The practice of female circumcision or infibulation – otherwise known by such emotive and value-laden neologisms as ‘female genital mutilation’ and ‘female genital cutting’ – is unlawful throughout the West and indeed most of the world.
“Surveying patterns of genital mutilation cross-culturally, two findings become very clear. First, male genital mutilation is far more commonly practised cross-culturally than is female genital mutilation; and, second, the forms male genital mutilation has taken, and continues to take, among some pre-modern and ‘primitive’ peoples are at least as brutal as any form of genital mutilation to which females have been subjected.”
Throughout the West, the practice is opposed across the entirety of the mainstream political spectrum, from the nationalist and anti-Islamic ‘far-right’, who associate the practice with African and Islamic third-world barbarism, to the feminist-infested far-left, who associate the practice with the alleged ‘patriarchal oppression of women’ in traditional societies.
In contrast, however, male circumcision is widely tolerated, entirely lawful and indeed widely practiced even within the borders of liberal democratic Western polities.
Indeed, in the USA, as of 2013, a majority of new-born boys are still circumcised.
In contrast to the high profile and widely supported campaigns to eradicate female circumcision worldwide, opposition to male circumcision is decidedly marginal and muted.
Indeed, such opposition as does exist seems to be largely confined a marginal fringe, composed largely of (1) anti-religious secularists, who associate the practice with outdated superstition and religious barbarism; (2) anti-Semites, who associate the practice with the allegedly unique barbarism and cruelty of the Jews; and finally, (3) Men’s Rights Activists, who see the practice as an example of how society tolerates and sanctions violence against the male body.
Violence Against Men?
It is certainly the case that society in general tolerates, and approves of (and sometimes even celebrates) violence against males to a far greater degree than violence against women.
Indeed, perhaps the most obvious evidence of this is the fact that the elimination of ‘violence against women’, but not ‘violence against men’, is widely perceived as an important and worthy political issue, despite the fact that it is in fact males who are vastly overrepresented among both the victims of violent crime, and among the victims of state violence – e.g. the casualties in warfare and the victims of genocide.
As Warren Farrell has memorably observed, “We don’t call ‘male killing’ sexism; we call it ‘glory’”.
Similarly, violent offenders of either sex are sentenced more harshly when they commit acts of violence against women than when they commit acts of violence against men.
Similarly, studies show that both male and female subjects rate acts of violence against women as more serious and culpable in nature than those committed against men.
On this view, the greater tolerance that societies accord male genital mutilation as compared to female genital mutilation can easily be viewed as a manifestation of society’s greater tolerance of violence against male victims of whatever age.
But Are Male and Female Genital Mutilation Comparable?
However, the notion that the greater toleration accorded male genital mutilation in comparison to female genital mutilation reflects double-standards and discrimination against males has been widely questioned.
Interestingly, these skeptics include, not only the usual suspects (i.e. feminists and chivalrous male conservatives), but also at least some figures broadly sympathetic towards the broader aims and claims of the men’s rights movement.
For example, philosopher David Benatar, in his book The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys reaches conclusions largely in agreement with those of the men’s rights movement. However, he makes an exception for the issue of circumcision, where, for once, he seemingly sides with the feminists.
While rightly deploring the continued practice of routinely circumcising infant boys without anaesthetics, Benatar nevertheless claims, “it is possible, without inconsistency, to disapprove of female genital cutting… while also approving, or at least tolerating the circumcision of males” and himself seems to endorse this position, writing, “there is good reason to think that circumcision of boys is not morally wrong”.
He bases this argument on two main arguments:
- “Female genital cutting is a much more radical procedure than male circumcision”;
- “There is some evidence of modest medical benefits that could reasonably be thought to outweigh the even more modest costs and risks.”
As we will see, both these statements are either wrong or grossly misleading.
Let’s deal first with simpler of the two issue, namely the ostensible medical benefits of circumcision.
Many ostensible medical rationales for the practice have been offered over the course of the twentieth century. However, the vast majority have since been discredited.
“If male circumcision protects against the transmission of HIV, then one would expect female infibulation to have the exact same effect. Indeed, two separate studies have found that infibulated women have lower rates of HIV than intact women.”
This is unsurprising. If there were really health advantages associated with not having a foreskin, then men would not have evolved to have foreskins in the first place.
As a good general rule, medical experts rarely know better than does natural selection.
The only proposed justification for circumcision that still retains any credibility is the suggestion that circumcision somehow reduces the transmission of the HIV virus.
However, this is not, of course, the original reason the practice of circumcision came to be widespread. Instead, it represents a post-hoc rationalization for a practice that was already widespread but the original justifications for which have now been wholly discredited.
There are therefore a priori reasons for being skeptical regarding this claim.
However, the claim that male circumcision reduces somewhat the likelihood of a person contracting the HIV virus does have some support, albeit as yet inconclusive.
However, several words of caution are necessary.
First, the only places where the rate of HIV infection is sufficiently high as to justify the routine circumcision of infants on this ground alone are in the so-called ‘Developing World’, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Yet these are precisely the places were the sort of sterile operating conditions necessary to perform the procedure are least likely to be widely available.
This means that the risk of contracting blood-borne infections (including HIV itself) during the procedure itself may outweigh any later reduced risk of exposure when a person reaches sexual maturity. Ironically, therefore, the widespread adoption of circumcision in, say, sub-Saharan Africa may actually increase the spread of HIV and other born-borne infections.
Indeed, hygiene considerations are not restricted to the Third World. Even among some highly orthodox Jewish communities resident in First World Western economies, the traditional form of Jewish circumcision is practised (brit milah), which includes metzihzah or metzitzah b’peh, literally translated as ‘oral suction’, whereby the infant’s foreskin is removed with the mouth (yes, really!) of the adult mohel, a process which, quite apart from the (perhaps unfair) connotations of paedophilia, is obviously unhygienic, and has been linked to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and implicated in several infant deaths.
