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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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230 Responses

  1. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 2, 2007 at 10:53 am |

    I decided against circumcising any sons I might have when I learned just how bad even a fairly routine botch of the procedure can be for the patient’s future sex life. It wasn’t like some giant epiphany–I never really bought into my mom’s opinion that men are filthpigs who can’t be bothered to ever wash their dicks, ergo circumcision is necessary to keep sex from being the most disgusting thing on the planet, so I was fairly ambivalent beforehand. It was just one of those things where one side of the scale was suddenly a lot heavier than the other, very light, side of the scale.

  2. Sharon
    Sharon July 2, 2007 at 11:02 am |

    So, yeah. Because I don’t have a religious reason to circumcise my potential future sons, I’m not going to do it. I’m not convinced by the health arguments and have no need to make sure the potential future penis looks a certain way. But, what can I say, I’m a huge dyke of a feminist and don’t think bodies should be altered without a good reason.

  3. hanabira
    hanabira July 2, 2007 at 11:07 am |

    i cant say that i know from personal conversations but from what i see on the web (debatable reliability…) many americans seem to think that uncircumcised penises are disgusting. i think that it is really sad that it has become a part of the culture to think that there is something wrong with something natural, especially since staying natural doesn’t cause harm. here in the UK it is more common for a man to be uncircumcised unless there is a reason (for example religion or infection) and neither way is seen as superior by the population- its all personal (usually parental) choice.

  4. thistle
    thistle July 2, 2007 at 11:43 am |

    hanabira, I think it’s become a lot more normal here in the U.S. for boys to be uncircumcised than it used to be. This article from the A.P. says that only 57% percent of male infants were circumcised in 2004–a majority, yeah, but far less than in previous generations. So I think future generations will be a lot more comfortable with uncircumcised penises.

  5. SarahS
    SarahS July 2, 2007 at 12:06 pm |

    Amp has an interesting post linking to an interesting article over at Alas:

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/07/02/why-can%e2%80%99t-the-united-states-stop-circumcising-boys/

    I figure if someone wants to get circumcised, they can make that choice as an adult. Doing it to infants is just weird.

  6. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 2, 2007 at 12:12 pm |

    I think there’s also a lot of ignorance about the subject. A lot of the women who go off about uncircumcised penises being disgusting are basing the opinion off misinformation, misconceptions, or inexperience; once those factors are taken care of, I imagine many of them wouldn’t have some special horror of the uncircumcised penis. They’d probably still have a preference for one or the other, all else being equal, but I doubt you’d see the same “Unclean! Unclean!” reaction.

  7. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 2, 2007 at 12:22 pm |

    I am very uncomfortable with the idea of cosmetic body modification on infants, or anyone else unable to give consent. I would never give consent to have this carried out on any child of mine (but my only child is female, so the subject never came up). And quite apart from the consent issues inherent in removing them from infants, to hear some people talk you’d think that they were just some useless appendage like an appendix. I’ll spare you the details here, but I have to say (both as a male-bodied person and as a bisexual person) that foreskins are both useful and fun.

    For the record, in case it needed saying, I do not believe that removing a person’s clitoris and sewing her labia shut is morally equivalent to removing a person’s foreskin. That doesn’t mean that both practices aren’t bad ideas.

  8. trailer park
    trailer park July 2, 2007 at 12:36 pm |

    I didn’t have my son circumcised. It just seems wrong to me. I don’t see the sense in putting a baby through the pain, the recovery, the risk of complication/infection, and the possibility of decreased sexual sensitivity for the rest of his life, just to avoid a bit of washing.

    If he wants it done one day, he can have it done. But if I choose to do it for him, then he can never have it undone. Best to just leave it alone, IMO.

  9. SarahS
    SarahS July 2, 2007 at 12:52 pm |

    I agree. Hugo had it done as an adult for health/personal reasons, and he said it was fine.

    http://hugoboy.typepad.com/hugo_schwyzer/2006/10/in_january_2005.html

    Just let the kid choose as an adult.

  10. hp
    hp July 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm |

    Ironically, one of the first baby-related topics I and my husband discussed was circumcision. I didn’t have an opinion on it–I have a couple of vague memories that suggests that my father might be, and my brother might not be–but he has strong opinions against it.

    First, he has some complications from his infant circumcision (and, to those who shout: well he should see a urologist! he has, he does). They are not “serious” as things go, but he’s also a big fan of doing things the natural way until/unless something arises. After a little bit of research into the topic (seriously people: any male or female who trusts a male’s circumcised status to protect against transmission any form of STD is an idiot–slightly more effective than nothing is still not exactly effective) I was convinced too.

    So, le babe is not circumcised. And despite being in an area where studies suggest that up to 80% of baby boys still are, both the hospital and his ped had positive reactions to that decision.

  11. DAS
    DAS July 2, 2007 at 1:11 pm |

    A former flatmate of mine, who is uncircumcised, has decided if he has a boy he wants the boy circumcised, because according to him, it is quite a bother to clean properly if one is uncircumcised (although not enough of a bother that he, as an adult, is willing to have the operation). His wife, OTOH, feels that the boy should “look like daddy”, so unless he’s willing to get cut, any boy they have should be uncircumcised.

    If I have a son, he’ll be circumcised for religious reasons, but absent that I would not have a kid circumcised. Not because I feel that there is anything wrong with me being circumcised (it certainly doesn’t stop me from masturbating ;) … and I have plenty of sensation, thank you very much — I just don’t get the anti-circumcision hysteria of some), but simply because I don’t believe in surgeries unless there is a good reason for them. AFAIC, in this case my religious beliefs are good enough reason, and, nu?, why would anyone question that for such a trivial matter? hmmm ….

    BTW … I know men who have converted to Judaism as adults. If you are circumcised, you need a drop of blood drawn because your previous circumcision doesn’t count as it was not done for Jewish reasons. These men have not said that it doesn’t hurt, but what they do say is that they are amazed that it doesn’t hurt all that much.

  12. DAS
    DAS July 2, 2007 at 1:16 pm |

    he can never have it undone. – trailer park

    There used to be a kind of circumcision that could be undone. In fact, Jews used to practice the reversible kind of circumcision (the irreversible kind was practiced in some quarters of ancient Egypt, so we know the technique existed) … but, when Jews were trying to fit in in gymnasia with uncircumcised Greeks, the Rabbis put a stop to that to prevent a whole-scale loss of cultural identity (something with which the multicultural left would be sympathetic I would imagine).

    Perhaps more readily reversible forms of circumcision need to be reintroduced? That way whatever (probably negligeable) benefits in hygene can still be obtained (if the kid won’t wash behind his ears, how’rya gonna get him to wash down there?) but the kid can have the procedure reversed when he grows up if he chooses?

  13. Rhus
    Rhus July 2, 2007 at 1:18 pm |

    Being European, I will defend our habit, because it seems sensible to me: leave things as they are, which is quite nice. In a recent discussion in another blog, nobody could give any data about illnesses or complications being more common in Europe than in the US. Health reasons do not seem to have any weight for routine circumcision. And some people give creepy reasons for my taste (children looking like their fathers, etc.).

    As anecdotal data, I (a woman) prefer having sex with uncircumcised men, not only because I’m used to it, but because I believe it really feels better in comparison. Were it otherwise, though, I don’t think that I could impose a cosmetic procedure, an operation, on anyone for my pleasure. I don’t like them being imposed on me – if a man told me to shave here or there, I would tell him to go and boil his head. (Of course, a courteous suggestion could be discussed.)

    I have a suspicion I’d like to see addressed. I know at least an adult man who has had it done because of health reasons and I also have read Hugo’s testimony here. I wonder if the operation has been much more slight than the routine one practiced on a baby – that is, it is much easier to cut less foreskin, just enough for the medical purpose, in an adult than in a newborn.

  14. Ways to End the World  » Blog Archive   » Progress?

    […] « Seriously? Progress? Jill at Femeniste opens an officially-designated thread for discussion of male circ […]

  15. Shelley
    Shelley July 2, 2007 at 1:37 pm |

    I’ve seen both kinds and they look the same when it comes down to the “biz” and I’d rather not get behind the use of unnecessary surgeries for cosmetic reasons.
    If I’d been cut up as a baby I’d sue my parents. Thankfully I was not, but I know some botched circumcisions that lead to transsexual adults.

  16. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 1:38 pm |

    For Europeans who are puzzled by the routine circumcision of boys in the United States, we can trace it back to one crazy man: John Harvey Kellogg. (Yes, he of the cornflakes.) In the late 1880s and through the turn of the century, masturbation was considered such a serious health problem that any means needed to stop children from doing it were permitted, up to and including removing a girl’s clitoris if she was a “chronic masturbator.” Kellogg thought that boys should be routinely circumcised to reduce the temptation to masturbate. (Yeah, I know. I did say that he was crazy.)

    That idea slowly died off, but Kellogg’s recommendation that boys be routinely circumcised stuck around and became even more popular in the 1950s, when science was better than nature and formula was better than breast milk. It’s become a social custom more than anything else, which is why it’s dying off after a pretty small amount of education.

    If you want a pretty interesting book that has good coverage of the “science” that surrounded the anti-masturbation hysteria, Bram Dijkstra’s Evil Sisters has some good sources and discussion. (Sadly, his overall argument falls apart by the end of the book, but the early chapters are very strong.)

    Things are swinging back the other direction because it’s become clear that while infant male circumcision is not hugely harmful, there are no health benefits to it as a routine operation. Presented that way, many parents are deciding that even the small risk of complications really isn’t worth it if there’s no benefit to doing it.

    For me, I definitely decided to forego it (if the issue comes up) after reading John Colapinto’s book, As Nature Made Him where a circumcision for medical reasons went horribly, horribly wrong.

    (It also made me decide that if I do have an intersexed child, I will refuse surgery for anything short of urinary problems until the child is at least 16 and old enough to make the decision for him/herself, but that’s a whole other issue.)

  17. SoE
    SoE July 2, 2007 at 1:39 pm |

    No baby here is circumcised for another reason than religion or a medical condition. Most people in Europe actually weren’t aware of the praxis in the US until SATC brought it up. So I see no need to perform that on any future child of mine.

    Depending on scientific progress I’ll still mention that circumcision can help prevent infections but that’s still a long way from here.

  18. Shelley
    Shelley July 2, 2007 at 1:41 pm |

    Oh I wish we could edit posts! I absolutely don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with being transgendered. What I meant was that when you mess with your kid’s sexual organs with KNIVES, you can end up making a choice for him that might not be what he was meant to be in the first place! I feel incredibly sad for people who have to endure the horrors of gender-reassignment surgery for any reason, let alone because his or her parents decided to mess around with nature.

  19. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 1:45 pm |

    I forgot to mention T.C. Boyle’s novel about Kellogg, The Road to Wellville. Horrible movie, but a good book with a lot of dark comedy in it.

  20. Therese Norén
    Therese Norén July 2, 2007 at 1:46 pm |

    For the parents thinking that their son’s foreskin is too tight, and needs to be removed: the foreskin doesn’t have to be retractible until the kid reaches puberty. Trying to retract the foreskin of a young boy can lead both to scarring (which can cause phimosis, non-retractible foreskin) and to paraphimosis, when the foreskin is stuck behind the glans.

    Phimosis can be cured without circumcision. (Circumcision for medical reasons has almost disappeared in Sweden.) Application of strong corticosteroids can soften the foreskin enough to get by without operation.

  21. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 2, 2007 at 1:51 pm |

    I have never been able to understand the argument that we should remove foreskins because some boys don’t clean there. Do people really not know that smegma isn’t a purely male problem? All girls need to be told as children to wipe front to back, to wash their bits, and so on. We don’t try and solve this problem with body modification. Why would we do so for boys?

    (And for what little it’s worth, I do actually know uncircumcised people who are clearly uncircumcised even during, as Shelley so beautifully puts it, the biz. Some foreskins are large enough for this to happen. It’s all part of the amazing variation of the human body.)

  22. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 2, 2007 at 1:52 pm |

    Good grief, have I outed myself here or what.

  23. Thomas
    Thomas July 2, 2007 at 2:07 pm |

    My spouse and I decided that boys did not need to look like Daddy: we made the choice that allowed our offspring to do what they want when they are adults, not the choice that they could not undo. We also thought that, in our area, there will be enough uncircumcized kids that they will see other guys like them in the locker room.

  24. ks
    ks July 2, 2007 at 2:16 pm |

    My two sons aren’t circumcised. I feel really strongly that unnecessary (i.e., non life or health threatening reasons) body modification should not be done to people without their consent. And since infants can’t give consent, they don’t get cut. I feel the same way about cutting for religious/cultural reasons–wait until the kid is old enough to decide for themselves, but doing it to an infant is wrong. I also would extend that to things like ear piercing, etc. I had my ears done when I was around 6 months or so, and it’s never really bothered me that it was done, but I wouldn’t do it to my kids until they were old enough to want it.

    That isn’t to say that I get all pissy and argumentative when the subject comes up (unless asked, then I’ll give my opinion).

  25. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 2:31 pm |

    If I ever have boy children, I would rather not circumcise them. Not sure how the s/o feels about the issue, but he is circumcised.
    This may come across as really naive, but do circumcised penises and uncircumcised penises look that different? I mean enough that other boys would notice in the locker room? I’ve only seen a couple up close, and they were circumcised.

  26. Ginger
    Ginger July 2, 2007 at 2:33 pm |

    OMG, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WIMMINZ???!!!!

    Sorry. I thought turnabout would be fair play.

  27. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 2:37 pm |

    I feel the same way about cutting for religious/cultural reasons–wait until the kid is old enough to decide for themselves, but doing it to an infant is wrong.

    See, I don’t have a huge problem with allowing it for religious reasons. I can understand the principle, but we allow parents to have a pretty broad ability to make religious decisions on behalf of their children, and short of an actively harmful situation (such as denying the child needed healthcare, beating the child, etc.) we let people raise their children as they see fit.

    My other discomfort with disallowing it for religious reasons is that the two groups that do practice infant circumcision — Jews and (many) Muslims — are minority religious groups in the United States. It becomes an issue of forcing the majority-Christian beliefs on them, which is something that makes me very nervous.

    Of course, I come from Catholicism, where we’re baptized as infants and then later confirm the baptism as young adults. People from other Christian traditions where you are not baptized until you consent to it yourself may find the idea of making religious decisions for infants to be more odd than I do.

  28. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 2, 2007 at 3:05 pm |

    SarahMC: when a penis isn’t erect, if it’s uncircumcised, the skin covers the whole thing like a sleeve, so it’s smooth from base to tip, where there’s a bit of extra skin. When it’s circumcised, the sleeve-ish part ends at the head, which means there’s a part towards the end where it gets noticeably thicker. It is definitely noticeable.

    Most penises (but not all) have foreskins short enough that when they become erect, the foreskin slides back over the head so the whole head is visible, and it’s not obvious whether the penis is circumcised or not.

    There are photos on Wikipedia; I would look for them but I’m at work.

  29. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 3:10 pm |

    Thanks Mamanel. I’d look for pics too but I’m also at work, and your description worked just fine. I just didn’t realize what adult uncircumcised penises looked like!

  30. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused July 2, 2007 at 3:13 pm |

    If this fetus turns out to have a penis, said penis will be left intact.

  31. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused July 2, 2007 at 3:16 pm |

    I was slightly against routine infant circumcision before meeting my husband, but willing to discuss it with any penis-possessor with whom I decided to procreate. My husband is circumcised, and very anti-circumcision. He feels that cosmetic surgical procedures should not be peformed on people without their informed consent. Infants cannot give informed consent. I agree with him, though apparently not strongly enough for his tastes (he’s upset that I would even consider his opinion, rather than being staunchly anti… yes, he’s weird).

  32. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused July 2, 2007 at 3:17 pm |

    I was slightly against routine infant circumcision before meeting my husband, but willing to discuss it with any person with whom I decided to procreate. My husband is circumcised, and very anti-circumcision. He feels that cosmetic surgical procedures should not be peformed on people without their informed consent. Infants cannot give informed consent. I agree with him, though apparently not strongly enough for his tastes (he’s upset that I would even consider his opinion, rather than being staunchly anti… yes, he’s weird).

  33. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused July 2, 2007 at 3:17 pm |

    What’s even worse to me is that until recently circumcision was routinely
    performed without anesthetic. Our ideas about pain and the humanity of
    children are rapidly changing.

  34. Justaguy
    Justaguy July 2, 2007 at 3:20 pm |

    I didn’t want my son circumcised. Unfortunately, as far as the hospital was concerned, it wasn’t my decision and I had no say. there wasn’t even a place on the form for my signature, only the mother’s signature. My spouse went with the advice of her mother and made the call… even against my wishes.

  35. Nomen Nescio
    Nomen Nescio July 2, 2007 at 3:26 pm |

    i’ve never been able to figure out the “hygienic benefits” argument. i take a shower every day, every other at very least, and twenty seconds each time has it plenty clean enough. quick and trivial personal maintenance; shaving is more cumbersome.

    not that i think i’d particularly miss it if i were circumcized, but having had the thing for three decades and some, it’s never given me any trouble i saw need to chop it off for. nothing even close.

  36. Jayne
    Jayne July 2, 2007 at 3:31 pm |

    Here’s what I don’t get. Generally this is done for religious reasons, by people that believe we’re made by God. So if God made us, then we’re just as we’re supposed to be. And if we’re made the way God wanted us made, why do we need to cut bits off? If God really wanted boys to be circumcised, wouldn’t they have been made that way? For the record, I finally convinced my husband that there’s no reason to do this whatsoever, then we had a girl.

    Also, I recently read an article, unfortunately I can’t recall the site, but I’ll be looking for it, anyhow the article stated that circumcision goes back the ancient Egypt. It was believed that the gods were multi-sexual and that humans, since they were not gods, had to be made to be mono-sexual or risk offending the gods. Cutting off the clitoris and labia of a girl removed the male portion of her sexuality and made her all girl. Removing the foreskin of a boy removed the female portion of his sexuality and made him all boy. Why Judaism and Islam adhere to this practice dreamed up by a pagan, multi-theistic religion is quite curious.

  37. elektrodot
    elektrodot July 2, 2007 at 3:38 pm |

    hmm…me and my fiance have discussed this and i really dont feel one way or the other [leaning more towards leaving the baby uncircumsized] but hes so adament about getting the circumsizion that even if i strongly didnt want to, he’d still do it. not sure why hes so crazy about it. also in the back of my mind i think back to the 3 partners ive had that were uncircumsized and they all had erectile dysfunction. of course that may just be a coincidence.

  38. ks
    ks July 2, 2007 at 3:43 pm |

    Of course, I come from Catholicism, where we’re baptized as infants and then later confirm the baptism as young adults. People from other Christian traditions where you are not baptized until you consent to it yourself may find the idea of making religious decisions for infants to be more odd than I do.

    I also come from Catholicism and honestly that is one of the factors that makes me dislike/distrust making religious decisions for young children/infants. I was baptized and confirmed, but for me (and most of my peer group) the confirmation was just as much of a choice as the baptism–not a choice at all. It isn’t like we really had the option to not be confirmed, as the family would have freaked, and nobody I knew was strong enough to go against the family in quite that way. Also, I grew up Catholic in a heavily protestant area (southern WV) and there was a lot of pressure on us to really be Catholic in the face of so much protestantism.

