28 April 2013

Extenuating Circum Stances

I'm in the process of conducting some new anthropological research on the controversies surrounding male and female genital cutting. Note, I am choosing not to use the term circumcision where avoidable, instead relying on the more neutral phrase "genital cutting" as circumcision tends to denote only male foreskin removal and does not account for the wide range of surgical procedures performed on female genitals worldwide. Additionally, the phrase "genital mutilation," which is commonly used in the West to refer to female genital cutting (FGC) draws attention to the horrors of FGC, while not accounting for the less drastic acts of clitoral and clitoral hood "shaving" or "clipping" and FGC that only involves piercing. Not all FGC is as drastic as some groups make it out to be, which involves total infibulation, or the complete removal of the clitoris, outer and inner labia, and is followed up by the sewing shut of the vaginal opening leaving only a small hole for menstrual fluids and urine. While this does occur, if you read the posts to come, you will no doubt see that this is not the only form of FGC.

As a brief intro, I will include the abstract from my research here. I will be posting my introductory section within the next two weeks, followed, hopefully, by a section per week.

Abstract: To cut, or not to cut? That is the question. The arguments for circumcision, both male and female, while often coming from religious or ethical groups, state medical benefits that arise from removing the foreskin, clitoris, or labia. For many years, however, arguments have been made against circumcision denying those same benefits. Opponents of male circumcision often cite its barbaric nature and argue that the medical benefits are largely overstated. A common argument is that while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in 2012 that a decline in male circumcision could result in higher rates of urinary tract infections, HIV, and HPV in men, the AAP neglects to account for the lower overall rates of such issues in European and Asian countries with larger populations of uncircumcised men. Regardless of such arguments, the cultural and religious views of many individuals in the United States and many third world countries, particularly those with significant Abrahamic religious influence, continue to result in traditional infant male circumcisions. At the same time, in the United States, female circumcision and clitoridectomy are rare and may be considered by many to be heinous acts. This begs the question, then: what is the difference between male and female genital mutilation and why is one considered to be more cultural acceptable than the other? Additionally, what are the cultural beliefs that allow one group to not only largely accept genital mutilation but encourage it? The controversy surrounds the notion that genital circumcision, both male and female, particularly when concerning children and infants, is a human rights issue. This notion, however, is deeply divided along gender lines, along with economic, social, and religious lines.