There are also other dangerous complications, as exemplified by the tragic but well-known case of David Reimer.
Moreover, no one really seems to have any idea as to the explanation as to why circumcision supposedly reduces the transmission of the HIV virus.
Indeed, there theoretical ground for believing that circumcision might increase, rather than a decrease, in the risk of transmission of blood borne viruses such as HIV during intercourse.
This is because, as ethologist Desmond Morris argues, “by removing the only movable part of the penis, amputation of the foreskin… causes increased friction during copulation, leading to macro-tears in tissue and therefore to a greater risk of HIV infection”.
The only explanation for the supposed effect that I am aware of is the suggestion that transmission of the virus is facilitated by the high concentrations of Langerhans cells located on the human foreskin. On this view, the removal of the foreskin, and hence of these cells, reduces the risk of transmission of the virus during sexual activity.
However, as researchers Gary Dowsett and Murray Couch, two researchers at La Trobe University, Melbourne, observe in an academic paper discussing the evidence for the effect:
In fact, however, some people are indeed talking of removing the clitoris, labia and other parts of the female genital organs – namely the defenders and advocates of the practice of female genital mutilation in those few places where this practice continues to be widespread.
After all, removal of the whole or part of the inner and outer labia and other parts of the external female genitalia including the clitoris is precisely what the various forms of so-called ‘female genital mutilation’ principally involve.
This then raises the possibility that female genital mutilation may be as effective in reducing the transmission of HIV as is male circumcision.
Indeed, it may even be more effective – because, unlike male circumcision, female circumcision is also known to reduce female libido. This would presumably, in turn, reduce the prevalence of promiscuous, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, the major channels through which HIV is thought to spread in Africa.
Indeed, the idea that female genital mutilation may substantially reduce the transmission even has empirical support.
Although it has received a lot less support than the notion that male circumcision reduces HIV transmission, and is obviously more politically contentious, at least two epidemiological studies have found that women who have undergone the procedure actually have lower rates of HIV infection than comparable control populations.
This then suggests the somewhat amusing possibility that the best way to prevent the spread of HIV in Africa, and perhaps elsewhere, is to encourage more widespread practice of female genital mutilation.
Just don’t hold your breath for feminists, AIDS campaigners or philosopher David Benatar to start advocating for this any time soon!
Male vs. Female Genital Mutilation
Benatar claims, “female genital cutting is a much more radical procedure than male circumcision”.
Is he right? Well, the answer depends on which forms of ‘genital cutting’ are being compared.
Female genital mutilation takes at least four forms, as classified by the World Health Organization as Types I, II, III and IV, and is prevalent only in a few countries in Africa and the Middle East.
“Throughout much of East Africa, males are circumcised at puberty without anaesthetic, yet are barred from crying out in pain lest they be branded a coward for life, and unable to obtain a wife.”
Of these, some are relatively minor in nature, even as compared to Western circumcision. For example, the so-called ‘ritual nick’, or ‘symbolic nick’, whereby only a nominal pinprick is made into the hood of the clitoris, is surely less invasive even than Western-style circumcision, as still widely practised in North America.
In contrast, male genital mutilation is found, quite literally, all around the world.
As a result, it takes a huge number of different forms, ranging in brutality from comparatively benign forms of circumcision as are practised in the West, to the sickeningly brutal forms of genital mutilation practised, for example, among Australian Aboriginals, and even castration.
To compare ‘Type III infibulation’, a practice restricted to a few backward, primitive Third World hellholes, mostly restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, to a form of mutilation to which the majority of US baby boys are still subjected as of 2013, and which is still practised, tolerated and championed among the wealthiest citizens of other First World Western democracies, is clearly not to compare like with like.
A fairer and more appropriate comparison would be to compare female ‘genital cutting’ with those forms of male genital mutilation similarly restricted to the so-called ‘developing world’ and/or among so-called ‘primitive peoples’ of the sort traditionally studied by anthropologists.
In short, it appears that both men’s rights activists, and their feminist critics (and those such as Benatar occupying something of an intermediate position), as well as westerners in general, all display a rather remarkable anthropological ignorance of the variety of forms of male mutilation that are practised cross-culturally.
Surveying patterns of genital mutilation cross-culturally, two findings become very clear:
- Male genital mutilation is far more commonly practised cross-culturally than is female genital mutilation; and
- The forms male genital mutilation has taken, and continues to take, among some pre-modern and ‘primitive’ peoples are at least as brutal (or in Benatar’s terms, as “radical”) as any form of genital mutilation to which females are, or ever have been, routinely subjected in any culture.
Male Genital Mutilation in its Many Manifestations
Whereas female genital mutilation is almost entirely restricted to a few countries in Africa and the Middle East, male genital mutilation is found all around the world, in many forms among many different peoples.
As historian Martin Van Creveld observes:
“In many places around the world, the focal point of male initiation consists of circumcision or some other form of genital mutilation. Except among Jews, usually the ceremony is carried out on boys ranging in age from 6 to 12. Since the objective is to prove that the boy can endure the operation without flinching, it is deliberately made painful. Should he fail the test, he will disgrace both himself and his family.”
“The traditional penis decoration of the Dayaks of Borneo… consist[s] of a hole bored left to right through the glans, into which a small polished bone could be slid on feast days [while] at other times a piece of wood or feather might be inserted for everyday wear.”
However, let’s restrict ourselves first to those forms of male genital mutilation that are at least recognisable as ‘circumcision’ in the western sense rather than as representing an altogether different (and altogether more unpleasant) form of mutilation, and hence demanding altogether different terminology.
Here it is apparent that, even in cases where the genital mutilation practised is still recognisable as ‘circumcision’, it is often far more brutal in the means by which it is carried out than the forms of circumcision practised in the West.
