Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Circumcision and Common Sense

Recently I've been reading a lot about the who circumcision debate, words like 'intactivsm' and 'MGM' have been introduced into my vocabulary, and I've read both thoughtful and thoughtless comments from both sides of the aisle. To be up front I am against circumcision for my family. My son, and my husband, are both 'intact'. As I was a virgin when I married and not given to looking at nude males I've never seen a fully grown naked man other than my husband. So I don't know what a circumcised penis looks like on an adult. I have, however, seen it on children when I babysat as a teenager. I think it looks obscene. I think, by mimicking what an erect penis looks like, it sexualizies infants and children.
I'm a Biblical Christian, and Biblically speaking Christians are not supposed to get circumcised, so I'm always surprised when I hear a fellow Christian mention the procedure. It's my understanding, from a historic standpoint, that Jewish circumcision used to be a lot less 'extreme' than it, and secular US circumcision is today. I've never spoken to an Orthodox Jew about it though so I'm not sure on that point.
Recently my friend on Facebook brought up a proposed ban in San Francisco, CA on infant non-medically indicated male circumcision. Many repliers pointed out that female circumcision had been banned for years, why not male? Parental choice verses protection of children went back and forth, and in general most people had a thoughtful comment to leave.
Yet I think many people are looking at this with veiled eyes. On the one hand you have people saying things like, I want him to look like his father/older brother, it's cleaner, it looks nicer, or that's just what you do. On the other side you have people pointing out that you wouldn't amputate a kids leg if his father had only one, the varried and sometimes severe (including deah) side effects, it's no more difficult to care for than female genitals, it looks nicer, it's not the parent's body, and 'just because' isn't a valid reason to do a medical procedure. A few pointed out that we let parents pierce their infants ears so why deny them the option to circumcise?
Yes, society protects children from what society as a whole deems abusive, and that does change generation to generation. But just because it 'mutilates' the body doesn't automatically means it should be protected from. All societies throughout history have given parents/adults broad rights over a child's body in order to bring them into the society properly. Male or female circumcision, head shaping, foot binding, scarification, tattooing, neck/lip/ear/etc stretching, binding of the waist/ankles/wrists/etc have all, for one culture or another been seen as a normal and non-abusive act for a parent to inflict upon an infant/child. To call every child ever born into these societies (which includes out own during certain times) 'abused' stretches the word past any meaning and detracts from what it actually means. Saying that WE 'know' it's 'detrimental' means we get to tell others what is abuse and what isn't is the highest form of egocentric racism/culturalism. There are plenty of things 'we' (Americans) do to our children that would be considered abuse or neglect if viewed through the lens of another culture.
I would be willing to bet the vast amount of those calling out against circumcision because it's mutilization of a non-consenting body put shoes on their kids without mind or thought. Shoes premanently deform the feet, leading to many problems later in life not seen in societies that don't wear hard soled or structured shoes. So if their objection is really to deforming/mutilating the body why are they so cavaler about shoes?
The main difference is that America is a melting pot, and, increasingly so is the industrialized world. We want to embrace the cultures of the world while simultaneously preserving some sense of out own culture. So, as a culture we pick and choose what of other cultures we are willing to adopt and what we are willing to decry. Fortunately or unfortunately that is most likely to follow either the popluace majority or the money. Either way the industrial society has something that preindustrial society did not, a conflicting voice. In tribal cultures even extreme rituals of body modification is acceptable because everyone went/goes through it. It's not abuse, and people don't come out the other side as abuse victims. But in any society that which is unusual is, most often, going to be seen as destructive and unwanted.
The circumcision debate should not be 'to mutilate or not to mutilate' but rather have we, as a society come to a turning point where individual choice has made this particular modification rare enough for it to no longer be normal? I don't think so, in some places circumcision has dropped below 50% in the newborn generation, but not in all places, and even a 50/50 split is still well within the range of normal. It is time for those who don't like circumcision to talk to others and try to convince others, eventually the odds will swing (one way or the other) and perhaps male circumcision will, like the restrictive corset, become one of the 'horrors' of our cultural history. Or maybe it, like tattooing, will be regulated to an 'adults only' decision.


