The Sexist

Circumcision, Male and Female: Decisions, Decisions


This week, I screened two documentaries for the City Paper's Silverdocs film fest coverage. Unsurprisingly, I was assigned the two films in the festival about circumcision. Beyond the slang term "female circumcision," the tradition of female genital mutilation has little to do with that of male circumcision. But both practices are cause for serious debate about who should be able to wield control over a child's body—and whether age-old practices can still hold any modern value.

In Partly Private, an expecting mother goes on a wacky world tour of circumcision traditions in an attempt to decide whether to circumcise her baby boy. In Mrs. Goundo's Daughter, a 22-year-old Malian immigrant goes on a significantly less wacky tour of the U.S. legal system in an attempt to prevent her two-year-old daughter from being deported back to Mali, where she would almost certainly face female genital mutilation.

In some Malian villages, parents often have no choice whether or not to "excise" their daughters—even children whose parents oppose the tradition can be excised unexpectedly by grandparents and neighbors. In the United States, the genital cutting of male babies has become so normalized that the decision often comes down to a parent's aesthetic concern.

Still, both films are about mothers who want the best for their children—even if one mother is protecting her daughter from a dangerous and sexist tradition, and the other from a busload of moronic Sex and the City devotees. Read the in-depth circumcision coverage here.

  • Alan

    Actually, the American circumcision tradition is dangerous and sexist too -- traumatic cosmetic surgery (dangerous) catering to the social dogma that all males are born with imperfect genitalia (sexist). Female circumcision may be worse, but at least it's not done on hours-old infants.

  • Amanda Hess

    I agree with you totally on male circumcision. I just thought it was interesting that in one film, the mother is seeking to protect her child FROM the genital surgery; in the other, the mother weighs whether performing genital surgery on her son may actually be the thing that protects him---if only from ridicule.