    But part of my dislike of the religious pass for circumcision, etc., has a lot to do with my general dislike of religion, no matter what the religion is. I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason/excuse for nonessential body alteration. I hadn’t really thought much about your point on the minority status of Jews/Muslims wrt circumcision, though, as it has been my experience that just about everyone is circumcised, regardless of religious affiliation, even though it isn’t a religious requirement for Christians (my husband has the only uncircumcised penis I’ve ever had intimate contact with (not that I have a vast knowledge of penises of the midwest or anything), and he’s a relatively recent immigrant–and was raised Hindu).

  39. Sailorman
    Sailorman July 2, 2007 at 3:50 pm |

    It’s got minor health benefits, and essentially no major risks, on average. Why not? Or more accurately, what’s the big deal?

    When people talk about this it’s as if there’s some magic to the words “cut” or “body” or “genitalia” or “natural.” Which is, of course, bunk. It’s just a “thing we do (or not) to our sons” like everything else. don’t like it? Sure, all well and good. But it’s just… life.

    But honestly, why does it even get its own category at all? Why are we even wasting time on this? Just because it’s “irreversible?” Well, almost nothing we do to our children is reversible, starting with the choice (or random fact) of their parents and timing of their birth.

    Or is it a sympathy focus to “justify” the FGM protest? feh. they’re not even in the same class, and it’s insulting to FGM victims to imply that they are.

    I mean hell, if want to focus on genital issues involving US males, go ahead. but circumcision would probably be a bit down on the list of importance. the “Real men Have Big Dicks” myth does much more harm than circumcision, dontcha think?

  40. kate
    kate July 2, 2007 at 3:52 pm |

    I did have my son circumcised. After several years of reading this blog, and others, I had shifted from a thoughtless expectation that I would have any future sons circumcised because that was ‘normal’ to not wanting to do it because it was unecessary body modification with no particular benefit to the boy. Two things swayed me, my husband wanted our son circumcised (to fit in with the majority and to look like daddy), and the recent health studies that point to circumcision being as effective at blocking the transmission of HIV to males as any anticipated future vaccine.

    I don’t think circumcision is a magic bullet that will keep my son disease free should he choose to engage in unsafe sexual practices – but I do hope that it will lower his risk ( I really really hope he doesn’t put himself at risk – but my own experience with being a teenager pretty much tells me that my hope in that regard is not likely to be realized). Ultimately, I felt that my husband was in posession of more information about the effects of circumcision than I was, and so we chose to circumcise.

  41. respect
    respect July 2, 2007 at 3:56 pm |

    Very important topic. Not feminist or masculanist, just humanist.

    For those who haven’t heard about or had time to read the recently released Sorrells study, you can get the whole study as a pdf here.

    The study confirms that the parts removed by circumcision are not only highly sensitive, but the most sensitive parts of the male sex organ.

    For those interested in such things, there is a discussion scheduled for the Patt Morrison show today at 2pm Pacific (listen at kpcc website)

    Link
    Patt Morrison

    Monday, July 2, 2007

    CALL IN NUMBER: 866-893-5722; OR TEXT OR EMAIL AT ASK@KPCC.ORG

    2:06 – 2:19
    OPEN

    2:21 – 2:39
    To Circumcise or Not
    Circumcision of new born male infants used to be an almost universally accepted practice among American parents, regardless of religious or social considerations—in the 1960’s, the circumcision rate peaked at nearly 90 percent. A study by the National Health and Social Life Survey shows that there has been a recent drop in the rate of U.S. circumcision rate, down to 57 percent of all male newborns delivered in hospitals. A fierce debate has broken out, lead by a campaign to encourage parents to leave their baby boys intact. Patt will examine the first cut, which certainly can be the deepest.

    Guests:
    Dr. Dean Edell, host of the nationally-syndicated The Dr. Dean Edell Show on Premiere Radio Network; co-founder of Healthcentral.com; author of Eat, Drink & Be Merry; former clinical professor of surgery at U.C. San Diego.

    Dr. Edgar Schoen, pediatric urologist at Children’s Hospital of the East Bay in Oakland, CA; clinical professor in pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco; former chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland for 24 years.

  42. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 3:58 pm |

    I think the practice is a clear violation of the infant’s bodily autonomy, and it should not be done until the person is old enough to choose to have it done. I don’t plan on ever having children, so my objection is moot, but either way, I am firmly against the practice on infants.

  43. libber
    libber July 2, 2007 at 4:01 pm |

    It’s really absurd that so many (in some cases even well-educated) adults find uncircumcised penises disgusting. What would we say if the male part of the American population suddenly proclaimed publically that an uncircumcised clit is disgusting. I know what I’d say.

  44. AG
    AG July 2, 2007 at 4:01 pm |

    Our kids, when my wife and I have them, will not be circumcized for all the reasons mentioned above: they can do it when they grow if they feel it’s necessary. That it’s hard to maintain uncircumcized is pretty flimsy argument. And the whole it’s safer from the STD point of view is a load of BS. Well said HP: “Any male or female who trusts a male’s circumcised status to protect against transmission any form of STD is an idiot–slightly more effective than nothing is still not exactly effective”. Agreed.

  45. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm |

    Or is it a sympathy focus to “justify” the FGM protest? feh. they’re not even in the same class, and it’s insulting to FGM victims to imply that they are.

    This is a male circumcision thread. It specifically was indicated that the two are not in the same class, which is why it was given its own thread. Bodily autonomy issues are relevant to feminism and feminist activism. That you have no problem with it being done to people who cannot say “no” does not make it an ethical practice.

  46. emjaybee
    emjaybee July 2, 2007 at 4:33 pm |

    I seem to be in the majority, but yes, our son is not circumsized. So let me say something slightly more controversial.

    I’m NOTsympathetic at all to religious circumcision either…it’s still cutting off a piece of genitalia without the owner’s consent. If the boy was grown and could say, yes, I will honor Big Sky King by getting cut, I’d say fine. But he can’t. I don’t care how old a tradition is, that doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid and cruel. Babies do feel pain, you know, even if they can’t tell you about it, and are unable to access the memory later. Saying that makes it ok would be like saying it’s ok to torture someone so long as you wipe their memory afterwards. No, it isn’t.

    And come on…you can’t compare it to baptism. Getting sprinkled with water is not like getting your foreskin cut off.

    As for health risks, I am confident that educating my son about sexual risks is going to trump the very slight protection of circumcision every single time. I mean, are there no circumcized men with AIDS? Jeebus.

  47. Dr. Confused
    Dr. Confused July 2, 2007 at 4:34 pm |

    When people talk about this it’s as if there’s some magic to the words “cut” or “body” or “genitalia” or “natural.” Which is, of course, bunk. It’s just a “thing we do (or not) to our sons” like everything else. don’t like it? Sure, all well and good. But it’s just… life.

    I agree with you about the word “natural”, but “cut”, “body” and (while you didn’t mention it) “consent” are important issues. Cosmetic surgery without consent is a problem. Sure, it may not be the biggest problem currently facing the world, but we feministe readers are in the habit of having opinions on more than one issue without having to strictly prioritize them.

  48. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 4:35 pm |

    I find it very creepy that so many men want their little boys penises to look “just like daddy’s.” I mean, will little Timmy really put as much thought into Daddy’s penis as daddy thinks he’s going to? God. Someone’s gotta stop the circumcision madness; it might as well be your generation. Then all the other little boys down the line will have penises that look just like daddy’s.

  49. Frumious B
    Frumious B July 2, 2007 at 4:38 pm |

    Rates of penile cancer are not that different from rates of cervical cancer, and both are now known to be caused by HPV. Circumcision is now known to reduce the rates of both (it has been know to reduce the rates of penile cancer for some years now), making it the moral equivalent of a vaccine in my book.

    And I’m so glad I brought up vaccines. The HPV vaccine isn’t approved for use in boys yet. If I had a son right now, I would probably circumcise him. That doesn’t make me an idiot, that makes me someone who has seen the data and would like to take every measure to reduce the chances of her son (or his partners) getting cancer. I will also educate said hypothetical son about condom use, which is also not completely effective, but which is still worthwhile.

    Even when the HPV vaccine is released for use in boys, data from AIDS and other STD transmission studies will probably mean that I have my sons circumcised.

  50. hp
    hp July 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm |

    And the whole it’s safer from the STD point of view is a load of BS. Well said HP: “Any male or female who trusts a male’s circumcised status to protect against transmission any form of STD is an idiot–slightly more effective than nothing is still not exactly effective”. Agreed.

    See–maybe I can see this argument being made in African, in cultures where condoms are not available or barely available. Maybe, maybe, if studies reinforce what came out of the recent study.

    Although, after coming across some of the evidence about the African study that has been emerging since the media fuss over it, particularly the fact that the researchers knew about an increase in condom usage and decrease in partner numbers among the newly-circumcised males (apparently due to cultural perceptions) but didn’t take that information into account when calculating the final transmission risk numbers, I have to wonder what the hell they were trying to promote.

    It seems like an equally good conclusion would have been: we should circumcise males in Africa because then they hide their newly-naked penises under condoms.

  51. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm |

    Oh, and I’m with emjaybee – Inhumane practices done for “religious reasons” are still inhumane. At least with a baptism, no harm was done. There’s no need for a non-believer to “reverse” her baptism because the ritual didn’t actually do anything to her. Circumcision is another story.
    And it is pretty stupid that twelve-year-olds are supposed to “confirm” their baptisms (I think that’s how old I was). As though a twelve-year-old really understands what she believes or doesn’t believe. As though a twelve-year-old can tell her parents “Eh, I don’t think that’s something I want to do.” Parents force their kids to go to confirmation class. It’s still a parental decision that the kid has no control over.

  52. DAS
    DAS July 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm |

    I find it very creepy that so many men want their little boys penises to look “just like daddy’s.” – SarahMC

    Actually, in the one case with which I’m familiar personally with the “look ‘just like daddy’s” issue was raised, as I mentioned above, it was the woman who was raising it. Still, I agree, there is something a tad creepy about it.

  53. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 4:43 pm |

    The HPV vaccine isn’t approved for use in boys yet.

    Don’t worry. As soon as it is, I’m sure it’ll be mandatory for all school-aged children.

  54. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm |

    Oh god, DAS; that’s even creepier!!

  55. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 5:04 pm |

    So if God made us, then we’re just as we’re supposed to be. And if we’re made the way God wanted us made, why do we need to cut bits off?

    To show your commitment to God.

    Hey, don’t blame me, it’s not my religion.

    As though a twelve-year-old can tell her parents “Eh, I don’t think that’s something I want to do.” Parents force their kids to go to confirmation class.

    I must be an ultra-freak, because I had to force my parents to let me go to confirmation class. My dad turned against the church after my mother died, and my stepmother is an atheist, so they were very skeptical of my desire to be confirmed.

    And then, at the last minute, the priest almost decided that I wasn’t dedicated enough and shouldn’t be confirmed, but that’s another story …

  56. ekf
    ekf July 2, 2007 at 5:04 pm |

    I regard circumcision to be an issue that more-or-less belongs to men — in much the same way that issues like childbirth, breastfeeding, abortion, hormonal birth control and many others more-or-less belong to women. The weight of the opinion comes with the bearer of the equipment.

    Whether or not a woman should breastfeed is hugely controversial, with a woman being told that if she does not breastfeed, she will do untold damage to her child’s future — mental acuity, allergies, immunities, overall health, etc. Choosing a medicalized birth may traumatize a child forever, with a water birth in low lighting being preferred. Raising a child vegetarian could populate a comments thread with a quickness. The list of personal choices with ramifications for children’s lives goes on and on and on, with medical studies and personal anecdotes showing one side or the other to be dispositive from a person’s point of view.

    With most issues, the relevant opinion maker should be the woman. It’s usually her comfort or health that should dominate the discussion. Circumcision of baby boys is one of the very few where I believe the man’s voice should be more dispositive (either pro or con), because men have the personal experience by which to evaluate whether it being done to their child would leave them comfortable or with regret. Being a woman, I just have no way of knowing whether or not it has a large impact on penile sensation or whether or not it’s a problem to be or not be circumcised. To that end, I rely on the opinion of my male spouse, because his having been circumcised gives him a perspective uniquely qualified to judge the after-effects. Sure, he can’t know what it’s like to have a foreskin, but he can also know whether or not he felt violated, whether he has any lack of sensation, whether he feels incomplete, etc.

    As for it being “creepy” to want a child to have the same penile parts as one’s father, I don’t see that at all. I guess I give men credit that having a penis that “looks like daddy” is a shorthand for the various complexities involved in sexual identity. Kids find out about genital differences extremely early compared to the period in their lives when a frank discussion of sexuality makes any sense. For a three year old boy to wonder why his penis has a piece that daddy’s doesn’t have, well, it’s hard to explain that in daddy’s day people did mean things to little boys, but daddy’s okay, but he didn’t want that same mean thing to be done to his son, well — maybe that works, or maybe that incites a bunch of freaking out on the part of the kid (anywhere from being made that people hurt daddy to thinking daddy’s penis is broken to whatever crazy shit a three year old can muster). Now, avoiding an awkward set of conversations with a small child is not justification enough in my mind for circumcision, but neither is it a “creepy” reason, either. It’s one that considers both the longer-lasting social pain and the shorter-term physical pain and decides (based on personal experience) which one seems easier to take. I fail to see how that’s “creepy.”

  57. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 2, 2007 at 5:10 pm |

    “Most penises (but not all) have foreskins short enough that when they become erect, the foreskin slides back over the head so the whole head is visible, and it’s not obvious whether the penis is circumcised or not.”

    Some men also have foreskins that don’t quite cover the whole glans, so the head is visible even when the penis isn’t erect. There’s about as much variability in unaltered foreskins as there is in unaltered labia.

    “The HPV vaccine isn’t approved for use in boys yet. If I had a son right now, I would probably circumcise him.”

    But if you had a son right now, odds are the vaccine would be approved for boys by the time he was eligible to receive it.

  58. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 5:15 pm |

    Circumcision is now known to reduce the rates of both (it has been know to reduce the rates of penile cancer for some years now), making it the moral equivalent of a vaccine in my book.

    Do you have a cite for this claim? Is it based on correlative evidence? If it is, you probably already know the drill about correlation and causation. Circumcision and the studies that supposedly say it has increased helath benefits are nearly, to a one, based on statistical evidence, for which a large amount of problematic assumptions are going to be made that are not necessarily valid. What is, though, is that circumcision has no scientifically proven health benefits and it involves a violation of the bodily autonomy of another person.

  59. ekf
    ekf July 2, 2007 at 5:31 pm |

    What is, though, is that circumcision has no scientifically proven health benefits

    And this conclusion is not based on statistical evidence? If not, how can one make this proof? How can you prove the negative? Why is your proof dispositive?

    I agree that it violates the bodily autonomy of another person, and does so irreversibly, but so does just about every major decision a parent makes, all of which have pros and cons, and many of which have scientific backing for each side (see also, breastfeeding vs. formula, vegetarianism vs. meat-eating, private schools vs. public, religious indoctrination vs. none, immunization vs. none, etc.).

  60. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 5:31 pm |

    Okay, I’ll set myself up for flaming:

    I don’t think that infant male circumcision is something so horrible that it needs to be banned even when it’s done for religious reasons. It has a low rate of complications and mohels have been doing it for hundreds of years even before we had anesthesia and antibiotics. If they were doing something that was extremely visible — like branding the child’s face — or something extremely harmful — like excising the child’s clitoris and labia — I would be able to work myself up about it.

    But I see nothing wrong with allowing people who feel their religion requires it to circumcise their sons because while it’s not particularly beneficial, it’s not particularly harmful either. “Not particularly harmful” is not a good enough rationale to do it routinely for every infant male born in the US, but I do think it’s enough for a religious observance.

  61. Lorelei
    Lorelei July 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm |

    The first dick I ever got around to was uncircumcized. I didn’t understand why my girl friends were always all, ‘Ewwwww what the fuck!’ about uncircumcized penises, especially since the majority had never come in contact with one. If the man you’re with understands basic hygiene, it should not be a problem.

    Something I tend to hear when I say I don’t think I’d circumcize a son of mine is, ‘but then… you’d have to tell them how to clean it… and if your theoretical mate (if you have one) is circumcized… how would they know!…’ I wouldn’t have a problem telling my kid, ‘Listen. You’re gonna have to wash your dick. It’s how it goes’ (of course, more tactfully, before anyone jumps on my ass). Also, I don’t recall anyone giving me intense amounts of detail about how to clean my vagina unless something went wrong (for example, the ‘not rinsing off all the soap’ issue). I was just told to do it, and as time went on, I figured out that I should get between the folds and what the fuck ever.

    o.O

  62. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm |

    Mnemosyne, I’m not flaming, honestly, but I can’t see how “not particularly harmful” is a justification for any type of bodily autonomy violation. I desperately do not wish to compare the practice to anything else, as that way lies misogyny, so I’m not going to, but I seriously hope you see that “my religion demands that I violate my child’s bodily autonomy” should be seen, at its core, as an unethical argument.

  63. David Thompson
    David Thompson July 2, 2007 at 5:40 pm |

    All your wildest dreams have come true.

    Pun, or not? The world may never know.

  64. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 5:40 pm |

    And this conclusion is not based on statistical evidence?

    The key words were “scientifically proven”.

  65. Haydin
    Haydin July 2, 2007 at 5:43 pm |

    My selfish reasons for wanting all penises uncut:
    I have slept with both uncircumcised and circumscribed men, and uncircumcised is so much better. Uncut men naturally produce smegma, which helps in lubricating sex. My vagina does not produce enough lubrication for the both of us, if the man is circumcised. My current partner doesn’t have a foreskin, and sex without artificial lubrication is painful. He also cannot masturbate without using lubrication, or his penis gets chaffed and irritated.

  66. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 5:45 pm |

    How can you prove the negative?

    You have a case where it was scientifically proven that unless the person was circumcised, they would not have contracted or passed on a disease or some form of disorder? Would this have come from not being circumcised, or not practicing good hygiene. To be blunt, does being circumcised cause someone to no longer be at risk for disease? Are there other measures that do not include bodily autonomy violation that would be just as adequate? These are scientific questions. Doing a correlative study answers none of them.

  67. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 5:47 pm |

    You have a case where it was scientifically proven that unless the person was circumcised, they would not have contracted or passed on a disease or some form of disorder?

    Man. Proofread *headdesk* Proofread *headdesk*.

    I meant:

    You have a case where it was scientifically proven that unless the person was circumcised, they would have contracted or passed on a disease or some form of disorder?

  68. oudemia
    oudemia July 2, 2007 at 5:51 pm |

    And speaking of dicks, Bush just commuted Libby’s sentence. Ugh.

  69. Lana
    Lana July 2, 2007 at 5:55 pm |

    We did NOT cicrumcise our son because I do not believe in modifying anyone without their consent. Our renter who lives in our guest house has two little boys my son’s age and neither of them are circ’d either. If my son WAS circ’d he would be the odd man out at this point in his friendship circles. (He is two and a half). My husband’s family cited hygene as a reason to circumcise:

    “He won’t be able to go pee as fast as the other boys! He may have to wipe.”

    My response:

    “You mean, like a vagina? That would be HORRIBLE.”

