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The @BBC just released a video featuring Nimco Ali entitled, "FGM and male circumcision aren't the same." This claim is an old standby of anti-FGM activism, but it is highly misleading in this context and the @BBC should know better. Let me explain. bbc.com/news/av/world-…
The first statement to highlight is this characterization of FGM, based on the @WHO definition: "injury or cutting of female [genital] anatomy for non-medical reasons." In the Western media (and popular imagination) this equates to cutting off the clitoris with a septic blade.
But this is wrong. There is no form of FGM that removes the clitoris, because the vast majority of the clitoris, including its erectile tissue + structures for orgasm, is under the skin. Only a small portion protrudes outside the body & only *some* forms of FGM affect that part.
Other forms, e.g., 'nicking' (FGM Type IV) are often done by doctors w. sterile equipment & do not remove tissue; the most popular form in Malaysia and some other countries may involve removal of part of clitoral foreskin; some forms affect labia only tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.101…
Dr. Arianne Shahvisi & I have a paper showing many kinds of FGM alongside their Western counterparts in female genital 'cosmetic' surgery. As can be seen, there is a parallel 'enhancement' procedure for every form of FGM. The moral difference? CONSENT. researchgate.net/publication/32…
In other words, the mere alteration of female genitals for non-medical reasons is not morally wrong per se. What is wrong is cutting someone's genitals *without their consent.* So what about male circumcision (MC)? In the same paper, Dr. Shahvisi & I discuss the MANY forms of MC.
See below - there is a wide range of MC practices, including some that are far more invasive & deadly than many forms of 'FGM' from the WHO typology. The most deadly form of genital cutting in the world is probably MC among the Xhosa of S. Africa, not FGM ulwaluko.co.za
Part of the problem is that when people think of MC, they think of American MC done in a hospital & when they think of FGM they think of clitoral excision or infibulation by an unskilled traditional cutter. But neither of these cherry-picked examples is representative.
Every group that practices female genital cutting *also* practices male genital cutting. When within-group practices are compared, MC is often more severe. Here is leading anti-FGM campaigner @Ayaan commenting on the situation in Somalia
It is therefore highly misleading for Nimco Ali in the @BBC video to claim FGM is an 'act of violence that happens to girls for no other reason than the fact that they are girls, and society wants to control them." No serious scholar of genital cutting would agree with this.
For one thing, as noted, there are *no* societies that single out girls for cutting; the boys are also cut, usually in parallel, often more severely, and in many cases, for similar reasons. Both practices are associated with overlapping norms and motives depending on the society.
The notion that FGM is always about 'controlling the sexuality of girls' is simply false. The notion that male circumcision is always about 'health and hygiene and elevating the male' is simply false. The shared symbolism across societies is substantial dovepress.com/female-genital…
Now, Nimco Ali is right to point out that the embryonic genital tissue that becomes the penis or the clitoris is initially the same structure; it usually diverges over the course of development in response to certain hormones. Sometimes, however, it gets 'stuck' in the middle.
This occurs in some intersex conditions, raising a problem for those who think that law & policy should be 'zero tolerance' for cutting female genitalia without consent but no restriction for cutting male genitalia without consent, as I argue in this talk
Put simply, in some intersex conditions, there is determinate fact whether a given genital structure (e.g., a cliteropenis) is 'female' or 'male' tissue. Also, some babies born with penises will grow up to identify as transgender. What if she was circumcised w/o consent?
Could she raise a retroactive complaint of 'FGM'? In any case, she will have been deprived of ~30-50 cm2 of highly sensitive erotogenic tissue - the fully developed foreskin - that could have been used as vaginal lining in a gender affirmation surgery. medium.com/@Virginiahalla…
So while Nimco Ali is technically correct that "FGM is not male circumcision," this is not a meaningful statement in the context of her video. It is supposed to imply that FGM is an impermissible form of 'violence against girls' whereas MC is not a serious moral concern.
But that is highly misleading at best. Here is why this matters. The 1996 US anti-FGM law was recently ruled unconstitutional. The judge said congress did not have the authority to pass the law because it concerned 'local criminal activity' - namely, physical assault.
The case concerned a form of 'FGM' done by the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect, that is similar to a ritual 'nick' described above, typically removing a small portion of the clitoral foreskin. The Bohra cut their sons more invasively, removing 1/3 or more of the penile skin system.
Both are often done by doctors among the Bohra, and both are justified by religious leaders on the basis of the same secondary Islamic scripture, the Da'a'im al-Islam. If the female 'nick' is physical assault, b/c it is medically unnecessary and non-consensual, what is male circ?
Defenders of religious MC are aware of this problem. To create a buffer of protection around MC, some are now arguing that 'minor' FGM should be tolerated in Western societies (see below). Defenders of 'female circ' are now using these arguments as well theconversation.com/unconstitution…
So battle lines are being drawn. Those who want to cut children's genitals for cultural or religious reasons are banding together to argue for 'parents rights' & pointing out that 'minor' FGM is less severe than MC--e.g., Alan Dershowitz joined defense in the federal FGM case.
If anti-FGM activists continue to promote the myth that MC is not morally comparable to FGM (when full range of practices are considered), they risk losing to the parents' rights brigade. The moral issue at stake is the ability to CONSENT to alteration of one's private parts.
As I argue below, there is an urgent need 4 advocates of children's rights to come together, across the sex-gender divide, to protect the most vulnerable members of society against medically unnecessary cutting of their genitals: female, male, or intersex. theconversation.com/unconstitution…
*there is NO determinate fact
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