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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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214 Responses

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    I’ve been “mutilated” and somehow never felt as though I was somehow lacking because of it. Nor have I ever been given compelling evidence about how not having a foreskin has damaged me for life. I think there’s a big difference between that which sadly often happens to young girls in Africa and a very straightforward procedure like male circumcision.

    Regarding the law, I have to say I favor the religious groups’ argument and believe they ought to have a say in the process.

  2. Annie
    Annie June 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm |

    Before I get into the meat of this, I want to say that I’m opposed to male circumcision and if I had a son, I would NOT do the procedure. I’ve also slept with men who were both cut and uncut, so I’m not coming at this with some pro-circumcision bias. The only reason I would say not to do it is that it’s a wholly unnecessary procedure. I’m opposed to unnecessary procedures.

    As for whether or not it damages men, etc. From my experience and that of my European friends who’ve slept with American men, American men do last longer because they actually are desensitized. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on the individual man and if he knows how to fuck v. he just jackhammers away. As studying the effects, I’ve never been convinced there’s serious lasting damage on a mass scale.

    But it is still unnecessary and I would not do it. I would also try and convince anyone who asked me not to do it.

    It should still be a parental choice. For three reasons, first is that parents should have control over their children unless they are doing serious, permanent, irreparable harm. Second, the most effective way to deal with this issue is to convince people not to. And it seems the tide of opinion is already shifting. Third, I don’t think that such a law can be passed at anywhere other than the state level. And the process required to pass that law would be very, very ugly. Given all the other stuff going on, I think state legislatures have bigger fish to fry.

    Here’s the problem with Volokh’s argument…he ignores the task that would be before the court…Once this gets into an actual state court (or federal circuit), you are going to have an issue of reconciling a ban that overrides parental control over children’s bodies in an instance where there is no permanent, serious harm (not saying no harm, just that it’s not like chopping off an arm or even FGM), even in face of strongly held beliefs, with the ability of parents to opt out of vaccinating your children and other medical procedures required by the state. The State of California does allow for parents to opt out of “neutral laws of general applicability” based on belief (need not even be religious) on issues such as vaccines. So tell me, if you let parents make decisions like not vaccinating or deciding whether or not to sterilize their children with severe mental impairment, etc., then why don’t they have the right to make a decision like male circumcision?

    Upon what basis do you say, you can’t circumcise even if Jewish, but you can opt out of X, Y, and Z because of a personal belief that isn’t even a religious one? In other words, in order to uphold this city ordinance, you’d have to have an articulated standard stating what is permissible and what isn’t and have some legal justification behind it. And that standard would have to comport with existing state law. Existing state law lets parents opt out of a lot of otherwise “mandatory” laws.

    As a lawyer who has worked in the foster care system and with special ed children, I think that type of standard would be almost impossible to draft.

    I do not believe that any of the state courts, nor the 9th Circuit if it gets there, is going to want to decide this issue in a way that touches the whole state control v. parental control. Not. going. to. touch. it. with. a. 10ft. pole.

    My guess is it will come down to the fact that such a law has to be passed by the state and only the state. Like with Newsome issuing gay marriage licenses contrary to state standards…The state has certain police powers that cities and counties cannot override. Even when I might believe the city is doing the right thing and the state is not.

    Just like Arizona can’t set its own immigration policy because that’s an exclusively federal power, there are some powers that are vested in the states, such as controlling medical procedures. I do not think, therefore, this will stand.

    BTW, Volokh is one smart dude, but he does have real biases and blind spots. He’s a good point to get started on a lot of issues, but he’s quite frequently slanted. Particularly on issues that have a disproportionate impact on women.

  3. Yonmei
    Yonmei June 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm |

    If you acknowledge “welcoming a baby into the religion of their ancestors” as a valid reason, and even though I’m an atheist I mostly do, there doesn’t seem to be any very valid reason for banning the ritual circumcision of male Jewish and Muslim babies as a religious rite.

    But there isn’t any valid reason at all for circumcising a male baby “just because”. For any child under the age of consent, there should be a reason for surgery – even something as relatively minor as removal of the foreskin – and “because we always do it to babies” isn’t a sufficient reason.

  4. Rach
    Rach June 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm |

    I think you’re right. I think the constitutional claim is weak if we stick to the precedent set forth in Smith. But like commenter CG noted on Volokh’s post says, I think this provides a clear example of why SCOTUS needs to take a second look at Smith. I’ve always found Smith a little hard to swallow (I pretty much share O’Connor’s concurring view). But this proposed law just goes to show exactly how wrong it is to not require strict scrutiny. It is a terrible encroachment on the ability of Jewish persons and Muslims to practice their religion, that’s probably going to fly right through because hey, atheists, pagans and Christians can’t circumsize their kids either. Frankly it’s abhorrent to me that the Free Exercise Clause means so little and that the rights of Jewish and Muslim persons are going to be disregarded with no real justification for it.

