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What About Teh Wimminz??!!??

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In an earlier post I had referred to a ruling by a German court in Cologne outlawing religious circumcision of male children. This was the same ruling which led to Brendan O’Neill to write about how anti-circumcision rhetoric echoes anti-semitism.

In the linked article, the Guardian carries the reactions of religious groups who are predictably outraged. What is interesting though is the reaction of feminists:

Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.

Competitive victimhood is sickening. No victim’s trauma is minimised by acknowledging that another person is a victim too. Altpeter’s rationale is similar to saying that a victim of rape is put on the same footing as a victim of larceny because both rape and larceny are felonies.

Can male circumcision be placed on an equal footing with female circumcision? Yes and no. This is because “female circumcision”[1] is an umbrella term covering a variety of practices. The WHO classifies these practices into 4 categories.

  1. Type II and Type III are more aptly described as gross mutilations of the female genitalia
  2. Type IV covers miscellaneous procedures, ranging from the relatively innocuous[2] e.g. pricking and piercing to more repulsive practices such as burning, scarring to cutting the vaginal wall[3]
  3. Type I is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce . Type Ia is the removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only. This Type Ia female circumcision is the exact analogue of male circumcision.

This male circumcision is identical to certain practices of female circumcision and is also not identical to other practices of female circumcision.

The next question to ask is what is the legal treatment of male circumcision and female circumcision?

  1. The United States has banned all forms of female circumcision.[4]
    • The language of the statute indicates that even type Ia female circumcision is a criminal act. On the other hand, 55% or more of all newborn male infants are circumcised.[5]
  2. The United Kingdom has outlawed female circumcision.[6] The offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceesing 14 years.[7]
    • The statutory language indicates that type Ia female circumcision is outlawed.[8] WHO data indicates that 11.7% of boys born in 1980-84 in the UK are circumcised.[9][10]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law but sanctiones have been levied by the Medical Council.[11]
  3. France, unlike the US and the UK does not have any specific statutes against female circumcision. Such acts are prosecuted under the general criminal law proscribing acts of violence.[12] There is no distinction between female and male circumcision, both possibly punishable for a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. Since 1979, 35 cases of female circumcision have been prosecuted.[13] I have been unable to find any case of male circumcision prosecuted. Given that there are an estimated 5-6 million Muslims in France[14], any sanction by the state would be protested vocally similar to the ban on face coverings..
  4. Belgium, like the UK and the US has specific statutes outlawing female circumcision.[15]
    • The language of the statute indicates that type Ia female circumcision is also outlawed.[16] Around 3% of the males in Belgium are circumcised.[17]
    • No criminal prosecutions have been initiated under the law.[18]
  5. Germany, like France relies on general criminal statutes to proscribe female circumcision. A Karlsruhe court ruled that parents have no right to subject their daughters to circumcision. However, unlike France, no criminal prosecutions have been initiated. [19] The German parliament is currently considering stiffer penalties for female circumcision.[20]

Further discussion on the legal aspects of female circumcision in Europe can be found here and here.

The purpose of the above survey of the legal rules pertaining to circumcision in the developed countries is to highlight the institutionalised gender discrimination which considers males children to be less worthy of protection than female children. While there is no disagreement that type II and III female circumcision should be outlawed, there is no answer to the question as to why type Ia female circumcision, an exact analogue to male circumcision, is treated differently to it. Is it fair to say that Katrin Altpeter is in favour of legal discrimination in the favour of female children and to the detriment of male children? Is Katrin Altpeter sexist?

Secondly, is Katrin Altpeter aware of carious degrees of a felony, with different aggravating factors, e.g. felony in the first degree, felony in the second degree, felony in the third degree and so on? Certain crimes are broadly similar but due to different aggravating factors are treated differently. Just because a felony of a lesser degree is recognised by the law, doesn’t mean that the felony of a higher degree is put on an equal footing with that of felony of the lesser degree. There is no diminishment of the gravity and seriousness of the felony of the higher degree. Just because male circumcision has been outlawed, doesn’t mean it will carry the same penalty as type II and III female circumcision (though I don’t see why type Ia female circumcision and male circumcision should not treated identically under the law). Her opposition is a kind of zero-sum competitive victimhood which escalates conflicts and impedes the resolution of social problems.

Inter-group competitive victimhood (CV) describes the efforts of members of groups involved in violent conflicts to establish that their group has suffered more than their adversarial group. Such efforts contribute to conflicts’ escalation and impede their peaceful resolution. CV stems from groups’ general tendency to compete with each other, along with the deep sense of victimization resulting from conflicts. The authors … contend that such competition serves various functions that contribute to the maintenance of conflicts. … they suggest that CV may reflect groups’ motivations to restore power or moral acceptance.[21] [22]

Thirdly female circumcision is widely practiced in Africa and among African immigrants in the developed nations. Justifications for female circumcision abound in African cultures. As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[23]

Cultural defences of female circumcision are explicity not recognised as defence to a prosecution for female circumcision in France[24]. In the UK custom is no defence to a prosecution of female circumcision.[25] Deliberations in the Commons explicitly rejected use of culture or custom as a defence.