    When I told them if he wanted it done as a teen or even as an older child all the men flinched & grabbed their crotches & talked about how inhumane! How painful! I told them I was confused at why I would put a days old infant without adequate anesthetics under a procedure that made grown men flinch & that has been the end of that.
    Happily, my son’s penis is beautiful! (What a crazy thing to say I know). And in standing up for him my sisters husband has been able to come forward about his own penis injury as an infant & the effect it has had on him.
    Our first babysitter when my son was an infant I felt the need to “warn” before she changed his diaper. She related how her own son almost died due to blood loos and subsequent sepsis after a botched circ, and how is little penis has never been the same, it is quite purple and covered in scar tissue. Her second son was not circ’d.
    I strongly encourage anyone facing this decision to do research, including watching the videos of this procedure.
    My peditrician (voted #1 in our town) admits it is purely cosmetic. Is a cosmetic procedure done on the sexual organs something our children need?

  70. Thomas
    Thomas July 2, 2007 at 5:57 pm |

    I think the whole “look like daddy” thing is a bunch of nonsense. My son knows what his penis is. He knows he has a penis. He knows I have a penis. He knows what mine looks like. He knows what his looks like. In fact, he’s very familiar with his. He likes it a lot. The fact that it doesn’t look like mine has apparently not interfered in any way with his relationship with his own penis.

    About the sensation thing, those of us with closely circumsized foreskins have most or all of the glans exposed much of the time, all of it if we’re at all aroused. Over the years, the glans essentially stops being mucous membrane and becomes a sensitive skin surface — a thing of an entirely different nature than the glans of an uncircumcized penis. Now, I don’t bemoan the loss. I like my penis. But it is not the penis I would have had if I had my full foreskin. The sensation uncircumsized men get when a partner takes their cock and sticks a tongue between the foreskin and the head? I’ve heard it’s mind-blowing. I’ll never know.

    Children ought to start with the genitals they develop on their own. If they want to do heavy genital modification later, they have plenty of time.

  71. Thomas
    Thomas July 2, 2007 at 6:02 pm |

    Gee, can I get all my children lion rampant tattoos on their biceps, to pass on my cultural signifiers through modification of children too young to object?

  72. David Thompson
    David Thompson July 2, 2007 at 6:16 pm |

    I’m a bit surprised no one has brought up the financial aspects of foregoing circumcision. I believe that’s the reason I still have 100% of my winky.

  73. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 6:16 pm |

    Mnemosyne, I’m not flaming, honestly, but I can’t see how “not particularly harmful” is a justification for any type of bodily autonomy violation.

    We allow the Amish to only educate their children to the 8th grade. I think that’s more harmful to them long-term than a Jewish couple getting their son circumcised by a mohel.

    Sikhs don’t allow their sons to cut their hair — isn’t that interfering with their bodily autonomy? Yes, it’s a more minor one (hair grows back), but if the child wants to cut his hair to fit in with the rest of the kids, should the government be allowed to tell his parents that they have to cut it? And when does that become the school deciding that boys having long hair is “disruptive” and making the Sikh boys cut their hair over their parents’ objections?

    And, as I said earlier, it makes me nervous to have a majority-Christian country tell a minority religious group, “Nope, sorry, you have to give up your 6,000-year-old practice even though it’s not actively harmful because, um, we don’t like it.” Particularly when that minority religious group was only allowed into public life within the past 50 years. (See Gentleman’s Agreement for a brief lesson on how it was for Jews in this country pre-WWII.)

    Gee, can I get all my children lion rampant tattoos on their biceps, to pass on my cultural signifiers through modification of children too young to object?

    Biceps? No — see my above disclaimer that I draw the line at publicly visible markers. If you want to put a small tattoo on your child’s butt — something about the size of an infant’s foreskin — I have to say that I wouldn’t find that particularly harmful.

  74. Myca
    Myca July 2, 2007 at 6:23 pm |

    Gee, can I get all my children lion rampant tattoos on their biceps, to pass on my cultural signifiers through modification of children too young to object?

    Actually, I’m planning on getting my kids’ junk all pierced. My culture values a thick steel bar through the penis, and I think that 1 month is about the right time to do it.

    —Myca

  75. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 6:27 pm |

    Actually, I’m planning on getting my kids’ junk all pierced. My culture values a thick steel bar through the penis, and I think that 1 month is about the right time to do it.

    If that would interfere with function — such as getting erections, or urinating — that would be disallowed. See, again, the “not doing major harm” part.

    Piercing the foreskin? Well, it’s not that much different than piercing an infant’s ears, is it? And yet I don’t hear a huge outcry to make piercing little girls’ ears illegal.

  76. Chet
    Chet July 2, 2007 at 6:27 pm |

    For the record, in case it needed saying, I do not believe that removing a person’s clitoris and sewing her labia shut is morally equivalent to removing a person’s foreskin.

    Thank you for proving that it’s completely impossible to discuss the mutilation of young boys without someone popping up to object about comparing it to FGM- even before anyone has actually done so.

  77. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 6:28 pm |

    Sigh. I hate how hyperlinks throw you into moderation.

  78. Myca
    Myca July 2, 2007 at 6:33 pm |

    If that would interfere with function — such as getting erections, or urinating — that would be disallowed. See, again, the “not doing major harm” part.

    Nope, no interference with function, but I would want it to be permanent, of course. The piercing needs to be non-removable.

    It would change their sexual function and the asthetics of their genitals permanently . . . not necessarily in a bad way, but in a different, involuntary, irreversible way.

    I think, by the way, this is why people find the ‘I want him to look like his daddy’ argument creepy. Because what kind of parent is that concerned with the asthetics of their kids’ genitals?

    —Myca

  79. Myca
    Myca July 2, 2007 at 6:35 pm |

    And yet I don’t hear a huge outcry to make piercing little girls’ ears illegal.

    Perhaps part of why is because you can always take earrings out later if you don’t want them.

    Personally, I do think that piercing the ears of an infant too young to express an opinion on the matter should be illegal, though. Bodily autonomy again.

    —Myca

  80. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 2, 2007 at 6:49 pm |

    It would change their sexual function and the asthetics of their genitals permanently . . . not necessarily in a bad way, but in a different, involuntary, irreversible way.

    I guess this is the nub: I’ve never noticed that the sexual functioning of the guys I’ve been with has been impaired in any way by circumcision vs. no circumcision (and, yes, I’ve been with both). If the piercing caused as few problems for the boy and his future partners as infant male circumcision does, and if you can prove a genuine cultural/religious connection (like, say, Judaism), I’d have to allow it. I wouldn’t like it, but I have no right to tell other people what their religious practices should be as long as they’re not criminal. First Amendment and all that.

    It’s easy for people who are in the religious majority to decide that religious minorities shouldn’t be allowed to do the things that we find strange. I’m sure that PETA would love to ban kosher butchers from operating on animal cruelty grounds, too, but we don’t allow one group to dictate another’s religious beliefs.

  81. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 6:49 pm |

    (see also, breastfeeding vs. formula, vegetarianism vs. meat-eating, private schools vs. public, religious indoctrination vs. none, immunization vs. none, etc.)

    In addition to my above statements, none of these involve the same amount of invasiveness of surgically removing a part of someone’s genitalia. There could potentially be arguments that the decisions that you above outline do not include the infant’s consent in their validity, but I do not feel that this somehow negates my argument. Due to the fact that aspects of circumcision irreversibly change a person using surgery without specific reason to do so other than correlative studies, the ethical considerations outweigh the supposed benefits, as they cannot be shown to be actually caused by circumcision. Now, polio has been eradicated by vaccination, as has smallpox. This is a scientifically proven fact, since there is no other provable cause for their eradication. This is why vaccination is helpful, since it has been proven that, when mandatory, it has completely eliminated various horrific diseases. Can it be shown that when a person is circumcised, they are not at risk for a certain disease, nor can they contract it?

  82. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 6:53 pm |

    It’s easy for people who are in the religious majority to decide that religious minorities shouldn’t be allowed to do the things that we find strange.

    As an agnostic, I can’t see how I’m in a religious majority. Bodily autonomy of innocent people can be easily seen as based on a form of natural law ethics, as long as you assume that an infant has the right to not be surgically altered unnecessarily. The burden becomes “is circumcision necessary?”, and, for me, “my religion says yes” is bullshit.

  83. ks
    ks July 2, 2007 at 7:33 pm |

    Piercing the foreskin? Well, it’s not that much different than piercing an infant’s ears, is it? And yet I don’t hear a huge outcry to make piercing little girls’ ears illegal.

    I also don’t think that should be allowed. Not because I think it’s all that big a deal, but because the child can’t give meaningful consent. Therefore, my kids will have to wait until they are at least 16 to get anything pierced or removed.

  84. Myca
    Myca July 2, 2007 at 7:34 pm |

    I’ve never noticed that the sexual functioning of the guys I’ve been with has been impaired in any way by circumcision vs. no circumcision (and, yes, I’ve been with both).

    Well, sure, I don’t think it necessarily impairs their sexuality, but it certainly changes it, and in an irreversible way.

    It’s easy for people who are in the religious majority to decide that religious minorities shouldn’t be allowed to do the things that we find strange.

    I am not in the religious majority in this country. Mainstream politicians constantly say things about my beliefs that they would be crucified for saying about Judaism. That’s because I am generally atheist and I believe in science, and it’s considered pretty okay to talk shit about atheists in our country.

    I’ve got no problem telling fundamentalist Christians that, although their religion tells them it’s okay to beat their kids, I think it should be illegal. This isn’t about majority or minority. This is about ‘there are some things it’s not okay to do.’

    ‘Cutting a hunk off your kid’s genitals’ I put in that category.

  85. ks
    ks July 2, 2007 at 7:35 pm |

    Piercing the foreskin? Well, it’s not that much different than piercing an infant’s ears, is it? And yet I don’t hear a huge outcry to make piercing little girls’ ears illegal.

    I also don’t think that should be allowed. Not because I think it’s all that big a deal, but because the child can’t give meaningful consent. Therefore, my kids will have to wait until they are at least 16 to get anything pierced or removed.

    Plus, what JackGoff just said.

  86. ks
    ks July 2, 2007 at 7:35 pm |

    Piercing the foreskin? Well, it’s not that much different than piercing an infant’s ears, is it? And yet I don’t hear a huge outcry to make piercing little girls’ ears illegal.

    I also don’t think that should be allowed. Not because I think it’s all that big a deal, but because the child can’t give meaningful consent. Therefore, my kids will have to wait until they are at least 16 to get anything pierced or removed.

    Plus, what JackGoff just said.

  87. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 2, 2007 at 7:47 pm |

    I desperately do not wish to compare the practice to anything else, as that way lies misogyny, so I’m not going to, but I seriously hope you see that “my religion demands that I violate my child’s bodily autonomy” should be seen, at its core, as an unethical argument.

    Nice use of paralipsis there.

    I’m conflicted about this. I see all the arguments that circumcision is bad, but if I have children, I intend to raise them Jewish. This means that they will be forced to go to Saturday school and temple until a certain age, even though they may not want to, because I think that there’s value to them in participating in their Jewish heritage. Circumcision is also a part of that participation in their Jewish heritage, and it’s pretty dismissive to call that “bullshit.” I see what you’re saying about the child’s bodily autonomy, and I do find that troubling, but how is this different from forcing a child to be vaccinated, or undergo an appendicitis, against their will? Those are different in that they have strong positive medical benefits, wheras for circumcision the medical effects seems marginal in either direction, but they are still violations of bodily autonomy if the child doesn’t want them. Or, more generally, being forced to go to Saturday school (or public school, if you find the idea of religious instruction repulsive), is a violation of autonomy. This is not to say that anything I feel like doing to my children in the name of religious tradition is just hunky-dory, but children are not generally free autonomous agents.

    Again, I do find circumcision troubling, and we haven’t decided what we’re going to do if we have children. But a lot of this discussion really trivializes the religious dimension. Giving your child a lion tattoo or a piercing does sound completely silly, but at least in the U.S., such things are not a central part of participation in a cultural, ethnic, or religious group.

  88. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe July 2, 2007 at 8:31 pm |

    Rabbit wonders what his own life would have been like if he had been circumcised. The issue comes up every now and then in the newspapers. Some say the foreskin is like an eyelid; without it the constantly exposed glans becomes less sensitive, it gets thick-skinned and dull rubbing against cloth all the time. A letter he once read in a skin magazine was from a guy who got circumcised in midlife and found his sexual pleasure and responsiveness went so far down his circumcised life was hardly worth living. If Harry had been less responsive he might have been a more dependable person, not so crazy to have his eye down there opened. Getting a hard-on you can feel the foreskin sweetly tug back, like freezing cream lifting the paper cap on the old-time milk bottles.

    —John Updike, “Rabbit at Rest”

  89. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 9:08 pm |

    Nice use of paralipsis there.

    Well, I’m sorry if you see it as such, but ethical violations of other people’s bodily autonomy are, to me, imperative, and trump any supposed religious ethics. I am not religious. It is not an underhanded ad hom, just my opinion. Your ethics are not my ethics, and I hope that is understandable.

  90. respect
    respect July 2, 2007 at 9:18 pm |

    Autumn Harvest,

    Please join the movement of Jews at the forefront of replacing brit-milah with brith-shalom! We know enough now, both medically and from modern notions of individual rights and autonomy, to say definitively that it’s time for this tradition to change.

    Here are some resources for you:

    Jews Against Circumcision
    Alternative Brit Milah (Bris) Petition
    Brit Shalom Celebrants

    Your son will thank you, especially when he grows up and reads the Sorrells report! (and in the event he actually wants a circumcision, no problem, he can always get one)

  91. Rhus
    Rhus July 2, 2007 at 9:25 pm |

    I didn’t think I would write in this thread again (and I dislike disagreeing with Mnemosyne). But I’m a little astonished at what I have read, not only from her, of course. I’d just like to repeat once and again “what JackGoff said” and “what Thomas said,” but I suspect it wouldn’t be enough, and I’m starting to fume.

    I agree that children’s ears shouldn’t be pierced, but I am at a loss to understand how anybody can compare it to mangling a penis a doctor or a religious figure has no business mangling. The latter interferes with a bodily function. Yes, it does – it cuts nerves and delicate tissue and stops or limits secretions. And it must be very painful. I cannot imagine how someone would calmly make a baby suffer a totally unnecessary procedure which must hurt like hell (thinking about the actual performers here). I have no children myself, but any doctor or rabbi or mufti approaching a baby with a knife in my presence would cut it over my dead body. The idea of clamping a baby and throwing a bit of him to the bin (or selling it to a cosmetic company, I’ve read?) is simply repulsive. Picture it on your mind. Damn, are parents even present when it is done?

    It has even been said that opposers have to present proof. When we haven’t heard a single decent argument for the benefits. Once again, what JackGoff said.

    The line about “children looking like their fathers”, apart from being amazingly foolish (dad’s is bigger! and hairy! and his voice is deeper!), means basically that men don’t want to admit that a wrong was done to them when they were defenceless. Not doing the same thing to their sons would oblige them to revise their own history and ask some painful questions about their first days and their irreversible situation. In my first post, I walked on eggshells not to hurt anybody’s feelings, but if some men are honest and brave enough to say “this was done to me and I don’t want it done to anybody else,” the least we can do is to support them. This is a useless procedure that ought to be stopped.

    About the religious argument: it could be because I am an agnostic, but I can’t take it seriously. Too many absurd, horrid things have been done in the name of religion, and you don’t even have to be irreligious to agree. I understand that a rabbi wouldn’t care much for my ideas, but it’s up to religious people to prod the elders who would happily chop them to interfere with their sexual functioning. For myself, I would outlaw it without a qualm. Bodily integrity, again. It should be a basic right. We discuss corporal punishment for children and this is done before our eyes!

    I’ve often wondered (I’m not original) whether much of the world’s violence couldn’t be attributed to stupid inflictions of pain during infancy and adolescence. I can’t see why routine circumcision without anesthesia wouldn’t fit the bill.

    And before anyone accuses me of not caring about women because I haven’t used such strong language in my comments about FGM, the answer is that basically everybody here agrees that FGM is a disgrace. This is a lesser one, but a disgrace nevertheless, and there are contexts in which you want to address a subject, however painful, calmly and contexts which make you want to growl.

  92. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 9:29 pm |

    I’m actually curious how one can link cutting one’s offspring to vaccination and going to Sunday School as well. The latter are not analogous to the former. Necessary surgery being equated to circumcision implies that circumcision is necessary for a person to be healthy, something that is not scientifically proven. I can’t, in fact, see any valid reason to equate circumcision to any necessary health related decision parents make with regard to their child, as none of them involve cutting off unnecessarily a part of that child. Appendectomies have a purpose. Circumcision of infants has no proven purpose unless you are religious, in which case you put your personal religious belief above your child’s bodily autonomy.

    Also, FWIW, I think it is completely unethical for Christian Scientists and others who believe so to withhold vital medical treatment from their children because of their beliefs.

  93. Rhus
    Rhus July 2, 2007 at 9:32 pm |

    Well, I see now from #91 that something I was asking for in my comment is being done. Good news.

  94. respect
    respect July 2, 2007 at 9:40 pm |

    Rhus,

    If you haven’t heard of it yet, check out mgmbill. Every supporter counts.

  95. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 9:42 pm |

    We allow the Amish to only educate their children to the 8th grade. I think that’s more harmful to them long-term than a Jewish couple getting their son circumcised by a mohel.

    Sikhs don’t allow their sons to cut their hair — isn’t that interfering with their bodily autonomy?

    Ok, I probably should not have said “any bodily autonomy violation”, but I think I agree that taking children out of school in the eighth grade is harming them, and I would be against it. Not cutting someone’s hair, I’m more unsure about, though I think that saying your child cannot do something is different than telling them that they must do something, particularly in this case. I should have made a more nuanced pronouncement, but I still do not think that it is ethical to circumcise someone as an infant.

  96. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 2, 2007 at 10:00 pm |

    Nice use of paralipsis there.

    Well, I’m sorry if you see it as such, but ethical violations of other people’s bodily autonomy are, to me, imperative, and trump any supposed religious ethics. I am not religious. It is not an underhanded ad hom, just my opinion. Your ethics are not my ethics, and I hope that is understandable.

    It’s completely understandable, and pretty much I agree with you. In fact, my guess/hope is that we will not circumcise, for precisely the reasons you state; I just wish that the discussion here did not treat the cultural reasons for it as completely trivial.

    But I was not accusing you of an underhanded ad hom. By paralipsis I meant (from Wikipedia) “a rhetorical figure of speech wherein the speaker or writer invokes a subject by denying that it should be invoked.” Specifically, I thought

    I desperately do not wish to compare the practice to anything else, as that way lies misogyny, so I’m not going to, but I seriously hope you see that “my religion demands that I violate my child’s bodily autonomy” should be seen, at its core, as an unethical argument.

    was a rather neat way of comparing MC and FGM while disclaiming any intention to. Although it’s perhaps dangerous in this thread to even mention this comparison of MC and FGM, so I won’t (this is again, paralipsis).

    “respect”, thank you very much for the references.

  97. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 2, 2007 at 10:07 pm |

    “(or selling it to a cosmetic company, I’ve read?)”

    I don’t think cosmetics companies are going to find a whole lot to do with medical waste in the form of excised foreskins. A decent portion of them do go to medical research, however. I believe a fair number of our more promising developments for burn victims and others in need of large skin grafts have resulted from research originally done using foreskins collected in hospitals. It’s neither here nor there as far as the morality of it goes, but it’s not quite as crassly exploitative as “Hospitals are snipping neonates’ penises at the behest of CoverGirl!”

