I obviously did not write this. Below are just excerpts. I advise you to click on the link to read this very well written opinion article.
Anthropology and Circumcision: Why So Us and Them?
by Zachary Androus
Panel: Male and Female Genital Surgeries
105th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association
state of affairs in the discipline originally led me to think that I should focus my work on male circumcision, but I have since arrived at the notion that what we need is nothing short of an entirely new paradigm for the anthropological consideration of human genital modifications, one in which the gender of the body being modified is itself not a relevant element of the practice compared to who elects the modification, the complexity of the modification, the extent of its occurrence, and the meanings attributed to the practice by those directly and indirectly involved with its performance. This approach differs from that typical up until now because the overwhelming majority of anthropological attention to genital modification, whether culturally, socially, religiously, or medically motivated has been characterized by a markedly differential treatment on the basis of gender and a systematic exception from analysis of genital modifications practiced within the anthropologists’ own societies.
Even when both male and female modifications are considered in the literature, they tend to be categorized as such, frequently imposing an artificial separation of practices that fails to reflect the cultural sensibilities of those whose beliefs and behavior is under analysis.
Secondly, if this applies to anyone, it should apply to everyone. I believe it to be of utmost importance that we not exclude any practices from our analysis, especially those genital modification practices that we take for granted as ordinary or unremarkable because they are familiar to us or because they are practiced widely in our own society or cultural group. The category of genital modification, whether male, female, or human, includes unrelated practices that have in common only an alteration of the genital structure.
In my opinion, the appropriate contexts to consider genital modifications harmful are when they are performed against the will of or without the consent or knowledge of the individual whose body is being modified. I feel comfortable asserting that in the overwhelming majority of cases, causing harm is not a motivation for the performance of genital modification, and thus (apart from helping to understand why and how a given modification is important to the practitioners) the point of considering the complexity of modification is to help understand the potential for and address any possible complications.
at I do think should be considered problematic are those elected without the consent of the individuals on whom they are performed, namely the circumcision of male infants. The majority of these surgeries in the United States are performed for social reasons rather than religious or ritual requirements, but all of them are subject to the same critique in terms of consent. As I explained before, I am not arguing against religiously or ethnically motivated genital modification per se; I am instead arguing that individuals should be allowed to undertake these procedures themselves once they are old enough to decide for themselves if they wish to share in the religion and tradition of their parents. And since we are American anthropologists discussing an American cultural practice, the criticism of the interventionist anti-FGM discourse do not apply here. Instead, it is an entirely appropriate application of anthropological knowledge to our own society.
As to non-religious neonatal circumcision, the Anglophone bioethical literature has quite a bit to say about the questions of proxy consent and cosmetic surgery, but precious little to say about male circumcision, despite its prevalence and the widespread characterization of the practice as socially motivated cosmetic surgery. A striking contrast appears to me between the mainstream medical and bioethical positions on childhood surgeries generally and the mainstream medical and bioethical positions on neonatal male circumcision particularly. As is so often the case, male circumcision appears to be an unjustified exception. On the one hand we have the mainstream position represented by the AAP Committee on Bioethics which advises that “providers have legal and ethical duties to their child patients to render competent medical care based on what the patient needs, not what someone else expresses. Although impasses regarding the interests of minors and the expressed wishes of their parents or guardians are rare, the pediatrician’s responsibilities to his or her patient exist independent of parental desires or proxy consent” (315). This is echoed in the advice of bioethicist Adrienne Asch to parents of children with atypical bodies when she “urge[s] delaying all appearance- altering surgery until children can participate in the deliberations” (2006:228). On the other hand we have the AAP statement on circumcision which authorizes parents alone to “determine what is in the child’s best interests” in cases in which “the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being” (Lannon et al 1999:691). This conclusion was echoed in the American Journal of Bioethics four years later by neurologist Michael Benatar and ethicist David Benatar who found that neonatal male circumcision “is a suitable matter for parental discretion” (Benatar and Benatar 2003:35). It is ironic that conflict between child patients’ interests and the wishes of their parents is described as rare, given the millions of circumcisions that have been performed in our lifetimes. The contradictions between neonatal circumcision and all other pediatric surgeries are startlingly apparent, and this raises two questions: why is male circumcision the exception, and what is the appropriate response from medical anthropology?
, I feel that it is hardly revolutionary to say that medical anthropology, especially a critically applied medical anthropology, should point out the cultural blind spots that have led to the creation of double standards in medical practice, and socially motivated genital surgery should be a decision made by the individual, in accordance with the standards of pediatric bioethics. Custom is not a valid justification for making so widespread an exception to accepted standards of professional medical practice.