"Be a man" stunts imagination, regardless of gender. Instead we should encourage empathy and independence. Impose no beliefs or dividing lines; create safe spaces for everyone, big and small.
Strangers keep asking me why I care about other people; if I’m an atheist or an anti-feminist (or choose not to subscribe to any ideologies at all), I apparently must have no morals or concern for anybody else. Far from the case, I’ve answered this question before, but it resurfaces, this time regarding men’s rights. Well, don’t you? Don’t you care about equal rights, independent of gender—because that’s what ‘equal’ means? People seem to think because I’m female, that I must be a feminist, and, more specifically, because I’ve been abused by a man, that I must hate them. Actually, I was abused by both my parents, who were also abused by their parents (men and women all involved, no one responsibility-free). Generational abuse involves both sexes, which is one of the reasons I demand equality legally, medically, educationally, and socially for everyone.
Sadly I’ve been told, “No, I don’t care because men have enough rights,” or something along that vague, dismissive manner. In reality women have some rights men don’t, particularly that of bodily integrity. Currently the entire world refers to female circumcision not by its medical name but by Mutilation and it is illegal in many countries; male circumcision is legal pretty much everywhere and even encouraged, though Denmark recently stepped forward and called for a non-therapeutic ban, as it violates human rights.
The foreskin is often called “just a flap of skin” and the procedure something the child won’t remember. First of all, it is not just a flap of skin. Humans are evolved creatures, like all other animals, and the foreskin has functions: to help lubricate during intercourse and to protect the sensitive head of the penis. We don’t even remove organs like the tonsils or the appendix until they become a problem. Unnecessary procedures on children are invasive and traumatic. If mothers are too immature or lazy to properly clean their sons, they should just come right out and say it rather than claiming to prevent disease through mutilation. Secondly, it is obscene to argue that any type of bodily transgression, whether circumcision or sexual assault, is permissible simply because the victim does not remember. Infants can and do remember early-life experiences. Through much therapy, I discovered that some of my personal body issues can be traced back to a specific medical incident at six weeks old; I doubt I’m much different from other people, subconsciously remembering bodily trauma and having repercussions throughout life.
Young women aren’t taught about circumcision. It only came up briefly in high school sex ed while learning how to put on condoms, and our teacher behaved as though circumcision were a routine, default process—but not one that she explained. No one explained it. We just giggled, teacher included, somehow expecting each other to know what it meant, and disregarded the subject because it made us uncomfortable.
So when I was a teenager and my boyfriend couldn’t stop talking about having been circumcised, I had no idea how to help him or even really discuss it. He hated what had been done to his body, and had all kinds of sexual inadequacy complexes and ideas that he couldn’t please me. His obsession grew to the point where he even looked into those crazy extend-your-penis kits from TV. I felt very sad for him and wish we had known that he wasn’t unique. The issue continues to revive itself, as a childhood friend recently admitted that she did not know much before the procedure and now wishes she hadn’t had her son circumcised. Judging by nurse’s reactions during check-ups, she believes the doctor removed too much skin. Complications aren’t uncommon, yet even if everything goes as planned, circumcision is never “successful.”
Truth is, I couldn’t help my ex-boyfriend, no more than I can help anyone who’s had their body mutilated. What I can do, though, is try to inspire post-traumatic growth through education and activism. I can make art to break the tension, as male genitalia is often a source of mockery with little serious discussion. I can encourage others to respect all bodies, not to qualify or compare; I despise the “male circ is bad, but female is way worse” argument because we’re all human, and if one little girl’s pain is enough to ban female circumcision, one little boy should be worth the same.
These two photographs were taken during my first outing with our new camera. I found this cute little bee grooming himself and practiced for about half an hour.