  98. Rhus
    Rhus July 2, 2007 at 10:15 pm |

    Thanks, preying mantis. It was a genuine question (one can suspect almost anything from cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries these days), but I should have done the research myself before throwing it in.

  99. Rhus
    Rhus July 2, 2007 at 10:16 pm |

    Oh, and thanks for the links, respect.

  100. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 2, 2007 at 10:19 pm |

    a rather neat way of comparing MC and FGM while disclaiming any intention to

    Actually, I specifically meant to not compare it to FGM, and was simply saying that there are certain arguments that are made for FGM that involve religious ethics, though I did not want to go that route, because the two practices are not equivalent. Perhaps I should have gone with the slapping ritual at Catholic confirmation ( I was slapped by my bishop, though I hear that it has recently been abandoned in light of recent events). But you are right. It was a backhanded and even assholish attempt to bring FGM into the conversation, even though I’m personally against doing so. As such, I am sorry.

  101. emjaybee
    emjaybee July 2, 2007 at 10:31 pm |

    See, removing the appendix is a good comparison. Because you DON’T remove it, unless it’s to protect the child’s life and health. Tonsils, ditto. I just feel that applies to all the child’s body parts (that have sensation in them, i.e., not dead skin cells, such as hair or nails..I mean, come on. Huge red herring).

    I oppose circumcision because it is painful, unnecessary, and confers no immediate benefit to the health of the infant, and in fact introduces more risk to their health at that age. If you want to talk about their health as sexually active adults (granting that circumcision really made that much difference, which I still don’t buy), then that responsibility should be in their hands, not their parents’.

    If while still a child, my son developed a condition that required circumcision to preserve his health, I’d say full steam ahead, doc. Unlike an infant, however, he would be allowed to be under anesthetic at the time, have pain killers till he recovered, and maybe even be old enough to understand why he had to have the operation.

    For the record, I don’t think it’s right to pierce the ears of infants either. I had mine done at 10 after much begging, and it was probably too young..piercing infections are nasty.

  102. David Thompson
    David Thompson July 2, 2007 at 10:33 pm |

    how is this different from forcing a child to be vaccinated, or undergo an appendicitis, against their will?

    Are people getting preemptive appendectomies these days? Otherwise, I think the threat of imminent death is sufficient justification for a with-cause appendectomy on a minor.

  103. David Thompson
    David Thompson July 2, 2007 at 10:37 pm |

    it cuts nerves and delicate tissue and stops or limits secretions.

    Secretions?

  104. Julie
    Julie July 2, 2007 at 10:51 pm |

    We had our son circumsized- when I found out I was having a boy, I was against it, but not adamantly. More in a “I have no idea why I would want to do that” kind of way. Had my husband agreed, the discussion would have stopped there. However, my husband was absolutely, adamantly, dead set in favor of having it done. So I promised him I would look into it, and I did. I talked to my doctor, I talked to the nurses where I work, I talked to my aunt who is a nurse and has helped perform them, I talked to male friends who were circumsized and wished they hadn’t been, I talked to male friends who were circumsized and were happy (including my husband), I talked to my male cousins who are uncircumsized and very opposed to circumcision, and I talked to guys I knew who were uncircumsized and unhappy about it. I even talked to friends who had gone both ways. I read every debate board I could, I read every medical article I could get my hands on. In the end, I decided that while the benefits were most definately not overwhelming, I felt like the risks were slightly outweighed by the benefits. I also made sure that it would be done in a humane manner, and watched as my doctor anesthesized him not once but twice (she applied a numbing cream to his penis, gave it 30 minutes to kick in, then gave him a local anesthetic, which he didn’t even flinch for). He literally slept through the procedure because of her technique and we gave him painkillers every 6 hours for the first two days and applied a gauze pad covered with vaseline over the tip of his penis until it was completely healed. The only time he ever seemed in pain was the very first diaper change after it was done, and I cried like a two year old, but he stopped crying the minute the diaper was back on and never again showed the slightest bit of issue with diaper changes. I didn’t do it because of religous reasons, I feel those belong in the hands of my child. It’s, ironically enough, why I am so opposed to infant baptism although I don’t think it should be forbidden. I didn’t do it because I’m afraid of teaching my son to be clean- he still has a tiny bit of foreskin that needs to be cleaned around that won’t grow out until his penis gets a little bigger, and he’s going to need to learn to clean that until that happens. I didn’t do it because I don’t want to teach him safe sex practices- he’ll still be taught to respect himself and his partner, to wait until he’s ready and to use a condom each and every time he has sex. I didn’t do it because I was afraid he would be teased in the locker room- I understand that it’s pretty much split 50/50 at this point. I most certainly didn’t do it because I was afraid he wouldn’t look like his father, because I don’t feel like he’ll spend that much time seeing his father naked, and if he did ask it’s a quick explanation. I did it because I felt that the benefit of lowering his risk of HPV, HIV, Penile Cancer and Urinary tract infections and lowering a future partner’s risk of cervical cancer was worth the removal of his foreskin. It may turn out in 20 years that the studies were bullshit and then I’ll feel like shit about it, but in the meantime I gathered all the information I possibly could, I took it extremely seriously and I made the best possible decision I could given that information. If I had another son I would make the same decision given the same set of information. I certainly don’t think it makes me cruel, mean or ignorant. I also respect the decision not to circumsize though- if you feel the issue of bodily autonomy is more important, or the evidence for health benefits is not compelling, I don’t think it’s bad not to circumsize. It’s just what I thought was best for my son. (Of course, I also got my daughter’s ears pierced by her pediatrician when she was 10 weeks because I had such horrible issues with infections in my ears as a child (I got my ears pierced for the first time when I was 3)and had to get them repierced a number of times. My doctor at the time attributed it to my lack of ability to keep my hands off them as a child and the fact that even after my mom cleaned them I would rub my dirty hands against them. I have no idea if it’s true, or if there’s any evidence to back it up, but my own experience scared me into not wanting hers done at an age where she would mess with them all the time. My daughter, on the other hand, has never had a single infection and her ears were completely healed by the time she was interested enough in them to touch them. So, I may not be the best authority on bodily autonomy issues.)

  105. Kyra
    Kyra July 2, 2007 at 11:20 pm |

    Real simple: if you don’t have babies circumcised, when they grow up, if they want to be circumcised, they can get themselves circumcised. However, they’d have a pretty damn hard time getting themselves uncircumcised if they have been circumcised and don’t want to be.

    When making any decision for a child that that child will have to live with, it’s generally best to choose the option that the child is best able to have corrected if it’s not what he wants.

  106. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 12:13 am |

    I’ll spare you the details here, but I have to say (both as a male-bodied person and as a bisexual person) that foreskins are both useful and fun.

    Marnanel, would you feel comfortable explaining how they are useful and fun? This is not a rhetorical question; If the question is not too invasive, I would genuinely like to know.

  107. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 12:14 am |

    I’ll spare you the details here, but I have to say (both as a male-bodied person and as a bisexual person) that foreskins are both useful and fun.

    Marnanel, would you feel comfortable explaining how they are useful and fun? This is not a rhetorical question; If the question is not too invasive, I would genuinely like to know.

  108. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 12:18 am |

    I’ll spare you the details here, but I have to say (both as a male-bodied person and as a bisexual person) that foreskins are both useful and fun.

    Marnanel, would you feel comfortable explaining how they are useful and fun? This is not a rhetorical question; If the question is not too invasive, I would genuinely like to know.

  109. larkspur
    larkspur July 3, 2007 at 12:30 am |

    I am not a man. I do not have male children. I suspect that I’d lean toward not circumcising my imaginary boy-child. But I imagine that I’d teach my imaginary boy-child to clean under his foreskin, because cleanliness is next to dogliness, and I don’t want to appear insensitive, but I do not consider smegma to be a preferred source of lubrication prior to intercourse. I don’t consider smegma to be evil or evidence of beastliness or whatever, but I guess I am prejudiced in favor of everyone washing up before getting it on.

    But since I am not a man or a mom, my disinterestedness means (a) I engage in sex on an “at will” basis (either of us can opt in or out for any reason or no reason at all), and (b) I will almost always choose the less-invasive route. Circumcision is an invasive procedure. As far as invasive procedures go, it is not terribly risky. But any invasive procedure carries a risk, so that’s why I’d decline on behalf of my imaginary boy-child.

  110. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 3, 2007 at 1:17 am |

    It’s interesting how many people on this thread say, “Well, I’m not religious, so religious arguments are automatically bullshit.”

    It’s also interesting how willing a lot of people are to throw minority religions under the bus because their practices make us uncomfortable. A Santeria priest is Texas is suing for the right to do animal sacrifice. The city can’t refuse to let him do it because of the First Amendment, so they’re trying to claim that he’s running a slaughterhouse and forbid it that way. I’m assuming that all of you who are against infant male circumcision for religious reasons also think Santeria practices should be disallowed for animal cruelty reasons.

    And then we can stop letting Native Americans use peyote in their rituals — hey, just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean they should be allowed to do it. Religion is all bullshit anyway, so why are they getting so upset at being arrested on drug charges?

    And if we catch any pagans or Wiccans doing outdoor rituals in the nude, they need to be arrested and prosecuted for indecent exposure. After all, all religion is bullshit and they don’t get a free pass for breaking the law just because of “religion.”

    Right?

  111. Hugo
    Hugo July 3, 2007 at 1:23 am |

    Let me say again, even though my post was linked, that in my not inconsiderable experience there was not any significant difference between “before” and “after” my circumcision three years ago at age 37. There is nothing I can’t do now and enjoy just as much now as I used to; because of a problem with my frenulum (look it up) I ended up with some real problems early on in my sexual life. Getting cut solved that problem.

    And as I said in my post, I really like that after all of my past with a foreskin, my wife is the only woman I’ve been with with my “new” body. That’s very special to me.

    Look, I ain’t got no problem with banning circumcision for infants. I just want to make it clear that it (a). hurt less than I thought it would under a local anesthetic; (b). I recovered to full use faster than I thought it would (four weeks) (c). being circumcised makes not one iota of difference to my physical sensitivity. Most of the other guys I’ve talked to who got cut as adults share this view, though others did have far more traumatic stories to relate.

    The idea that circumcision is some horrific barbaric practice is patently absurd. What’s lost is not that important, period. And believe me, I had the danged thing for 37 years and I put it to plenty of use.

  112. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 3, 2007 at 7:54 am |

    Autumn Harvest: Well, much as I’d like to contribute that information to the discussion, I’m not terribly sure I want that much detail of my sex life *quite* that googleable. I’m happy to explain this in email.

  113. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 8:28 am |

    Religion is all bullshit anyway, so why are they getting so upset at being arrested on drug charges?

    I didn’t mean this, but you can read that into my argument by forgetting that I said violating the bodily autonomy rights of another person who is not you because of your religion when the person in question is unable to consent is wrong. As to animal sacrifice, well, yeah, I would be against that for any reason. Being against cruelty to animals is a big part of my ethical system.

  114. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 8:32 am |

    And also, I think people are reading into my argument a desire to ban the practice of infant circumcision, when that is not the case. I can be against something without wanting to ban it, right? That’s allowable, surely?

  115. Rhus
    Rhus July 3, 2007 at 9:16 am |

    David at #104:

    Secretions?

    I don’t understand very well your question. At first, I thought it was my poor English, but no. A cut penis is dry, an uncut one is naturally lubricated. I don’t dare to repeat in detail a physiological explanation, but you’ll find abundant material in the links that respect has provided. Basically, I gather that the nature of the tissues is changed when exposed.

    Julie at #105:

    It may turn out in 20 years that the studies were bullshit and then I’ll feel like shit about it, but in the meantime I gathered all the information I possibly could

    In my humble opinion, you shouldn’t feel like shit if that happens, as I suspect it will. Guilt in the world doesn’t seem to be very well distributed. It is my opinion that people are cheated or bullied into doing this, but even if I believe it strongly (which you clearly don’t) at least I won’t be pointing any fingers at particular people who have put some serious thought into the matter or have succumbed to the pressure. Many doctors and religious leaders, however, do have some explaining to do. Either they have the facts and an ethical obligation to patients or they have a strong moral obligation to do some introspection and research about what they ask their flock to do.

    Mnemosyne at #111:

    It’s also interesting how willing a lot of people are to throw minority religions under the bus because their practices make us uncomfortable. . . I’m assuming that all of you who are against infant male circumcision for religious reasons also think Santeria practices should be disallowed for animal cruelty reasons.

    Mnemosyne, I understand that you come from a deeply ingrained, almost fearful, respect of religious differences, and I suspect that you are also trying to promote controversy. From my point of view: I have no qualms about throwing harmful practices under the bus, wherever they come from. It has taken us some centuries to grudgingly agree on certain basic human rights (human life, bodily integrity again), it has been a long struggle in the face of religious quackery and oscurantism (and I am a Spaniard, I know a little about it), and still those human rights aren’t respected almost anywhere in the world. It is not a matter of just vaguely “feeling uncomfortable;” I think that from the ancient Greeks to Montesquieu, Kant, de Beauvoir and a long illustrious line of philosophers and political thinkers there has been created a body of work to justify our caring for other human beings that doesn’t have to be necessarily religious. We have to live together in the best harmony, as your First Amendment probably suggests (I’ll have to look it up again), but when there’s conflict, I too have a “doctrine” to follow, which has cost a lot of blood and human suffering, and will defend it as decidedly and loudly as possible. And let me point out that when you insist about the First Amendment, you are quoting a secular text – that much I know.

    We have enough in our hands with human rights to derail the topic now to animal rights.

  116. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 9:37 am |

    “Well, I’m not religious, so religious arguments are automatically bullshit.”

    I don’t think people are generally saying religious arguments are automatically bullshit. More like, the fact that a person’s philosophy happens to be called “religion” should not constrain us from having a discussion about the ethical nature of that individuals actions.

    A system of ethics cannot make excuses for unethical behavior because the people engaged in that behavior happen to think God told them so and “it’s not that bad.”

    My system of ethics and one I think most people share at least in part is that it is immoral to commit an intentional act that causes another person unjustifiable harm where that harm was foreseeable. No exceptions, no excuses, no but the Magically Sky Fairies told me to.

    Religion is not a get out of ethics free card. Sure it can be a get out of silly laws we have that are about society being squeamish rather than about ethics….after all being naked doesn’t hurt anyone (unless you count sunburn…OUCH)…that’s why we have the First Amendment. But you cannot justify harm to another person based on religion.

  117. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 3, 2007 at 9:40 am |

    “Marnanel, would you feel comfortable explaining how they are useful and fun? This is not a rhetorical question; If the question is not too invasive, I would genuinely like to know.”

    I have no idea if any of this is what Marnanel was thinking of when he said that, but….A lot of uncircumcised men can derive quite a bit of pleasure from having their foreskins manipulated during handjobs and oral sex. Men whose foreskins aren’t particularly tight can frequently feel them move slightly during unprotected sex; women can be partial to the sensation this provides for them, and as I understand it, it’s fairly pleasurable for the man. They also make lubrication during masturbation an accessory rather than a necessity.

  118. Marnanel
    Marnanel July 3, 2007 at 9:46 am |

    Yes. That’s about 70% of what I was thinking of, which is good enough :)

  119. Rhus
    Rhus July 3, 2007 at 9:48 am |

    Oh, and a curiosity, Mnemosyne: how come you are not making this considerations about religion in the FGM thread? Mere chance? Would you repeat them there?

  120. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 9:51 am |

    What’s lost is not that important, period.

    Neither are the reasons used to so-called justify the practice on infants. None of them are important enough to trump the person in question’s right to choose to be circumcised or not.

  121. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 9:55 am |

    how come you are not making this considerations about religion in the FGM thread?

    The harm in that circumstance is obviously trumped by the religious justifications. Here, the harm is much less severe and rarely, if ever, fatal, so it is easier to make the argument that religious justification for the practice is ethically okay. I definitely do not agree that religious reasons are ever okay to justify unnecessary surgery on someone who cannot consent to the surgery. If the surgery were necessary, the reasons it would be necessary would be all the justification needed.

  122. Myca
    Myca July 3, 2007 at 10:00 am |

    It’s interesting how many people on this thread say, “Well, I’m not religious, so religious arguments are automatically bullshit.”

    Ah, right, and this is why you’re in favor of allowing parents to beat their infant children bloody with sticks, right?

    No?

    But . . . but . . . what about ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’? What, you’re willing to throw all the practitioners of a major US religion under he bus because their practices make you a little uncomfortable?

    Dial back the level of rhetoric a bit, neh? It’s not about hating religion or assuming that religious arguments are bullshit. It’s that I would oppose this for any other unnecessary reason too, and ‘God told me’ isn’t a good enough reason to violate someone else’s body.

    —Myca

  123. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 3, 2007 at 10:14 am |

    I’m assuming that all of you who are against infant male circumcision for religious reasons also think Santeria practices should be disallowed for animal cruelty reasons.

    Absolutely. Like Kristen said, religion is not a Get Out of Ethics Free card. Why should the citizens of this country be held to different standards when it comes to the law? Just because your reason for wanting to do something unethical stems from your religious beliefs? I am not afraid to call bullshit on that. Where does it end? How cruel does a “religious ritual” have to be before you oppose it?
    And I don’t know what makes you think Christians aren’t circumcising their boys. They are. So it’s not a Christians vs. minority religions thing, IMO.

  124. You move me « Little Lambs Eat Ivy

    […] ous, as ridiculous, unnecessary, and/or inherently harmful. (I noticed it most recently in this thread about circumcision, which I h […]

  125. woodland sunflower
    woodland sunflower July 3, 2007 at 10:26 am |

    Heh. Though I would allow my child to go confirmation class at 12, that child would have to wait until it was an adult to officially join the religion (e.g. get confirmed), because I feel that would be making a contract with god, which one should not do lightly, if one actually believes in god (which I don’t). Kids cannot enter contracts without their parents’ consent in the secular world; why should they in the sacred?

    And for the same reason, that is why disallowing foreskin cutting of infants and children is not “throwing religious arguments under the bus”: religions want their practitioners cut in service to, or for the love of, god, it can wait till those practitioners are adults, and both society and god recognize their competency to make such contracts, or in the parlance of this thread, make decisions with regard to bodily autonomy.

    And so far as piercing ears of infants and young girls goes, that just seems to me one more patriarchal practice, least harmful on the scale of the three cutting practices mentioned, but still totally unnecessary. That is, once my kids started menstruating, I figured the harm was small enough they could have it done if they so chose.

  126. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 10:51 am |

    The burden becomes “is circumcision necessary?”, and, for me, “my religion says yes” is bullshit.

    As I said at the thread over at Little Lambs Eat Ivy, I can see where this could be seen as be bashing all religious justification for anything, but that is not my argument. I meant that in this specific instance, the argument does not hold water. I’m sorry about that.

  127. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 3, 2007 at 11:13 am |

    Oh, and a curiosity, Mnemosyne: how come you are not making this considerations about religion in the FGM thread?

    Removing a girl’s clitoris and labia is much more harmful than removing a boy’s foreskin. Are we getting back to, “No, removing the foreskin is exactly as harmful as removing the clitoris!” here?

