'Intactivists' Cut to the Chase About Circumcision Issue

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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In the shadow of the nation's most recognizable phallic symbol, they gather and march. There are about 50 of them, all ages, both sexes, nearly all white, smiling, quiet, enjoying the sun as they make a slow loop in front of the White House with their signs of protest. Their mounted photos of pink squealing babies make the event look, at first glance, like an anti-abortion rally.

But look closer at the squealing baby photos and see why they're squealing.

On second thought, don't. Just read the big black sign with bold white letters:

WHOSE PENIS?

WHOSE BODY?

WHOSE RIGHTS?

These people are intactivists. As in, activists who want male genitalia kept intact. As in, people who want a federal ban on male circumcision for newborns.

A herd of eighth-graders on a class trip gets mixed up in the rally yesterday. The girls snap photos as the boys gawk and giggle.

"Freedom to protest, kids, freedom to protest," says their teacher, delivering the day's civics lesson.

A man walks by with a sign depicting a cartoon baby exclaiming, "You Want to Cut Off WHAT?"

To no one in particular, the teacher mutters: "It's gonna be their favorite souvenir. They got a picture that says 'penis' on it."

It's Genital Integrity Awareness Week, in case you didn't know, as well as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Female genital mutilation has received worldwide attention and condemnation -- and was banned by Congress 12 years ago this week -- and now intactivists say it's time for equal rights for boys. In this case, gender equality enters a murky, impassioned area in which medicine, religion, culture, industry, sexuality, language and a bit of craziness collide over the most common type of surgery in America (56 percent of male infants were circumcised in 2006 in the United States, the only Western industrialized country to routinely practice circumcision).


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