For example, David Thomas observes that the Gisu people of Uganda “expect young men in their teens or early twenties to stand perfectly still while their foreskin is cut and the flesh peeled away”.
“To come of age in much of East Africa, a boy between 12 and 20 must command himself to remain stoic while an extremely sensitive part of his body is slowly cut away. Sir A. Claud Hollis, a British diplomat, wrote of Nandi circumcision in 1909: ‘The boy’s face is carefully watched by the surrounding crowd of warriors and old men to see whether he blinks or makes a sign of pain. Should he in any way betray his feelings, he is dubbed a coward and receives the name of kipite. This is considered a great disgrace, and no kipite may ever attend another circumcision festival.’ Or claim full rights as an adult.”
Moreover, the same author reports, no medicines to deaden the pain are permitted during this procedure.
“The most severe form of penis mutilation, once performed in parts of Arabia, was the brutal practice known as skin-stripping in which the skin was removed from the entire shaft of the penis.”
Yet, if these forms of genital mutilation seem barbaric, as indeed they are, then other forms of genital mutilation that are widely practised cross-culturally go beyond circumcision altogether in their barbarity.
For example, anthropologist and zoologist Desmond Morris, in The Naked Man: A Study of the Male Body, describes how:
“The traditional penis decoration of the Dayaks of Borneo… consist[s] of a hole bored left to right through the glans, into which a small polished bone could be slid on feast days [while] at other times a piece of wood or feather might be inserted for everyday wear”.
However, this is far from the most extreme form of male genital motivation that is practised as a male rite of passage.
Instead, according to Morris, this dubious honour goes to a form of genital mutilation once widely practised in the Middle East, but now thankfully apparently obsolete.
Thus, Morris describes how:
“The most severe form of penis mutilation, once performed in parts of Arabia, was the brutal practice known as skin-stripping in which the skin was removed from the entire shaft of the penis”.
Similarly, van Creveld describes how “one 19th century visitor to Arabia” described:
“A ceremony whereby a youth standing straight, had the skin of his penis peeled off in the presence of his bride. Crouching or playing a drum, she had the right to refuse him if he so much as stirred or moaned.”
As in most other cases described, the process was obligatory – for males, that is.
Moreover, those subjected to the procedure were forbidden to cry out in pain. On the contrary, “only young men who were able to endure this extreme form of genital torture without screaming were considered to have become respected adults”.
From Circumcision to Subincision
“The most brutal form of male genital mutilation is surely ‘penile subincision’, still practised by Australian Aborigines, and also known among Polynesians, Malaysians and in Africa, whereby a boy’s penis is literally sliced into two halves at adolescence.”
However, if so-called ‘skin stripping’, as formerly practised in the Middle East, represents the most extreme form of genital mutilation, short of castration, ever known to have been routinely imposed upon all males in a given group as an adolescent rite of passage, then the practice known to anthropologists as ‘subincision’ surely comes a close second.
Yet, unlike ‘skin stripping’, subincision continues to be practised in many parts of the world to this day.
[At this point, before explaining precisely what this process involves, I reluctantly feel obliged to issue a disclaimer, or even a ‘trigger warning’, if you’ll excuse the expression, warning readers that the process described in the following paragraphs is highly unpleasant and the description is, of necessity, somewhat graphic. Readers lacking a strong stomach are advised to proceed with caution.]
Typically associated with Australian Aborigines, but, according to the Wikipedia entry for the practice, also practised among some groups in Africa, South America, Polynesia and Melanesian, Desmond Morris aptly describes subincision as the process whereby “the penis of a boy when he reached manhood was first circumcised and then almost split in two”.
Morris describes the first stage of this bizarre and unpleasant initiation ritual, as it is still, to this day, practised among certain aborigine tribes, thus:
“The boy, about thirteen, was held down by an older tribesman, who silenced his cries, sometimes giving him a boomerang to bite on. Another held the foreskin and, twisting it, stretched it upwards, while yet another sliced it off with two or three cuts from a very sharp piece of broken volcanic glass.”
This, though, is barely the beginning.
The next stage of the process might be termed ‘sub-incision proper’, and occurs some four months or so after the former procedure, when, presumably, the incisions resulting from the earlier operation have, one hopes, begun to heal.
Here, a knife is used and the person responsible for performing the operation:
“Sliced the underside of the penis down through its whole length, or part of its length, slitting open the urethral tube. This wound was not allowed to close up again”.
[If you have difficulty envisaging what this entails, then you are probably fortunate in this respect. Nevertheless, i reluctantly feel obliged include a link, illustrating what the genitalia of an adult male who has undergone the procedure looks like, as hosted by wikipedia and currently included in their article on the practice. Again, I issue a strong disclaimer and ‘trigger-warning’ for anyone tempted to click on the link. Indeed, I considered embedding this image as part of this post to illustrate what the procedure entails, but decided against it given the gruesomeness of the image. Having said that, for those with a strong stomach, here is the link.]
The practice is, it goes without saying, obligatory – for men, that is.
As Morris explains:
“If a young man did not go through with it, he was not allowed to join his father’s group of elders and was refused permission to be present at religious ceremonies. Even more important, he could not officially acquire a wife, and essentially became a social outcast.”.
Subincision vs. Infibulation
As anyone who has read the description quoted in the former section of this post will surely agree, sub-incision, as described in the previous section, is at least as brutal and invasive a procedure as any form of so-called ‘female genital mutilation’, including even the comparatively rare ‘Type 3 Infibulation’.
“As compared to subincision, Arabian ‘skin-stripping’, East African circumcision and Dayak Ampallang, so-called female genital mutilation is often comparatively benign. For example, the so-called ‘ritual nick’, which involves making only a nominal pinprick in the hood of the clitoris.”
