Sunday, April 29, 2012

What is an Intactivist?

(as published in the Tabloid - for the Athens Human Rights Festival 2012)

     Have you ever heard of intactivism?  It’s a new term for a lot of people, even though the activism it describes has been around for… well, ever.
Intactivist are human rights activist who advocate leaving the foreskin of babies and young boys ON their penises.  There have been people opposed to circumcision since circumcision began, and although the surgery has been pretty normal in the United States for the last 100 years, a movement that began in the 70’s to end this forced body modification is now becoming the next big issue.

     Like all rights movements, intactivism is centered around the goal of giving a right to an individual that society has failed in the past to see as a right bearer; like allowing women to vote, or gay people to marry.  The right in this case is called genital integrity (the right to refuse amputation of a healthy part of the genitals) and those that should have it are men. 

     Part of the job of any rights advocate is to dispel the myths around a subject that are responsible for keeping people thinking that the rights violation is ok.  If you met an intactivist (if you stopped by the genital integrity booth at the festival) they would tell you a lot of things that might not be what you’ve always thought were true, like: the foreskin is good for the penis, men are NOT so inferior in mind and skill as to need amputation in place of bathing, or that circumcision can be very, very dangerous.

     Moms and dads ‘to be’ are the main targets for this blossoming activism.  In the last few years, with the help of the internet, thousands of individuals, and several new grassroots groups like The WHOLE Network and Saving our Sons, join some long standing organizations including NOCIRC and Doctors Opposing Circumcision to take on the task of education.

     This is a bigger social problem than just misinformed parents, though. Circumcision is a money making procedure, and foreskins themselves fetch a price for medical and beauty products.  The new organization Intact America aims its activism at the professionals and organizations that have incentive to continue the practice and perpetuate medical myths such as the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

     Because genital integrity is being denied to men, it is a men’s rights issue, but if you stop to think about it, the everyday occurrence of a forced body modification is everyone’s issue.  Since it happens when they are children, it is a children’s rights issue.  Female circumcision has been illegal since 1997, and that makes it a gender equality issue.  As it treats no disease or symptom, and lacks consent, it is a patient’s rights issue.  It is paid for by Medicaid in most states, so it’s also a taxpayer’s issue.  Due to the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law, it is a constitutional issue.  Many have even argued that because circumcision is a sexual violence that perpetuates sexism, it is a feminist issue.  I could go on, but suffice it to say: because it allows a violation of rights to exist, it is a human rights issue.

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