Monday, April 6, 2009

Male Circumcision

One of my favorite blogs, Bitch PhD, recently published a post defending male circumcision and expressing the view that "fundamentalist god-fearing people" would oppose this practice. Opposition to circumcision was also connected to anti-Semitism. This was very shocking to me because I believe that circumcision is one of the most barbaric castrating practices known to humankind (I need to clarify here that I'm talking exclusively about non-religious circumcision.) So this is what I wrote in response:

Historically, circumcision has been one of profoundly sexually repressive practices. In 1888, Dr. Kellogg advocated circumcision for boys as a remedy against masturbation. In 1936, L.E. Holt proposed male and female circumcision for the same reason. As we can see, fundamentalist "god-fearing" people are very much in favor of this and other castrating techniques. It is mind-boggling to me why parents would inflict this on their newborn child. Why not allow him to make this decision for himself when he grows up? Do you need to mess with his penis the very moment he is born? Are we as a society that terrified of our genitals?

I believe that the argument about circumcision reducing the incidence of HSV and HPV is completely specious. If we follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we should advocate cutting off women's breasts to avoid breast cancer. If a body part has a capacity to get diseased, let's just lop it off. What sense does this make?

My conviction that to perform circumcision on people without their consent is wrong stems not from antisemitism (as some people have suggested) but from my profound belief in the inviolability of human body. The traditionalist, puritanical forces in this country do everything they can to prevent women from being in charge of their own bodies. Aren't we accepting their logic when we state that parents have a right to inflict circumcision on their sons?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

On top of everything, the proponents of circumcision seem to be unaware that the US is the only major part of the Western civilization where male circumcision is widely practiced by non-Jews. (I am of course oversimplifying things by ignoring immigrants from the Muslim countries.) In most European countries the majority does not do it, and it even does not occur to them to do it, and it does not occur to their local Jews that this has anything to do with antisemitism...

I find it quite amusing how so many Americans extrapolate their world view (and some particular traditions) to the whole Western/Christian civilization. Actually, it would be just amusing, if it weren't translating into some nasty foreign policy consequences...
V.

Clarissa said...

The most disturbing thing about this is that it has suddenly become part of the liberal agenda. What sense does it make? Are there no other liberal causes left that people feel the need to defend the parents' right to cut off parts of their son's bodies?

Tom Carter said...

Harumph. Well. I read the post on vaginal plastic surgery and was, well, dumbfounded. I'd never heard of it. I can't imagine what that's supposed to accomplish, anyway. Frankly, I never met one that I didn't think was pretty perfect just as it was.

As for male circumcision, I don't see that it has anything to do with castration. How do you get to that? There may be some over-analysis going on here. When parents have their infant sons circumcised other than for religious reasons, they almost always do it on medical advice that it's healthier and will save their sons from future problems. I think there's less of that now, but that's usually the reason. And frankly, without meaning to divulge too much here, I've always been happy that my parents didn't listen when that advice was being offered.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to read up all your back posts so I can catch up with all I missed from the beginning.

On this one, I happen to disagree that male circumcision has to do with castration or anything of sort. But unlike the last commenter, I'm glad that my parents did listen to the doctors when the advice was being offered, and they did it for no religious reasons. Yet I don't know why I'm glad. I don't feel any differently than the other man and I like what I see when I look down.

I wonder if male circumcision has any side effects beyond "violating" what you've called the "inviolable." Unfortunately, we don't have someone who has been both circumcised and uncircumcised to tell us if he noticed any major difference in his health and sexual performance.

Again, like Tom said, could be we be over-analysing things here?

Clarissa said...

This isn't about health or sexual performance. It's about psychological damage.

In 'Queer as Folk', Brian discovers that Melanie decided to circumcise his and Lindsay's son. He stops the circumcision and says, "This boy has barely been born and already somebody is unhappy with the way his dick is and wants to mess with it?" Brian's attitude seems a lot healthies than the attitude of those parents who happily hack off pieces of their newborns for no particular reason.

Clarissa said...

This isn't about health or sexual performance. It's about psychological damage.

In 'Queer as Folk', Brian discovers that Melanie decided to circumcise his and Lindsay's son. He stops the circumcision and says, "This boy has barely been born and already somebody is unhappy with the way his dick is and wants to mess with it?" Brian's attitude seems a lot healthies than the attitude of those parents who happily hack off pieces of their newborns for no particular reason.

KT said...

And yet if nobody is psychologically damaged in the process, then what is wrong? What about cutting of hair of little children, or their nails because the parents feel it's okay to make the children look good before they're old enough to decide?

Clarissa said...

Hair and nails tend to grow back, but have you ever heard of cases where foreskin grows back? :-)

And what makes you decide there has been no psychological damage? Are you familiar with the works of Freud, Jung and Co.?

juerginskyi said...

Very good blog, Clarissa!
I basically agree to what you say about circumcision. There is just this sentence that makes me ponder: "I need to clarify here that I'm talking exclusively about non-religious circumcision."

So, religious circumcision is better? I don´t think so.

Clarissa said...

I don't think it's better. I just don't want to open this whole can of worms where people will accuse me of anti-semitism and I will have to give eminently boring explanations of how I'm Jewish and therefore not anti-semitic, etc.

Clarissa said...

I'd love to read your blog, juerginskiy, but my German is extremely rusty at this point. :-(

BenYitzhak said...

Jews are perfectly capable of being anti-semitic. I don't much care for the Chabad movement.

I can't imagine, though, how male circumcision remedies masturbation. Short term, sure, but not long term.

I do understand why people oppose it; it's making a choice about another person's body.

On the other hand, of choices to make about a child's body, it's not a huge deal. I can't say I remember anything about those first 8 days of life, so if it was a traumatic event, it hasn't been life shaping. And there has never been a time, mid or post coitus that I've thought "This would be so much better with another inch or two of skin."

I admit, that giving a child a circumcision dramatically increases the risk of the child having a botched circumcision, but as you noted, there are also arguments for increased risk in uncircumcised males.

juerginskyi said...

-- I just don't want to open this whole can of worms --
This is understandable :-) When I grew up, I knew circumsion only from the bible. Later I found out what it IS and that it´s still in practice. I have a hard time to understand this. Isn´t circumcision (of kids) simply a crime?

Clarissa said...

Apparently, not only is it legal but parents of newborns have it suggested to them intensely and firmly by doctors. It's beyond weird.

Temite said...

If FGM (Female genital mutilation) is illegal, I don't understand why male circumcision isn't. Most African cultures where FGM is practiced are derided as barbaric and inhumane, however, male circumcision as prescribed by "God" is holy and cannot be questioned because of the possibility of being wrongly accused of being anti-Semitic?

I understand that FGM is practiced by those without qualification to do so, but if their God asked them to mutilate the vaginas of their daughters, who are we to say its illegal and inhumane?

My point is thus: removing any part of another human's body without that person's permission is wrong, stupid, and not very cost effective in the long run.