Questioning the wisdom of genital inconsistency

They say that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and while I hate to foolishly insist on consistency, I nonetheless found my consistently foolish inner hobgoblin was activated by Dr. Helen's PJM insightful piece about society's very different attitudes toward genital assaults on males as opposed to genital assaults on females.

no one notices or cares about violence against men's genitals, except to poke fun of those men who are kicked or hit in the balls. People even make fun of men whose penises are severed, as in the case of John Wayne Bobbitt. I think Kevin is correct -- no one cares or deals much with the trauma this act may cause to men. I often see shows where a man is kicked in the groin and this is often depicted as funny or "no big deal." Imagine the uproar if a women were punched in the breast on a television show. It is unthinkable.
It certainly is unthinkable, and I was immediately reminded that advocating sexual violence against men has long been a part of the feminist movement. One of organized, mainstream feminism's icons was Valerie Solanas, a woman who shot Andy Warhol (he nearly died) and wrote an murderous tract called the S.C.U.M. manifesto, which specifically called for "gendercide" (the killing of men -- SCUM stands for "Society for the Cutting Up of Men"). Far from appealing only to feminism's lunatic fringes, Solanas was embraced by the movement's mainstream leadership:
Feminist Robin Morgan (later editor of Ms. magazine) demonstrated for Solanas' release from prison. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the New York chapter president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), described Solanas as "the first outstanding champion of women's rights."[9] Another member, Florynce Kennedy, represented Solanas at her trial, calling her "one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement."[9]
Little wonder that sexually mutilating men has become funny.

Noting the laughter over violence directed men's genitalia, Dr. Helen advocates fighting back over against double standard:

The media and society seem to encourage it with jokes, gags, and laughs every time a man's genitals are damaged. I think we should all fight back against this abuse, for the repercussions of young men being damaged in this way are devastating. They include depression, suicide, and taking out the abuse on others as well as themselves. The sadistic men and women who laugh at this type of assault should be called out by all of us who care about the future of males in this country. We've all been told rape jokes aren't funny, and society has gotten the message. Why is the genital assault of men any different?
I don't know why. In logic, it certainly should not be any different, but I think the double standard cannot be blamed solely on feminism. It is partially fueled by the traditional male tendency to be more tolerant of violence directed against men than against women.

When I was a kid, I was told "NEVER HIT A GIRL!" I was a very small kid, and I remember there was this one huge athletic girl who towered over me, and once when she was visiting the house, she physically provoked me into wanting to defend myself. My father instantly intervened and upbraided me -- telling me that she was a girl and that I must behave like a gentleman, and never hit a girl -- not even in self defense. So I learned that if you did get into a fight with a girl, you could never admit it. Saying "She hit me first!" would itself have been an admission of guilt. Even today, if some psychotic woman were to attack me, I would be very hesitant to use force, and if I did I would probably get the hell out of there ASASP, as I would expect the cops to take her side automatically.

While the different standard for general violence is not quite the same as that for sexual violence, I think it does shed some light on why men tend to minimize or diminish harm done to them by women.

Anyway, this very uncomfortable topic reminded me that in Western culture, there are very different societal standards where it comes to female genital mutilation (FGM) than for male genital mutilation.

As you see, right there, I ran afoul of the standard. Male circumcision cannot be called mutilation. The only people who would call it that are kooks. It is circumcision, and it is far less invasive than what is done to female genitalia, so decades ago, the word "mutilation" was attached to the latter practice in order to distinguish it from the former:

Support for the term female genital mutilation grew in the late 1970s. The word "mutilation" not only established a clear linguistic distinction from male circumcision, but also emphasized the putative gravity of the act. In 1990 the term was adopted at the third conference of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) in Addis Ababa. In 1991, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the UN adopt this terminology, which it did.[10]
But not so fast. There's a more recent movement afoot to stop using the word "mutilation" to describe FGM, lest we offend the mutilators:
Because the term female genital mutilation has been criticized for increasing the stigma associated with female genital surgery, some groups have proposed an alteration, substituting the word "cutting" for "mutilation." According to a joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA statement, the use of the word "mutilation" reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, and thereby helps promote national and international advocacy towards its abandonment. They state that, at the community level, however, the term can be problematic; and that local languages generally use the less judgmental "cutting" to describe the practice. They also state that parents resent the suggestion that they are "mutilating" their daughters. In 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices called for tact and patience regarding activities in this area and drew attention to the risk of "demonizing" certain cultures, religions, and communities. As a result, the term "cutting" has come to be used when trying to avoid alienating communities.[12]

In 1996, the Uganda-based initiative REACH (Reproductive, Educative, And Community Health) began using the term "FGC", observing that "FGM" may "imply excessive judgment by outsiders as well as insensitivity toward individuals who have undergone some form of genital excision."[13] The UN uses "FGM" in official documents, while some of its agencies, such as the UN Population Fund, use both the terms "FGM" and "FGC".[14][15]

So tolerance for this awful practice ebbs and flows according to the fickle whims of lefties and the new "feminists" who don't want to offend people who mutilate little girls.

