Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Tyranny of the Intactivists 

The subject of male circumcision is not one that usually enters the body politic, but the New York Times reports today that San Francisco will have a measure on the ballot this fall which, if passed, "would make it illegal to snip the foreskin of a minor within city limits." The anticircumcision activists call themselves "intactivists."

Religious Jews (and Muslims) see this as an assault on religious freedom. Setting aside the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for the moment, it seems to me that this is the worst sort of Nanny-Statism -- it is the state, er, inserting itself between the parents and child in an effort to "protect" the newborn. There is no physiological parallel between the much more harmful practice of female genital mutilation and male circumcision. FGM is recognized as a human rights violation and prevents the victim from having a regular sex life. Circumcised males are fully capable of enjoying a robust sex life. Whatever the religious origins of the practice might be (with respect to male circumcision), there are non-religious reasons to snip or not snip, and parents should be free to choose.

If you don't want to have your newborn son circumcised, great, if you do, that's also great. Making either option illegal? That's downright un-American. Even when Kramer argued against it on "Seinfeld," I don't think he wanted it to be against the law. The Jack Black character in the movie "Year One" also was anti-snip, but was forced to flee Abraham's village.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 05, 10:53:00 AM:

I simply don't understand this issue. The only thing I can think of is a small group of folks who have some reason to have the City of San Francisco look even stupider and more irrational than it already does.
Do they have a new mayor yet? Do the many tinkerbells out there have a position on this issue? Why?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 05, 12:39:00 PM:

FGM includes all kinds of practices. Some of them are really radical. Some of them are no more intrusive than male circumcision. ALL of them are banned.

Are you prepared to allow the less extreme forms of FGM? If not, why not?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jun 05, 01:55:00 PM:

The initiative is accompanied by a blatantly anti-Semitic comic, as well.

And I do mean blatant.


"Some of them are no more intrusive than male circumcision."

Like what?  

By Anonymous Squealer, at Sun Jun 05, 10:02:00 PM:

As I noted previously in a comment here, the reality of FGM is not the bugaboo it is always described as in the Western media. Read Richard Shweder's webpage here which has PDFs of "When cultures collide" and "What about female genital mutiliation?". Overall, FGM is no better or worse than male circumcision with respect to its longterm effects on the sexual lives of women who live in a culture where it is accepted. Oddly, or perhaps not surprisingly, the reverse seems to be true when they live in the West. Along those lines, check out Tierneylab's Sexual Consequences of an African Initiation Rite.

I know it's an enticing narrative that serves our purposes well, but it is just that: a story, and not the truth (they still have orgasms like anyone would).  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jun 05, 11:52:00 PM:

Are you seriously positing that physical removal of the clitoris has no side effects? Really?

The entire purpose of the procedure is to inhibit sexual pleasure so the females will be less likely to commit adultery. Logically, if it didn't do that, the procedures would not be performed.

You need to re-read your last link, too, because it directly refutes your point.

For instance: "Our findings suggest, without doubt, that healthy ” mutilated”/”circumcised” women who did not suffer grave long-term complications and who have a good and fulfilling relationship, may enjoy sex and have no negative impact on psychosexual life (fantasies, desire and pleasure, ability to experience orgasm )."

First, it defines away all instances of inhibited sexual pleasure in its first qualifier, and doesn't actually say how many such instances there were.

Second, it says that there WERE instances of women who "suffer[ed] grave long-term complications..."

It, in effect, says that women who didn't suffer irreparable harm, didn't suffer irreparable harm.

Wow. Major discovery, there.

Consider also the next sentence: "The majority of the interviewed women reported that sex gives them pleasure."

Strange wording, isn't it? 'The majority of the interviewed women.' A simple majority implies that the 'majority' was not overwhelming, meaning that the minority who did not feel pleasure was a large one. It's also a remarkably low bar. Eating ice cream gives me "pleasure."

It also implies a selection bias. The women who are most likely to have suffered the most from the procedure are those from traditional or especially conservative backgrounds; the same ones who would be discouraged or disallowed from being interviewed on the matter in the first place.

There is also a major mistake in definitions. Basically, "able to achieve orgasm" is equated with "normal sexual relationship." They are not the same thing.

And lastly, the report admits again that the procedures inhibit sexual pleasure in paragraph five of the excerpt. "Surprisingly, the same study on sexuality conducted on the new generation (young girls with various types of FGM/C) reported presence of orgasm but with less frequency..."

Any and all attempts at equating all but the lightest and most symbolic cases of female genital mutilation to circumcision is flat wrong. It's much more akin to severing the glans.

There is an enticing narrative to be used to serve one's own purposes, but it's not I that bought into it.  

By Blogger Marv, at Mon Jun 06, 08:20:00 AM:

Abortion: the right to choose.
Circumcision: no choice allowed.
The morality of the left is stunning.  

By Blogger darovas, at Mon Jun 06, 11:55:00 AM:

Abortion is a decision made by an adult woman regarding her own body. The central issue is what moral status accrues to the zygote/fetus. A potential X does not necessarily have all the rights and privileges as an X (just as Prince Charles). I have no moral qualms over aborting a zygote, but the prospect of electively aborting a six month old fetus is repugnant.

Circumcision is a decision made for a child by his parent(s) or legal guardian. Parents make many such decisions for their children, some of which involve medical procedures that have permanent consequences for the child. It seems to me there is a continuum spanning innocuous things like piercing the ears of baby girls up through male circumcision and on to female genital mutilation. As I understand FGM to include removal of the clitoris, this strikes me as a morally indefensible choice to impose upon a child. So as with abortion, I believe one has to draw a somewhat arbitrary "line in the sand" regarding medically unnecessary procedures for children.

Full disclosure: I am Jewish (but atheist) and I agreed with my wife to have our son circumcised.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Jun 07, 12:34:00 AM:

darovas - partially agree.

Yes, it is the extreme example, but it is an example from reality nonetheless. In San Francisco, the proposal is you can stab Ethan in the back of the head and suck out his brains at 2pm, but at 4pm he can't be given a circumcision, in order to protect the intensity of his sexual pleasure two decades later.

Ancient practices with pagan origins and medieval superstitions look pretty darn sensible in comparison.  

By Blogger pam, at Tue Jun 07, 08:24:00 AM:

Dawnfire, thank you.  

By Blogger buck smith, at Fri Jun 10, 12:56:00 AM:

too much law  

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