    Again, looking at the balance between harm and religious freedom, the harm is minor enough with infant male circumcision that I would be willing to allow it for religious reasons. The harm with FGM is major — 75% of the women who have undergone it lose the ability to experience sexual pleasure at all. And those are the survivors — it’s not at all unusual for girls to die from it. So trying to directly equate the two is either ignorant or dishonest.

  128. nexyjo
    nexyjo July 3, 2007 at 11:18 am |

    Dial back the level of rhetoric a bit, neh? It’s not about hating religion or assuming that religious arguments are bullshit. It’s that I would oppose this for any other unnecessary reason too, and ‘God told me’ isn’t a good enough reason to violate someone else’s body.

    i was born and raised as a jewish male. now, 51 years later, i am living as a pagan female. i would argue that my brain and mind are part of my body, and that by being raised as a male, did way more harm to my body, including my brain and mind, than getting circumcised. i’d also argue that had i not been circumcised, that would have resulted in some major hassles in the locker room during my already uncomfortable journey through male adolescence.

    so where do we draw the line on “harm”?

    while i haven’t practiced judaism since i was 13, the fact that i was raised as a jew, within a jewish community and culture, has also permanently and irreparably effectly me deeply. that’s also something that i can’t undo.

    so do we outlaw all religious practice until a child is 18? do we outlaw all gender-based practice until a child is 18 (and by the way, i’m all for that, which was way more harmful for me, and i’d suspect all females as well for that matter – but that’s another post)? do we outlaw all cultural practices until a child is 18? and how do we draw the line between what is religious, cultural, gender-based, etc., practice and not? why do you draw the line at cutting a small piece of skin, when my mental health is at stake here? why is cutting off a small piece of skin more important than a lifetime of perspective?

    i know jewish people whose religious perspectives saved their lives during extreme conditions. that “god told me” you so easily dismiss meant everything to them. and i know jewish people whose religion is their whole lives even during normal day to day activities. that “god told me” means everything to them every moment of every day. are these people’s bodies (brains and minds) being violated?

    how do you define “harm” and “violation”?

  129. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:19 am |

    The harm in that circumstance is obviously trumped by the religious justifications

    Whoa, terrible wording. Should obviously be:

    The harm in that circumstance is obviously not trumped by the religious justifications

  130. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne July 3, 2007 at 11:20 am |

    Ah, right, and this is why you’re in favor of allowing parents to beat their infant children bloody with sticks, right?

    Again:

    What is the relative permanent harm, both physical and psychological, between having a piece of skin removed from your penis before you’re old enough to remember it and being regularly beaten bloody with sticks?

    Can a guy go up to a childhood abuse survivor and say, “I know exactly how you feel, man — my parents had me circumcised!” If being circumcised is just as bad as being beaten bloody with sticks, then his pain is equal to that of the person who was beaten, yes?

    Dial back the level of rhetoric a bit, neh? It’s not about hating religion or assuming that religious arguments are bullshit. It’s that I would oppose this for any other unnecessary reason too, and ‘God told me’ isn’t a good enough reason to violate someone else’s body.

    Again, you are putting religious reasons and other philosophical and personal reasons on exactly the same plane. Our Constitution does not do that. Religion does have special privileges, like it or not. Vegans do not have the same level of protections that Seventh Day Adventists do, even though their dietary practices are not dissimilar.

    You may not like that religion has special privileges under the law. You may think that all other philosophies should be given equal weight. But to do that, you will need to get an amendment passed.

  131. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 11:25 am |

    I think the problem here is people are trying to make a general principle of bodily autonomy without acknowledging complicating factors already in play. It’s hard to make the argument that children should have complete bodily autonomy because, well, they don’t. They can’t even wipe their own asses. It’s impossible for them to have complete autonomy until they’ve matured. So people here have never fully made this particular argument, allowing for tonsil removal or restricting hair cutting.

    You can move on from there to argue that it’s ok to restrict bodily autonomy when it’s in the best interest of the child, but that’s where the line become really sticky. Agnostics and people with strong beliefs in science could make the argument that circumcision is only ok if science or medicine has proven a benefit that can be shown to outweigh the risks. People with strong religious beliefs could argue that it’s in the best interest of the child to be introduced to a religious community, given relatively minimal risks.

    I know that no one has argued that infant circumcision should be illegal. And I don’t believe it should be. While it would violate my personal code of ethics to circumcise any future boy-child I might have, I don’t think the practice causes severe enough problems to tell someone else that they shouldn’t be allowed to do it for deeply held religious reasons. As goy as I am, that’s a discussion best suited for the Jewish community and the anti-circ crowd within it.

    It’s frustrating to have these discussions because religious beliefs and traditions aren’t rational — they’re so deeply felt that many people believe they’re worth dying for, but they’re an internal logical system that doesn’t interact with rational discourse in a democratic society. Which is why it’s imperative to allow for freedom of belief while ensuring that governmental decisions are made without reference to religion.

  132. EG
    EG July 3, 2007 at 11:26 am |

    But mnemosyne, the argument about the Constitution is valid only if we’re talking about legally banning circumcision in the US. It seems to me that people have been talking about moral and ethical issues rather than legal ones. “The First Amendment says that religion is special” is not a valid moral argument. In fact, I see no moral reason why religion should be considered so much more important than other philosophies.

  133. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:28 am |

    so where do we draw the line on “harm”?

    Unnecessary surgery, to me, falls within the scope of “harm”. I would, however, not recommend banning the procedure, as I feel that the practice, in the end, needs to be left up to the parents’ discretion. I am still against doing it. I also think that waiting until someone is 18 to allow them to choose to do it may be problematic as well, so I’m unsure about how that affects the consent issues that are being raised.

  134. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:31 am |

    If being circumcised is just as bad as being beaten bloody with sticks, then his pain is equal to that of the person who was beaten, yes?

    This, to me, is a false dichotomy. Saying that it is not as bad as something that is demonstrably worse does not negate the bodily autonomy issues here. This isn’t a case of where if it is “not as bad as X”, it is a ethically okay for me.

  135. mk
    mk July 3, 2007 at 11:35 am |

    In discussions like these I’m always curious what’s at stake for the commenters who feel so passionately one way or the other. (I’ve stayed out thus far because I don’t think I should have much stake at all- I’m a lesbian and not a parent, though when I do decide to have kids I’ll probably have to think about this a little more.)

    Unless I missed it, so far I haven’t heard any Jews emphatically defending circumcision. Mostly we’ve heard from parents (or potential parents), which makes sense to me since they’re typically the ones making the decision on behalf of their infant sons. But I get the sense that not everyone who has come out as firmly opposed to infant circumcision is or plans to be a parent, so I’m curious about what makes this such a hot-button issue. (Again, big dyke here, so forgive me for not being too familiar with it.)

    Is it because we’re talking about Man Bits,* or because we’re talking about people who are unable to consent? Or is there something else I’m missing?

    *I tried really hard to come up with a ridiculous euphemism that wasn’t derogatory. I apologize if this one still didn’t work.

  136. mk
    mk July 3, 2007 at 11:40 am |

    (To clarify my comment currently awaiting moderation: I don’t want to imply that this discussion isn’t important. I’m just genuinely curious about why this is always such a big deal, not trying to say it shouldn’t be a big deal.)

  137. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:40 am |

    It’s hard to make the argument that children should have complete bodily autonomy because, well, they don’t. They can’t even wipe their own asses.

    Is it necessary for them to have their asses wiped? I think people are missing the part about “unnecessary violation” as opposed to something that necessarily has to happen in the interests of the health of the child.

  138. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 11:45 am |

    i know jewish people whose religious perspectives saved their lives during extreme conditions. that “god told me” you so easily dismiss meant everything to them. and i know jewish people whose religion is their whole lives even during normal day to day activities. that “god told me” means everything to them every moment of every day. are these people’s bodies (brains and minds) being violated?

    If Magical Sky Fairies make people feel better…FABULOUS. Feel free to believe in God, Allah, Zeus, Pele, or David Koresh. Completely irrelevant to the issue of whether you can cut someone open.

    As for the mental harm argument, I hear where you are coming from (although obviously to a much, much less degree). I was raised by Christian fundies who thought wearing slacks made a woman a whore. (Okay, actually they really thought all women were whores…but that was an underlying thought) Psychologically it took me years to reach a place where I was okay with myself.

    However, I would point out…that those people didn’t do anything TO me. They just happen to be living in a “reality” that conflicted with mine. My inability to conform to their expectations was not a harm caused by their actions, but rather a self-inflicted harm caused by my own expectations of who I should be. (Oy that sentence only makes sense in my head…but hopefully you get the point.) And we can’t really blame people if they don’t foster our sense of who we are. We can blame them if they beat us up or take our jobs or cut of bits of our body, but we can’t make them like us or want to support us.

  139. nexyjo
    nexyjo July 3, 2007 at 11:45 am |

    Unnecessary surgery, to me, falls within the scope of “harm”

    and there are a large number of people who would argue that the sex reassignment surgery i had was “unnecessary” and “hramful”. who gets to decide what is necessary and harmful or not? my mother thought that having me circumcised was necessary. why does your belief that it was unnecessary trump hers?

  140. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 11:50 am |

    and there are a large number of people who would argue that the sex reassignment surgery i had was “unnecessary” and “hramful”. who gets to decide what is necessary and harmful or not?

    Hopefully you chose sex reassignment surgery for yourself. I think that everyone here agrees that if a man chooses to become circumcised, he should. The problem is someone choosing for someone else. A child is not an extension of his parents. He is a separate human being.

  141. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:52 am |

    and there are a large number of people who would argue that the sex reassignment surgery i had was “unnecessary” and “hramful”. who gets to decide what is necessary and harmful or not?

    Did you consent to the surgery? So maybe I should amend it to “Unnecessary surgery that the person in question does not or has not consented to falls under the scope of harm.”

  142. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 11:54 am |

    What were your mother’s justifications for calling it “necessary”?

  143. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 12:00 pm |

    It’s hard to make the argument that children should have complete bodily autonomy because, well, they don’t. They can’t even wipe their own asses.

    Is it necessary for them to have their asses wiped? I think people are missing the part about “unnecessary violation” as opposed to something that necessarily has to happen in the interests of the health of the child.

    That’s my point. You’re not making an argument about bodily autonomy, you’re making an argument about necessary bodily autonomy. That’s not a bad argument to make, but it brings a whole other slew of issues to the forefront. What is necessary is not only dictated by medical or scientific needs, it is sometimes dictated by spiritual needs.

    I think the consent angle brings up a bunch of other issues as well, since some cultures circumcise boys at their ‘age of majority,’ sometimes 12 or 13. In this situation, a boy’s consent to this rite marks his emergence into manhood.

  144. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 12:06 pm |

    What is necessary is not only dictated by medical or scientific needs, it is sometimes dictated by spiritual needs.

    And I believe here is where we differ. I personally do not accept that “spiritual needs” are an acceptable justification for the practice. I have repeatedly said I am not for banning the procedure. I’m merely saying that I am opposed to people doing it. If it is a problem for them that I think they are doing something unethical, then I am sorry for that. This does not alter my personal aversion to the practice. Again, this is merely an ethical argument, and we are all going to have different takes on the issue due to varying ethical systems.

  145. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 12:06 pm |

    What is necessary is not only dictated by medical or scientific needs, it is sometimes dictated by spiritual needs.

    At 12 my parents thought my spiritual needs required me holding on to two rattlesnakes…as a right of passage. The reality is it was THEIR spiritual needs not mine. Does an infant boy have a spiritual need? Or is circumcision about his parent’s spiritual needs? As I said above…children are not extensions of their parents.

  146. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 12:08 pm |

    Of all the disingenous stuff that could be raised on this topic, conflating temporary control of bodily secretions (excrement, nose-wiping, cutting of hair and finger/toenails) with permanent, substantially irreversible modifications is pretty high on the list.

    Yes, I think parents can cut children’s hair. When the children are adults, the hair will grow back, allowing the child, as an adult, to take over those decisions. No, I don’t think parents should be permitted to get permanent electrolysis on their children’s heads: that would prevent the hair from ever growing back, which forever takes the decision away from the child, even as an adult.

    As far as the health benefits, most of the ones people mention are benefits that mostly impact the child once he becomes sexually active. They are therefore (1) dependent on behavior and subject to risk control; and (2) benefits that the child will be old enough to consider and come to a conclusion about later. It makes a lot more sense to me to let an 18 year old decide whether circumcision to reduce HIV and HPV susceptibility is a good trade-off (or even to ask a 13-year-old that) than to simply make that call more than a decade before it becomes relevant.

  147. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 12:12 pm |

    spiritual needs.

    Whose? You can’t know in advance what a child’s spiritual needs will be; if the little boy grows up to be a Zen Buddhist, the circumcision wasn’t necessary. If, OTOH, the parents need to stamp their spiritual preferences on their child in an indelible way, then we’re back to tattooing rampant lions on my kids. I want them to be Scots. It’s important to me. So, to avoid any chance that they will reject that identity, should I modify their bodies to preemptively claim it for them?

  148. ekf
    ekf July 3, 2007 at 12:17 pm |

    (see also, breastfeeding vs. formula, vegetarianism vs. meat-eating, private schools vs. public, religious indoctrination vs. none, immunization vs. none, etc.)

    In addition to my above statements, none of these involve the same amount of invasiveness of surgically removing a part of someone’s genitalia.

    Immunizations have been linked to autism, which can completely change a child’s interface with the world, creating barriers to conventional success and communication and requiring a great deal in the way of therapy. How is a radical alteration of a child’s ability to communicate with the world somehow more invasive than the removal of a small piece of skin? Feel free to quibble with the schooling and religious indoctrination (although I’d suggest that altering a child’s mind or spirit is invasive in its own way), and feel free to dismiss the effects of diet on the brain and body development of a child (and to dismiss the basic conceptual nature of the invasion inherent in inserting something (be it breast, bottle or “the little choo choo” of baby food on a spoon) into the digestive system of another person). But in order to dismiss the immunization point you have to both (a) deny that there is any scientific argument (whether or not it is proven to your satisfaction) that circumcision is helpful to health and (b) deny that there are any risks of permanent, major damage from immunization. I feel like doing both seems disingenuous.

    Again, my point is not that circumcision is a good thing — again, I don’t have a penis, so I don’t feel like it’s right for me to judge what should be done on a boy child (if that is what we have). But the arguments about invading the bodily autonomy of a child are not being made in a way that acknowledges the other, massive invasions of bodily autonomy, some of which are as decidedly mixed a bag as circumcision.

    Which, I suppose, is my long-winded way of saying, “what Sharon said.”

  149. Mael
    Mael July 3, 2007 at 12:19 pm |

    Like many others, I don’t understand why the argument insisting that the harm done by circumcision is minimal enough to warrant it getting a special pass when it comes to bodily autonomy of infants is at all considered valid. Or, additionally, that religious values trump that same right to bodily autonomy.

    Let’s imagine, for a second, that there was a religious sect which required members to chop off the top phalanges of their left little finger in order to prove their relationship with god. Religious parents would have their child undergo the procedure, to both honor their religious background and mark them as part of the religious community.

    Now, we can very well argue that, in the grand scheme of things, losing the tip of one’s pinky finger causes no harm to the child. After all, a pinky finger is less sensitive than a foreskin, and probably less useful too. Many adults who have lost the tip of their pinky finger to accidents report that it does not affect their life in any way.

    Do you seriously believe that were this practice true, and in the public eye, we would blindly step back and allow parents to irrevocably mutilate their children in the name of religious freedom?

    Why is it any different when it comes to circumcision?

  150. Melissa M.
    Melissa M. July 3, 2007 at 12:25 pm |

    I think that it is sort of funny that cutting off a foreskin counts as more invasive than raising a child as a vegan or deciding what type of medication or indoctrination a child receives. Children need proteins to grow properly that are difficult to absorb from plant sources. Raising a child as a vegan is risky. Parents have the final say about medical procedures too. I personally think putting tubes in a child’s ears is extremely invasive and has little if any medical benefit, but parents still get to decide if their child under goes surgery.

    The idea that circumcision is so horrible bothers me because it seems to say that men who are circumcised to solve health problems are broken and function worse sexually than other men. It is also a way to point at religious minorities and say that their religion makes them unfit parents who hurt their sons and damage their sons’ sexual function. I don’t see why we can’t be o.k. with a variety of genitals. There just isn’t evidence that circumcision destroys men’s ability to enjoy sex. And in terms of arguing about forcing religious practices on children the ideas that children absorb growing up in a religious family have just as lasting an impact as say circumcision, I would argue more of an impact. I think that it is fine to make an educated decision about circumcision for your own children and to argue that people should be more accepting of avoiding circumcising their sons. I don’t think that the argument should descend into saying that being uncircumcised is always the right decision any more than people should say that being circumcised is always good.

  151. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 12:37 pm |

    But in order to dismiss the immunization point you have to both (a) deny that there is any scientific argument (whether or not it is proven to your satisfaction) that circumcision is helpful to health and (b) deny that there are any risks of permanent, major damage from immunization.

    I think this also assumes that there are no benefits to immunization, though I will take the point that there is no way to prove that circumcision has no health benefits, but are its health benefits when done on infants going to be the same for all infants? And is circumcision the direct cause of those health effects or is it one in a number of factors which make circumcision not exactly necessary?

    I still think people are wanting to read my argument as “this is what you must do, you evil jerks” when I am merely saying that I do not agree that circumcision is necessary, and I see it as an ethical violation. I will concede that there are violations of bodily autonomy that are necessary, but I do not agree that circumcision is necessary in all instances (not that it is always unnecessary, mind). Without immunization, a lot of diseases would still be around and causing harm to our children. Without circumcision, I do not see how the supposed benefits it brings about can’t come from other avenues.

  152. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 12:47 pm |

    I think that it is sort of funny that cutting off a foreskin counts as more invasive than raising a child as a vegan or deciding what type of medication or indoctrination a child receives. Children need proteins to grow properly that are difficult to absorb from plant sources. Raising a child as a vegan is risky. Parents have the final say about medical procedures too. I personally think putting tubes in a child’s ears is extremely invasive and has little if any medical benefit, but parents still get to decide if their child under goes surgery.

    If the argument was….circumcision has health benefits that out weight the health risks, I’d disagree with that person, but generally have no bone to pick. That’s not the problem. The problem is the argument that: This is my religion, and so I can do what ever I want to “my child” and since it’s a religious practice everyone needs to just let me do my thing.

    Well, I don’t think a child is “your child”. A child is a person and, while incapable of caring for themselves, no less deserving of respect. We may have to make decisions about what is “best” for a child and inevitably people are going to disagree on whether immunizations are worth the risk or whatever. That’s fine. We don’t all have to value risk the same way. But those decisions should not be based on a personal religious belief, because those beliefs are the parent’s beliefs, not the child’s.

  153. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 12:49 pm |

    Without circumcision, I do not see how the supposed benefits it brings about can’t come from other avenues.

    In cases, that is, where it is not demonstrably necessary.

  154. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 1:29 pm |

    I guess I just get hyper sensitive when people start debating the relative merits of religious or cultural practices. Especially minority religions or cultures. It’s too easy to leave it at: ugh! how barbaric! how cruel! how illogical! how unnecessary! without trying (or even being able) to understand the context for the decisions. And, as a dyke who was raised in a gay-hating church, I’m more sympathetic than most to the potential harms of religious instruction.