However, whereas there are, as no one can fail to notice, high-profile campaigns for the eradication of all forms of ‘female genital mutilation’, there are, to my knowledge, no similar campaigns against the practice of male ‘subincision’.
Indeed, this almost unbelievably barbaric practice receives little publicity and seems to be virtually unknown among everyone save:
- The small number of groups that continue to practise the procedure; and
- A small number of anthropologists.
Indeed, writing this piece, I have become aware that most, if not all, spellcheckers do not even recognise the word.
The only occasions where I have heard reference to the procedure in the popular media is in articles of an essentially jocular nature, such as this article at the Art of Manliness website on ‘8 Interesting (And Insane) Male Rites of Passages From Around the World’.
Apparently, the mutilation of female genitalia in far-away cultures represents a worthy cause for human rights campaigns. However, in contrast, the routine ritual slicing of the male penis into two halves during puberty is ‘interesting’, albeit ‘insane’, but, at any rate, apparently part of ‘manliness’ and a fit subject for jocular magazine columns.
Yet the practice of subincision, although bizarre and little known in the West, actually seems to be, if anything, rather more common around the world than is infibulation.
Given the lack of attention that the practice has attracted, precise figures are hard to come by. Moreover, the practise is most typically associated with Australian Aborigines, and is sometimes described as restricted to this group.
However, according to the Wikipedia entry regarding the practice, subincision is also practised, not just among the Aborigines, but also in Africa, South America and among the Polynesian and Melanesian cultures of the Pacific.
In contrast, female infibulation is wholly confined to a few parts of Africa and the Middle-East, and in its most extreme – but least common – form, so-called ‘Type 3 Infibulation’, to just a few countries: namely Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and some parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Mali.
Yet, despite continuing and high-profile campaigns for the eradication of infibulation by human rights groups, celebrities and the popular media, penile subincision receives no attention whatever from these same groups.
Who Insists on Genital Mutilation – Men or women?
There is, moreover, one further notable difference between infibulation and penile subincision, as practised in various backward and primitive parts of the world.
In those few societies and cultures where it continues to be practised, infibulation is generally championed, performed and insisted upon, not by men, but by women.
Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge, reviewing various ethnological studies of the practice, conclude:
“Who supports and perpetuates these practices of female genital surgery? The available evidence points strongly and consistently toward women. The decision about whether and when a particular girl will receive the operation is made by her mother or grandmother… The female peer group regards the operation as a mark of positive status, and girls who have not yet had it are sometimes mocked, teased, and derogated by their female peers… The operation itself is nearly always performed by a woman such as a midwife. ‘Men are completely excluded,’ according to one work on the topic.”
In contrast, they report:
“Men seem generally indifferent… [and some observers suggest] the men often do not even know [while] some fathers object to having their daughters subincised or infibulated, but the men’s objections are overruled by the women in the family, who insist on having the operations performed.”
In stark contrast to the situation for female infibulation, however, it appears that women are prominent among those insisting that young boys have their penises sliced into two.
Thus, Martin van Creveld reports:
“Tribal women in Australia told one researcher that they would refuse to marry a man who had not undergone it”.
Indeed, one of the primary rationales offered for subincision is that the process supposedly increases the pleasure that women experience during sex.
Thus, Desmond Morris reports that Aborigines claimed that:
“Opened up in this way, the splayed penis was much wider and… this gave enhanced pleasure to the females”.
Evidently then, among the Aborigines, possible pleasure for women counted for more than the manifest pain inflicted on young boys.
Interestingly, this rationalization echoes perhaps the least persuasive justification offered for male circumcision in modern American – namely, that female sex partners supposedly prefer circumcised males as sex partners, on either aesthetic or other grounds.
Indeed, in one rather distasteful so-called ‘social experiment’, viewable on YouTube, and apparently intended to be lighthearted, several women and girls are apparently quite unabashed in openly expressing a preference for mutilated male genitalia even on camera.
Of course, any man willing to express a similar preference for infibulated females would no doubt to swiftly excoriated and condemned in one of the contemporary West’s periodic witch-hunts.
Catholic Castrati and Other Useful Eunuchs
Not only is male genital mutilation more common than female genital mutilation today, it also has a longer history.
Indeed, until recently, the castration of males to create eunuchs was a widespread practice in many parts of the world.
“Male slaves were frequently castrated in Muslim societies, sometimes under such brutal conditions that 80 to 90% died of the operation.”
Thus, it is suggested that one reason why the Middle East, unlike the Americas, no longer has a distinct black African-descended population, despite the fact that more slaves were imported from Africa into the Middle East than were ever shipped across the Atlantic, is that, in the Middle East, male slaves were routinely castrated and hence incapable of reproducing.
Yet the process of castration was perhaps even more gruesome than one might imagine. Blood loss is surprisingly considerable, largely due to the body’s need to supply large quantities of blood to the penis to enable the engorgement necessary to maintain the erection necessary for intercourse and reproduction.
This, together with the unsanitary conditions under which the procedure was performed, meant that large numbers of castrated slaves males actually died during or in the immediate aftermath of undergoing the procedure.
Thus, Pierre van den Berghe reports:
“Male slaves were frequently castrated in Muslim societies, sometimes under such brutal conditions that 80 to 90% died of the operation.”
In a sense, those who survived were the lucky ones.
Later, however, they were co-opted for other purposes. Often these purposes were surprisingly trivial.
One was as singers.
“The Catholic Church was still castrating choirboys so as to preserve their voices until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.”
Today, of course, Catholic priests are notorious for violating the genitalia of Catholic choirboys in rather different manner. However, until surprisingly recently, the Catholic Church was known for violating the genitalia of choirboys in an even more loathsome manner, the physical effects of which were altogether more permanent.
The best pre-pubescent male singers were singled out, and, in order to preserve their voices against the coming effects of puberty, castrated. After having undergone the procedure, the individuals were able to continue serving as, if you like, adult choirboys, and came to be known as ‘Castrati’.
