Making Circumcision a Men's Rights Issue is a Mistake

14 January 2015
As someone who's been opposed to infant male circumcision for many years, I was somewhat startled to see a new voice in the debate recently; men's rights groups claiming that it's feminism's fault that cutting baby boys' genitals is not taken as seriously as when it happens to girls. It's frequently said that "you can't compare female genital mutilation to male circumcision", mainly by people from cultures where male circumcision is normalised, and not wanting to carry on the idea that if the latter is okay, the former must not be so bad either; actually, there are a lot of us who think both are pretty terrible.

Not according to the men's rights movement though; it's feminists who have trivialised and stifled debate on circumcision, and the idea is getting airtime not just on MRA forums, but in the mainstream media, such as this article from the UK's Telegraph, where the writer blames acceptance of circumcision on:

"...the world of nitwit feminism in which males are of no consequence at all...If, therefore, boys and men could be seen to suffer some adversity solely by reason of their gender, the entire canonical edifice of feminism might wobble on its foundation stones."

Feminists apparently don't care about issues faced only by men, which is why we're in the streets every weekend demanding an end to the treatment of testicular cancer. Really, this is the "angry lesbian" view of feminism - that feminists cannot be wives or mothers or caring about anything except establishing a female supremacy. Not true, of course (even the angry lesbians I know are actually pretty nice people who can't abide suffering).

But I don't like the men's rights movement, and by making circumcision into an MRA issue, it runs the risk of alienating allies and supporters. The issues surrounding the intactivist movement - the right to bodily autonomy, to make one's own decisions on healthcare, that it is just wrong for the bigger, stronger person to unilaterally make decisions on behalf of the smaller, more powerless people - are also central ideals of feminism. I have seen a post on a parenting forum by a father stating that his 3 week old son's circumcision, using ineffective EMLA cream which did not prevent the boy from howling in agony, would "toughen him up".

What feminist would want that? We are against the notion that men need to be strong, impervious to pain, releasing their emotions only through alcohol and their fists. But being for the concept of bodily autonomy? Absolutely. Men's rights groups do themselves no favours hijacking the issue of circumcision. But they really hurt the little boys they're trying to protect.


  1. I have a pretty long list in my mind of feminists who recognize circumcision as mutilation and sexual assault. But the list of those who either support it or 'oppose' it in the mildest possible terms with zero sympathy for those already affected has much bigger names on it even though it is shorter. This is an issue where an 'atheist' 'feminist' like Amanda Marcotte will overlook religious psychosis, sexual assault, medical fraud and coercion of uneducated mothers because it gives her a chance to hurt men by mocking circumcision harm. While carefully saying she's 'not pro-circumcision.'

    I will throw feminists under the bus if this is who is representing them. And this would not be misogynistic or an attack on women. One reason being that male circumcision has also had horrible effects on how men treat women. On top of making it more difficult for men to use the one contraceptive option available to them while still having some semblance of a sexual experience.

    Nearly a third of all men on Earth have been through this violation, and most of them at conscious age in unsanitary conditions. But when we're talking about men, suddenly every man is a white American while every woman is Malala Yousafzai. It is becoming mainstream feminist canon that sexism towards men cannot exist and that therefore anything happening to men cannot be gendered oppression.

    Bring up circumcision and all of a sudden gay men and trans women don't exist and the effects on them needn't be examined. All of a sudden religion isn't oppressive when the oppression targets boys. All of a sudden, on this one issue, nobody asks whether there's any racial history (there is, going back to slavery). The WHO is conducting a modern-day Tuskegee experiment on millions of African men, one that will increase HIV infections, and nobody gives a shit.

    People will cite Brian Morris' fabricated stats to make excuses for MGM without ever imagining that he supports FGM as well. Even feminists who oppose circumcision generally fail to speak of it in the same terms as other sexual assaults that are far less severe AND less common. If someone says they 'don't support rape' but they don't listen to survivors' experiences, you rightly call them an apologist. And rape doesn't permanently alter someone's anatomy most of the time.

    I don't care if you're not one of those feminists. Whatever you have to say about circumcision, tell it to the other feminists. And hold other feminists accountable when they minimize it or condone other sexual violence against men or boys. If this is an extraordinary request, then it's a similarly extraordinary request for men to reject MRAs. Especially when there are so many women MRAs from the US to Canada to India.

    You "don't support" circumcision? That's not good enough. The majority of men, feminist or not, believe that rapists should be thrown under the jail. If women 'owe' feminism (an immortal ideology), then they owe men (mortal people). I expect the same standard of discourse from feminists regarding MGM - that it is not a medical procedure but purely an act of violence and that minimizing it is rape apologetics.

  2. I have spent years speaking against circumcision on parenting forums, blogs, feminist groups. And in calling it a form of child sexual assault, I've been called an extremist. I'll be damned though if I'm called a men's rights extremist. The minimisation of the harms of MGM doesn't come from feminists. It comes from men themselves who refuse to admit the harm that was done to them.

