I’ve been disillusioned by Intactivists for a while now.
Not because I disagree with genital integrity.
I don’t. Obviously.
I resonate heartily with motivations to abolish genital mutilation for all genders. The right to genital integrity is a natural component of the right to bodily autonomy.
But I hold deep contempt for tactics that mimic the extreme sexism of the Pro-life Right. And this is what the face of Intactivism has become – an arm of Men’s Rights Activism that paints women as villains and Intactivists as Superheroes.
The bullying and shaming of women that comes out of the anti-circ camp is astounding. And these tactics are startling in their reminiscence of the terrorist tactics used by “Pro-lifers.” And, like pro-lifers these tactics and attacks are deployed in any and all spaces where mothers and pregnant people congregate.
For an intactivist, any conversation can be turned on its head, roughed up, and renamed a conversation about male circumcision. It’s often aggressive, and no topic or person is off limits.
Especially not mothers.
The other day, on a Facebook thread celebrating one woman’s long and hard-fought victory against a physician who grossly violated her during the birth of her son, an intactivist showed up. Wedged between all of the cheers and tears of excitement came this:
I’m curious to know if this woman went on to assault her newborn son with a forced, non-consenting circumcision?”
Would that justify what was done to her?” another confused commenter, asked.
The hypocrisy would be laughable and disgusting,” the intactivist shot back.
You see, for the Intactivist, mothers aren’t just accountable and responsible for social and medical norms that misinform and pressure them into consenting to circumcision; they are also required to answer personal questions about their children’s genitalia to complete strangers on the internet.
Intactivist logic goes like this: If you circumcised your baby, the birth trauma you incurred is merely karmic retroactive retribution. The only thing that maybe will relinquish a mother from her guilty hell is if she makes a “regret video,” naming her transgression and what she hopes others will learn from her hideous mistake.
Expectations and Assumption
Not only that, though. The expectation is that mothers are heartless villains, who will maim their children at every opportunity. From criminalizing pregnancy to restricting access to women’s and pregnant people’s necessary healthcare, to shouting, “MURDERER!” at women who have had, might have, or maybe had an abortion, the narrative of intactivism remains hinged on the same malicious narrative of the extreme Right.
Intactivists will create hypothetical situations around which to reframe any and every conversation. They will hold tight to their imaginary scenario until someone accounts for it. Until the woman is dragged before the tribunal to be acquitted or to confess.
I’ve witnessed people terrified to speak out against these tactics – speaking in solidarity only behind closed doors because to be anti-Intactivist is construed to be pro-circumcision. I’ve been called a “misandrist” by Intactivist men for fiercely maintaining the boundaries and purpose of a feminist group and defending which voices should be dominating a conversation about birth and reproductive justice (i.e. NOT cis-men). I’ve been told I’m “reverse sexist” for insisting that it’s not, in fact, okay to deflect a conversation away from women’s abuse in birth to blaming women for their complicity in their baby boy’s circumcisions.
It’s not just random acts of derailing conversations, or inflammatory, paternalism that women contend with, though. The facebook page, “Warning to those posting about circumcision,” warns parents about a facebook page of more than 3,000 intactivists, devoted to mining the internet for personal posts that talk about circumcision and the baby photos that accompany them. The group takes the photos and posts and then redistributes them, publicly, in order to shame parents who circumcise their babies.
Does this sound at all familiar?
Abortiondocs.org, a website run by Operation Rescue, the largest extremist Pro-life terrorist network in the U.S., is an online listing of abortion doctors, each one with their own page, worded like wanted posters. Their inflammatory efforts and tactics have resulted in the deaths of numerous doctors and clinic workers because people take their implicit marching orders for what they see as a justifiable end.
It’s a narrow mind that can not see larger structures of oppression that are at work in cultural norms. Blaming the already most vilified, shamed, and abused person for the cultural norm of circumcision and ignoring how that culture plays into what information she has and what choices she makes is illogical at best.
But more accurately, it reveals an age-old inability to let go of male dominance. Mothers are not the source of the rampant genital mutilation of baby boys in the U.S. And while parents should be offered information and education about why routine infant circumcision is not necessary and why it is harmful, women should never be targeted or attacked for choices they made or might potentially (or hypothetically) make within the confines of a system that already makes them feel stupid for questioning the almighty authority. It’s highly possible that their provider just raked them through 9 months and twenty hours of brutal and intimidating lessons on how to behave and how to follow orders as an obstetric patient.
It’s likely she has endured being told what is “allowed” and what isn’t. It’s even possible that she’s had her rights to make decisions effectively stolen, that she was coerced with comments that overtly told her she was being selfish and bad mother. Maybe she was physically and verbally assaulted. Maybe she was threatened with being reported to CPS for attempting to go against her providers’ preferences during her child’s birth.
Maybe she’s fucking exhausted and traumatized. Maybe she has fight left. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she has no idea what the right choice is because she has so many battles to prepare for in such a short amount of time, and the learning curve is huge, and bad information from sources we’re supposed to trust abounds.
Some of the women being smacked around by intactivists just barely made it through a brutal birth. They are dangling on the edge of PPD and PTSD. To have intactivists slap on multiple layers of shame and disgust is the ugliest way I can think of to grind already vulnerable women entering new motherhood into the ground. This behavior serves no purpose at all. The shame-as-a-social good tool is reserved neatly for women, and it’s purpose is never to reform or to educate; it is to humiliate.
I’m not standing for it.
I will always speak out against this misogynist behavior in all its forms – whether it comes from the MRA’s, or pro-life wingnuts, or intactivist extremists.
Intactivists’ disdain for being called out is a hallmark of their sexist leanings. And even though their tactics are blatant and obviously malicious, they are often defended by others because there seems to be no willingness to discern between an alliance with a cause, and the naming of oppressive behavior within a cause.
Let’s get this straight: anti-intactivism is not pro-circumcision.
Anti-intactivism is a feminist response to being terrorized and watching other women endure being terrorized by a bunch of paternalists masquerading as human rights activists. Anyone truly committed to human rights causes understands systemic and institutional violence and how those systems influence individual behavior. They do not confuse victims and survivors for perpetrators.
Feminists, birth advocates, and fighters for autonomy are natural allies of activists fighting for an end to routine infant circumcision; yet, when we don’t tuck tail and submit to intactivists’ authoritative and abusive behavior, we’re labeled as “misandrists” and “dismissive” of the issue of genital mutilation. Instead of working in solidarity with powerful advocates already aligned with their mission, intactivists take an adversarial approach, making many spaces turbulent and unsafe.
Taking over spaces where women are trying to access their reproductive rights or talk about them or revel in a hard-won victory, in order to bully those women is, in fact, a form of terrorism. Invading personal spaces in order to steal personal information and images and use them, publicly, is also a known form of terrorism. Intactivists’ anti-woman tactics are not only harming their own movement; their behavior is an active form of hate lobbed against women and pregnant people, and they directly interfere with reproductive justice and birth movements.
Sexist leanings are never a good look for any human rights effort. Intactivists need to either clean up their act, or just stop pretending and acknowledge their MRA alliance, outright.