    /End rant.

  5. DP
    DP June 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    Consent is weird here. Obviously the boy can’t consent to having a bit of his dick lopped off, but on the other hand kids can’t consent to getting shots, surgery, and a whole host of other procedures as infants.

    How does the government treat other religions with problematic medical practices, like Christian Scientists or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

  6. anna
    anna June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm |

    “I think there’s a big difference between that which sadly often happens to young girls in Africa and a very straightforward procedure like male circumcision.”

    Absolutely. Whether or not you think circumcision should be banned, please do not say it’s the same thing as female genital muitilation, the entire purpose and usual effect of which is to completely deprive women of orgasms, which doesn’t happen in circumcisions unless they are horribly botched. It really pisses me off when MRAs whine about how “genital mutilation” is supposedly illegal for girls but not for boys, as if fgm and male circumcision are the same thing.

  7. Annie
    Annie June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm |

    P.S. Assuming this is somehow allowed to stand, what practical good will it do? Many people will choose to have their sons circumcised anyway. All they have to do is get out of the city. Given how small the actual city is, this isn’t exactly hard.

    Yet another “law” that serves no purpose other than to try and impose morals. Morals that will only be imposed on the lower classes because anyone with enough gas money to drive out of town will be able to circumvent the law.

    I’d like to say this doesn’t happen a lot in my state, but the truth is, if you look at many of our “public safety” laws, such as gun control, it’s really about raising revenue and the rich can always opt out.

  8. William
    William June 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm |

    Regarding the law, I have to say I favor the religious groups’ argument and believe they ought to have a say in the process.

    I think that in most cases I would agree with you, but I think that this isn’t as straightforward a religious liberty issue as some are presenting it. Children aren’t the property of their parents and, as much as I think its important to respect custom, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a religious group asserting it’s right to religious expression upon the bodies of individuals in general, much less the bodies of individuals incapable of consent. Whether circumcision is good, bad, or indifferent is irrelevant here because we’re talking about alterations to a human body. Barring a serious medical need, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of allowing people to make decisions about the bodies of others. Thats doubly true when those decisions lead to permanent alterations. Doubtless many children of jews and muslims will grow up to themselves be jews or muslims. Some will not. Some will have preferred that they weren’t circumcised. Some small group will feel a loss. I don’t see why any religious group’s tradition, no matter how long standing, trumps an individual’s right to decide what will or will not be done to their bodies. That it is a relatively minor infringement of bodily autonomy doesn’t seem like a meaningful mitigation.

  9. William
    William June 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    Annie:

    I think theres a difference between action and inaction, though. State laws mandating vaccination can be opted out of because someone can say “requiring me to perform action X violates my deeply held religious beliefs, therefore I won’t do it.” Theres a long history of opting out with, say, the Quakers refusing to take oaths or go to war. A ban on infant circumcision isn’t quite in the same vein because it doesn’t compel anyone to do anything, it merely restricts. This is more similar to not allowing Rastafarians to smoke marijuana. Normally I’d say even that kind of a restriction is problematic.

    But we have a problem here because we’re not talking about saying jews cannot be circumcised. We’re saying that jews cannot circumcise infants. Whats really being argued here is whether one individual has a right to alter the body of a minor in their custody according to religious custom. That kind of a claiming of another’s body, especially when the child is too young to voice any opinion on the matter at all, makes me really uncomfortable. I feel like maintaining bodily sovereignty is more important than maintaining a traditional timetable. If someone wants to be circumcised, they can choose to be when they’re at some reasonable age of consent. The option to indulge in the particular religious ritual is not foreclosed, merely delayed until a time when meaningful consent can be obtained.

  10. suspect class
    suspect class June 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm |

    Well, there’s evidence of animus by the group promoting the law. So I’m not sure you can argue the proposed law is neutral with respect to religion under Smith. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/07/MNI01JQ9D7.DTL

  11. DP
    DP June 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm |

    Jill: The issue isn’t just consent and bodily autonomy, it’s also the procurement of a procedure that permanently physically alters your body for medically unnecessary reasons. That’s why it’s different than vaccines, surgeries, and medically necessary practices (or practices that are medically beneficial, or beneficial to the public health).

    In the United States, parents generally have the right to opt their children out of medical treatments, including vaccines and whatnot. Jehovah’s Witnesses can opt their kid of out accepting blood donations. But those rights can be circumvented in emergency situations to keep the kid from dying, and if your kid does die because you refuse to get him medical care for religious reasons, you can be criminally prosecuted.

    All good points.