    Sure: I’ve made the choice, based on medical, aesthetic and moral reasoning, to not circumcise any son I might have. The benefits don’t outweigh the costs for me. But, I don’t think I can make that decision for someone whose religious reasons DO outweigh the costs, in his/her own moral reasoning process. And, I guess, I don’t think a religious moral reasoning process is less worthy of respect than an evaluation of various scientific studies, especially in the context of a personal decision like circumcision, and especially given the fact that medical science bears some responsibility for encouraging the current US custom of circumcision at birth.

    But, then, I don’t think people are advocating making non-medical infant circumcision illegal? Why then are we having the discussion? Crap! I just confused myself into a circle.

  155. Nomen Nescio
    Nomen Nescio July 3, 2007 at 1:44 pm |

    At 12 my parents thought my spiritual needs required me holding on to two rattlesnakes…

    that’s way too young to be doing that. a 12-year-old might inadvertently hurt the snakes.

    </snark>

  156. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 1:45 pm |

    And, I guess, I don’t think a religious moral reasoning process is less worthy of respect than an evaluation of various scientific studies

    I do think in the context of “forcing” people to do things, religious moral reasoning is less worthy of respect and in the context of circumcision you are forcing someone to do something because it is part of your religious moral reasoning.

    especially in the context of a personal decision like circumcision

    This is where I think we’re talking passed each other. Circumcising your child is not a personal decision. It has nothing to do with the deciders person. A man choosing circumcision is a personal choice. A parent choosing to circumcise his or her child, for religious reasons alone, is forcing their personal preferences on their child.

  157. nexyjo
    nexyjo July 3, 2007 at 1:51 pm |

    What were your mother’s justifications for calling it “necessary”?

    jewish law. we were jews, it was the law.

    And I believe here is where we differ. I personally do not accept that “spiritual needs” are an acceptable justification for the practice.

    and i appears you’ve already addressed this issue.

    from my own perspective, i don’t really feel strongly about having been circumcised, though that may be colored by my own situation. it never really felt very harmful for me. everything seemed to function correctly, at least in a physical way.

    i’ll add too, that my own son was circumcised, also according to jew law, mostly because of the wishes of my ex. i did not disagree with her and didn’t object. and perhaps because he has a rather strong identity as a jew, he has no problems with having undergone the procedure.

    i’ll be honest – it feels like discrimination to me when a non-jew tells me that my “spiritual needs” (and in scare quotes, no less) aren’t or shouldn’t be acceptable justification for a tradition that’s been handed down since before the earth cooled. and i say this as someone who is more a cultural jew than a spiritual jew. as i said, i don’t practice the religion and haven’t for many years. but it’s very much a part of my culture, and there’s no way for me to deny or avoid that.

    my dad never saw the procedure as harmful, i never did, and my son hasn’t yet. from my perspective, it’s not harmful from my personal experience, and if someone is jewish and that’s their law, i just don’t see the problem. in fact, as a jew, not being circumcised would very much work against someone. that would, to me, be harmful.

    jewish law also states that the briss must occur on the 8th day after birth. so waiting until one is 18 doesn’t cut it (sorry, i couldn’t resist).

    Let’s imagine, for a second, that there was a religious sect which required members to chop off the top phalanges of their left little finger in order to prove their relationship with god.

    see, i don’t believe there is an analogous body part to a foreskin, so i’d reject that analogy.

    i think it’s up to the anti-circumcism people to prove that the practice is harmful and unnecessary, as opposed to jews proving that it’s not harmful and that it’s a necessary part of our religion. and having lived through the procedure myself, and knowing thousands of other males who have also lived through the procedure, you’ve got a tough road ahead of you.

  158. zuzu
    zuzu July 3, 2007 at 1:55 pm |

    Yes, I think parents can cut children’s hair. When the children are adults, the hair will grow back

    Actually, the hair grows back when the child is still a child. And I say this as someone who resented having to have short hair for inexplicable reasons while my sister was allowed to have the long hair that was much more in keeping with 70s style.

  159. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 1:56 pm |

    12-year-old might inadvertently hurt the snakes

    *shudder* you jest but they were just crazy enough the think things like that….

  160. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 3, 2007 at 2:13 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing? The MAJORITY of boys in this country are circumcised. The MAJORITY of them are not Jewish. That means that a whole lotta parents are circumcising their sons for no good reason – not even a religious one! (Even though I don’t think religious reasons are “good reasons”)

    For those who defend your right to circumcise your child based on the fact that “it’s a religious ritual,” do you also support honor killings? They’re religious rituals too, in a way. Where do we draw the line? The point at which it’s no longer important to you?

  161. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 2:19 pm |

    jewish law. we were jews, it was the law.

    I disagree with your assumption that because you are Jewish, that your son is automatically Jewish. (Ethnic arguments aside, just from a religious perspective.) Your son hasn’t decided whether or not he wants to be Jewish. Presumably if this religious practice were to occur at the age of 30 you wouldn’t drag him into do it if he had decided he was Buddhist. I realize that in retrospect the decision to be circumcised was, for you, the correct decision…but that isn’t necessarily so for others.

  162. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 2:20 pm |

    i’ll be honest – it feels like discrimination to me when a non-jew tells me that my “spiritual needs” (and in scare quotes, no less) aren’t or shouldn’t be acceptable justification for a tradition that’s been handed down since before the earth cooled

    “Tradition” can be used to validate many things, many of them a lot of us would call “barbaric, ZOMG!” c Acting like I’m just being squeamish about icky things ew grotty grotty is a dramatic and disingenuous take on my argument. But I suppose we were at an impasse before the argument began, so…

  163. Myca
    Myca July 3, 2007 at 2:24 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing?

    Because it’s a convenient stick with which to beat people who oppose the mutilation of infant’s genitals.

    The facts (those being that the overwhelming majority of circumcisions are not performed for religious reasons) just aren’t important.

    —Myca

  164. zuzu
    zuzu July 3, 2007 at 2:25 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing? The MAJORITY of boys in this country are circumcised. The MAJORITY of them are not Jewish. That means that a whole lotta parents are circumcising their sons for no good reason – not even a religious one! (Even though I don’t think religious reasons are “good reasons”)

    As others have pointed out, the proportion of male infants being circumcised is far lower than the proportion of adult males who have been circumcised.

    Circumcision became commonplace sometime after WWII, probably as part of the 50s mania for sterility and hygiene (Lysol was used as a douche, too). My father, born in the 30s, was not circumcised, but my brothers, all born in the 60s and 70s, were. I’ve done my share of catting around, and I honestly can’t recall coming across an uncut American penis, just because it was done as a matter of course to guys my age unless there was some specific objection to the practice (see Hugo’s post for an example of that).

    But now it’s not done as a matter of course, and aesthetics seems like a silly reason (and wouldn’t be covered by insurance) so the only remaining justifications are hygiene or religion. And hygiene can be learned.

  165. mk
    mk July 3, 2007 at 2:26 pm |

    Well, SarahMC, in all fairness, while you’re right that it’s also mainstream U.S. practice, circumcision is still a minority religion thing. Whether or not people are doing it for secular reasons, Jews also do it as a matter of religious law (observed to different degrees by different people). So it’s true that we shouldn’t pretend this is strictly a religious issue, but we also shouldn’t pretend that decisions about the practice (whether defined in legal terms, or merely in shifting of social perceptions) wouldn’t impact a religious minority.

    As for your honor killing question, that seems a little unfair. I know I’m not up on my Jewish scripture, but it seems like it would be better to ask about another practice central to Jewish law. In my mind, it’s akin to asking a religious polygamist how he feels about a burqa. It wouldn’t be at all strange for him to oppose the latter, since it’s someone else’s religious ritual, not his own.

    (And if I’m wrong, and honor killings are in fact mentioned in the Torah or otherwise common in Jewish communities, apologies; but it’s my understanding that the practice is generally discussed with regard to faith communities outside the Judeo-Christian sphere.)

  166. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 2:27 pm |

    And again, are saying I don’t have the right to not accept “spiritual needs” as a valid reason to justify circumcision? I can’t see how my personal opinion, which I have already said does not translate into a willingness to make positive law based on my opinion, is discriminating against you. This is simply and ethical argument, and we have deemed our two systems of ethics to be based on different things. I never said my ethical system is better than yours, just that my ethical system has no room for performing unnecessary surgery, on people who cannot consent to it, in the name of religion.

  167. Holly
    Holly July 3, 2007 at 2:27 pm |

    Now, we can very well argue that, in the grand scheme of things, losing the tip of one’s pinky finger causes no harm to the child. After all, a pinky finger is less sensitive than a foreskin, and probably less useful too. Many adults who have lost the tip of their pinky finger to accidents report that it does not affect their life in any way.

    Do you seriously believe that were this practice true, and in the public eye, we would blindly step back and allow parents to irrevocably mutilate their children in the name of religious freedom?

    Actually yeah, I do think we would let parents do that, if it had been established as a tradition for as long as circumcision has been. I mean, like you said, if losing the tip of one’s pinky finger doesn’t really affect your life significantly, then why would there be fuss about it? It would be accepted as tradition. Human beings are able to see all sorts of things as perfectly common-sensical, rational, and normal if they’re established and historicized.

    I guess you could say that’s an argument for looking just at the more “factual” pros and cons of circumicision. But if you do think that the tip of the pinky and the foreskin are roughly analogous for practical purposes (not exactly, of course) then what’s the big deal about the tip of a pinky either? One is simply something we’re more accustomed to.

    I don’t buy this whole Cartesian bullshit of the divide of mind and body that a lot of the arguments in this thread seem to rely on. Children obviously don’t have autonomy of their minds — they’re being educated and indoctrinated and pressured constantly by their parents and others around them. What you expose a child to and teach them changes part of their body — their brain — just as surely as what you feed them affects a bunch of other tissues. We talk a lot about bodily autonomy, but children definitely don’t have that right now. Children don’t get to make their own health care decisions. And heck, they are just some of the least enfranchised members of our society in that respect, it’s not like the rest of us are free from coercion and control of our bodies either. It’s a nice ideal to live up to, but when you have little people that have to be educated and cared for by larger people somehow, bodily autonomy is going to be quite a ways out of reach.

    That doesn’t mean I think people should be operating on infants’ genitals without very good reasons — I’m not just talking about circumcision here, but about intersex genital surgeries as well. The real tragedy here is not something about “consent,” since we all presumably understand that there’s no way for children to consent meaningfully, much less infants, and that parents have to make hard decisions one way or the other. The real tragedy is that parents are making decisions based on misinformation and blind adherence to norms, as opposed to learning and being given information that would let them think about and make the best choices about their child’s health, now and through the future, that will preserve not only well-being but the possibilites of that child’s life, when they do grow up to an age where they can make autonomous decisions about their own body. (Which is not necessarily the same age as “the legal age of consent,” if you ask me.)

  168. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 2:27 pm |

    Religion is not a get out of ethics free card. Sure it can be a get out of silly laws we have that are about society being squeamish rather than about ethics….after all being naked doesn’t hurt anyone (unless you count sunburn…OUCH)…that’s why we have the First Amendment. But you cannot justify harm to another person based on religion.

    No one is saying that religion should be a “get out of ethics free card.” What Mnemosyne is saying, and what I am also saying, is that we should give some weight, and some respect, to the relgious reasons that parents might have for their decisions. This is very different from saying, “and so anything they do is fine.” I think the First Amendment, or more generally, multiculturalism and tolerance, means that we have to think a little about what practices might mean from the perspective of those practicing them. When you say that religious freedom can be a “get out of silly laws” against practices that don’t hurt anyone, you’re defining “harm” and “silly” from a certain liberal, progressive perspective; and by and large I share that perspective, but I think religious tolerance means a little more than “people should be allowed to do things that I already thought they should be allowed to do.”

    I think when you look at a practice you have to look at (1) How bad is it (from my liberal, progressive perspective) and (2) what value does it have to the community involved (which includes the child)? (1) is certainly important, so I do not think it’s OK to have FGM, the Inquisition, spousal abuse, or whatever list of religious horribles you can easily come up with. I’m just saying that I would like to see some consideration of (2).

    And I don’t know what makes you think Christians aren’t circumcising their boys. They are. So it’s not a Christians vs. minority religions thing, IMO.

    Christian and Jewish circumcision are exactly the same if all you do is look at (1). They are completely different as far as (2). A Jewish bris is a ceremony in which the male child is welcomed into the Jewish community, as part of the covenant between God and Jews, and is an honor to the child (females need not apply). Most Jews who don’t believe in God still view it as a way of welcoming the child into the Jewish community. Very nice, and generally liberal, nontheistic, family members have frozen up when told that we might not circumcise a male child, and then exclaimed with distress “But then the child won’t be Jewish.” This is not a minor thing.

    So it’s not quite right to describe this as just something that parents push on their child for their own purposes. It’s not quite wrong to describe it this way either, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that. I think there’s some value to my child, and to the Jewish community, for my child to be raised Jewish, and there’s a 6000-year-long history that says that this is how the male children become Jewish. You can say (a) that there’s no value to them to being Jewish, that being Jewish is something that we’re going to be pushing on our children, and that we should just wait until they’re 18, and then they can decide if they want to be Jewish, and I guess there’s not much I can say to that. Or you can say, as respect did, (b) that religious traditions, and what it means to be Jewish, can change, and new families can take part of that change; which I agree with, but rejecting long-standing and deep-rooted cultural/religious traditions is not a trivial thing. What I find disturbing is that most of the comments here sound a lot more like (a) than (b).

    Clearly I’m not going to convince anyone, and I’m not even trying to convince anyone that male circumcision is OK (especially since I lean to thinking that it’s not). I just wish the discussion treated the religious and cultural reasons as a little more than some B.S. that parents use to shove stuff on their kids.

    preying mantis, thank you for the explanation of how a foreskin can be fun and useful.

  169. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 2:29 pm |

    hair grows back when the child is still a child

    Yep. Permanence is a big sticking point for me. I still don’t understand why people think they get to impose a permanent physical marker identifying a person with a culture or religion on a person not themselves.

  170. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 2:33 pm |

    Acting like I’m just being squeamish about icky things ew grotty grotty is a dramatic and disingenuous take on my argument.

    Ok, I misread the statement, but still, I don’t see exactly where I forcing my opinion that the practice is unethical down your throat, or saying that you can’t have that part of your culture. I just object to the idea that just because it is a part of your culture, the practice is ethically okay.

  171. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 3, 2007 at 2:36 pm |

    Very nice, and generally liberal, nontheistic, family members have frozen up when told that we might not circumcise a male child, and then exclaimed with distress “But then the child won’t be Jewish.”

    Doesn’t that tell you that even among nontheistic people, superstition abounds? If nice, liberal, nonbelievers think leaving babies’ penises intact negates their Jewishness… I don’t know what to tell ya. I don’t think ignorance and/or superstition should be an excuse to perpetuate practices like circumcision, though. And with that, I have to get going.

  172. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 2:37 pm |

    Holly, I don’t think it’s Cartesian bullshit to talk about permanence differently for mind and body. Simply, with the body, it is relatively easy to tell what is permanent and what is not. When flesh is surgically removed, whether from the penis or the finger, it does not ever grow back. It is much tougher to tell what is permanent in the mind, because it is more plastic. People are indoctrinated into heterosexuality all the time but become gay or bisexual; indoctrinated into religion but convert of reject it; indoctrinated into political or ideological extremism that they recoil from as adults; so we can’t say with certainty that it is permanent the way we can say that circumcision or the mutilation of the genitals of the intersexed (don’t get me started) is permanent. The sticking point is with the irrevocability.

  173. SarahMC
    SarahMC July 3, 2007 at 2:44 pm |

    I lied. I missed mk’s post so I will respond.
    I don’t see why I need to address another practice central to the Jewish faith. The argument is that behaviors and practices done “for religious reasons” (in this case, Jewish) should not be examined by the general population; they are valid by virtue of being tied to a religion and should be left alone. In other words, religions get a free pass.
    If “Jewish traditions get a free pass” is the true argument here, let me know. But as far as I can tell, people are getting upset because it just so happens that circumcision is valued by a minority religion, so we should just let it continue, unquestioned, so not to be thought of as oppressors or whatever. It would follow that we should also refrain from questioning or opposing FGM, honor killings, animal sacrifices, and anything else you can think of that might be defended on the grounds of “religious tradition.” If you support circumcision because it’s a religious tradition but oppose FGM in spite of it, there is a conflict.

  174. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 2:54 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing? The MAJORITY of boys in this country are circumcised. The MAJORITY of them are not Jewish. That means that a whole lotta parents are circumcising their sons for no good reason – not even a religious one! (Even though I don’t think religious reasons are “good reasons”)

    I mean, I can’t speak for everyone here, but I was making a distinction between elective circumcision as it is currently practiced in the US (which I would never have done any future offspring and think is a dubious practice) and a potentially valid religious reason for circumcision, a religious reason that happens to be in the minority in this country. Basically, while I wouldn’t circumcise my son because I don’t have a persuasive reason to do so, I feel uncomfortable saying Jews shouldn’t circumcise their sons. That’s just me. I might feel differently if I were Jewish.

    For those who defend your right to circumcise your child based on the fact that “it’s a religious ritual,” do you also support honor killings? They’re religious rituals too, in a way. Where do we draw the line? The point at which it’s no longer important to you?

    My overarching point, throughout this thread, has been that I think the line you’re getting at is really difficult to draw in a coherent, principled way. So difficult, in fact, that I don’t think you could probably do it in a way that would outlaw all religious practices you think should be outlawed and kept all the practices you don’t see a problem with. Too often, these lines are arbitrary, dictated by the majority culture, and especially difficult to maintain when you start using concepts like consent or harm or bodily autonomy. I mean, we’ve been debating the meaning of these words in the west for a good number of centuries now.

    I wouldn’t draw the line at circumcision. I would be very uncomfortable if circumcision were banned in the US because it would disproportionately affect the religious practices of a minority religion. (But then, no one here thinks it should be banned? Just considered ethically wrong, especially when done for religious reasons but not too deeply considered when done for medical reasons? I feel like the argument I’m having with myself is very different than the argument everyone else is having.) Maybe you would draw the line there. Great. I wouldn’t draw the line at piercing children’s ears or feeding them only chips or getting them surgery to fix a hairlip. I don’t know about you. I would draw the line at murder. I think circumcision and murder are obviously different practices that you could probably argue are a lot alike (consent, bodily autonomy, damage, irreversible) but are also pretty friggin different in scale. I mean, kids survive circumcision all the time. They don’t usually survive honor killings.

  175. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 2:58 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing? The MAJORITY of boys in this country are circumcised. The MAJORITY of them are not Jewish. That means that a whole lotta parents are circumcising their sons for no good reason – not even a religious one! (Even though I don’t think religious reasons are “good reasons”)

    I mean, I can’t speak for everyone here, but I was making a distinction between elective circumcision as it is currently practiced in the US (which I would never have done any future offspring and think is a dubious practice) and a potentially valid religious reason for circumcision, a religious reason that happens to be in the minority in this country. Basically, while I wouldn’t circumcise my son because I don’t have a persuasive reason to do so, I feel uncomfortable saying Jews shouldn’t circumcise their sons. That’s just me. I might feel differently if I were Jewish.

    For those who defend your right to circumcise your child based on the fact that “it’s a religious ritual,” do you also support honor killings? They’re religious rituals too, in a way. Where do we draw the line? The point at which it’s no longer important to you?