At this point readers may well object that, surely, I am now talking about ancient history, and that surely such barbaric practices were consigned to oblivion, at least in the civilized West, many centuries ago.
In truth, however, this practice continued, right in the heart of ostensibly civilized ‘Christendom’ until the late nineteenth century.
The castration of young boys for the purposes of maintaining their singing voices was only made illegal in Italy as recently as 1861, and only in 1878 did the then Pope prohibit the hiring of new castrati, though in the Sistine Choir some castrati remained until around 1900.
Indeed, one castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, even survived long enough that solo recordings were made of his voice.
[In a bitter irony, he is not generally regarded as having had a particularly good voice, and therefore the sacrifice was perhaps not worth it even by the perverted and misandric standards of the Catholic Church. However, you can judge for yourself, as various recordings of his voice are available on youtube.]
Neither, unfortunately, is forcible castration wholly obsolete.
“In India, campaigners estimate that at least a thousand young men are forcibly castrated every year, and there are said to be 500,000 forcibly castrated eunuchs in the country. Meanwhile, in Iran, unknown numbers of homosexual men are forced to undergo sex change operations to escape execution.”
For example, Adam Jones refers to “the estimated 500 000 forcibly castrated ‘eunuchs’ in India”. Thus, the India Times reports, “at least 1,000 youths are converted into eunuchs in the city [Delhi] every year”.
This is a reference to the so-called Hijra community is South Asia. The term ‘Hijra’ is sometimes translated as roughly equivalent to the western terms ‘intersex’ or ‘transgender’, or a catch-all encompassing both these categories.
However, according to a report by the India Times:
“Khairati Lai Bhola of All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha (AIHKS), formed in 1984 to protect the rights of the community, says most eunuchs in the country are not transvestites or hermaphrodites. They are actually castrated men. ‘Young and addicted boys are abducted and then introduced to homosexuality by the agents of eunuch’s gurus. Castrations are clandestinely forced on them and ironically, very few people gather the courage to retaliate,’ Bhola said… Not less than a thousand young men, says Bhola, are forcibly castrated every year. Many of them are married and have families”.
In recent years, despite the shame and embarrassment involved, as well as the dismissive attitude of the authorities to any complaints and the very real risk of retribution from the ‘Hijra mafia’, several complainants have recently come forward to report on how they were abducted and forcibly castrated against their will in recent years.
Forcible castration of a somewhat different form is said to be widespread in contemporary Iran – namely coerced sex change operations that some homosexual men are said to be forced to undergo.
This practice is widespread in Iran because, although male homosexuality is strictly prohibited and sometimes punishable with death, the Islamic fundamentalist Iranian authorities are surprisingly ‘progressive’ when it comes to transsexual rights, recognising transsexuals as women, at least after they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.
As a result, Iran is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the world capitals for sex change operations, having more sex-change operations performed annually than anywhere in the world besides Thailand.
The result of Iran’s odd combination of tolerating transsexualism while persecuting male homosexuality is that many male homosexuals who are not transsexual are nevertheless seemingly forced to undergo sex change operations against their will, in order to avoid persecution, and possible execution, under Iran’s strict laws against male homosexuality.
Contemporary Castration in Modern America
What then of the contemporary West?
Here, as we have seen, circumcision remains widespread, especially in the USA, where a majority of newborn boys continue to be genitally mutilated, usually without anaesthetic.
“On June 23 1993, Lorena Bobbitt cut off the penis of her sleeping husband, giving as her reason in a taped police interview later that night, ‘He always have orgasm, and he doesn’t wait for me ever to have orgasm… He’s selfish. I don’t think it’s fair, so I pulled back the sheets then and I did it.’ She received not a single day of incarceration as punishment.”
What though of actual castration, and similar forms of involuntary male genital mutilation?
These are widely regarded, so it seems, not so much as a crime, let alone a human rights abuse, but rather a laughing matter.
Take, for example, the case of John Wayne Bobbit. On the night of June 23 1993, while he slept, his wife Lorena cut off his penis at the base, drove away in her car, and threw the penis into a field.
On being taken into custody that day, in a tape-recorded interview, she gave as her reason for doing this:
Only several weeks later, presumably on being advised by her lawyers that (quite apart from the fact that removing his penis was unlikely to improve the quality of his lovemaking) his having been a selfish lover was hardly a sufficient ground on which to build a criminal defence, did she retract this statement and offer another in its stead.
Instead, several weeks later, she retroactively claimed that to have been a victim of the fraudulent ‘battered woman syndrome’, and even to have been raped by her husband on the night in question – a charge of which her husband was subsequently acquitted and which had evidently escaped her memory on the night of her arrest.
Yet, as Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, “the same feminists who rail against putting the victim on trial in rape cases cheered the tactic of putting John Wayne Bobbitt on trial in this case”.
Her eventual sentence for this sickening sexual assault on a sleeping, defenceless man?
She received not a single day of incarceration, nor even of community service, nor even a slap on the wrists, either literally or metaphorically.
Instead, she received literally no punishment at all.
“American man has been emasculated – reduced from John Wayne, the swaggering personification of American masculinity in the early twentieth century, to John Wayne Bobbitt, the pussy-whipped personification of an emasculated American masculinity at the dawn of the twenty-first.”
Instead, found not guilty on the grounds of insanity, she was ordered her to undergo ‘psychiatric evaluation’. This involved a 45-day evaluation period at a psychiatric hospital, after which she was released with no further charges and, to my knowledge, no further psychiatric treatment.
To this day, she perversely poses as a victim of domestic violence, despite being, in reality, a perpetrator of domestic violence of a most vile and sickening form, and has recently been the subject of sympathetic interviews in several major newspapers, none of which references either the original reason she offered for her actions, nor her subsequent arrests for domestic violence.