    I actually don’t like the US tradition of circumcision because it’s so strongly tied to a puritanical, anti-masturbation movement. But I can see how even the most liberal and tolerant Jews and Muslims would be annoyed by this.

    It’s a tricky one.

  12. suspect class
    suspect class June 24, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    If it’s a comic book used as promotional materials for the law created by the same individual who wrote the law? Really? I think that the Prop 8 case made it clear that the California Supreme Court is going to look at promotional materials outside of the ballot measure booklet to find the intent of the law proponents. “Monster Mohel” a character drawing on a huge pile of classic anti-Semitic tropes plus Aryan hero? I think it goes beyond being merely one comic and is actually pretty indicative of at least some significant part of the impetus behind this law.

  13. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm |

    Jill-

    If the focus of the campaign is the substantially larger percentage of circumcisions that are done routinely in hospitals, than why does the campaign material focus so heavily on demonization of Jews? It certainly raises my hackles quite a bit. And, yeah, it was made by the person who wrote the law and is heading the campaign. So I’m not particularly willing to trust in good intentions.

  14. Annie
    Annie June 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    “But courts do traditionally treat opting out of medical procedures very differently than the right to have an entirely voluntary medical procedure (and where the medical procedure is not actually necessary, I imagine that would be exaggerated).”

    I get the opting out v. voluntary procedure distinction. Sorry that I didn’t bring it out earlier. I was between meetings with clients and just rambled something out w/o fulling teasing out all the issues. I’m very aware there might be some holes in logic or in explanation here. Sorry about that.

    To the meat of the matter..

    Even if you focus on the “wholly voluntary procedure” angle, it does matter, however, that California has a long tradition in allowing parents broad rights on both scores and only seeks to curtail parental rights in the face of harm. (Be the issue opt-out or voluntary act).

    Strictly speaking, a lot of medical and cosmetic procedures performed on children aren’t necessary, but we (California) allow them. Kid’s don’t need earrings or piercings, they don’t need teeth whitening, they don’t need tattoos, they don’t need to have warts removed, they don’t need to take acutane. (And accutane may actually be harmful…and dentist xrays certainly are!)

    Be it a voluntary procedure or a state mandated-procedure, such as vaccinations, the starting point (in this state) is always that parents have a right to do what they want with their children. You have to have a reason to override the default of parental control. In the case of mandatory state-wide vaccinations, it’s public health. In the case of male circumcision, what is the reason? What type of harm is there that is so much different than all the other stuff we let parents do. Children don’t have the same civil liberties as adults. (Whether or not they should is another matter). Parents can, and often do, things to their children they could never do to another adult. They restrict their children’s physical liberty, they decide what hairstyle the child has, what cosmetic procedures they can have, whether or not they get braces. Because the right to parent is a fundamental liberty interest (in this state at least), you have to have some pretty damn good reason to override it.

    For this reason, I think the strongest argument is that the issue is an exclusively state one and cities can’t regulate it. But, after that, the next best one IN CALIFORNIA at least, is parental control. The religious liberties issue is interesting as well, and I do think SCOTUS needs to tease it out more, but I don’t think you even get to it in this case. You have two dominoes that have to fall first.

    WRT to parental control, the only basis that I can think of for overriding the default of parental control is harm to the child and harm to society. You have to consider both in weighing a law like this. It’s not one or the other. The harm to the child and to society from male circumcision is nowhere near the personal societal harm caused by opting out of vaccinations. There have been dozens of directly attributable deaths of other children in California in the past 5 years, so please don’t tell me there’s no harm. I’m not aware of anyone dying from getting circumcised or it having any directly physical effect on society, like suddenly increasing the rate of STDs.

    Again, for the record, I think it’s an unnecessary and bullshit procedure, but it’s not something that’s going to be easy to ban absent some new, significant, scientific data showing long term physical, psychological, or social harm.

    I also think there is a HUGE difference between FGM and male circumcision. Men who are circumcised can still have pleasure in sex, can still procreate, and it doesn’t tend to cause infection and other serious problems. There’s scientific literature to back that up. It’s in no way shape or form the same.

    As for the “minor nick”, part of the problem is that the probability of harm and the magnitude of harm when it occurs (two separate inquiries) is different for male circumcision than female. In male circumcision, the probability of harm is very, very low. When it does occur, it is usually just a nick to the penis. A doctor would have to be drunk or grossly incompetent to nick off an entire penis. (And you don’t hear of a lot of lawsuits against mohels). Even a “minor” nick of the clitoris carries a high risk of loss of sensation. And when the procedure goes wrong, it goes very, very wrong and all sensation is lost. So both the probability of harm and the magnitude of harm are greater in FGM.

