London's Interdisciplinary "Genital Cutting in a Globalized Age" Conference Highly Successful

 

My talk at the Genital Cutting in a Globalized Age conference held in London on July 4, 2008, was extremely well-received by the mostly European, academic audience. The conference was held at the Royal Society of Medicine, which published an article by Robert Van Howe and myself on HIV and circumcision in 2005. The talk, entitled, "Three-Fourths Were Abnormal—Male Circumcision, Culture, and Law,"presented an overview of male genital integrity including harm caused by the procedure, law, human rights, ethics, history of medicalization, lack of medical justification, mythologies including the HIV craze, cultural aspects, and connections with the other forms of genital cutting.


 

Steven Svoboda Presenting at London Conference

The conference was the first meeting ever to bring together activists working in many different areas: intactivism, female genital cutting (FGC), cosmetic female genital surgery, transsexual surgery, and intersexual surgery.


Hera Cook of the University of Birmingham gave an almost entirely favorable response to my talk from an academic feminist perspective.


Famed anti-FGC activist Efua Dorkenoo, O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) followed my talk by frankly telling the audience that she wholeheartedly supported intactivism and the anti-FGC movement simply made a strategic decision not to work to protect males as it would make their work harder.


 

Dr. David Ralph spoke in favor of cosmetic female genital surgery. Virginia Braun of the University of Auckland surveyed the same subject skeptically and thoughtfully.

 

Bo Laurent (formerly Cheryl Chase) delivered the keynote address regarding her longstanding activism on behalf of intersex persons. The conference brought together activists working on female genital cutting, intersex surgery, transsexual surgery, cosmetic female genital surgery, and of course male genital cutting. Activists and thinkers in numerous potentially aligned but previously separate movements came together and strategized together at this exciting conference.


 

Panel at London Conference: (left to right) Dr. David Ralph, Hera Cook, Virginia Braun, Efua Dorkenoo, Steven Svoboda

 

We will be back in the UK again in early September for NOCIRC's biannual symposium, presenting a paper entitled, "'Three-Fourths Were Abnormal'-Misha's Case, Sick Societies, and the Law." Here is the abstract for the September paper: "Law, human rights, and medical ethics reflect, transmit, and reinforce social norms. By creating mandates ultimately underwritten by a state's police power, certain ambiguities are eliminated, and others are introduced regarding interpretation. Genital cutting, a tragically flawed attempt to perfect a child, thrives on such ambiguities. Gender identity anchors us from the buffeting winds of social change. 150 years ago, normality was redefined, and suddenly, "three-fourths of all male babies [had] abnormal prepuces." Circumcision helped cover up male anxiety over legitimacy and father-son relations. Cultural constructions of dirt served reigning ideologies then and now. Genital cutting presents a cluster of interwoven discriminations—racial, gender-based, age-based, and class-based—that violate law, human rights, and ethics. Parents (as in Boldt v. Boldt), doctors, and society seek treatment, not the infant. Thus the problem cannot be solved by a medical procedure, which circumcision never was anyway. Only human compassion can end the nightmare."

Hope to see many of you then.

J. Steven Svoboda

Audience at "Genital Cutting in a Globalized Age" Conference, London, July 4, 2008

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