When Janesville resident Ashley Wagman was pregnant with her second child, she and her-then husband considered the possibility that their baby might be a boy and that they’d need to decide whether they wanted to circumcise him.
The baby turned out to be a girl—but Wagman is now shaken that she at one point considered circumcision for a male child under the reasoning that baby and father’s genitals would look the same. It was around the time she was pregnant with her third child that Wagman followed the Bloodstained Men—and didn’t circumcise her son as a result.
“My daughters weren’t generally mutilated when they were born; why would my son be any different?” she said. “I’m out here protesting making sure that people keep their children how God made them.”
It was the reason she stood with half a dozen others at the intersection of Milton Avenue and Humes Road in Janesville on Wednesday to protest the practice of circumcision with activist group The Bloodstained Men. The group’s protest is a part of a weekslong campaign going around Midwest cities advocating against circumcision, which they consider to be a form of genital mutilation.
Circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin off a male newborn’s genitals shortly after birth and is performed for religious or hygienic reasons, according to the Mayo Clinic. It adds that if the foreskin is properly washed and cared for, people who are uncircumcised can avoid conditions such as urinary tract infections and reproductive organ cancers in men and their sexual partners.
The Bloodstained Men argue the trade-off in not circumcising male infants is that there are more than a dozen benefits that men experience in keeping their foreskin, including protection from contaminants and germs and having thousands of nerve endings in it.
The activists demonstrated to hundreds of cars driving along Milton Avenue and Humes Road for two and a half hours in on-and-off rain before taking their protest to Rockford, Illinois, later in the afternoon. The men wore pants with red spots painted over their genital regions and carried signs reading “Stop cutting baby penis,” “Victim of circumcision” and “Foreskin is not a birth defect.”
Sarah Zeimet, another Janesville resident who was protesting alongside the Bloodstained Men, said that when she and her husband discussed if they would circumcise their baby if it was born a boy, his immediate reaction was no, they wouldn’t.
Zeimet said her husband had researched circumcision at a young age, and had found he disagreed with the fact that the procedure was done to him. She added that she hopes the protest inspires people to research the procedure and not think about it until they have a son of their own and need to make a decision.
“Cultural conditioning is what will make somebody think that cutting the genitalia of one gender is OK while cutting the genitalia of others is not,” she said. “So this is something I feel like most people have never heard about before, so the more we can get the word out, the better.”