This society neither cares for nor offers full dignity or respect to either Men nor Women. The slow movement to a Dignity Society, where we treat everyone with respect, forebearance, compassion, and justice is still incomplete. societies don’t reach change overnight: positive changes in a culture come from a slow evolution: in the past the needs of individuals were often subsumed by simple survival, or the survival of the Tribe. We created massive and complex narratives that made it justifiable to treat both men and women as objects that the institutions of our culture were entitled to use and throw away as needed for that survival.
I believe the greatest problems facing Women today are matters of self-respect, courage, and self-determination. In the past women were given very few choices: find a man to protect them, work hard to maintain a home, help in the fields or in odd jobs and craftswork to supplement her husband’s income, provide him with sex and children. As technology advanced, this was no longer necessary for our survival. As human beings are basically good and compassionate, when we no longer need to do harm, we tend not to, and so we gave women a voice, Agency, the right to choose the work, the family arrangements, and the care that they wished.
And yet, we have never been able to fully respect that Agency. Predatory ideologies very quickly, selling women on the idea that they are oppressed, helpless victims, who still didn’t have choices. We went from dictating womens’ lives to them through our institutions, to tricking them into believing they have no choices through our Academy. Women will really achieve the personal liberty, fulfillment, and happiness they want when they both stop listening to “tradition” and “religion” from the past and to the “scholarship” and “cultural critics” of today that tell them that the only way that they will be “equal” is through instituting Tyranny.
It is when Women say “No” to everyone who tells them what to think, and start making up their own minds, looking at real and honest facts that they will finally be Free to live life in dignity.
And it is Freedom, not Equality that should always be our highest priority. Without the Freedom to choose our lives for ourselves, Equality is only the equal right to be tyrannized.
For Men the struggle has been different, but just as slow. While we have enjoyed much more choice than women, we have been used by the institutions of our society in often violent, physically exploitative ways. For men our greatest challenge is bodily autonomy. Our institutions still see men’s bodies as property of the state and their families. This is why we are willing to force men to go to war with conscription. It is why we are willing to press men into service during an emergency without a second thought of what we ask them. It is why we continue to be lax on safety standards in industries where the labour pool remains primarily Men. It is way we do not see the need to build shelters and turn blind eyes to men who are beaten and abused by wives. It is why we have made no serious efforts to put an end to violence and rape in men’s prisons. We see men’s bodies as belonging to the People, and not to themselves. And why Men do not think to demand better conditions than they do – if they do not believe they own their own bodies, why would they fight to have others respect them.
Before men can be truly free and live in dignity they must speak up and refuse to have control of their bodies taken from them. All physical work a man does must be for his own benefit, or given of his own free will to others. Not taken by the state.
One of the most grotesque ways in which we have abused Men’s Bodily Autonomy in North America is the circumcision of baby boys. We do it mainly due to the theories of Dr. John H. Kellogg, who in 1888 came to the belief that if you circumcised boys they would be less likely to masturbate. Masturbation was not only a sin in Dr. Kellogg’s religious beliefs, but he also believed that a man owed all of his sexual energy solely to his future wife. His sexuality – every orgasm did not belong to him. Therefore, the State, doctors, and the boy’s parents had the entitlement to cut off a piece of his body without his consent, to control his sexual behavior in the name of another person to whom he would give it.
We of course have changed the story about why we perform circumcision in the United States and Canada. We now claim it is preventative medicine – that it protects men from painful infections that they may develop later in life – except the probability of infection, permanent genital dysfunction, or death from shock during a circumcision in an American hospital is higher than the chance of contracting the disorders it is meant to prevent.
And so in the last decade, we have changed the narrative again to claim that it would prevent the spread of HIV. But they base these statics on demographic data of HIV infection in sub-saharan Africa in which tribal groups that do circumcise have a greater rate of infection than those who do not, controlling for some other factors like socio-economic status and self-reporting on sexual behavior. While perhaps this data is compelling, it hardly is justifiable to forcibly circumcise pre-sexual children in Africa, let alone in North America.
If we really want to prevent the spread of HIV, there are far more reliable preventative measures we could be taken than unnecessary surgeries performed on infants. Such as funding the development of technologies like Vasalgel which have a better rate of prevention than circumcision by miles, is reversible, and for that matter, theoretically cheaper than the fees paid to surgeons or Mohels.
As a man about to bring a son into the world, I have been thinking about what I can do to make sure that my son is not circumcised unless it is of his choosing when he is of age or out of an absolute medical necessity. I have been planning questions to ask the hospital, trying to look at legal recourses I may take to ensure my son remains intact- because not all medical institutions in North America seek even the parents’ consent, or do so by asking them to check or uncheck a box in the fine print of a document. Canada, at least, has proven to be far more consistent than the states in procedure. I have been readying myself to fight for my son’s right to remain intact, and am glad tha it is not turning out to be a big one.
Yesterday the Canadian Paediatric Society updated its policies on circumcision (see the CBC article). It renewed its stated policy from 1996 that it considers circumcision to be inadvisable for newborn boys. I am glad they have done so, I consider that renewed commitment a strong step in the right direction for Men’s bodily autonomy. But it is only a step – the fact that they still consider it an option in the parents’ hands is a failure to live up to our own ideals as a culture of freedom, human rights, or dignity… or equality, for that matter.
This is a human being we are talking about, not property, he should have the right to decide what to do with his own body parts, his parents are not entitled to make those decisions for him. We don’t argue about whether or not we get to slice off his earlobes, because they are unnecessary, or remove his appendix even though he can live without it and it would prevent appendicitis. The only reason this is a debate is because we are still trying to shake off the centuries-old belief that we somehow have a right to tell a man what to do with his body. Either we believe human beings have rights or we do not.