yogurt brands.

It’s not comparing “apples and oranges”; it’s comparing apples and poison oranges.

That is a convenient straw man, but the argument against violating a child’s rights isn’t that it kills. (Although it can and does.) Death is not the only form of harm from circumcision. All surgery involves harm, including circumcision, which should be apparent since a normal part of the body is removed². Imposing that harm without direct need or consent that can’t be resolved with less invasive methods is unethical. Just like non-therapeutic genital cutting on female minors.

¹ These benefits can be medical, religious, or cultural.

² This is a different analysis than whether or not a surgery is a net harm.


The Majority of This Post’s Authors Oppose Unethical Practices

Posted: June 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, Media Marketing | No Comments »

It’s no longer surprising to see the hyperbole concocted to make circumcision appear legitimate. The latest example comes from the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Regional Exchange, which summarized a survey with the following:

New study in Kenya reveals the majority of women prefer circumcised partners

To summarize the study – Women’s Beliefs about Male Circumcision, HIV Prevention, and Sexual Behaviors in Kisumu, Kenya, by Thomas H. Riess, Maryline M. Achieng, and Robert C. Bailey – the way SHARE does is presposterous. The study involved 30 women, with 23 of them saying they preferred circumcised men. The proper way to summarize it is the second line from the abstract:

Women’s beliefs about MC and sexual behaviour will likely influence the scale-up and uptake of medical MC.

Counter to SHARE’s summary, the authors note (emphasis added):

There are limitations to this study. Since we relied on self-reports it is possible that some respondents could have fabricated answers or not fully disclosed information based on what is socially acceptable, particularly on sensitive topics such as sex and HIV. We did attempt to select respondents who were representative of sexually active women ages 18-35 but given the small sample size and geographic location of our research, our data might not be generalizable to other populations, particularly those where MC is not being promoted as HIV prevention. Our intention has been to gain insights into female perceptions and sexual behaviors related to MC in western Kenya in order to inform and improve programs scaling up MMC for HIV prevention in the region.

It’s misleading to report the study as revealing what the majority of women prefer.

Of course, it’s irrelevant what the majority of women prefer. The ethics center on what the male prefers for himself. In what ways could we rewrite this paragraph to allegedly demonstrate something about what women should do – or have done to them – to conform to the preferences of men?

Respondent: Actually, me personally, I hate uncircumcised men.
Interviewer: Why?
R: I just feel they are dirty and, … this last time, some other guy seduced me, … I didn’t know he was uncircumcised. So when we went out a bit for around four months, so it’s this day was he was telling me like we go to bed, after finding out that the guy is uncircumcised I just told him it can’t work. He should go get circumcised first and come back.
I: So how did he react?
R: Well actually he felt bad, but later he came to understand. That is when he went and got circumcised and we are together now. (25 year-old Luo woman)

Body shaming is body shaming, whoever its target may be. Repeatedly the excerpts emphasize a belief that circumcised men are “clean” and intact men are “dirty”. While the authors note this, and are perhaps genuine, in saying:

… While some women support MC based on their personal experience and beliefs, there may also be the potential for discrimination against uncircumcised men as circumcision programs scale up in sub-Saharan Africa. …

I find no reason to believe public health officials cared or will care. Discrimination is a strategy of these campaigns, as in this awful propaganda ad from Uganda. And the tactic is already paying the expected dividends. The interview excerpts in this study are evidence of that:

I: Do you desire circumcised men?
R: Of course a circumcised one (laughs).
I: Why not the uncircumcised one?
R: I don’t want diseases. (22 year-old Luo woman)

And:

I: And say you get some man who is not circumcised, what will you do?
R: You tell him that circumcision is good, a circumcised person has less chances of getting infected with these diseases, these minor diseases.
I: And if he still refuses?
R: If he refuses you just leave him. (27 year-old Luo woman)

The excerpts also reveal the well-tested “heads, circumcision wins / tails, foreskin loses” approach to sexual satisfaction.

… no matter how the lubrication is, that foreskin will, I don’t know, it moves … and then let me say they don’t stay long. … Yeah they didn’t stay long when you guys are the uncircumcised. Out of curiosity I did ask how come you don’t take long. They say like if that skin is moving it makes them crazy and they release so fast, and I said, okay. And then unlike the circumcised people maybe it’s to our advantage, the ladies, maybe it could be not to them but I think to our advantage they’ll take long. Like they might make you reach a peak faster than the uncircumcised. (23 year-old Luo woman)

The authors state that circumcision campaigns “should ensure that MMC promotion campaigns and counselling are clear that studies have shown that MC does not affect male time to ejaculation.” But campaigns like this count on individuals to sell the message, however well they grasp or fail to grasp that message. Intentionally engaging people to market on behalf of public officials involves spreading anecdotal evidence. There is no comfort or absolution in “the studies show” once they’ve started the game of telephone.

There also remains the possibility that the sources for the claim that circumcision does not affect male time to ejaculation are inaccurate. Note, too, that whether or not the male considers this change good is nowhere to be found. The ethical issue remains absent in this push for networked propaganda.


Human Rights as Politics rather than Principle

Posted: June 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: FGM, Media Marketing, Politics | No Comments »

What is it about the basic concept of human rights that confuses so many people, such as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay:

FGM is a form of gender-based discrimination and violence. It is a violation of the right to physical and mental integrity. It violates the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Because it is almost always practised on young children, it is also a violation of the rights of the child. FGM violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. And when it results in the death of the person who is mutilated, it violates the right to life.

I’d state it as the rights of self-ownership and bodily integrity, but still, even this way it’s easy to understand. Cutting an individual’s healthy genitals without the person’s consent violates rights. So why staple on this (emphasis added):

This harmful and degrading practice is not based on any valid premise. FGM has no health benefits. On the contrary, it generates profoundly damaging, irreversible and life-long physical damage. It also increases the risk of neonatal death for babies born to women who have survived it.

The answer is obvious to anyone who spends any time studying the issue of genital cutting. It’s a method that attempts to distinguish female genital cutting from male genital cutting. It shows up over and over. It’s transparent and wrong because it’s politics at the expense of human beings. The principle isn’t gendered. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual violates the individual’s human rights, full-stop. That is the human rights principle involved. The potential health benefits a child’s parents may cite can’t be a valid premise for non-therapeutic surgery without the child’s consent.

That isn’t my primary point here, though. The “FGM has no health benefits” approach is short-sighted and obtuse in the push to end FGM. It contains an implicit argument that FGC – not FGM, because unnecessary genital cutting without consent somehow can’t be mutilation – would be acceptable if some health benefit could be reasonably claimed. It’s a way of saying that human rights are important, but only to the extent that someone can’t find an excuse people are willing to accept as justification for ignoring obvious violations. It demonstrates that the person making the argument does not understand the implications of defending human rights and the courage it requires to be consistent to the principle. This tactic is not a framework for considering humans and their rights. It’s a strategy uninterested in human rights principles. It’s a strategy of manipulating emotions to achieve an ideological goal.

I’m not familiar with the source material, but I think this Friedrich Nietzsche quote I stumbled on today works well in this context (via):

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.”

That’s what the “FGM has no health benefits, so it’s not acceptable like male circumcision” argument is when attached to a human rights argument. If you claim to defend human rights, you have to defend human rights, not the politics of favored human rights.