Whose Genitals Are They Anyway?

This post is for parents who mercifully leave their own children’s genitals intact but refuse to condemn other parents for performing non-essential “surgery” on their own children’s genitals (for religious or non-religious reasons).

Congratulations, you’re the parent of a beautiful bouncing girl or boy.

Fun though being a parent is, the reality is that there’s only so much you can do yourself.  You need to earn a living and you also just need some free time.  Luckily for you, you have wonderful parents of your own who are more than happy to play the role of loving grandparents.

Of course, you don’t always agree with your parents.  These differences of opinion might manifest themselves in a silent, mental roll of your eyes, or perhaps a gentle disagreement, or even sometimes a full-blown argument.  That’s life.  You’re willing to put up with these hiccups because you know your parents mean well and you want your children to form a loving relationship with their grandparents.

Your parents might buy a new outfit for their grandchild that you don’t like.  Who cares that the colour might not suit them, or that the top’s too big?  You might grow to like it, and your child will definitely grow into it.  You’re not going to fall out with your parents over something as trivial as that.

Your parents might be a little too indulgent when it comes to television.  You tell them you want a well-rounded child, not a mini telly-addict.  Not a problem: your parents agree to throttle back television-viewing to a moderate level and to increase the reading sessions and trips to the park.

You like your kids to be in bed generally by 8.00pm but if their grandparents let them stay up for another half an hour or so once in a while, you can live with that.  Kids need a little excitement, after all.

Kids love junk food but you don’t want yours getting too accustomed to McDonald’s, pestering you for a HappyMeal® whenever you go shopping and refusing to eat proper food. Grandma and grandpa need a little slap on the wrists for that.  They agree that McDonald’s trips will not exceed one per calendar month.

Your parents decide their grandchild needs a haircut.  You don’t like the new hairstyle you’re unexpectedly presented with when you pick your child up, and you didn’t think your child needed a haircut anyway.  Ok, this is getting a bit annoying now so you tell your parents not to do that again.  You’ll decide when it’s time for a haircut.  At least your child’s hair will grow back, you tell yourself.

Then one day you pick your child up from the grandparental home after a hard day’s work.  You get home, have something to eat and then it’s time for the evening bath.  But something’s different.  What’s this?  Your child’s genitals have been altered.  This is a big deal.  You phone your parents to ask how this might have happened.  They say they did it.  You ask why.  They say their religion or culture required them to do it, and that in any case they just prefer their grandchild’s genitals that way. “It looks better”, they tell you.

“You did what? To what?”, you ask.

You’re furious.  Your parents had no right to do what they did because a child’s genitals don’t belong to the child’s grandparents.  They belong to…you?

No. They belong to your child.

You don’t own your child’s genitals, because you don’t own your child.  You have certain rights as a parent – to a family life, to privacy, to decide how to bring up your child – but you also have obligations to your child: you have an obligation to make decisions in your child’s best interests.

Permanently altering your child’s genitals and removing bits of their genitals for your or someone else’s religion, or because you or someone else prefers them that way, is not acting in your child’s best interests.  Altering the genitals of someone who is not in a position to stop you needs a rather high bar; that bar is one of clear medical necessity.  Is that a difficult concept to grasp?  If it is, are you sure you’re, you know, “cut out” for this whole parenting business?

When your parents altered your child’s genitals they not only infringed your rights.  Much more importantly than that, they infringed your child’s rights.

Why should your child have additional rights to children who – through the simple lottery of birth – are born into communities where genital mutilation is practised?  Isn’t one of the vital functions of a legal system, and indeed of a civilisation, to ensure a child’s fundamental, basic human rights are not left to the wild mercies of a ruthless and unforgiving game of chance?

Do other children have lower-grade rights than your child?

If male circumcision or female genital mutilation is acceptable for other children, why are you so upset when it’s performed on your child?

If male circumcision or female genital mutilation is an abuse of your child’s rights, why is it acceptable when it’s performed on other children?

Why are you not outraged at human rights abuses committed against other children?

Is it because they’re not your children?  Is it because they’re not from your “community”?

Do you like to think your refusal to condemn male circumcision or female genital mutilation, or your support for parents who choose to perform it on their children, or your tendency just to turn a blind eye to all of this, makes you somehow more “tolerant” than me?  Tolerant of what?  Tolerant of human rights abuses against defenceless children?  I am proud to be intolerant of that.

I thought in the year humans successfully overcame unimaginable scientific and engineering challenges to place a rover on Mars we could at least have agreed that all children on Earth had identical human rights.

Unfortunately not.


On you.