I admit, it's tough to keep track of these standards, and I digress, because the point here is that in the West, male circumcision is tolerated, while any sort of female sexual mutilation is considered horrific by the overwhelming majority. Now, I realize the practices are very different, so it is totally inaccurate to call a clitoridectomy a circumcision, just as it really isn't accurate to call male circumcision "mutilation." But isn't that because circumcision is socially approved? (According to the map here, the practice is prevalent in the United States, Canada, the Mideast, and Africa, but not in the rest of the world.) Or I am foolishly insisting on consistency by posing that question? Bear in mind that I am not an anti-circumcision activist. I don't especially care what people choose to do to their babies, especially if it is done for reasons of health or religion, and I don't mean to make a huge deal out of it.

I'm just wondering whether it's reflective of some prevailing social standard that countenances treating men and their genitalia differently, and whether this standard might result in some of the unconscious attitudes (at least among males) which Dr. Helen identifies.

posted by Eric on 04.28.10 at 12:30 PM


Eric, Good day sir, My Dad told me never hit a girl, unless she swings on you first, then she has forfeited her womanhood and is fair game. After all violence is supposed to be the realm of men isn't it?

Bobnormal   ·  April 28, 2010 1:44 PM

There is something to consider, though -- as an author who wrote a character who swung for that portion first (though another character tells her it's pathological) and as a woman who has been in fights with men who ignored that rule Bob quotes: if absolutely cornered, a woman might have only one chance at equalizing the playing field. You see, we are -- in general, grosso modo -- smaller and weeker, but when you hit men THERE they forget everything for a few moments, which gives the woman a chance.
Now my character grossly overuses it, but that's because the woman has issues. And her issues have come home totting little litters of issues.

Sarah   ·  April 28, 2010 4:28 PM

Not to say Women aren't violent,but more that our society has looked at women as the "weaker"
sex for so long, it has clouded judgement, that being said,please don't hit me Sarah.

Bobnormal   ·  April 28, 2010 5:05 PM

Of course if it's being used in self-defense, hitting below the belt is "fair play"--but that's only for use in dire situations, certainly not comedic ones.

John S.   ·  April 28, 2010 6:17 PM

As my wife reminds me,when my grandson runs headlong into my crotch (ouch!)it is pretty funny, however painful, BTW 2 yrs old he is,

Bobnormal   ·  April 28, 2010 8:51 PM

I think most parents would be shocked to learn that there is absolutely zero medical benefit to male circumcision.

Of all the male circumcisions performed in the world, hardly any are performed on infants, and even fewer are performed for 'health' reasons. The U.S. is the real exception here. Other countries, such as Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand used to routinely circumcise, but have either abandoned the practice or well on the way to doing so.

Circumcision came to western medicine in the 1800s as a way of preventing masturbation. Other techniques included piercing both sides of a boy's foreskin and threading silver wire through and tying it off, preventing erections. For girls, the application of carbolic acid to the clitoris was found to be effective. These techniques are from American medical texts. It is the only honest assesment of circumcision; that it is painful and diminishes sexual pleasure. All the subsequent claims of medical benefit are wildly exagerated or plainly untrue.

The uncomfortable reality is that boys in so-called civilized societies are being circumcised for precisely the same as reasons as girls in Africa are being circumcised; custom, tradition and myths around 'cleanliness' (often refering to moral cleanliness).

Parents need to act to protect their boys from the harms of circumcision. I cannot fathom why a loving parent would hand their perfect baby to a stranger with a knife, when they know this stranger intends to take that knife to their son's penis. As George Bernard Shaw said: "Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity".

If men want to have themselves genitally altered when they're old enough, that's fine. Some women choose the same thing for themselves (encouraged by bizarre media behaviour).

James Mac   ·  April 30, 2010 9:37 PM

I suggest you do some more research about FGM and MGM before making statements about how supposedly different they are. Both are a bodily mutilation, both are incredibly painful and both decrease sexual sensation. To perform circumcision on a non-consenting minor for non-medical reasons (and these true medical reasons are exceedingly rare) is simply unethical.

The male foreskin contains greater than 22,000 nerve endings and special erogenous tissue found nowhere else on the male penis. You may learn more facts about FGM and MGM at the website of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers website:

The USA is the only Western nation that routinely circumcises the majority of newborn boys for non-religious and non-medical reasons. It's practically unheard of in European medicine, in fact Swedish doctors recently decided to stop doing it altogether.

Many Americans are not aware of the true natural history of infant male circumcision, because it seems "normal" to many of us. Depends on the culture you were raised in, I guess? I believe it is every bit as barbaric as FGM, and I protected my two sons from it. They have a right to bodily integrity.
By the way, male circumcision does indeed meet the dictionary definition of mutilation.

Anje   ·  May 1, 2010 1:26 AM

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