Meanwhile, her victim and former husband, in a characteristically male act of forgiveness, has “I don’t blame Lorena…We both hurt each other. I wish her the best”.
It surely goes without saying that any man who was accused of, say, slicing up a woman’s genitalia with a kitchen knife – for whatever reason – would be sentenced to many years of incarceration. He would also be rightly vilified as a monster in the press and media.
In contrast, Lorena Bobbitt became:
- A spokesperson and activist for victims of domestic violence;
- A feminist icon and heroine to many women; and
- The punchline to (countless) jokes.
Hailed in Vanity Fair as a “national folk heroine”, the former Mrs Bobbitt recently appeared on an American talk show, where she was reported as having been “greeted by the mostly female audience with a standing ovation and cheers”, and one woman interviewed by the New York Times in the immediate aftermath of the sickening attack, proudly giving her real name to reporters, was quoted as declaring, “Every woman I’ve talked to about this says, “Way to go!’”, an attitude reflected by other women, and, in itself, a shocking indictment of sickening levels of misandry among modern American women.
Male genital mutilation is, in short, a laughing matter and fit topic for ribald adult humour – and, no matter how horrible the acts which women commit, it is always men, or some man, who must ultimately be found to be at fault.
The Emasculation of American Man: From John Wayne to John Wayne Bobbitt
This then was the spectre of American manhood at the close of the twentieth century.
“Man of the West, unite – you have nothing to grow back except your balls.”
American man has been emasculated – reduced from John Wayne, the swaggering personification of American masculinity in the early twentieth century, to John Wayne Bobbitt, the pussy-whipped personification of an emasculated American masculinity at the dawn of the twenty-first.
Man of the West, unite – you have nothing to grow back except your balls.
 These terms are, of course, reserved exclusively for those forms of ‘genital cutting’ and ‘mutilation’ of which females are the victims, not the more frequently practised forms of ‘genital cutting’ and ‘mutilation’ of which men are the victims. Less emotive terminology is available to refer to the practice, which nevertheless distinguish the procedure from the quite different practice of male circumcision, namely the term ‘infibulation’. However, this is generally eschewed by feminists in favour of more emotive terms, presumably for rhetorical purposes. In order to avoid confusion, in this post, I will use the terms ‘male genital mutilation’ and ‘female genital mutilation’ to refer to any cutting of the genitalia of males or females designed to produce permanent alteration, from the mildest forms (e.g. a ‘ritual nick’) to the most extreme forms (e.g. castration, subincision and castration). In contrast, I reserve the terms ‘male circumcision’, ‘female circumcision’ and ‘infibulation’ to refer specifically to the forms of genital mutilation most familiar to western readers.
In passing it must be noted that philosopher David Benatar argues that male circumcision does not properly qualify as a form of ‘mutilation’ (The Second Sexism: p42). However, this is a semantic dispute of no substantive importance. Whether or not a certain form of genital alteration is such as to satisfy an arbitrary definition of ‘mutilation’ is irrelevant to the separate issue of whether the form of alteration is in any way justifiable.
 To illustrate this, try searching for the exact phrase “violence against men” (in inverted commas) on google, or in the archives of any of various newspapers/websites, then search for “violence against women” and compare the number of ‘hits’ obtained and by how many orders of magnitude they differ.
 In their comprehensive global survey of the correlates of crime, criminologists Anthony Walsh and Lee Ellis report that “except for rape, where essentially all victims are female, males have substantially higher victimization rates than do females” and “even with rapes included in calculating an overall victimization rate, males run a considerably greater risk of being victimized by violent crime than do females” (Criminology: A Global Perspective: p128). Walsh and Ellis are right with respect to violent crime generally. However, they underestimate the prevalence of male rape. Indeed, due to the epidemic levels of rape in the US’s overwhelmingly male prison population, recent government data suggests that in the USA, men may even be overrepresented among rape victims (see my post, Real Rape Culture – The American Prison System). However, violent crime often goes unreported. Meanwhile, rape in particular is probably over-reported, due to exceptionally high rates of false reports. Therefore, the most reliable data is that for homicide, which, as the most extreme form of violent crime, is also the form of violent crime least likely to go either undetected or falsely reported. In the UK in 2010-11, over two thirds (68%) of homicide victims were male, according to government statistics (Osborne, S. (2012) ‘Homicide’ in K. Smith et al (eds), Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2008/09: supplementary volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11 Home Office Statistical Bulletin 01/10: at p19). Similarly, in the USA, between 1980 and 2008, men were three times as likely to be the victim of homicide as were women (Cooper A & Smith EL (2011) Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2011, NCJ 236018: at p3). Internationally, according to a comprehensive worldwide epidemiological survey in the mid-1990s, men represented 78% of violent deaths, excluding those resulting from war (see Murray, C.J.L. and Lopez, A.D. 1996. The global burden of disease: A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020. Cambridge, Harvard University Press; Murray, C.J.L. and Lopez, A.D. 1996. Global health statistics: a compendium of incidence, prevalence and mortality estimates for over 200 conditions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: as cited by Joshua Goldstein in War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa: p400).