    In addition, the practice of circumcision of males, though not dispersed through the entire population, has been going on for 3,000+ years. We know how to do it. “Small nicks” to the clitoris are a recent thing to try and pacify groups that want it. We don’t know what we are doing. Hell, most doctors barely understand the clitoris anyway. Whether I like it or not, courts do consider whether or not a practice is a longstanding tradition both because it is evidence of how harmful something is and because it is evidence of how important it is to people and to society. On this score, I don’t think you can do better than Jewish male circumcision as a long-standing, deeply-held, relatively “safe” procedure.

    As for imposing morals, I’m opposed to states imposing morals for the reason of imposing morals alone. I didn’t say it didn’t happen, just that most of the time, it really only restricts the poor. (Like anti-abortion laws have a more significant impact on rural, poor women). Personally, I think “morals” based laws, absent some showing of harm, are unconstitutional. Though SCOTUS doesn’t agree with me.

    And even laws not based solely on morals, like gun control, are only so effective as your ability to enforce them. In California, most gun control measures can be met (legally) by the rich, but not the poor. The guns allowed in Cali are not the ones that are safest, but the ones that pass state screening, which is really all about state revenue.

    I hope some of this made some sense or at least will lead to further discussion.

    Thanks for the discussion. I’ve got to go to do some real work now.

    Really interesting subject.

  15. bhuesca
    bhuesca June 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm |

    Jill mentioned what I was thinking: public health. Aren’t there vast campaigns to encourage male circumcision on the grounds that it helps reduce HIV transmission (given that condoms cost money, aren’t 100% effective in preventing disease transmission, etc.)?

  16. August
    August June 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    I don’t see anything defensible about cutting off part of a newborn’s genitals without anesthetic. It’s unnecessary, it’s dangerous (a little baby in my hospital lost part of his glans very recently), it’s a total and complete disregard for the bodily integrity of the child.

    But hey, I’m one of those nutty parents who refused to have her baby daughter’s ears pierced because I don’t think that performing cosmetic body modification on non-consenting human beings (especially WITHOUT pain meds, which is unfortunately pretty damn common!!) is an okay thing to do. If we’re serious about teaching our penis-owning children what it means to respect the bodies of others, I think it should start with respecting *their* bodies.

    When it’s not medically or religiously indicated, circumcision is nothing more than cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery on newborns is just not okay to me.

    The religious issue makes it murkier, and I do entirely believe that *some* anti-circ folks are mainly into it just to get their anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic hatred on. That needs to be recognized and discussed candidly, instead of minimized, as I’ve seen done frequently in anti-circ circles. But I still don’t think that the right of a parent to practice their faith trumps their children’s right to bodily integrity; after all, isn’t that why parental notification laws are so yucky? Because they privilege the parents’ belief system over the girls’ right to choose what happens to her own body?

    Meh, this topic makes me cranky. At work I have to listen to these children scream bloody murder while they’re being strapped down and cut and I’m not even going to pretend that I can be even remotely objective on this subject.

  17. becky
    becky June 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm |

    I’m sorry for seeming rather clueless and I ask this in good faith: Is is not arguable whether circumcision actually has medical benefits to men? I read about protection from urinary tract infections, a lower risk of STDs, lower risk of penile and/or prostetic cancer (although I’m not sure how that latter is related…) and also lower risks of STDs for women in heterosexual relationships with circumcised men. I realise that this is no excuse to violate the bodily integrity of a child who cannot consent, but if this was actually true, it would be closer to vaccines and other decisions parents make for the medical benefit of their child (which does not mean that most parents who have their son circumcised actually do it for that reason)…?

  18. becky
    becky June 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

    sorry, i missed bhuesca’s comment… :)

  19. August
    August June 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm |

    @Annie: Yes, children do die. About as many penis-having children die every from circumcision every year as they die from SIDS.

    http://www.mensstudies.com/content/b64n267w47m333x0/?p=4a7bc21ef5bc44f79e3fe9135c331f1a&pi=5

  20. Josh
    Josh June 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm |

    Another way of looking at the health aspect of this is that circumcizing babies will not prevent them from contracting HIV while they are babies or children. If it’s going to protect them, it’s going to protect them when they’re rather older, likely after they have reached an age where they could have made an informed decision for themselves.

  21. August
    August June 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm |

    Here’s an article about the studies that concluded that circumcision is so great for dudes (as well as the studies that concluded otherwise but have been ignored): http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/info/HIVStatement.html

    And here’s an article basically explaining why foreskins matter: http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/fleiss.html

    And that’s it from me today, I’m going to go outside and play.