Blogger LadyLeslie said...

Very, very true. We should try to share information and bust myths as much as possible.

Thanks for that not-so-common sense!

6:30 PM  
Blogger MamaHolly said...

Great entry! I agree!

6:50 PM  
Blogger Jim Jordan said...

@This reminds me of the Timothy/Titus controversy in the Book of Acts and it kind of ended in a draw back then.
I got into one heated debate with a San Franciscoan who was making a claim that circumcision was "religious child abuse" while promoting abortion-on-demand on the same thread. That's a bit hypocritical in my opinion. Great post. Lots of good information and perspectives.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Wilson said...

Where in the bible does it say that you should not circumcise your child? Do you have specifics?

I was against circumcision and had a huge arguement with my husband after all three sons were born. My last son is not circed but will be circumcised after he has his surgery (they are going to use the extra skin for repairs during surgery). I was there in the proceedure room both times so far and I have to admit, watching the proceedure as it is done looks horrifying.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Jespren said...

@ Mrs. Wilson:
In Romans there in a long discussion about circumcision. there had been a fight i the early church where some of the Jewish Christians were demanding the Gentile Christians to be circumcised to become part of the church and Paul (Peter? Why can't i remember who wrote Romans?) shuts them down hard, explaining that circumcision is a promise to the law and that their faith in Christ will make their 'uncircumcision' circumcision and the lack of the Jewish faith will make their circumcision uncircumcision. It starts in chapter 2 and goes through at least chapter 4. Then in Corinthians (among other places) it talks about how circumcision or uncircumcision means nothing to a Christian, only to those under the old law. (see Cor 7:19 for example). In Galatians it says how Paul was give the gospel to the uncircumcised and Peter was given the gospel to the circumcised (meaning Paul was witnessing to the gentiles and Peter to the Jews). Circumcision is a uniquely Jewish thing to show they are God's chosen people and it represents their covenant with Him. While it 'means nothing' since the covenant was fulfilled in Jesus, we as non racial Jews are not part of that original covenant and as Christians 'under a new covenant' (see Hebrews 8:7, Mark 14:24, and 2 Cor 3:5-7)it's inappropriate to place ourselves under it by ritual circumcision. Now there are some medical reasons for it, and since it's not specifically forbidden (means nothing, see 1 Cor 7:19) there wouldn't be a reason to avoid it as a medical procedure. But it is not recommended for Christians and is against a plain reading of scripture and the history of the early church for non racial Jews to be circumcised.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! I read your comment on Write about Birth on Placenta Encapsulation -- where is that blog entry? I wrote about my "Circumcision Decision" for my son on my blog.


4:15 PM  
Anonymous Suchada @ Mama Eve said...

This is such a thoughtful post. I've followed the circumcision debate quite closely, and seen what's been said on both sides. I have to admit I'm very thankful I didn't circumcise either of my boys, but understand why others have. I really enjoyed this discussion. Thank you!

10:01 PM  
Blogger Arual said...

One of the greatest pleasures and greatest struggles of parenthood is making decisions for your children. I think most people do what they think is best whether or not they've researched it, and in the end most children seem to turn out fine.

Personally, I don't see male circumcision as all that different from female circumcision. But to make blanket statements to that effect really only alienates people who did choose circumcision, whatever their reasons may have been.

As to your point about footwear, once I realized that my foot problems were caused by wearing shoes I made a conscious choice to not force my children to wear them unless absolutely necessary. My nearly two year old retains his natural gait and only wears soft-soled leather shoes on occasion, not even every day.

