Spousal Abuse  and
     Genital Mutilation

   By Christopher Dugan, M.A.
"c d d u g a n  a t  y a h o o  d o t  c o m"


Colorado's "Girls Only" Genital Mutilation Law

      Colorado has a law banning child genital mutilation... but only if done to girls.  It is still perfectly legal to cut infant boys' genitals in the absence of any compelling medical rationale.  Even operations on girls which are anatomically identical to standard male circumcision - removal of the clitoral prepuce - are now illegal only if done to girls but still perfectly legal if done to boys.  The only difference is the sex of the child victim.

      Some have argued that Colorado's law is correct to exclude baby boys from protection since to do otherwise would discriminate against Jews.  But no such concern exists about similar "discrimination" against Muslims, the explicit targets of this new law, according to the law's proponents and framers.  While it is unnecessary to mutilate one's daughters' genitalia in order to be an observant Muslim, it is equally unnecessary to do this to one's sons in order to be a Jew.  Certain Reform rabbis now perform "symbolic circumcisions" which involve the full traditional ritual but without any actual cutting.  These progressive-minded rabbis should be commended.  And genital mutilation should be recognized as child abuse regardless of the sex of child.

      Jews (or Muslims) who remain convinced that the foreskin must be physically removed for religious reasons are free to arrange for this form of elective surgery after they reach the legal age of majority.  But the practice of forcing agonizingly painful and disfiguring damage on babies - who cannot understand the "covenant with God" which this supposedly represents - should be abandoned forthwith; just as modern day Jews have stopped following the Old Testament verses about burning girls with fire for adultery (Lev. 21:9), stoning sons to death for disobedience (Deut. 21:20,21), selling daughters into slavery (Exod. 21:7), or slaughtering innocent children for sins their parents committed (Isa. 14:21, Num. 14:18, Josh. 7:10-26).

Spanking as a Gendered Cultural Practice

      Several studies reveal a consistent pattern of boys being subjected to corporal punishment significantly more often than girls (Elder and Bowerman, 1963; Gelles and Straus, 1990;  MacDonald, 1971;  Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974; Straus, 1971).  If it were the other way around, with girls receiving most of the spankings, we would be hearing about it constantly, as evidence that we live in a woman-hating society.  Indeed, the work of anti-corporal-punishment activists would become much easier if spankings happened mainly to girls rather than mainly to boys, and if the adults doing the spanking were mostly men rather than mostly women.   Women give most of the spankings (Wauchope and Straus, 1990), while boys receive most of the spankings.  Nevertheless, it is easiest to arouse sympathy for spanked children, and disapproval for adult spankers, when one refers to the child as "she" and to the adult as "he."

Spanking as Domestic Violence Against Children

      It makes little sense for domestic violence activists to ignore the spanking issue, although most do.  Many are loathe to admit that males can ever be victims of any sort of violence which is not either simultaneously their own fault, or at least, the fault of "males" in general.  Also, since women inflict the majority of corporal punishment in the home and since the majority of the victims are male children, this is the "wrong" perpetrator/victim gender permutation and therefore useless as ammunition in a gender war. Hence, there is a pervasive tendency to label those who attempt to raise the issue of violence against children - within the context of the overall problem of domestic violence - as "backlashers" keen to divert attention from the "real issue" of women as eternal victims and males as archetypal perpetrators.

      This attitude is shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating.  Domestic violence against children and domestic violence against women are ultimately the same issue. The more often a boy is physically punished while growing up, the higher the statistical likelihood that he will someday physically abuse his wife (Straus, 1991).  (The same is true for physically punished girls growing up to assault their husbands at a higher rate.  But this is a much harder issue to get anyone to care about).  Hence, activists who are serious about ending the problem of domestic violence against women need to address the whole issue in its entirety, not just the parts which mesh well with their prejudices and gender-warring dogmas.

Spanking as Spouse Abuse Training

      Whenever a parent hits a child, the child learns a lesson. Unfortunately it is usually not the sort of "lesson" the parent imagines they just taught their child.  Children learn by imitating their elders.  When their elders use corporal punishment they are teaching their child "if you don't like the way a loved one behaves, hit them!" and "The people who love you are the people who hit you."  When a mother tells her recently-spanked little boy "I spanked you because I love you.  Sometimes it is the only way to get through to you. I did it because I care," she is teaching him precisely the sort of speech to make to his wife someday after he has just gotten finished slapping her around because he didn't like the way she was behaving.

      Wife beaters (and husband beaters also) offer rationalizations.  They "had" to hit their spouse.  Their spouse "made" them do it.  Their spouse "deserved" the assault.  They did it for their spouse's "own good."  These are the very same rationalizations one hears from prospanking parents.  It is not a coincidence. Parents who spank not only model domestic violence behavior to their children, they also model what to say afterwards and how to justify one's own violent behavior by blaming one's victim.

      A woman who stays with a man who beats her up, rationalizing that "I know he really loves me deep down," is commonly urged to leave him immediately and to never give him a second chance.  On the  other hand an adult who says that they deserved all the beatings their parents dished out for years on end because "I know my parents only did it because they loved me," is more likely to be praised for his or her "maturity" than urged into treatment for their "Battered Kid Syndrome."  We can't have it both ways.  Either hitting family members is domestic violence - regardless of the ages and sexes of the perpetrators and victims - or it isn't.

      If we don't want to see male violence against women (or men) in domestic situations a generation from now, we must start by eliminating domestic violence against children today - yes, even when women do it, and even when the child victims are male.  Domestic violence against adults will not end as long as  "spanking" children remains socially acceptable behavior.


   Elder, G.H. and Bowerman, C.E.  1963.  "Family Structure and Child Rearing
   Patterns: The Effect of Family Size and Sex Composition."  _American
   Sociological Review_ 28:891-905

   Gelles, R.J. and Straus, M.A.  1990.  _Physical Violence In American
   Families: Risk Factors And Adaptations To Violence In 8,145 Families_.
   New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

   Maccoby, E.E. and Jacklin, C.N.  1974.  _The Psychology of Sex
   Differences_.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

   MacDonald, A.P.  1971.  "Internal-External Locus of Control: Parental
   Antecedents."  _Journal of Consulting & Counseling Psychology_ 37:141-147.

   Straus, M.A.  1971.  "Some Social Antecedents of Physical Punishment: A
   Linkage Theory Interpretation."  _Journal of Marriage and the Family_.

   Straus, M.A.  1991.  "Discipline and Deviance: Physical Punishment of
   Children and Violence and Other Crime in Adulthood."  _Social Problems_

   Wauchope, B. and Straus, M.A.  1990.  "Physical Punishment and Physical
   Abuse of American Children: Incidence Rates by Age, Gender, and
   Occupational Class."  In _Physical Violence In American Families: Risk
   Factors And Adaptations To Violence In 8,145 Families_.  M.A. Straus and
   R.J. Gelles, eds.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

{Return to CDDugan's Antispanking Website}

 10 Feb 1997