Truth and Loaded Words

There’s currently an image floating around that states “Circumcision without informed consent is surgical rape at any age.” The visual is intriguing, but this is a bad message to push. The only people to whom it will appeal are those who already understand that non-therapeutic child circumcision is wrong. Those who advocate for circumcision will not change their minds based on this, so those who have some qualms about circumcision are the only target audience. Will they think advocats for individual choice are rational, based on this message?

Taken literally, by definition, circumcision is a form of rape and the action is surgical. But most people will not associate “rape” as “to take”, but rather will think it’s wrapped up in assault and sexual gratification. Being literal is not useful on this point, which is about marketing. This image is meant to sell genital integrity and human rights. While there must be truth in advertising, the target audience matters. We have to work with the framework of their thinking, as well. If a slogan requires a disclaimer or clarification, it’s a bad slogan.

“Circumcision is surgical rape” suggests that parents intend to rape their children. That implication is that their intent is about power, control, and sexual gratification. There is power and control inherent in non-therapeutic child circumcision, but it’s not intended as harm. And there is no sexual gratification from circumcision in the general population of advocates. Accidentally implying it of anyone who circumcises their healthy son compounds the image’s damage.

Consider this, from the judge who sentenced an Oregon mother to probation for unsuccessfully circumcising her son at home with instructions from a video on YouTube:

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bergstrom told Peterson on Monday that “the reality is you love your children and had absolutely no intent to harm your child.”

Our default assumption should be that parents love their sons, that they do not intend to harm their sons. Too many circumcision advocates think that, because of this intent, circumcision does no harm. This is wrong. Despite these parental intentions, circumcision causes harm. That’s our message. Anything that distracts from that, or suggests evil intentions, diminishes our ability to convince. Reason and facts are on our side. Let’s use them.

5 thoughts on “Truth and Loaded Words”

  1. Excellent point, thhat message is an expression of the pain and outrgae people feel about circumcision, but its not a great advertisement for our cause. Makes us sound like fringe loonies!

    Another message could be “Just because you love your children doesnt mean you dont harm them through ignorance and cultural indoctrination like FGM, male infant circumcision and foot binding”

  2. As I spend more time reading and thinking about the issue, I find the way I talk about it with others changing, perhaps getting more refined. I imagine a lot of people feel very vulnerable and upset by the subject matter, making it difficult to communicate effectively and creatively. To me, this seems like a meaningful reason to engage in discussion within the intactivist community, instead of only focusing on outside-facing work.

  3. Rape isn’t about sexual gratification at all – it’s about power and dominance and control. It involves sexual contact, usually penetration. When a doctor circumcises a baby, there is not sexual contact. Genital mutilation is a much more appropriate term.

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