  22. scrumby
    scrumby June 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm |

    @August: Cleft palate repair?
    Snarky response aside, I think this is an issue better addressed by social pressure than laws. I want the law putting time and resources going after serious abuse and mutilation of children and I want people to truly respect the importance of bodily autonomy not just fear punishment. If we get that idea to spread in the mainstream it might even change the religious practices. I know circumcision was traditionally done on adult males and wouldn’t that be a better show of devotion to the faith?

  23. preying mantis
    preying mantis June 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm |

    It would be great if they could basically do what they’ve done with vaccines in public school–have the default be “no dick-snipping,” with the parents having to positively affirm that they’re doing it for religious or medical reasons if they want to pursue it. A shitload of circumcising is done in this country either by default or because it’s just “what you do.” Making it so you actually have to seek it out wouldn’t put an undue burden on religious families but would knock a huge percentage of circumcisions out of the box.

  24. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm |

    preying mantis: It would be great if they could basically do what they’ve done with vaccines in public school–have the default be “no dick-snipping,” with the parents having to positively affirm that they’re doing it for religious or medical reasons if they want to pursue it. A shitload of circumcising is done in this country either by default or because it’s just “what you do.” Making it so you actually have to seek it out wouldn’t put an undue burden on religious families but would knock a huge percentage of circumcisions out of the box.

    This.

  25. August
    August June 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm |

    Um, cleft palate repair is usually medically indicated. Children with cleft palate can have serious issues feeding and are especially vulnerable to infection. I think “inability to feed” ranks a few notches above “cuz everyone else does it” on the scale of reasons to modify a child’s body. If you’re going to snark, you could at least know what you’re talking about.

  26. Cmm
    Cmm June 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

    I can’t speak much to the constitutional ramifications, but some exception will ultimately be made for religious belief or the law won’t fly, one way or another, either by courts setting it aside or a loss of appetite for enforcing it, and here is why:

    In the Jewish faith, circumcision is required to be a Jew. Unlike other biblical/Torah passages, there isn’t room for interpretations and wiggle room. It is spelled out simply. On the 8th day after birth, male children are circumcised. It is an absolute requirement. Even in the more liberal branches of Judaism, generally adult males who were not circumcised hav to have it done, which at that point involves a hospital surgery.

    For thousands of years, Jews have circumcised their male babies. The hidden Jews passing as Christian in Spain did it for a couple hundred years, even though discovery of it could and did lead to ending up in the hands of the Inquisition. In Russian pogroms finding Jews was as easy as yanking down men’s trousers. During the Shoah, the true identity of Jewish children hidden in orphanages or with Christian families could be discovered at any time.

    Under all these fatal risks, Jews never stopped circumcising their male children. Do you think they will stop n the basis of a city law? No way. Which means you will have the spectacle of Jewish mohels (and in many Orthodox communities these are little old men with long white beards) being arrested and taken to jail for performing circumcisions, looking very much like photos from 75 and 80 years ago of elderly frail looking men being carted away. I am not saying it IS the same, but the optics will not be pretty.

    There are relatively few people who feel strongly enough against circumcision to take things that far; there are plenty of male “victims” of circumcision who, like the first poster, don’t feel victimized at all by it. I think the larger percentage of the population could support a law requiring affirmative written requests from parents for circumcision to be performed, but not to ban it outright, because the feelings of the general populace on the matter are not negative enough to countenance complicity in carting Jews off to jail for practicing their religious beliefs. Won’t happen, and if the law as it stands actually did pass and was not tabled by a higher court, such images following in short order would swiftly lead to the nullification of the law or the modification of it for a religious exemption.

  27. chava
    chava June 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |

    It’s hard for me to think that the motivation here is totally un-racially biased.

    Please have a look at this, created by the man at the forefront of the movement:
    http://www.foreskinman.com/monstermohel.htm

    Same libel, new day.

  28. chava
    chava June 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm |

    Sorry, I read through the comments and didn’t see that someone had mentioned it already. None the less, makes me pretty god-damn itchy–and I am confused as to why the man having created other cartoons demonizing doctors, etc, and being against circumcision generally somehow lessens the degree to which this cartoon/law targets Jews?

    As far as the legal side: I am not very conversant with the law, but it seems we have some US precedant in banning polygamy, for example. And there are Europe’s many attempts at veil-banning, of course.

    Jill: I don’t disagree that the image is anti-Semitic. But the illustrator created other comics about circumcision that feature doctors, etc, before this one; while he is against religious circumcision, he’s also clearly motivated by an opposition to circumcision generally, and this law isn’t targeted at a particular religious group. And the Prop 8 comparison doesn’t really hold; one of the big issues in that litigation was whether the measure served any rational purpose, which the anti-gay folks could not actually demonstrate. The plaintiffs were trying to show that the Prop 8 folks were motivated by an improper purpose, but that wasn’t the crux of their argument against the measure. I’m sure that courts here will look at the promotional materials for evidence of bigoted motivations and I’m sure they will be able to find some, but given what I’ve seen, I think it would be an uphill battle to argue that this law is motivated by an improper purpose.