    My overarching point, throughout this thread, has been that I think the line you’re getting at is really difficult to draw in a coherent, principled way. So difficult, in fact, that I don’t think you could probably do it in a way that would outlaw all religious practices you think should be outlawed and kept all the practices you don’t see a problem with. Too often, these lines are arbitrary, dictated by the majority culture, and especially difficult to maintain when you start using concepts like consent or harm or bodily autonomy. I mean, we’ve been debating the meaning of these words in the west for a good number of centuries now.

    I wouldn’t draw the line at circumcision. I would be very uncomfortable if circumcision were banned in the US because it would disproportionately affect the religious practices of a minority religion. (But then, no one here thinks it should be banned? Just considered ethically wrong, especially when done for religious reasons but not too deeply considered when done for medical reasons? I feel like the argument I’m having with myself is very different than the argument everyone else is having.) Maybe you would draw the line there. Great. I wouldn’t draw the line at piercing children’s ears or feeding them only chips or getting them surgery to fix a hairlip. I don’t know about you. I would draw the line at murder. I think circumcision and murder are obviously different practices that you could probably argue are a lot alike (consent, bodily autonomy, damage, irreversible) but are also pretty friggin different in scale. I mean, kids survive circumcision all the time. They don’t usually survive honor killings.

  176. mk
    mk July 3, 2007 at 3:02 pm |

    I understand you have to get going, SarahMC, but I was really just trying to point out why your question might not elicit the desired answer. Those of us who hold beliefs specific to a particular religion are often guilty of elevating those beliefs above those of other religion. So if you ask a Jew how something central to his faith can be justified but something central to another’s faith can’t, his answer might be pretty simple–“Because that’s not what I believe.”

    I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that religious behaviors and practices should be unexamined; I think it’s more that some people object to the notion that “for religious reasons” is the same as “for no good reason.”

    If you support circumcision because it’s a religious tradition but oppose FGM in spite of it, there is a conflict.

    I don’t actually see the conflict there, unless the “you” is a non-religious outsider. In that case, yes, it’s a major conflict. But for a Jew, there’s no conflict at all, because the religious tradition justifying the latter isn’t Judaism.

    Finally, I do think there’s a hierarchy of implied harm here. While, yes, FGM, circumcision, honor killings, and other practices mentioned in this thread have at one time or another fallen under the category of “religious practices,” some of them involve greater or lesser degrees of bodily harm, including the death of an animal or human. Many of us don’t believe those harms are equal in weight.

  177. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 3:06 pm |

    I would be very uncomfortable if circumcision were banned in the US

    As would I. I’m not sure how others feel, but I do not want to ban the practice. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it in terms of our ethical principles. I don’t know about others, but I need and want to be told when someone else thinks I am being unethical and the reasons they think so. Maybe that is offensive to some people, though I’m unsure why as long as the reasons correspond to rational and empathic reasoning. Now, if I said “because you are of this religion, the practice is unethical”, that would be vile and offensive, but I did not say this.

  178. nexyjo
    nexyjo July 3, 2007 at 3:11 pm |

    I disagree with your assumption that because you are Jewish, that your son is automatically Jewish. (Ethnic arguments aside, just from a religious perspective.)

    your disagreement doesn’t mean he isn’t jewish, nor is it an assumption on my part. jewish law is clear – if a child is born of a jewish mother (the father doesn’t matter), that child is jewish. and that’s from a religious perspective. he may, at some point, decide to not practice the religion (as i have), but he is still jewish according to jewish law, and he will have still been raised in jewish culture, which will be a part of him (as it is me) for the rest of his life. and presumably, beyond.

    i think what we have here is a conflict between secular culture and religion. i can’t speak to why a non-jew would have their son circumcised. i’m jewish, and that’s the perspective from which i speak. in jewish culture, boys are circumcised by law. if that were to change, i’d be ok with that – as i said, i don’t feel so strongly about this. on the other hand, the ritual, as barbaric as it may seem to some, is part of jewish law and tradition. until that changes somehow, i don’t think it’s right to make judgments against people who are simply trying to follow the rules of their god, especially when the ritual doesn’t result in any difference in function. specifically, that jewish people make babies just as well as non-jews.

    and i’d argue that killing someone, as sarahmc suggests, is a bit different. and then there’s that mess with one of the 10 commandments about thou shalt not kill.

  179. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 3:17 pm |

    Many of us don’t believe those harms are equal in weight.

    So just to be absolutely clear here. It is your position that bodily harm against a third person is justified if the actor believes that bodily harm to be “not so bad” and part of their religious ritual.

  180. Holly
    Holly July 3, 2007 at 3:23 pm |

    Holly, I don’t think it’s Cartesian bullshit to talk about permanence differently for mind and body. Simply, with the body, it is relatively easy to tell what is permanent and what is not. When flesh is surgically removed, whether from the penis or the finger, it does not ever grow back. It is much tougher to tell what is permanent in the mind, because it is more plastic. People are indoctrinated into heterosexuality all the time but become gay or bisexual; indoctrinated into religion but convert of reject it; indoctrinated into political or ideological extremism that they recoil from as adults; so we can’t say with certainty that it is permanent the way we can say that circumcision or the mutilation of the genitals of the intersexed (don’t get me started) is permanent. The sticking point is with the irrevocability.

    Yeah, I can buy that argument, basically. But at the same time, look at what nexy said about the way she was raised. Time doesn’t flow backwards, and psychological events that happen to us in our lives can’t just be undone, even if they can be coped with, and even if we talk about “healing the scars” metaphorically. Raising a child in a certain way is also a permanent act; choosing not to intervene on a child’s body is also a permanent act, as surely as intervening is. I can see how it makes sense (religious questions aside for a second) to talk about permanence when it comes to circumcision, since that’s a bodily difference that could be achieved at any point. At the same time, this same kind of logic has been applied a lot recently to, say, trying to ban medical interventions on trans youth, in which case there are permanent ramifications if you do AND if you don’t.

  181. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 3:23 pm |

    until that changes somehow, i don’t think it’s right to make judgments against people who are simply trying to follow the rules of their god, especially when the ritual doesn’t result in any difference in function. specifically, that jewish people make babies just as well as non-jews.

    So if a religious doctrine said that it was religious law to brand a child (under sedation) with the form of the cross on their right shoulder, you would be perfectly okay with every infant born to people who have chosen that religion to brand their child?

  182. hp
    hp July 3, 2007 at 3:32 pm |

    Why do people keep pretending circumcision is a “minority religion” thing? The MAJORITY of boys in this country are circumcised. The MAJORITY of them are not Jewish. That means that a whole lotta parents are circumcising their sons for no good reason – not even a religious one! (Even though I don’t think religious reasons are “good reasons”)

    Well, at least this discussion hasn’t had someone pop up to yell about how being anti-circ means that you’re also anti-Semitic. Usually someone has appeared with that view by this point in the conversation.

    Here’s my view: I don’t think that circ should be banned. From what my research told me, also, there’s a difference between a US medical circ and a bris: since the rabbi don’t have access to the equipment used by OB/GYNs and pediatric surgeons, less foreskin tends to be removed during a bris than a medical circ. Thus, reducing the risk of undesireable outcomes. (Which was one of our concerns.)

  183. ekf
    ekf July 3, 2007 at 3:52 pm |

    Given the healing abilities of newborns, I doubt the permanence argument would hold for branding — i.e., the scar would heal itself away over a short period of time.

    There really is very little we can compare to the Jewish tradition of circumcision, and coming up with comparable (but ZOMG Barbaric!!1!1!!) practices just won’t read the same. If your point is “I don’t care why you do it, you’re an asshole if you circumcise your baby boy,” just come out and say that and be done with it.

    But don’t pretend that you can really come up with an analogous practice that (a) has a tradition as long as that of Jewish male circumcision, (b) was within the lifetimes of posters here thought of as necessary for boys’ hygiene in state-of-the-art medicine, (c) still may have some health benefits, although the jury is not fully back on such a point and (d) is falling out of fashion in medicine and society. There are too many variables, too many ways for people to feel a tug as to why they think they ought to do it.

    Here’s a real ethical dilemma, presuming everyone here is (at least on some level) pro-choice: what if foreskin could be removed in utero? Would that be okay, since the undelivered fetus would not be an independent person at such a time?

  184. Bunny
    Bunny July 3, 2007 at 3:57 pm |

    Okay, I apologise if I sound ignorant, but I really know nothing about this so…

    I can accept that being circumcised is an important part of being Jewish. Is there a particular reason why it HAS to be done in childhood?

    If it’s written that the circumcision should be done at a certain age, then I think that’s an entirely different matter to just plain old bodily autonomy, because to forego the surgery would, in fact, involve denying your child the future right to be Jewish. But if the age at which a person chooses to accept circumcision is unimportant, why does it have to be done in infanthood, before the child can make their own decision?

    Circumcision is fine, if you personally make that choice for yourself. The problem is doing it on children. When people mention getting tattoos, chopping off finger, they’re not saying “circumision is analogous to” they’re saying that making the decision for someone else is questionable.

    If I have children, and at age 16, 25, whatever my son tells me “Mum, I’m converting. I’m going to get circumcised because that’s what I believe in” then I’ll have no problem with that. I would do neither to him during his childhood, however, because it is not my choice to make.

  185. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm |

    Holly, yeah, I’m not disagreeing that some psychological changes are permanent, I’m just saying that the case is more easily made with the physical than the mental, and that’s why the disparate treatment.

    As to physical intervention for young transpeople, I don’t know a ton about the issue, but it seems to me that the conflict is not between permanant and temporary. The conflict is between permanent and permanent — making physical choices that will be at least partly irrevocable either way. “Status quo” isn’t “figure it out later”, it’s “miss the chance for the best transition.”

  186. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm |

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it in terms of our ethical principles. I don’t know about others, but I need and want to be told when someone else thinks I am being unethical and the reasons they think so. Maybe that is offensive to some people, though I’m unsure why as long as the reasons correspond to rational and empathic reasoning.

    I’m not offended by anything you’ve said, and I’m OK with the conclusion that MC is unethical. I think what I find more disturbing is the reasoning and values in the discussion supporting that conclusion. I’m wondering whether you see a balance between your ethical system, and cultural and religious practices, or if it’s all the former. I get it if you have respect for Jewish religion and culture, but think that MC is so bad that it’s still wrong. But when you say that you’re not even sure if Sikhs should be able to tell their children not to cut their hair, it sounds to me as if the cultural tradition and religious belief get zero weight. Or to put it another way, can you think of a parental practice that you would think was wrong, but would change your mind about when told it was an important part of their culture or religion?

    The repeated arguments (not from you, JackGoff), that people who think religious and cultural traditions should get some weight, must therefore also be giving religions a free pass to perform do whatever they want (honor killings, FGM, etc. . .) are tiresome, and honestly hard to even take seriously. Most ethical decisions involve line-drawing and balancing. I get it if MC falls on the unacceptable side of the balance; but the impression I get is that there’s no balancing to be done at all

  187. mk
    mk July 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm |

    So just to be absolutely clear here. It is your position that bodily harm against a third person is justified if the actor believes that bodily harm to be “not so bad” and part of their religious ritual.

    No. That is not my position. My position is that it’s not necessarily inconsistent to support one action on religious grounds and oppose another in spite of religious grounds; instead, such a view may merely reflect a hierarchical view of harm, in which one action (genital alteration) is harmful but justifiable and another (honor killing) is more harmful and not justifiable.

    But sure, I’ll go ahead and say it: I think “bodily harm” is generally better than “bodily death.” That doesn’t mean I’m proposing that religious rituals involving bodily harm should get a free pass just because they’re not as bad as killing.

    At no point have I suggested that religious practices are always justifiable or that they should never be regulated when bodily harm or death are involved. If anyone has gotten that impression, then it’s quite possible I’ve misspoken. I only want to point out that some commenters here are positing that “religious reasons” are equivalent to “no reason at all,” and I disagree. “Religious reasons” may be equivalent to “reasons I don’t agree with,” sure, but not “no reason at all.”

    To be clear, I’m not in favor of circumcision or opposed to it. I’m just a little uncomfortable with the way the religious arguments are being treated in this thread.

  188. Sharon
    Sharon July 3, 2007 at 3:59 pm |

    Here’s a real ethical dilemma, presuming everyone here is (at least on some level) pro-choice: what if foreskin could be removed in utero? Would that be okay, since the undelivered fetus would not be an independent person at such a time?

    Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude… you’re totally blowing my mind!

  189. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 4:02 pm |

    Nexy, I’m confused by your argument. You’re not religious, so what does it mean to you that it’s the law? Law is binding because it is backed by force — whether the state or an angry deity. But if you don’t believe that you are compelled by the deity to obey, and you don’t do other things that you are compelled by the deity to do, well then the law is just tradition.

  190. EG
    EG July 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm |

    Given the healing abilities of newborns, I doubt the permanence argument would hold for branding — i.e., the scar would heal itself away over a short period of time.

    I think you’re overestimating the healing abilities of infants. The whole concept of branding is, you know, to leave a scar.

    what if foreskin could be removed in utero? Would that be okay, since the undelivered fetus would not be an independent person at such a time?

    Aren’t there enough real life concerns? I can’t get too worked up over this one. It’s like the “what if there were artificial wombs that you could implant fetuses into? Would abortion be ethical then?” There aren’t, you can’t, so it doesn’t matter.

  191. Kristen
    Kristen July 3, 2007 at 4:10 pm |

    If your point is “I don’t care why you do it, you’re an asshole if you circumcise your baby boy,” just come out and say that and be done with it.

    I didn’t say anyone was an asshole. I said, if you circumcise your child, while acknowledging that it may be harmful, only because it is your religious belief then you are committing an unethical act.

    But I’m going to give up. I don’t think people want to separate religion from ethics. My last ditch effort is to recommend Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, not as a whole…just the first chapter…(the rest of it is mostly useless)…to understand why it is important that we interact with other human beings on a secular rather than religious basis. And your children are other human beings.

  192. Melissa M.
    Melissa M. July 3, 2007 at 4:26 pm |

    Thomas said:

    I’m not disagreeing that some psychological changes are permanent, I’m just saying that the case is more easily made with the physical than the mental, and that’s why the disparate treatment.

    No it’s not.

    There are different weights of mental and physical harm. I hope that no one would argue that it is more harmful for a man who is born gay to be circumcised as an infant than to grow up in Christian fundamentalist household that indoctrinates him to think of himself as an abomination.

  193. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 4:38 pm |

    different weights of mental and physical harm.

    You misread me. I’m not talking about quantum of harm. I’m not even talking about whether it’s permanent. I’m talking about the ease with which one demonstrates the fact of permanence. It should be beyond dispute that once a foreskin is removed, it will not grow back; whereas with mental harm (however grave), it is almost impossible to say that nobody in similar condition has spontaneously recovered.

    Again, fact of permanence, not amount of damage — obviously, circumcision is a relatively trivial harm and emotional abuse is often devastating. I don’t think anyone disputes that mental harms can be far worse than physical.

  194. Thomas
    Thomas July 3, 2007 at 4:40 pm |

    Melissa, to be clear, what I wrote was an extremely limited comment, responding to Holly’s characterization of the different treatment of mind and body as “Cartesian shit.”

  195. Melissa M.
    Melissa M. July 3, 2007 at 5:02 pm |

    Thomas, o.k, thanks for the clarification. I would argue about the permanence thing. The only reason that it is easier to think of physical harm as permanent is that brains are very good at adapting and recovering and we really don’t know much about how they work. However, I’m still not sure that it is easier to demonstrate damage from a minor body modification than from home environment. Surely a trained psychiatrist/psychologist could point to damage from the latter as easily as someone else could identify a piercing or a missing foreskin.

  196. Melissa M.
    Melissa M. July 3, 2007 at 5:04 pm |

    Thomas, o.k, thanks for the clarification. I would argue about the permanence thing. The only reason that it is easier to think of physical harm as permanent is that brains are very good at adapting and recovering and we really don’t know much about how they work. However, I’m still not sure that it is easier to demonstrate damage from a minor body modification than from home environment. Surely a trained psychiatrist/psychologist could point to damage from the latter as easily as someone else could identify a piercing or a missing foreskin. And in either case a medical professional would need to weigh in on the damage.

  197. Melissa M.
    Melissa M. July 3, 2007 at 5:08 pm |

    you can delete the first post, obviously my computer or the server is having issues.

  198. Holly
    Holly July 3, 2007 at 5:20 pm |

    Sure, I agree that it’s easier, in some examples, to make that case — mostly because of what Melissa said, that we don’t know much about how brains work. I still hold that there’s a broad tendency in our culture — even if nobody here actively subscribes to it — to talk in one way about “how could you do that to that child’s body” and to talk in entirely different terms about what’s done to children otherwise, even though it also affects their bodies, their selves, etc. It’s a legacy of how our bodies have been given meaning and medicalized, and it really is full of Cartesian bullshit if you ask me. (Even though Descartes didn’t really invent the idea.)

    This is all hair-splitting, though.

    Subject change, isn’t it possible to regrow your foreskin? I thought there was a whole movement of guys (well, maybe not large enough to call a movement) who were really into that.

    I could comment more from personal experience, but the subject squicks me out a little. I’ll just say that I do believe it is possible to have some of the benefits of a foreskin even if you were circumcised.

  199. Autumn Harvest
    Autumn Harvest July 3, 2007 at 6:04 pm |

    Nexy, I’m confused by your argument. You’re not religious, so what does it mean to you that it’s the law? Law is binding because it is backed by force — whether the state or an angry deity. But if you don’t believe that you are compelled by the deity to obey, and you don’t do other things that you are compelled by the deity to do, well then the law is just tradition.

    Judaism is as much a cultural identity as a set of religious beliefs, and particularly for reform Jews in America, the religious practices are as much or more (probably more) a matter of maintaining that cultural identity than anything deity-related. From that perspective, the law is tradition, but not “just” tradition.

    Incidentally, I’m an atheist (married to a Jew) so I’m finding it a little weird to be speaking up for tolerance of religion.

  200. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 3, 2007 at 6:18 pm |

    I get it if you have respect for Jewish religion and culture, but think that MC is so bad that it’s still wrong. But when you say that you’re not even sure if Sikhs should be able to tell their children not to cut their hair, it sounds to me as if the cultural tradition and religious belief get zero weight.

    In my ethical system, something does not gain weight merely because it is a religious practice, but I understand what you mean. I am nullifying, in a sense, cultural relativism and varying degrees of ethical thought through my adherence to my line of reasoning. I’ll take that under consideration, but I am also not advocating forcing anyone to subscribe to my ethics, nor would I.

    Holly, the problem is that certain decisions must be made by parents, namely that the child must eat, must be talked to, and must learn, so decisions are forced upon parents and, in large part, society craps on them no matter what they do, so I am willing to make a reasoned concession if parents make choices that I may deem unethical. I think it is unethical to eat meat, BUT I would never shame or make someone feel bad about doing so, or having their children do so, nor would I ever structure society o fit solely my ethical system. If saying that I think something is unethical is shaming, I am sorry, and I will not push the matter further when someone tells me so. The point being that I am not talking in different terms with regard to unnecessary surgery and other decisions that parents must make because I can easily say that certain choices do not fit within my ethical system, though what I would do about it would be merely dialectical and nothing else. Parents have it hard, and the burden of the choices they have to make can force them to make decisions I do not agree with. Does that mean I cannot disagree with them and voice my disagreement, as long as I try to be understanding about it? I am not making the distinction between one choice or another, it’s just that the circumstances surrounding different choices can, and should be taken one at a time. Me being against circumcision does not mean I must be against all choices parents make without their child’s consent. I just want to minimize harm of children, though I fully understand that I am ignorant to each individual’s reasons behind their decisions.

