Let me start out by saying that I am the mother of three whole sons. I will never, ever speak a word that supports cosmetic genital surgery on non-consenting newborn babies. Never. But I will never refer to myself as an intactivist again either. I know there are some truly incredible intactivists. I’m proud to call them my friends, but there are far too many nasty ones that are endangering vulnerable mothers, and their babies too.
I’m a feminist, and an enormous part of my feminism is about non violence, protection of the vulnerable, and genital integrity. Unfortunately, too many people who call themselves intactivists are indifferent to the genital integrity of grown women. Sure they want babies to be free from forced, unnecessary surgery, but when a woman is treated poorly in birth, rather than saying ‘GENITAL INTEGRITY FOR ALL” the nasty intactivists show up, all gung-ho, demanding to know whether the mother protected her son from similar, culturally acceptable atrocities.
Many intactivists seem unable to understand that when fighting for genital integrity, it’s best to support ALL PEOPLE, not just one group. Especially when the group they choose to support is dependent on the group they throw to the dogs. This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t focus on saving babies from genital mutilation, we need people to focus on all different areas of human rights, but it does mean, that they shouldn’t differentiate between one set of genitals, and another.
I spend a lot of time saying this in relation to birth trauma, but I’ll reframe it slightly here. Women are separate entities to their babies. If a woman is forced into a caesarean, or an episiotomy, it is a separate issue to whether her baby is subjected to cosmetic genital surgery. Separate. Two wrongs, don’t make a right.
At my first birth I experienced significant bullying and an unnecessary caesarean – major surgery for those who don’t know. I kept my baby whole, because my baby was a girl. If my baby had been a boy, he would have been kept whole because I am Australian, and it’s normal here.
I’m rather struck by the reality though, if I was born in the US, and my first born had been a son, it is not outside the realms of possibility that he would have been subjected to unnecessary surgery ….. like I was. Why? Because as a very young mother, I had a lot to prove. I had to show the world that I was a good mother, not a rebellious teenager. I had to show the world that I respected authority, and doctors are authority figures. Surely they would never do anything unnecessary ……… like a thirty-seven hour induction from hell followed by a caesarean that I felt due to insufficient anaesthesia.
That thirty-seven hour induction damaged not only me though, it was also dangerous and damaging to my daughter. It was a wholly medically unnecessary, routine induction, performed because of my gestation – I wasn’t even post dates. I was not induced for any medical reason, and I consented to it only because they told me that it was best for my baby.
It’s all well and good to be opposed to unnecessary surgery for babies, but if you are indifferent to unnecessary surgery for mothers while they give birth, you don’t really care about the babies as much as you claim to. Perhaps you’re just uninformed, but is that really a defence for abuse? If you’re going onto social media posts about obstetric violence and making comments about mothers deserving to have their genitals cut against their will if they’re going to subject their sons to it ….. you don’t really care about the baby.
You see a baby is more than the sum total of its genitals. Babies need healthy pregnancies, gentle births, and they need healthy mothers to raise them. Health is not just a physical state either, health includes emotional wellbeing. Babies need strong competent mothers, not like the shell of a woman that remained after the unnecessary parade of obstetrics that resulted in the brutal birth of my daughter.
My daughter was not welcomed with love, she was welcomed by strangers, under bright lights. She was subjected to chemical hormones for hours, in a vain attempt to retrieve her from my body, and when that failed, her safe haven – MY BODY – was cut with a scalpel. Hundreds of stitches were necessary to repair the hole through which she was pulled. Thick layers of my flesh, muscle, and my uterus, was cut to bring her into the world. I deserved better than that, and I’m grateful I’m not American, because she might have been subjected to more if I was. As it was, her life began with a mother so traumatised and detached, that I was barely functional. I suffered PTSD and PND for many months. I became suicidal a year later. If I’d had a son, and then encountered an aggressive intactivist, it’s likely that would have tipped the balance, and my nearly 18yr old would be motherless.
The leading cause of death in mothers, the year after birth, is suicide. Chew on that for a minute.
People who know something about birth and babies, know that a mother and baby are an inseparable dyad. What is done to one, is done to the other, it’s a biological fact. My daughter and I are living proof of that, but only one of us had surgery. Mothers care deeply for their babies, and that includes mothers who consent to circumcision. Ask a regret mother.
The tragedy of this situation is that many intactivists are completely unable to ponder constructive criticism, despite the fact they happily dish out NON constructive criticism at inappropriate times, to vulnerable mothers.
I’ve seen intactivists swear at traumatised mothers, threaten rape, screenshot posts and encourage other intactivists to troll. I’ve seen blind defense of any and all words spoken by intactivists, because it is believed that the violence committed against babies, somehow justifies any action or word spoken against mothers. But do you know what I’ve never seen? I’ve never seen anyone speak this way to fathers. Perhaps they’re not involved in the decision to circumcise at all. My work in the support of mothers would have me believe otherwise.
Some intactivist pages are so keenly aware of the aggressive behaviour exhibited by some of their comrades, that when the call goes out for some online activism, it is littered with pleas for thoughtful, gentle words.
I understand that harming baby boys is a hugely emotive subject. I lost a son to stillbirth, and sometimes I wonder how anyone could subject their perfect baby to surgery, to pain, the risk of death ….. it makes me want to scream and rage at the world, after all, their son is alive! But I don’t rage at mothers.
Some parents are idiots. They really are. They probably shouldn’t be permitted to have houseplants let alone children, but until those parents are cutting babies themselves, I choose to blame the culture that perpetuates the myths of circumcision. I choose to blame the doctors who are paid to harm babies, I choose to blame the hospitals that provide the venue for this violence, and the countless capitalist ventures, from pharmaceutical companies, to medical equipment manufacturers, and cosmetic companies who use foreskin in their dirty products. That is where I direct my rage. To mothers, I show empathy, for within that space, they may choose to keep subsequent sons whole.
I will continue to speak out about the barbaric practice of routine infant genital mutilation, but I will no longer identify as an intactivist. From now on I shall refer to myself as a GENITAL INTEGRIST, because that better defines what I stand for and separates what I believe in from the haters who identify as intactivists. I’m not so stuck in my own culture that I think that only baby boys suffer this violence, because girls are also mutilated in many countries. I’m also not so blinded by my belief system that I think vulnerable pregnant women, or new mothers, are the perpetrators of this evil. My grandfather once said to me that when things are amiss, follow the money and you’ll uncover the source of the problem. The blame for this cosmetic violation of children, falls squarely upon the capitalist medical industry. Without their greed, the rate of circumcision would drop to ZERO tomorrow.
To learn more about Thoughtful Intactivism SEE HERE.