  29. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu June 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    Like Comrade Kevin, I was circumcised at birth, and I don’t see what the big deal is. My wife certainly hasn’t complained, and I don’t feel in any way sexually impaired. No one has ever made fun of me in person for being circumcised. In fact, the only people who have even remotely made me feel like a circus sideshow freak are the extremely militant anti-circumcision folks on the internet who insist male circumcision and female genital mutilation are the exact same thing, and they make it sound as if any male who was circumcised is now no longer a complete human being.

    F that. I’m a complete human being. My parents didn’t do some great disservice to me.

    That said, I fully agree with people that it’s an unnecessary surgical procedure, that the supposed health benefits are dubious, and that most people should not be circumcised. Banning it, though, isn’t really the way to go. If it’s really important to people to do it for religious reasons, they’ll just find ways to do the surgery underground. And every pro-choice feminist worth her salt knows how great underground surgery is.

    Circumcision is not a big deal. If you want to do it, do it. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. If you want to do it, though, stop pretending it has all these great health benefits and whatnot. Don’t want to spread HIV? Use a condom. You should be using it even if you are circumcised. If you don’t want to do it, stop pretending circumcision is this godawful crime against humanity and that those who are circumcised have been traumatized for life unlike their “whole” fellow males.

  30. Florence
    Florence June 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm |

    preying mantis: A shitload of circumcising is done in this country either by default or because it’s just “what you do.” Making it so you actually have to seek it out wouldn’t put an undue burden on religious families but would knock a huge percentage of circumcisions out of the box.

    When my son was a couple of days old, his doctor was like, “And now we’re going to circumcise him. You want that, right?” At the time there was no social controversy, and I basically deferred to my ex who basically shrugged (“You have a dick, what do you think?”). It was done. As an atheist and a feminist who believes what I do about bodily autonomy today, I… don’t think I could make that choice again.

    It’s interesting — among my friends with multiple boy-children, it’s relatively common to see that the first boy was circumcised while subsequent boy-children were not.

  31. vanessa
    vanessa June 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm |

    Honestly, if I were to marry a Jew and have a son, I have no doubt that it would be a huge fight, because there’s not the slightest chance in hell that I am going to ever allow a child of mine to have a PART OF THEIR BODY CUT OFF, especially without pain meds, especially when there’s no medical reason. Just no fucking way. I think non-religious circumcision is just inexcusable, frankly. Babies get agency, too. I kind of think the idea of this goes back to the idea that babies do not feel pain–that used to be a very common belief that led to infants not getting anesthesia during surgery. I cannot help but see some parallels.

    That said, I do have some more understanding of why parents choose it for religious reasons. Well, that’s not true at all actually, I don’t understand it–but I’m a UU. I do understand that theoretically they have this right, but I guess I do not see it as that different from forcing Jehovah’s Witnesses to let their kids have lifesaving procedures. (yes I know there IS a difference, I just am not convinced that it’s that big).

  32. chava
    chava June 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    FYI, you can use pain meds. Usually a combo of nerve block and lidocaine, although I have heard that administering the nerve block may be more painful.

    FWIW, circimcision after the age of majority is a much more complicated and painful procedure.

  33. April
    April June 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm |

    The religious argument here is pretty irrelevant. If circumcision is, as many people believe, a violation of the physical autonomy of the boy, or even mutilation, then it shouldn’t be done, period. “But it’s my religion!” Is a pretty weak argument.

    Why can’t religious folks for whom circumcision is important simply elect to have the surgery (with anesthesia FFS!) when they’re old enough to make the decision for themselves? This is all very confusing to me. It doesn’t seem like circumcision regularly fucks men up as a whole, but it is a bit perplexing to me that we have yet to collectively slap our foreheads and say, “duh! Of COURSE I shouldn’t have someone hack off parts of my infant son’s genitals without his permission!”

  34. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. June 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm |

    @Jill,

    Only some states have criminal penalties for the denial of life saving care. I was denied life saving care and survived only because someone disregarded my parent’s instructions.

    @All,

    Okay, this is going to sound more inflamatory than intended. So let me start by saying, I am asking because I don’t understand and I want to understand. Let me also preface this with my assumption that no religious belief is more or less valid than another religious belief.

    How is this different from my parents forcing me to hold poisonous snakes when I was a small child? It was dangerous, potentially lethal. They had the sincere religious belief that I would not be one of the “chosen” if I failed this “test.” It wasn’t medically necessary. It was critically important in that community.

