Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is a practice which is fairly widespread in some parts of the world, involving removal of the whole or part of the clitoris. The reasons for doing this are not always clear to outsiders, but it is notable that the clitoris is one of the organs responsible for female sexual enjoyment and we can presume that its removal or damage reduces that pleasure. Immigrants often want to take their traditions and religious practices with them when they move to another country. So it is that female circumcision is being done in countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. Neither country endorses it nor permits it and both consider it to be a physical mutilation and a form of child abuse.

Unfortunately, with genital mutilation there is a double standard based on the sex of the child. Circumcision of boys is not only done, it is countenanced by society and the state because it is a long standing religious practice. Nevertheless, it is obviously a mutilation since it involves cutting the foreskin off the penis. Although there are often claims that circumcision has some health benefits, they are not clear cut and, in any case, are not the reason it is done by Jewish and Islamic parents. It is primarily a religious or social ritual done for religious or social reasons. Female circumcision is illegal but male circumcision is legal. There is something fundamentally wrong with that!

Circumcision and clitorectomy should not be thought of as equivalent procedures, but as examples of common mutilations of sex organs for males and females. The male equivalent to a clitorectomy on a female would be a penectomy, or removal of the penis, rather than circumcision, which is removal of the skin protecting the glans penis, the most sensitive part of it. There is no practical equivalent to circumcision for a female, nor is there a female equivalent to simple castration, or removal of the testicles, unless it be removal of both ovaries, a procedure much more involved than castration. Castration was common in the past, particularly in more ancient times when eunuchs were used to look after harems and the women in them, but has not been in common use since the church stopped having castrated males as cantors.

The justification for male circumcision is that it is required in the Bible and was to seal an agreement between god and Abraham. The Bible may well say that, but the state has no business enacting laws banning or allowing practices based on what one set of religious writings say. Apart from anything else, if one religious writing is accorded special authority to justify secular legislation, then all religious writings must be accorded the same authority to justify other secular legislation. The concern of the state should not be with pandering to religious communities, no matter how ancient the practices may be that are based on writings from several millennia in the past. The concern of the state should be on the welfare of its citizens. It should not concern itself with the desire of parents to give babies the outward expression of belonging to one religion or another, when that outward expression involves mutilating body parts. It should concern itself with protecting those children from bodily alterations which are done without the knowledge and consent of the child and which the child might resent when it reaches an age to fully understand what was done.

When a child, male or female, reaches an age at which it can make an informed choice whether to be circumcised for religious or traditional reasons, then by all means permit it. That would then be a person‘s own choice and nobody‘s business but their own, presuming that the costs of having it done safely are born by them. Of course, the state would want to ensure that such alterations to the body were done safely, perhaps by licensing those who may perform the necessary operations.

There are other forms of bodily mutilation, sometimes done at a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood. This may include ritual scarring of the face and other parts of the body or alterations in body appearance. There is no real difference between these rituals and circumcision except, perhaps, that they are done when the person enters adulthood. If they are to be done, it should be at an age when the person being altered understands the full physical and social consequences of submitting to the procedures. Apart from that it is a personal matter.

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