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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

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To answer the query: why the double standard?

The medical aspects have been thoroughly reviewed herein. Perhaps to answer Mihail's original query -'why the double-standard...?', we need to look at cultural and prevailing societal influences.

The overarching question: why would a (logical and fair-minded?) society urgently seek to protect one type of baby (a girl) but not another (a boy)? Why did the FGM legislation not include, or extend further down the track, to males? The answer can only be cultural:

1. Men are conditioned to have the stiff upper lip and not to complain; they have not, yet, in sufficient numbers, raised the issue. The management classes - doctors, politicians, strategy developers - tend to listen to those who are most vocal and camera-hungry. They very much want to be seen to be fair and compassionate - but only as a response to whoever is shouting at them, not as an initiative. (If one man complains, he is a rather odd nuisance; if twenty complain something, miraculously, happens).

2. Of all the advocacy groups, there is not one for men as a group. The ideological arguments are beyond the scope of this response, but given that most workplace injuries happen to men, that they are the predominant group amongst the homeless, their suicide rate is three time higher (they die significantly earlier anyway) and are uniquely coerced into dying young on battlefields (98% in Iraq/Afganistan) - we can say very broadly, that males are the less-valued gender. (Note: in 2011, young American males still have to register for the draft if they wish to vote). Yet rather loud egalitarian politicians over the last three decades have ignored all of the above. Is is because the only advocacy groups of real standing are female, gay or BME?

3. Limits on debate The vast majority of people, I believe, wish any debate to have full expression and as much exposure to differing opinions before reaching their own conclusion. However, the most vocal of advocates against sexism - examples in the UK could be Mses. Harman and Eagle - do not wish to countenance evidence of sexism against men or boys. It appears they only wish to fight the sexism of yesterday with their own sexism e.g. Section 159 of the Equalities Act.

So - given all of the above acting contemporaneously - this is the culture which greatly facilitates baby boys being let down so very badly on the protection so intuitively and logically required.

The remedy is clearly to have a cultural change based on protection where it is most needed. The honest and direct contributions herein from women and men are therefore most welcome in that regard.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 March 2011
Pete Leckie
Business Planner
NORM-UK member