    I guess the only differences I can see is that the “community” was small (several thousand) and it could not have been supervised by medical professionsals (no medicine allow of course). But I’m not sure that those differences mandate a difference in treatment.

  35. April
    April June 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm |

    Nevermind my question about why it can’t be done later if one is Jewish. Just read some comments. Didn’t realize it was mandated at the 8th day after birth.

    But, still.

  36. smmo
    smmo June 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |

    April:
    The religious argument here is pretty irrelevant. If circumcision is, as many people believe, a violation of the physical autonomy of the boy, or even mutilation, then it shouldn’t be done, period. “But it’s my religion!” Is a pretty weak argument.

    Why can’t religious folks for whom circumcision is important simply elect to have the surgery (with anesthesia FFS!) when they’re old enough to make the decision for themselves? This is all very confusing to me. It doesn’t seem like circumcision regularly fucks men up as a whole, but it is a bit perplexing to me that we have yet to collectively slap our foreheads and say, “duh! Of COURSE I shouldn’t have someone hack off parts of my infant son’s genitals without his permission!”

    I love this comment. Religion isn’t a get out of jail free card. Nor is tradition.

    Re circumcision, several generations of automatic circumcision for American males and you’re all saying “I’m totally fine! Really” but jeez are you people fucked up. I’m not saying there’s a connection, but there could be. (Then again, the same generations of American women are equally fucked up. I include myself in this category.)

  37. Sid
    Sid June 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm |

    All this will do is drive observant Jews and Muslims to seek “alternative” clinics, and do little to reduce circumcision rates of those who religiously sought them. In the same way that polygamy laws are essentially unenforceable since religious couples will simply not get a civil marriage beyond the first.

  38. Amarantha
    Amarantha June 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |

    I’m Jewish and live in SF. I have to say this whole ban strikes me as super-anti-semitic. And I usually think Jewish groups are a little too quick too see bias where there isn’t any.
    Also, while I don’t believe the public health benefits outweigh the risks/lack of consent issues, I think it’s strange to argue there are no population-level benefits to the procedure. It’s just that the meager benefits ascribed to circumcision across a population might slightly alter the rates of a few conditions (which can be easily prevented in other ways), but as an individual there’s virtually zero chance that non-medically indicated circumcision will benefit you.

  39. chava
    chava June 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm |

    Observant Jews don’t use clinics or hospitals for the bris. The bris takes place in the home.

    Sid:
    All this will do is drive observant Jews and Muslims to seek “alternative” clinics, and do little to reduce circumcision rates of those who religiously sought them.In the same way that polygamy laws are essentially unenforceable since religious couples will simply not get a civil marriage beyond the first.

  40. ittefaaq
    ittefaaq June 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm |

    Among Muslims there is no age limit on when circumcisions should be done. It’s preferred that they be done by the time the boys are 10 years old. Growing up in India, I remember the tradition among Indian Muslims was to circumcise boys between 7 and 10 years of age. Wikipedia says that in Malaysia and a few other countries, the age of circumcision is 12yrs.

    So then, the question for those who object to infants being circumcised is, what age of consent will be ok? Is 7 ok? 10? 12? Teenage years? If yes, then you are forcing boys to wait and undergo a procedure which will be far more painful to them. And most of them will go through it. Either because they have developed a level of faith that makes them do it, or because there is enough cultural and peer pressure to make them do it. That’s how it works in a lot of countries with limited access to the kind of pediatric care that makes infant circumcision relatively safe.

    If 10 or 12 or teens are not old enough to consent to going through this process then that brings up a whole ‘nother set of questions about when we can allow kids to have bodily autonomy.

  41. Mechelle
    Mechelle June 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm |

    Just a question:

    for the men who use the argument that they have been circumcised and have no problems with sex or feel as if they are alright sexually or not impaired, how would you know if you have never had sex with foreskin? If you were circumcised at birth you wouldn’t know if sex feels better, impaired, or worse with out. You cannot compare. You wouldn’t know if you were more sensitive or less. I assume men with foreskin and men without all have different levels of sensitivity even though I have heard with foreskin it is more sensitive. Individually, I assume that can vary.

    Of course, if you were circumcised after being sexually active, then you can answer that question.

  42. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 24, 2011 at 7:15 pm |

    Annie: To the meat of the matter..

    I laughed both times you used this phrase. I don’t know if you were going for the dick pun, but thank you for the giggles.

  43. CaliOak
    CaliOak June 24, 2011 at 8:20 pm |

    Is it really coincidence that so much violence and hatred of women and sexuality in general comes out of a part of the world where everyone’s genitals are traditionally cut with out pain meds?

    This is not politically correct, but are the cultural influences of Islam, Judaism and Christianity always purely good?