I mention this because I think that once people are aware of an issue like circumcision or foot problems a la shoes, they can start to think about it, research it and come to their own conclusions. Being completely oblivious to the issue doesn't help anyone, though.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I like your approach here of non-judgment + informing. I think it's more effective than playing the blame game. Thank you.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Thanks Arual,
Good for you on the shoes! I have life-long tissue damage to both my feet because I forced myself to wear shoes despite an abnormal gait and despite that shoes were painful. I go barefoot whenever possible, as do my two kids, and I *strongly* prefer soft soled shoes.
I think if people were really aware of circumcision the only people who would practice it would do so for dovoutly religious purposes. I agree that male circumcision is logically little different than SOME forms of female circumcisions, but other forms of female circumcision are really more analagous to full emasculation on a male (that is the removal of the whole penis). I do find it ironic that female circumcision of any kind (which was practiced in various forms in the U.S. for many years) was outlawed without any religious exemption while male circumcision was totally ignored.

1:41 PM  
Blogger nursinmamaa said...

I thought about this post all morning and afternoon. Now I am ready to post a reply. Have you ever known a man that had/has issues because of circumcision? Serious issues that warrant prolonged pain all their lives, requiring surgery in adulthood? I do. It is personal for me. It's not about religion, it is not about society. It is about caring for a child's body. Yes, America is a melting pot of all sorts of things. However, take note there are many states that spanking your children is illegal. In fact there are literally countries that ban this. Hmmm there must be a reason why. I highly doubt you would have wanted your female parts cut, especially without your consent. I see no difference in a foreskin, that has an actual function. America is supposed to be a country that others look to, but the care of our children... Well I look to other countries. And no, my children do not wear shoes for a long long time. I am an active, avid barefooter that is educated and knows about the body.
Your points are well made, they just don't stand up to what is right. I am NOT judging. I am making an observation.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Jespren said...

1st, this post wasn't really about right or wrong, but social acceptance, which are two very different points. As a Biblical Christian I believe God has the only and final word on what is right or wrong, but society, our or others, rarely follows God (and never 100% of the time). Do I believe circumcision to be a sin? No, because the Bible says it 'means nothing' (see verses quoted above), however not everything that is permissible is good, and, since circumcision is unnecessary (again, means nothing) and it is painful and possibly damaging, it, while permissible, is not good. But this posy dealt with societial hypocracy objecting to cirumcision on 'mutilation' grounds. If you reject all forms of mutilation to a non-consenting body than you HAVE a leg to stand on to make the arguement and are not being hypocritical. I stand by my point, however, that just because something mutilates the body doesn't mean it's abusive. No, as a 21st century American I wouldn't have appreciated having my genitals cut, but if I was a 18th century Muslim Arab (or any other historic/cultural confluence) I'm sure I would have been very ashamed and even fearful of my own body if I hadn't been. Does that make it right or wrong? No, but it does mean that certain cultures have made it acceptable.

To answer your direct question, to my knowledge, no, I do not know any men who have had significant issues with circumcision, I do, however, know they exist. I have know people (myself included) who have life-long sometimes disabling injuries due to hard soled shoes, but I recognize that parents aren't being abusive when they put hard soled shoes on their kids feet (although I remain hopeful someday it *will* be seen as abusive). I've also known people who went through serious complications (infections, alergic reactions, tears/disfigurments) from having their ears pierced, but again, that hardly means it's abusive to pierce a kid's ears.
Oh, and a very important point: unless it's been passed very recently (and I do get updates periodically) there is not a single state in the union which criminalizes or prohibites parental spanking of a minor. There are states, such as Ohio, where the law on physical discipline is vague enough that it could possibly be construed as to outlaw spanking, but most states expressly note that spanking is allowed. There are other countries that have criminalized spanking. And there are states that, even though sp.anking is explicitly protected, a CPS worker will still pull a child on the grounds of spanking alone. Most adults were spanked as kids, most children are spanked, and there is nothing abusive about spanking.

I'm sorry it took so long to respond, was having internet issues.

3:57 PM  

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