 According to data cited by Joshua Goldstein, adult men represent 58% of fatalities from war across the world – despite the fact that, once children are factored in, men represent a small minority of the population as a whole (War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa: p400; Goldstein bases this on data taken from the two most comprehensive worldwide epidemiological surveys of the causes of death, namely, Murray, C.J.L. and Lopez, A.D. 1996. The global burden of disease: A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020. Cambridge, Harvard University Press; and Murray, C.J.L. and Lopez, A.D. 1996. Global health statistics: a compendium of incidence, prevalence and mortality estimates for over 200 conditions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
 See Jones A (2000) Gendercide and Genocide Journal of Genocide Research, 2(2): 185-211. Indeed, the overrepresentation of males among the victims of genocide is a recurrent feature of genocides throughout history. For example, Thucydides in the ‘Melian Dialogue’ reports that, on conquering Melos, the Athenians “put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves”. Similarly, in his recent comparative biography of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II of Macedon, author Ian Worthington reports that on capturing “Sestus, an important grain city on the trade route from the Black Sea to Athens… he killed all of its male citizens and sold all of its women and children as slaves – one of the more gruesome punishments that civilians suffered in warfare” (By the Spear: p57). Similarly, the Bible recounts various ‘gender-cides’ where males exclusively were massacred (Genesis 34: 25-9; Exodus 1:22; Matthew 2:16). Indeed, in the Old Testament, not only are ‘gender-cides’ apparently approvingly recounted (Genesis 34: 25-9), but God even expressly commands such ‘gender-cides’ (e.g. Deuteronomy 20: 10-15; Numbers 31: 17-8), where the Israelites are commanded to “kill every male among the little ones” and, upon conquering a city “put to the sword all the men in it”, but to take the women and children as slaves. The Bible is a notoriously historically unreliable source. However, such male-specific massacres are not mere mythology. Their legacy is found even in our DNA. Thus, Nobel prize winning geneticist James Watson reports, whereas 94% of the Y-chromosomes of contemporary Colombians are European, mitrochondrial DNA shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types”, concluding “the virtual absence of Amerindian Y chromosome types, reveals the tragic story of colonial genocide: indigenous men were eliminated while local women were sexually ‘assimilated’ by the conquistadors” (DNA: The Secret of Life: p257).
 For example, in Britain, the whipping of female offenders was prohibited as early as 1820 with the Abolition of the Whipping of Female Offenders Act of 1820. However, the whipping of male offenders was not finally abolished until nearly a century and a half later under section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. Similarly, today, David Benatar reports, in the “overwhelming majority” of the “more than 30 countries” that still use corporal punishment as a penalty “the punishment is reserved for males and may not be inflicted upon females” (The Second Sexism: p34).
 For evidence of discrimination in the application of the death penalty in the USA, see Streib, V (1997) America’s aversion to executing women, Ohio Northern University Women’s Law Journal, 1:1-8; Streib, V (2001) Sentencing Women to Death’ Criminal Justice Magazine 16(1); Streib, V (2002) Gendering the Death Penalty: Countering Sex Bias in a Masculine Sanctuary, Ohio State Law Journal 63: 433; Streib, V (2006) Rare and Inconsistent: The Death Penalty for Women, Fordham Urban Law Journal 33:609; Shapiro, A (2000) Unequal Before the Law: Men, Women and the Death Penalty, American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 8(2): 427-470. Meanwhile, in other jurisdictions, discrimination against males is overt. For example, “The Indian death penalty statute expressly lists the offender’s sex as an extenuating circumstance, and the former Soviet and current Russian capital punishment statutes expressly prohibit the death penalty for female offenders”: Streib, V (2002) Gendering the Death Penalty: Countering Sex Bias in a Masculine Sanctuary, Ohio State Law Journal 63: 433.
 Beaulieu & Messner (1999) Race, Gender, and Outcomes in First Degree Murder Cases 3(1): 47-68; Curry, Lee & Rodriguez (2004) Does Victim Gender Increase Sentence Severity? Further Explorations of Gender Dynamics and Sentencing Outcomes, Crime & Delinquency 50(3):319-343; Williams & Holcomb (2004) The Interactive Effects of Victim Race and Gender on Death Sentence Disparity Findings Homicide Studies 8(4):350-376; Curry (2010) The conditional effects of victim and offender ethnicity and victim gender onsentences for non-capital cases Punishment & Society 12(4):438-462.
 Arias, I., & Johnson, P. (1989). Evaluations of Physical Aggression Among Intimate Dyads. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 4, 298−307; Harris, M.B. (1991) Effects of Sex of Aggressor, Sex of Target, and Relationship on Evaluations of Physical Aggression Journal of Interpersonal Violence 6(2): 174–186; Greenblat, C. S. (1983). ‘A hit is a hit is a hit. Or is it? Approval and tolerance of the use of physical force by spouses’. In D. Finkelhor, R. J. Gelles, G. T. Hotaling, & M. A. Straus (Eds.), The dark side of families (pp. 235-260). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage; Feather NT (1996) Domestic Violence, Gender and Perceptions of Justice Sex Roles 35(7): 507-519; Felson RB (2009) When a man hits a woman: Moral evaluations and reporting violence to police Aggressive Behavior 35(6): 477-488.
 Benatar, D, The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys: p41-2.
 Benatar, D, The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys: p42.
 Benatar, D, The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys: p41.
 Benatar, D, The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys: p42
 Dowsett, G.W.; M. Couch (May 2007). “Male circumcision and HIV prevention: is there really enough of the right kind of evidence?” (PDF). Reproductive Health Matters 15 (29): 33–44.
 E.g. Blau (2014) Religious circumcision ritual leaves another Jewish baby with herpes New York Daily News, 24 December; Forster K (2017) Herpes cases among babies linked to ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual, Independent, 9 March; Campanile, C (2017) New case of neonatal herpes caused by Jewish circumcision 8 March; JTA Two infants diagnosed with herpes after ‘metzitzah b’peh’, Times of Israel, 35 July 2014; Golgowski, N (2013) Two more babies stricken with herpes after ritual ultra-orthodox Jewish oral blood sucking circumcision in New York City Daily Mail, 5 April.
 Morris, D, The Naked Man: a Study of the Male Body: at p207. Morris fails to acknowledge the evidence that circumcision actually seems to prevent the transmission of HIV. On the contrary, he cites evidence suggesting the contrary, observing that, “the United States has a high rate of male circumcision and also of HIV infection [whereas] Scandinavia has a low rate of circumcision and also of HIV infection” (Ibid.). However, this pattern, besides being restricted to a sample of only two countries, fails to account for other potential confounding factors, notably the racial demographics of the two countries.