  3. I have to admit, I'm an anti-feminist MRA and I really do appreciate you recognizing why circumcision so wrong. I have to disagree with the overall premise of this article, of course, but I do think you're coming from good intentions. So thank you

    1. I'm another MRA who disgrees with the premise of the article.

      In my experience most MRAs lay the blame for MGM (and FGM) on ancient religious/cultural traditions and ignorance. Dr John Kellogg deserves special mention.

      I participate in intactivist groups with others I know are MRAs. I have never seen any of them draw a link between MGM and feminism. We recognise that many intactivists disagree with us on other issues and stay on topic. To do otherwise would be disruptive and counter-productive.

      Sikamikanico, I notice you are in Sydney. It is possible we are in some of the same Australian intactivist discussion groups.

  4. Let me just start by saying this is a well written article, but I think you have a deep misunderstanding of the mens rights movement.
    Mens rights groups are not saying that MGM is the fault of feminists. It is a societal issue. You may find fringe activists that blame everything on women and feminist but that is far from the official stance by mens rights activists. That is like saying because some extreme feminists want to #killallmen that it is the official stance by all feminists (which it is not). There are also no leading Men's right activists that I have read or heard of that are saying that female genital mutilation is not all that bad. Again I'm sure you can find a fringe activists but we already discussed why that dose not make the rule.
    Your second paragraph again just makes the straw man argument to misinterpret what mens rights activists stand for. You should really get more facts before making claims about another group. That's just bad writing.
    Your third paragraph states that feminist are fighting for mens rights as well. Please show me one leading feminist that discusses the prison gap. Just one. Furthermore saying that there doesn't need to be mens rights activists fighting for social reform concerning circumcision because there are feminists fighting for us, is like saying that there shouldn't be a LGBTQ community because feminists are fighting for them. Oh and there doesn't need to be a civil rights movement because feminists are fighting for them too. That's just a silly claim to make. As long as there are mens rights issues, there should be mens rights activists working toward change. Maybe more men would trust feminist if feminist publicly fought for mens issues like the prison gap, or military conscription, or anti-dowry legislation and had a little less #killallmen.

    I'm sorry you don't like the mens rights movement. I'm sure it's only because you haven't taken time to actually learn about it. That's a shame. I think your'e a very nice author, and the mens rights movement would gain from having more intelligent women fighting on our side to dispel these misconceptions.

    Concerning your last paragraph. I don't think mens rights activist need to back away from circumcision as an issue. If you are suggesting that people will stop fighting against genital mutilation because they don't want to be associated with mens rights activist I think you are selling the feminists movement and people in general short. If that's what you think then you live in a sad and petty world view, and I am sorry for you.

    Please try to be a little more research before making claims about groups, because the truth is, if your fighting for the equality of genders, you are a mens rights activists whether you want to be or not...

    -Concerned reader

  5. So an issue that effects males, isn't an issue that should be adopted by male rights activists. Got it.
    Feminist logic 101.

    1. Of course MRAs should oppose circumcision; just it's faintly ridiculous to blame that it is not taken seriously by society because of feminists, which is exactly what is being said in the quote from the article in my post.

      Way to miss the point.

    2. All that proves is that Neil Lyndon thinks that. A little research suggests he may be an anti-feminist and perhaps an MRA. The only way to know a position is widely held in a movement is to widely assessment the movement. This can be difficult of course but we're here to help :)

      Men's Rights Australia (that I am actively involved in) will soon be releasing a comprehensive position statement. You can then clearly see where we stand on various issue.

      As an aside, Men's Rights Sydney meets regularly in person. Anyone prepared to have a civil discussion is welcome to attend.

    3. In any case, I produced this document to explain the MRM in plain language. So many people misunderstand what it is we are saying.

    4. "We reject many of the claims espoused by leaders in the modern feminist movement, such as that women cannot be sexist to men, a belief that men have systematically oppressed women for thousands of years through the use of violence or that domestic violence impacts women far more than men."

      I won't argue with the first one. To deny the latter two points shows why the men's rights movement is seen by most as a fringe group akin to white pride. Your aims may be good - as the mother of a son I am particularly concerned, for instance, that the education system is failing boys. But the combative language I've seen on men's rights subs and groups and denial of women's lived experiences, the denial of gendered violence, I'm sorry, I'm just not going to take that seriously. I could explain my experiences but I know you would just write that off as claiming victimhood status, so I won't.

    5. I'm glad you are aware of the problems facing boys in the education system. I think it is a key issue. While you may not agree with me, I believe it is tied to the denigration of masculinity we see in our society. I am very concerned we are raising a generation of young men who have a negative view of masculinity. I believe this will become a more serious problem for all of us in the future unless this trend is reversed.

      "I could explain my experiences but I know you would just write that off as claiming victimhood status, so I won't."

      Actually I wouldn't do that. I am concerned about the 'women as victims' narrative but that is a systemic problem. Your experiences are your experiences - they aren't for me to judge. It is true however that I won't consider anecdotal evidence to be a counter argument to solid data when looking at general trends.

