Outrageous Outrage

In an article discussing outrage at the German court’s ruling, there is this infuriating comment:

Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.

The basic comparison: non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is a human rights violation. It is unethical, regardless of the recipient’s gender or the extent of the cutting. Katrin Altpeter is wrong.

Ms. Altpeter’s brief statement is the worst form of human rights advocacy. I’m hoping there’s more context to soften it, but if there is, I haven’t found any yet. As her words stand, she divides individuals. She puts forth the offensive notion that because female genital cutting is usually worse, male genital cutting isn’t something that should possess the same legal status. Or, as I’ve said before, it’s the theory that a punch to the face is not battery because a knife to the gut is worse. It’s absurd. Both non-therapeutic female and male child genital cutting can be – are – indefensible to the point of criminality.

Where Ms. Altpeter makes her idea worse is in the last bit of information in that paragraph. FGM is already illegal. The question is decided in Germany, and in the correct way. The court’s decision here doesn’t re-open that. It doesn’t change the reality that FGM is evil and illegal. The ruling moves non-therapeutic circumcision on a child into the same prohibited realm. More than one act is allowed to be bad at one time. Any relevant distinctions can be made in the punishment on a case-by-case basis. It should not be made bluntly with different legal statuses. No child should pay the price so that society can express a little more symbolic disgust.


This doesn’t flow well anywhere in the above, but it’s critical to state. I understand and sympathize with people who object to shifting a discussion from female to male genital cutting when the original topic is female genital cutting. There are conversations where the comparison is relevant and those where it isn’t. The latter probably outnumber the former, and significantly. A legitimate, important clarity is also necessary when comparing the two. The amount of cutting is usually quite different, with possibly extreme disparities in outcome to females versus males. It can work the other way, too, but that’s far less common. The key demonstrable point is that non-therapeutic genital cutting to any extent on a non-consenting individual is unacceptable. That is enough. It should be interjected only when appropriate, an unfortunately subjective standard.

4 thoughts on “Outrageous Outrage”

  1. No basis of comparison, just a blanket statement.

    She’s not even going to get into the “ritual nick” as proposed by the AAP?

    This woman’s statement relies on so many assumptions.

    ALL female genital cutting is worse than male circumcision?

    She’s either real smart, and using a deceptive tactic, or real stupid and doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    Either way, I hope the details don’t get thrown under the bus.

  2. Katrin Altpeter and others who demand genital integrity rights exclusively for females sound like Jim Crow whites indignantly asking, “Why hasn’t the Whites Only drinking fountain been repaired yet?” when the first question that needs to be asked is, “Why is there a Whites Only drinking fountain at all?”

    It’s impossible to make a human rights argument by defending rights for some while denying the same rights for others. That’s an argument for privileging one group and subjugating another.

  3. Agree entirely. All I would add is that I find myself feeling more and more of an allegiance with the misogynists of the world with every pronouncement by a woman that it is alright for infant boys to be subjected to circumcision without their consent. What stuns and saddens me is that many of these women are the boys own mothers.

  4. Patrick,

    I understand that feeling, but I can’t and won’t go there. Non-therapeutic circumcision is a violation for whatever reason it’s imposed, and by whomever. It creates victims. But I won’t allow that to guide me. We have reason and logic on our side. When we abandon it, we hurt the goal of helping children. It makes us easy to dismiss. We’re not going to convince anyone by being rude or misogynistic or anti-Semitic. The people we’d convince with those tactics aren’t people I’d trust to carry on the cause, either.

    Just as we want children to be recognized as individuals rather than merely a part of some collective, we must recognize that individuals with bad ideas are not representative of anyone else. And, for most, those bad ideas are held with good intent. That trade-off is inexcusable, but it’s being made.

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