 Szabo R & Short RV (2000) How does male circumcision protect against HIV infection? British Medical Journal 2000 Jun 10; 320(7249): 1592–1594.
 Dowsett, G.W.; M. Couch (May 2007). “Male circumcision and HIV prevention: is there really enough of the right kind of evidence?” (PDF). Reproductive Health Matters 15 (29): 33–44: at p36
 See Denison, E (2012) Does Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) Affect Women’s Sexual Functioning? A Systematic Review of the Sexual Consequences of FGM/C Sexuality Research and Social Policy 9(1): 41–56; Sibiani, S & Rouzi, AA (2008) Sexual function in women with female genital mutilation Fertility and Sterility, 90 (Supplement): S92. Incidentally, the effect of female circumcision on female libido and sexual arousal is not disputed by the opponents of the practice. On the contrary, this forms one of the principle grounds on which they oppose the practice.
 Kinuthia, RG (2010) The Association between Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the Risk of HIV/AIDS in Kenyan Girls and Women (15-49 Years) Thesis, Georgia State University, 2010. http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/iph_theses/98; Stallings RY, & Karugendo E. (2005) Female Circumcision and HIV Infection in Tanzania: for Better or for Worse? [poster] 3rd International AIDS Society Conference; 2005 24 July–27 July; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. International AIDS Society, 2005.
 However, when the American Academy of Paediatrics wisely proposed allowing the procedure, as an alternative to more invasive forms of female genital mutilation, they were widely condemned (see Belluck P Group Backs Ritual ‘Nick’ as Female Circumcision Option New York Times 6th May 2010). Thus, one congressman was quoted as complaining, “what their recommendation has done is only create confusion about whether FGM [female genital mutilation] is acceptable in any form”. Another refers permitting the practice as a ‘slippery slope’. However, the article does not mention whether permitting male circumcision similarly creates confusion about whether male genital mutilation is acceptable in any form’ and thereby lends credence to, or represents a ‘slippery slope’ practices such as penile subincision.
 This is according to the wikipedia page on the topic, which cites various sources for the practice in different continents. Certainly, the practice has been documented outside of Australia (e.g. Margetts, E.L. (1960). “Sub-incision of the urethra in the Samburu of Kenya. East African Medical Journal 37(2): 105–8).
 Again, this is according to the current version of the wikipedia page regarding the topic, which cites various sources for the existence of the practice in different continents (e.g. Margetts, E.L. (1960). “Sub-incision of the urethra in the Samburu of Kenya. East African Medical Journal 37(2): 105–8).
 Of course, both sub-incision and infibulation may also be practised, to a lesser extent, among emigrants from these groups who settle in other countries.
 For example, searching the website of Amnesty, the human rights group, for the exact phrases “infibulation”, “female genital mutilation” and “female genital cutting” provides 87, 423 and 49 hits respectively. In contrast, searching for “subincision”, “sub-incision” or “male genital cutting” gives no results, while searching for “male genital mutilation” gives just four, none of which seem to be apposite. Similar results (or lack of results) are found at the website of Human Rights Watch website. Here, each of “subincision”, “sub-incision”, “male genital cutting” and “male genital mutilation” give zero results, while “infibulation”, “female genital mutilation” and “female genital cutting” give respectively 25, 410 and 38 results.
 Anwar T (2016) The Truth About How Hijras Are Made In India – Because They’re Not Always Born That Way India Times, July 6 2016.
 Anwar T (2016) The Truth About How Hijras Are Made In India – Because They’re Not Always Born That Way India Times, July 6, 2016.
 Hamedani, A (2014) The gay people pushed to change their gender BBC Magazine, 5 November 2014; Senzee T (2015) HBO’s VICE Uncovers Gay Iranians Forced to Surgically Change Gender, The Advocate, April 11 2015; Robinson W (2015) State Department refers to Iran’s forced sex changes of homosexuals and transgenders as ‘gender-confirmation’ because their identity was ‘ambiguous’ beforehand, Daily Mail, 27 June 2015.
 In fact, it appears there was indeed a history of domestic abuse in the relationship. However, Lorena seems to have given at least as good as she got even prior to the night for which she and her husband became infamous. This is, of course, consistent with the general finding that domestic violence is mutual in most cases and that women are more likely to initiate such violence. Interestingly, while much is made of the fact that John Wayne Bobbitt was subsequently charged with domestic assaults on later partners (something that is surely understandable given what he has gone through psychologically as a consequence of the injury he suffered), it remains less well-publicised that his wife has also been arrested on subsequent occasions in relation to assaults on family members, including an assault on her own mother.
 E.g. Warren, L (2014) Lorena Bobbitt speaks out 21 years Daily Mail, 29 April 2014; Spargo, C (2016) Lorena Bobbitt 23 years later Daily Mail, 23 December 2016; Lee, E (2015) Lorena Bobbitt, Woman Who Cut Off Ex-Husband’s Penis in 1993, Resurfaces in New Interview, US Magazine, 9 November 2015.
 E.g. The former Lorena Bobbitt charged in mother’s assault Deseret News, 8 December 1998.
 Lee, E (2015) Lorena Bobbitt, Woman Who Cut Off Ex-Husband’s Penis in 1993, Resurfaces in New Interview, US Magazine, 9 November 2015.
 ‘Battle of Sexes Joined in Case Of a Mutilation’, New York Times (November 8, 1993). In an attempt to justify her sadistic gloating with regard to a sickening sexual assault on a defenceless sleeping victim, the woman claimed, “Usually the woman is the victim; this was the woman striking back”. In reality, however, a huge number of studies have confirmed that women are at least as like to commit acts of domestic violence against male intimate partners as the converse.