      I will make one last point. Quite often sites are perceived (by people hostile to our movement) to be MRM sites or groups when they are nothing of the sort. We in the MRM get attacked for things we didn't say or do on a regular basis. Quite often these sites are explicitly hostile to the MRM. A good example is 'Return of Kings' (RoK). RoK is not an MRM site. The site owner states this explicitly and RoK has often been a vehicle for disparaging the MRM.

      I'm not saying you have ever made this mistake but I find it is a common mistake that is made.

      I only ask if people are going to criticise us they should do so only for things we have said and done.

  6. All I can say it, is is circumcised men who insist circumcision is a non issue.

    1. If you think that, then you're evidently neither listening nor reading. The vast majority of intactivists, who are incidentally reviled by many feminsts for allegedly "minimizing" or diluting the cause against FGM, are affected men.

      And don't discount the effect women are having in the pro-boy-mutilation media either.

  7. Do you think that circumcision for older boys is a better option than infant circumcision? I see the CDC recommends more circumcision for teen boys and so do many circumcision programs for HIV prevention because they are more able to contribute to the decision and procedures where infants can not consent in any form. Do you think teen circumcision is better, or do you appose all forms of circumcision?

    1. Well, I'm certainly not against any consenting adult having the right to body modification of themselves.
      However, in the case of circumcision and HIV, there is some evidence that it reduces the risk of F2M, PIV HIV transmission. It doesn't act as a vaccine. A circumcised man having intercourse with a HIV positive woman is still at risk, albeit possibly a reduced risk, of HIV transmission and should wear a condom regardless of whether he is circumcised. It is also worth mentioning that female-to-male transmission of HIV in Western nations is very rare, one of the lowest risk factors there is, especially if those women are not injecting drug users or having intercourse with bisexual men. There's also some evidence that sex with a circumcised man increases a female's risk of acquiring HIV, due to the increased risk of tearing and bruising, therefore raising HIV rates in the overall population.
      And of course circumcision offers no protection at all against any other form of HIV transmission, such as M2M sex and injecting drug use, which are a far greater risk than heterosexual intercourse - and it may encourage risky behaviour if people falsely believe they are "protected:.
      Adults who wish to be circumcised are welcome to it. For health and disease prevention, the advice is always safe sex and safe injecting practices.

    2. Thanks for the info on the HIV prevention matter, it makes sense. I never knew about the tearing and bruising factor. What I was more thinking about is. Is it good for governments to promote circumcision for health reasons, but rather for teen age boys? Like can young teens be considered as adults in this regard?

    3. Given the dubious efficacy of circumcision as a health measure, federal health departments shouldn't be promoting it on that basis to anyone.

  8. Hi I am a MRA and have many disagreements with feminism as a critique. I dont wish them away at all but i have different views on many issues. I understand where your frustration is coming from. Between MRAs and feminists, there are a lot of misunderstandings. But i want to thank you for speaking out for the rights of men and boys on this topic,

    You seem to be among the good feminists out there. However just for the record there are many feminist who do defend circumcision. Naomi Wolf for example on her site have article where she debated the pros and cons and then ended with it should be the parents choice. Which means she is for it to be legal and acceptable. Hillary Clinton leads PEPFAR where more than 100 million dollars are donated to 14 African countries specially to upscale circumcision to 80% to prevent HIV.

    So I will not agree that feminist as hole is against it. But I do see there are many feminists who speak out against it and thats awesome. I think MRAs and Feminists share atleast 90% common goals regarding equality and fairness to all genders. I dont know why this war. In a previous post I made the analogy that Catholics and Protestants in Ireland have been in war and killed 107000 people already, Yet they are both Christians. But there have been no war between Christians and satanists. I got to the conclusion its not about diferences that cause friction but rather how close you get. that the war between MRAs and Feminists is not because of our differences, but rather because we are so close to each other. Its like if two neighbors have different views on Christianity then they have a bigger chance to fight every day than any of them have a fight with a satanist who live further down the road. To me the entire MRA and Feminist war is silly, We have different opinions on many things but the way they attack each other is just crazy, most of them in that war just miss the entire point. MRAs and Feminists will get much more done if they can work constructively together, we can both benefit from each others different perspectives. But it all boils down to communication. Before a feminist can speak, we have the generally accepted label put on her forehead and get shot at before we know what she truly believe. Both sides of the fence do that. We respond to labels and not ideas.

    I see gender as a boat, feminists are rowing on the left, and MRA are rowing on the right, But for some reason these two are fighting, They do the same job, But they fight. if any one wins, the boat will go in circles and we will work our selves to death and get nowhere. While they fight the boat goes nowhere. we need to communicate better, understand each other better if this boat is to go strait. Women need a establishment that can look at their rights, who can articulate the world from their views and experience, But we also need a group that can articulate the world through the views and experiences of men, Men have so many battles they also face which very few realize the importance of. But we both have a goal to have a better world for our future girls and boys, a fairer world.


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