“Respect for other cultures does not mean that we should ignore practices that are so harmful, and that violate the most basic human rights”[26] “[R]espect for other cultures should not include condoning or ignoring practices that abuse and deny human rights. Personally, I believe that cultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.”[27]

Male circumcision is, on the other hand, practiced widely in North American, Europe, the Muslim world and in Muslim and Jewish communities all over the world. Male circumcision thus has the imprimatur of the Abrahamic religions.

Is Katrin Altpeter when saying that male and female circumcision “are in no way comparable” also saying that the culture of Africans is not as worthy of respect as that of people professing any one of the Abrahamic religions? That sounds a lot like racism and cultural imperialism.[28] [29]

So is Katrin Altpeter:

  • Sexist?
  • Racist?
  • a Cultural Imperialist?
  • Ignorant of how criminal law works?

Based on her opposition to the Cologne court’s decision I think she is all of the above. And she is also wrong for claiming that the court’s decision would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing. Unfortunately for the people (men and Africans?) of Baden-Wuerttemberg she is also the Minister for Labour & Social Affair, Family, Women and Seniors. Aah, maybe that explains it, after all she is not the Minister for Men.

Note: The title of the post “What About Teh Wimminz??!!??” is used deliberately. It echoes the “What About Teh Menz” phrase.

“What About Teh Menz?” is a term often used in feminist circles, generally to refer to the sort of people who derail conversations about, say, rape culture to instead be about how women are not sleeping with nice guys and prefer bad boys. That is kind of shitty behavior!

Katrin Altpeter, similarly tried to derail the conversation about how male circumcision is bodily harm, to how female circumcision is being “diminished”[30] by putting it on the same footing as male circumcision. The title aptly describes Altpeter’s behaviour.


[1] The more widely used term is Female Genital Mutilation. However since the Guardian article uses “female circumcision” I will also use “female circumcision” in this post.

[2] Relative to Type II and Type III

[3] A practice known as gishiri cutting

[4] “[W]hoever knowingly circumcises … the whole or any part … of the … clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.18 USC § 116(a)

[5] Trends in In-Hospital Newborn Male Circumcision — United States, 1999–2010

[6] A person is guilty of an offence if he … mutilates the whole or any part of a girl’s … clitoris. Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31

[7] Id. § 5

[8] Removal of the prepuce is a mutilation of a partof the clitoris.

[9] Male circumcision: global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability, page 12.

[10] These statistics do not specify how many circumcisions were done for non-medical reasons and at what age.

[11] Leye, E and Deblonde, J A comparative analysis of the different legal approaches towards female genital mutilation in the 15 EU Member States, and the respective judicial outcomes in Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom ICRH Publications N° 8, page 36.

[12] Articles 222-9 and 222-10 of the Penal Code of France.

[13] Poldermans, S Combating Female Genital Mutilation in Europe. Unfortunately there is no breakdown of the cases based on the WHO classification for female circumcision.

[14] 8-10% of the population according to the US State Department

[15] “Anyone who undertakes, facilitates or promotes any form of mutilation of the genitalia of a person of the female sex, with or without her consent, will be punished by a term of imprisonment of three to five years.” Art. 409 of the Code of Criminal Law of Belgium.

[16] Removal of the clitoral prepuce is a form of mutilation of the female genitalia.

[17] Global circumcision rates. The statistic does not specify how many of the circumcised males were minor when circumcised.

[18] Supra note 11, at 37

[19] Supra note 11, at 16

[20] Genital mutilation and German law

[21] Noor, M, Shnabel, N, Halabi, S and Nadler, A When Suffering Begets Suffering: The Psychology of Competitive Victimhood Between Adversarial Groups in Violent Conflicts Pers Soc Psychol Rev doi:10.1177/1088868312440048

[22] Of course there is no violent conflict between sufferers of female circumcision and male circumcision but is there any doubt that Altpeter’s protestations derive from a worldview which sees females and males as adversaries, where any acknowledgement of that one group suffers comes necessarily at the expense of the other group?

[23] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[24] Supra note 13 at 42

[25] Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, 2003 c. 31 § 1(5)

[26] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1190

[27] Hansard Vol 401, Col 1197

[28] To those who say that culture is not the same as religion, what is the difference? Both are derived from a set of beliefs and practices. Is one to be respected over the other because it is codified in a set of books and the other is passed down only by words and practice?

[29] To those who say I am making an argument based on cultural relativism: I am not saying that all varieties of female circumcision should be allowed because we need to respect African cultures. But what would you call someone who minimises a practice in one culture (e.g. an Abrahamic religion) while campaigning to curb an exactly analogous practice in another culture? Cultural imperialist does come to mind. I agree with what was said in the Commons that “[C]ultures are sacrosanct only if they are consistent with human rights.” If a particular culture respects human rights, it in my eyes is superior to any other culture which does not.

[30] Quotes mine. As has been shown above the problem of female circumcision has in no way been minimised by the Cologne court’s ruling.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 4, 2012 at 20:56

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