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USA Perspectives And Terminologies Re: Female And Male Genital ‘Mutilation’, ‘Circumcision’ Or ‘Cutting’? Anthr/apology Avoids Difficult Issues

February 17, 2017

cuttingA question posted on Quora asks: Why does the USA call female circumcision ‘female genital mutilation’ when male circumcision is widespread in the country? Implicit here are also I think a number of other enquiries:  are FGM and MGM (male genital mutilation / circumcision) ‘the same’?  Is MGM acceptable because it’s still relatively widespread in the USA?  And maybe also, what is the correct terminology for these harmful traditional practices? In my view both FGM and MGM are human rights issues which must be confronted and stopped.

I list here some of the information I shared in response to the Quora question, including some links to other material.

It is important also to note that, in Western contexts, ‘cutting’ is an act of self-harm done by people experiencing psychological pain.  The term ‘cutting’ is for that reason doubly inappropriate with reference to FGM or MGM.  (In some traditional contexts however it is an appropriate word to use in totally informal, community-based discussion, although not in professional dialogue, where, as discussed above, the appropriate term in ‘mutilation’.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2017 17:04

    It really comes down to this: male circumcision is relatively harmless, doesn’t interfere with sexual response or other physical functions, has documented medical benefits, and is done as a cultural symbol. FGM on the other hand is done solely to curb female sexual response (a damage for life), involves lifelong consequential physical and emotional suffering, and functions as a sign of the subjugation of women: this is its purpose as stated by Islam. While I personally don’t think male circumcision is necessary, I don’t see it as abusive. FGM is indefensible.

    • May 18, 2017 22:42

      Maybe you didn’t actually check the links above? because if you did you’d have learnt that MGM is not medically beneficial and that, in some conetxts especially, it can kill or maim the boys and young men who undergo it. (Hundreds of boys in Africa die because of MGM every year.) Physicians are instructed to DO NO HARM, but they still undertake male circumcision – it’s an extra income for those who do it.

      Also, as you’d see in my Feamle Mutilation book, women in some communities use MGM as a rationale to continue with FGM – ‘It’s not fair, you let men have it…’.

      Nonetheless, I couldn’t agree more – FGM, as I have spent many years proclaiming 🙂 , is totally indefensible, whatever the context and whoever procures or does it.

  2. February 5, 2018 18:35

    [circumcision] is not medically beneficial (note that circumcision is not MGM because circumcision is by dictionary definition not mutilation).

    Absolutely false. This is what the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics has to say:

    Statistical reduction of 20+ penile related diseases as well as statistical reduction in the transmission of several diseases to innocent partners. It is morally unacceptable to retain the ability to infect innocent partners.

    From a physician point of view, the mantra is “prevention before cure” which supersedes “do not harm”.

  3. March 4, 2018 20:03

    ‘Prevention before cure’ might start with ensuring that men (and the parents of boys) know about proper hygiene.

    Can you point me to a study which – apart from the trauma of circumcision for children who undergo it – compares the cost-effectiveness of proper hygiene vs ‘cutting’? And can you explain why a procedure, usually done without medical support, which routinely kills children in developing (and developed) countries can be said to be harmless? Not much ‘morality’ in that.

    The evaluations of intervention do not usually consider the huge implications for apparent endorsement thereby of ‘traditional’ practices with their high risk of mortality; nor do they often consider the impacts of other traditional practices on females.

    Plus, how come most Western countries don’t now routinely circumcise male children, but HIV etc is dropping? The USA is a massive outlyer in male circumcision, and most global outreach programmes, however well intentioned, are informed by that position.

    Sadly, proper public health programmes don’t seem to be much compatible with the US system of medical (private) practice.

    In eg the UK the NHS won’t pay for voluntary / religious circumcision … so the call for it has dropped enormously.

    ‘Prevention before cure’ is always the ethical way forward – and that includes finding all possible ways of achieving good health which are not invasive, traumatic and / or potentially life-threatening.

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