  201. Ibod Catooga
    Ibod Catooga July 3, 2007 at 7:14 pm |

    I’m a cocksucker from way back and I do not go down on an uncircumcised penis.

    That’s just gross.

  202. Kat
    Kat July 3, 2007 at 7:18 pm |

    In terms of social norms….
    My first son was born 10 years ago. His dad and I sat with the doctor for mandatory circumcision briefing. The doctor explained that although at that time more boys were circumsized than not, that this would likely change and quite quickly because insurance companies were no longer paying for the procedure, considering it be elective. He said it was predicted that very quickly after that many parents who would have opted for the procedure would forego it because of the cost (then estimated to be about $3000 or so). The message being that don’t count on it being the “norm” as it has been in past years. Not sure how that has panned out in terms of statistics, but it was interesting how money/insurance can be a driving force in our social norms.

    I have two boys. They were both circumsized as infants.

  203. Rhus
    Rhus July 3, 2007 at 7:31 pm |

    Mnemosyne at #128:

    Are we getting back to, “No, removing the foreskin is exactly as harmful as removing the clitoris!” here?

    No. I haven’t ever said so. I don’t think you can accuse me of ignorance or dishonesty in this case, as you do. It was actually you who brought up the religious argument and I’m happy to go with it, but in that case you will have to bear with some abstraction, even if we have to group some practices very different in degree and effect. (Although I have to admit that lately I’ve become convinced of the cruelty of infant male circumcision, especially without anesthesia. Sorry, disclaimer – women suffer much, much more with FGM.)

    But I honestly, sincerely would have wanted this discussion to happen in that FGM thread, not in a male circumcision thread, precisely because I care more about the former. I have read many arguments here where if you substitute Sudanese or Kikuyu for Jew, the result would be deeply disturbing for many of us. I’m totally, positively sure that a couple from, say, Egypt has already gone to gynecologists in Spain or France and has advanced a very similar set of reasons to justify FGM: “it’s not that harmful,” “the benefits overcome the cons,” “it’s a religious tenet,” “it’s the law,” “it’s a very, very old tradition,” “our child won’t belong if we don’t do it.” Surely all true statements from their perspective. My point was later repeatedly made by Kristen and SarahMC: just where do we draw the line with religious practices? (And yes, we have to find a common line if we are to live together.) To paraphrase you, Mnemosyne, you might be “comfortable” with a certain degree of inflicted bodily harm; so might be other religious people with a different degree. Suppose I am one of those gynecologists: what kind of logical arguments could I present to the hypothetical Egyptian couple against FGM if I support infant male circumcision for religious reasons at the same time?

    What can I do as an agnostic? It’s natural that in certain instances I group Kurds, Moslems, Jews, Christians or Kikuyus – and I feel the same respect for them all as human beings. They have practices that sometimes clash against secular principles and the beliefs of other religions. We can but talk and listen among ourselves, as we are doing here. I can assure you, Autumn Harvest, in case you are reading, that I have carefully and attentively read your complaints about little consideration given to religion. (I’m not that clear yet about my answer.) Lastly, I’ve read some reflections from FGM opposers that could be resumed thus: change can only come 1) from within the implicated groups themselves and 2) if they/we can receive some influence from and participate in a real dialogue with an external group.

  204. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 3, 2007 at 9:39 pm |

    “Subject change, isn’t it possible to regrow your foreskin? I thought there was a whole movement of guys (well, maybe not large enough to call a movement) who were really into that.”

    We can’t regrow tissue like that quite yet. I think the most common method of nonsurgical foreskin replacement involves stretching existing skin until it at least partially covers the glans while the penis is flaccid. Presumably it’s similar to the cream-and-manipulation regime used by phimosis sufferers to achieve nonsurgical relief. Supposedly the glans will become dekeratonized after long enough with something covering it, but of course whatever a guy comes up with after months with a steroid cream and medical tape isn’t going to have the same neurological configuration as the original.

  205. David Thompson
    David Thompson July 3, 2007 at 11:13 pm |

    116-

    A cut penis is dry, an uncut one is naturally lubricated.

    Lubricated by what? Apparently mine doesn’t do that.

  206. zuzu
    zuzu July 4, 2007 at 12:03 am |

    We can’t regrow tissue like that quite yet. I think the most common method of nonsurgical foreskin replacement involves stretching existing skin until it at least partially covers the glans while the penis is flaccid.

    I’m going to recommend a movie here, based on a true story, that actually deals with this very issue: Europa Europa.

    It’s a fantastic movie, about a German-Russian Jewish boy who, through a series of misunderstandings and improbable happenstance, winds up escaping the massacre of his community, then being mistaken for a good Aryan boy and joining the Hitler Youth — even being sent to an academy for exceptional Hitler Youth. He’s very careful not to show his penis to anyone — until his Hitler-loving girlfriend starts to question his manhood when he won’t fuck her. And then he starts to take measures to stretch his foreskin, with disastrous results.

  207. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 4, 2007 at 12:41 am |

    Don’t his attempts to pass with a makeshift foreskin start with a school physical that he has to dodge by faking an abscessed tooth when the stretching fails like nobody’s business? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, but I thought his relationship with the girl ended after the double-whammy of her deciding to have a baby for the Fatherland with or without him and them finding a Jewish graveyard and getting into a domestic over the fate of the Jews.

    The epilogue, with his decision to have his son circumcised in spite of the number of times his own alteration almost cost him his life, is one of the more thought-provoking scenes I’ve ever seen.

  208. zuzu
    zuzu July 4, 2007 at 1:06 am |

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, but I thought his relationship with the girl ended after the double-whammy of her deciding to have a baby for the Fatherland with or without him and them finding a Jewish graveyard and getting into a domestic over the fate of the Jews.

    Her mother, who realized what secret he was hiding, had a lot to do with it, and she wound up protecting him.

    But seriously — the scene in the shower? With the thread and the pus? It’s been 17 years since I’ve seen this movie, but that stayed with me like nobody’s business.

  209. zuzu
    zuzu July 4, 2007 at 1:07 am |

    Oh, also, I think Allied bombers had a lot to do with it. Or him getting sent to the Russian Front, where he found his brother.

    I should really watch it again.

  210. Susan
    Susan July 4, 2007 at 5:00 am |

    I would be very uncomfortable if circumcision were banned in the US because it would disproportionately affect the religious practices of a minority religion.

    So the ethical considerations involved in a discussion about forced circumcision would change if you move the debate to, say, Israel? In other words, the only place we could consider banning physically invasive religious practices would be countries where they would never have a chance of being banned anyway?

  211. Rhus
    Rhus July 4, 2007 at 9:20 am |

    Hello, David (#206),

    According to this document , I was wrong in talking about secretions.

    Note: the inner lining of the foreskin has no source of protective secretion, such as sweat or sebaceous glands. The foreskin is damp because moisture escapes through its inner surface. As we have seen, this moisture keeps the foreskin in good shape, like well-waxed leather.

    Another page of the site:

    The foreskin has twelve known functions.
    They are: […] to keep the glans moisturized and soft with emollient oils.

    Specialized ecoptic [sic?] sebaceous glans on the inner preputial surface produce natural emollients and lubricants necessary for normal sexual function.

    Please don’t ask me about “emollient oils” or “ecoptic sebaceous glands”! (I wonder if gland would mean secretion, but I have done enough research for today about the anatomy of the penis.)

    About your own penis (what a sentence): since the degree of vaginal moistness varies among women and also depends on age, I suppose there is variation among men too. But anyway: it seems to be certain that an uncut penis has moistness that a cut one doesn’t (and not only that).

    Maybe this link has already been provided: http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/, but I have found it both interesting and readable.

    Susan at #210: I am on your side and don’t want to detract from your point, but I would hope that things are not so unchangeable in Israel itself. It looks difficult, but there is a movement among reformed Jews to end the practice, right? After a quick check, I have found some websites, but they are in Hebrew.

    On the other hand: I’m still trying to answer my own question, that of how much skin is cut from an infant and how much from an adult. I haven’t come to a satisfactory answer yet, but this paper concludes that “[t]he amount of tissue loss estimated in the present study is more than most parents envisage from pre-operative counselling.” (Graphic material – it’s a medical paper.)

    Thanks to zuzu for the film reference. On a side note: it’s curious what a certain distance will do. Yesterday I explained as objectively as I could the infant circumcision procedure to some friends here in Spain, male and female, and the universal reaction was EWW and utter surprise. They looked at me as if I came from Mars. After being steeped in the subject for a while, it restored a little balance. (Oh, and yes, I talked about FGM too.)

  212. ballgame
    ballgame July 4, 2007 at 9:37 am |

    Kudos for the thread, Jill.

    zuzu: (Slightly OT but) I agree with your endorsement of the outstanding Europa Europa.

  213. Rhus
    Rhus July 4, 2007 at 12:21 pm |

    I see I had missed this comment from mk (#136):

    In discussions like these I’m always curious what’s at stake for the commenters who feel so passionately one way or the other. . . not everyone who has come out as firmly opposed to infant circumcision is or plans to be a parent, so I’m curious about what makes this such a hot-button issue

    I guess I am an example of those people. I don’t have children and don’t mean to have them.

    What can I say? I like people. Among them, I like men. I love several men in my life that I’ve been fortunate to encounter. There are many assholes in the world, but what can you do.

    More to the point here. I object to and suspect the current mushy sentimentality about children, but they belong to the aforementioned people and I like them. I’m not surrounded by children in my life, but they are fellow citizens, albeit with special needs and conditions. I cannot be indifferent to anybody who gets hurt or maimed, especially if they are so utterly vulnerable as newborns.

    In a broader, more political sense, although circumcision doesn’t have anything to do with my surroundings, it does exist in my country, the most obvious example being that Spain is getting a lot of immigration from Africa. I want to be informed both about it and about the graver issue of FGM. These discussions have sparked an interest to do some research about my own country and I will go on with it.

    Politically speaking again, both subjects absolutely reek of patriarchy, and this is a feminist site.

    And after having read these days authorities such as Maimónides, God himself, Paul, Doctors, Imams… we heathens can also quote delightful! classical! authors like Terence: “homo sum; nihil humani mihi alienum,” that is, “I am human; nothing human is alien to me.”

  214. nexyjo
    nexyjo July 4, 2007 at 2:03 pm |

    I’m confused by your argument. You’re not religious, so what does it mean to you that it’s the law? Law is binding because it is backed by force — whether the state or an angry deity. But if you don’t believe that you are compelled by the deity to obey, and you don’t do other things that you are compelled by the deity to do, well then the law is just tradition.

    being jewish is more than a religion. i’d go into the history and tradition of that, but i’m no expert and i think it’s a bit off topic. but you’re right about tradition. judaism is entrenched in tradition. fiddler on the roof reflects this concept perfectly, i think. in fact, the show opens with a song entitled “tradition”.

    in a very real way, you’re right. i’m arguing to maintain the traditional jewish practice of circumcising our boys 8 days after they’re born, in a traditional ritual. i would support that tradition because it’s who i am, part of the culture in which i was born and raised, even though i don’t practice the religion.

    in my life, when i encounter another jew, which can be rare now as i live in an area in which i am very much in the minority, there’s an instant connection. that connection exists outside of any other cultural, national, racial, or ethnical context. in a way, it’s a little like being trans. we’re a people who have survived through all kinds of hardships, for thousands of years. and i see circumcism as a part of that tradition. i don’t really know why, but it’s been a part of judaism from its beginnings. and somehow, even outside the context of god or law, it feels sacred to me. it’s like why i still fast every year on yom kippur. i’ve been doing it all my life. i don’t know why, except for the fact that it’s part of my culture, history, and my people.

    you know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when christians gather every sunday and eat a wafer of bread, and drink a sip of wine, with the thought that they are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their savior. frankly, that sounds pretty weird and barbaric to me, and i can’t imagine how that effects a young mind. but that is their tradition.

    in this, i don’t know that logic would sway me. but perhaps that’s part of being human. or perhaps, part of my humanity.

  215. ballgame
    ballgame July 4, 2007 at 3:57 pm |

    Proponents of infantile circumcision (for ‘health benefits’) or those who think its consequences are trivial should keep in mind that its long-term consequences have not been thoroughly studied. Indeed, it might be more accurate to say these consequences have been studiously ignored.

    There is the reality that the highly-circumcised U.S. has much higher rates of AIDS and STDs than the rest of the minimally-circumcised First World, something that should give pause to anyone trying to translate the recent African studies of circumcision in adults to what happens when you circumcise infants.

    Another potentially significant impact is suggested by the fact that in largely-uncircumcised France, the ratio of autistic boys to autistic girls is three to one. In the highly-circumcised U.S., the ratio is four to one. While far from definitive, I find that difference extremely intriguing, as it is not something that can be readily explained away by many factors that might account for cross-cultural epidemiological differences (genetics, pollutants, diagnostic sensitivity, etc.), as one would not typically expect those factors to be so markedly gender-dependent in their impact. It seems plausible to me that a baby’s reaction to the trauma of having his genitals sliced (terror, anger, pain, fear, shut down, withdraw) might leave a permanent psychological scar that would interfere with his ability to connect with people and thus make him more vulnerable to a disorder like autism.

  216. ginmar
    ginmar July 4, 2007 at 10:23 pm |

    I feel like somebody needs to jump in and demand to know, “But what about the women?!” in repayment of all the threads the “But wht about the MENZ?!” people have disrupted. Why, exactly, is this a feminist issue? Why give in? You think MRAs are going to grant equal space to womens’ issues, too?

  217. zuzu
    zuzu July 5, 2007 at 12:23 am |

    Well, I should hope that this thread is forevermore an antidote to “WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ??” Because, hey, you got your space on a major feminist blog (and you even got to discuss this issue free of the kind of interruptions and trolling that you visit on threads about FGM! Funny how that works).

    So, basically, personally, I never want to hear another word about male circumcision on an FGM thread. I feel that raising the issue is sufficient cause to nuke the comment.

  218. Sharon
    Sharon July 5, 2007 at 12:28 am |

    I would be very uncomfortable if circumcision were banned in the US because it would disproportionately affect the religious practices of a minority religion.

    So the ethical considerations involved in a discussion about forced circumcision would change if you move the debate to, say, Israel? In other words, the only place we could consider banning physically invasive religious practices would be countries where they would never have a chance of being banned anyway?

    In a word, yes, ethical considerations change depending on location. I’m not of the opinion that the sphere of ‘ethics’ exists separate from the culture that creates them. But, yeah, I know there’s a lot of disagreement about that. I also hear that Kant is really ‘in’ these days.

  219. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 5, 2007 at 1:30 am |

    Why, exactly, is this a feminist issue?

    Personally, I think of the feminist philosophy as including the idea of bodily autonomy for ever human, and I reject the argument of people who say that children do not have the right to not be subjected to unnecessary and unethical surgery, as represented by circumcision. It is horrible that threads about FGM get trolled in that way, but that doesn’t actually change the fact, for me, that the ethical violation of another person’s bodily autonomy as represented by circumcision is okay, and that it should not be discussed in a feminist forum.

    Also, this is Jill’s space, so implying that she cannot use it as she pleases negates her own right to do as she pleases with her blog space, and how is that feminist?

  220. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 5, 2007 at 1:32 am |

    for ever human

    That would be “every”.

    that the ethical violation of another person’s bodily autonomy as represented by circumcision is okay

    Should be “is not okay”

  221. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 5, 2007 at 1:37 am |

    and that it should not be discussed in a feminist forum.

    Wow, yeah, it;s late, and I need to go to bed, obviously. This should read: “nor that it should be discussed in a feminist forum.”

  222. Rhus
    Rhus July 5, 2007 at 7:17 am |

    “Why, exactly, is this a feminist issue?”

    After all I’ve read about it, I have no doubt that it is as patriarchal as you can get. That’s enough for me. But here I leave you a couple of links:

    http://www.jewishcircumcision.org/women.htm

    http://www.noharmm.org/pollack.htm

    I have no time to do more research or to discuss it further right now, but I believe it deserves some consideration. Anyway, as so many times during this thread, what JackGoff said.

  223. Kristen
    Kristen July 5, 2007 at 9:42 am |

    Why, exactly, is this a feminist issue?

    Wow, so being concerned for human rights isn’t a feminist issue? I didn’t realize that feminism required me to not give a flying f*ck about the way patriarchal systems harm non-conformist men. I guess gender equality only matters to the extent women are harmed, but not to any extent that men are harmed.

    Good to know.

    *Turns in her feminist card.*

    Anyone got a humanist card around here?

  224. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 5, 2007 at 9:59 am |

    You think MRAs are going to grant equal space to womens’ issues, too?

    And also, I’m not sure the MRAs should be the standard by which we judge ourselves. Just sayin’…

    I feel that raising the issue is sufficient cause to nuke the comment.

    Definitely. Obfuscating about FGM on an FGM thread by bringing in male circumcision is trolling.

  225. ginmar
    ginmar July 5, 2007 at 2:13 pm |

    Yeah, but feminism needs to rescue women first—and Kristen, if you can’t tell the difference between feminism and humanism, I don’t especially want you on my side——and if it helps men along the way that’s great. Men have served as opposition in a very real way in my life and the lives of many other women. They have the whole world to discuss their issues, but they consistantly bring them up in feminist spaces.

  226. JackGoff
    JackGoff July 5, 2007 at 2:37 pm |

    but feminism needs to rescue women first

    Of course, and telling someone that they must discuss a topic in a feminist space is wrong. When someone does set aside space in a feminist forum to discuss it, though, I don’t see how that is wrong. No one said Jill had to do this, or that people had to read and comment on this particular thread. This thread existing has not stopped the other threads here from existing, and since the space was created by a person with the right to create that space, why is it necessary to say that the topic should never have been given space in the first place? I, for one, think feminist ethics can and should be applied to everything possible in our society.

  227. Kristen
    Kristen July 5, 2007 at 3:11 pm |

    and Kristen, if you can’t tell the difference between feminism and humanism, I don’t especially want you on my side

    Ah…now I understand. Feminism is your movement.

    FYI, the humanist philosophy has many layers (sciencific vs. supernatural; Truth vs. truth; etc) but what all humanists agree on is the fundamental principle that with reason, open-minded discourse, and tolerance we can create a world where every individual (not just men, not just women, not just the transgendered, but each person on their own terms) can live with dignity.

    Explain to me how this fundamental principle is contrary to your vision of feminism? Is it just that only women are worthy in your view of respect?

    That men have served in opposition to many women is undoubtedly true. Just as it is undoubtedly true that men had served in opposition to other men, women have served in opposition to women, women have served in opposition to men, adults have served in opposition to children, whites have served in opposition to, well, basically everyone, etc. Your view is too narrow for me. The problem is not Men. The problem is opposition.

    To think of feminism as a theory focused solely on creating yet another class of people to be completely unconcerned with the harms to a separate, related class of people is to make feminism no better than any other separatist philosophy.

    Gender equality is not just about women. It’s about giving each individual person the ability to make choices based on their gendered preferences and not based on social expectation.

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