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Circumcision in boys and girls: why the double standard?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 16 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d978
  1. Mihail Evans, former postdoctoral researcher in ethics and philosophy, University of the West of England

New legislation in France has led to more debate on whether wearing the veil amounts to the sexual repression of Muslim women. Islam’s treatment of women is a regular topic in the Western press, yet few jump to the defence of Muslim and other little boys subjected to childhood circumcision. Indeed, the circumcision of the grandson of President Sarkozy, ironically a proponent of the veil ban, made only the gossip pages in France. As a permanent surgical genital alteration, circumcision is arguably a much more serious matter. After all, a Muslim woman has, at least in theory, the option to throw away her veil. The circumcised man’s foreskin has been thrown away already.

Few countries have banned male circumcision, but even symbolic alternatives to female genital mutilation are banned in almost all Western jurisdictions. While I was a student, a female academic at my institution published a piece supportive of male circumcision. This prompted a thought experiment: suppose we found a male academic supportive of the surgical modification of female genitals. Would his views be accepted? Why can a Jewish woman speak openly to defend male circumcision and a Somali man not defend female circumcision?

Physiological …

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