    I just think it’s interesting that femininity and sexuality were usually viewed sacred in pre-Christian Europe, but under Christian influence were considered evil. Marital rape was culturally condemned in parts of Europe and much of Latin America before the arrival of Christianity. But under Biblically guided laws, marital rape was legally and religiously sanction.

    Maybe there is something for not starting a relationship to sex based on pain, shame and the idea that bodies must be modified?

    If the idea that a person has a right to control their own body and a right to sexual consent and autonomy, why is genital surgery on a baby acceptable? Is there a difference legally between forcing circumcision on an unwilling 12 year old, parents helping an eager 12 year old become circumcised and circumcising an infant? These seem like three very different situations but if the argument is parents have a right to make the decision why would the child’s wishes matter?

  44. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines June 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm |

    CaliOak I an only speak for my religion – Islam, but it considers sex as an act which should be pleasurable for both parties. Contrary to popular belief, FGM is not part of Islam. Also your comment isn’t politically incorrect, it is just incorrect.

    I do not get the without anaesthesia part either, Muslims usually do use anaesthetic.

  45. chava
    chava June 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm |


    Is it really coincidence that so much violence and hatred of women and sexuality in general comes out of a part of the world where everyone’s genitals are traditionally cut with out pain meds?

    Yes. Correlation does not equal causation. Also, pain meds weren’t used on ANY infant procedure until recently, religion or no religion.


    This is not politically correct, but are the cultural influences of Islam, Judaism and Christianity always purely good? </b?

    No.


    I just think it’s interesting that femininity and sexuality were usually viewed sacred in pre-Christian Europe, but under Christian influence were considered evil. Marital rape was culturally condemned in parts of Europe and much of Latin America before the arrival of Christianity. But under Biblically guided laws, marital rape was legally and religiously sanction.

    Show me a scrap of evidence for your woo there, eh? Yes, certain cultures were better about certain things than others. Women didn’t and don’t have it on easy street in non-Abrahamic faiths.


    Maybe there is something for not starting a relationship to sex based on pain, shame and the idea that bodies must be modified?

    Quite possibly. I fail to see what that has to do with Abrahamic circumcision. You’re conflating two different things–the reason infants or boys are circumcised in Judaism and Islam isn’t part of the same “sex is dirty, let’s make it clean” routine it was assimilated to in America.


    Is there a difference legally between forcing circumcision on an unwilling 12 year old, parents helping an eager 12 year old become circumcised and circumcising an infant?

    There should be.
    ————–

    FWIW, my brother (step-bro, not Jewish) wasn’t cut. He certainly didn’t want to be–right up until his foreskin got infected and grew onto his glans, and he had to have an emergency circumcision. My stepmother wishes she had done the procedure when he was a baby. I’m not sure how that generalizes out, but it’s interesting anecdata.

    @ Mechelle–Just curious, but how many men have to tell you they are happy with how their sexual organs function before you grant them knowledge of their own sexual responses and bodies? Regardless of the right or wrong of the matter, not hearing/accepting other’s lived experience seems kind of enh.

  46. Sarah J.
    Sarah J. June 24, 2011 at 9:07 pm |

    I support a ban on the circumcision with minors, despite a truly horrendous encounter with an “intactivist” who informed me he was glad I’d been sexually assaulted because I disagreed that circumcision was worse than rape. I still believe that circumcision is incomparable to rape. However, there is most certainly an issue of consent involved here, and unlike vaccinations, there’s no evidence that a child’s health will be significantly improved by circumcision. Nor is the public health protected by it.

    It’s an unnecessary medical procedure, and men should have a say over the state of their genitals. Regardless of their parents’ religion.

  47. Isaac
    Isaac June 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm |

    If we can outlaw labiaplasty on female minors why can’t we outlaw circumcision on male minors? Is it because men aren’t worth protecting? Or should men be surgically modified so they fit society’s standards on what male genitals should look like?

  48. Shaun
    Shaun June 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm |

    Just once I’d like to see a discussion about circumcision that didn’t immediately fall into “but fgm is worse!” They’re both mutiliation by definition. That fgm is worse is rather irrelevant to whether or not mgm should be performed.

    Since it’s been discussed, the HIV reduction benefits of circumcision were measured by pro-circ doctors (not unbiased) measuring the HIV infection rates of men directly after circumcision (vs a control group), ignoring the fact the men weren’t having as much sex immediately following circumcision because they were healing. Even looking past that, scientific studies require reproducable evidence from non-biased researchers.

    As for the penile cancer claim, any time you remove tissue you cut the risk of cancer. If you removed one testicle at birth the rate of testicular cancer would go down 50%. And men are more likely to get breast cancer than they are penile cancer.

  49. Ron Low
    Ron Low June 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm |

    Cmm: circumcision is required to be a Jew

    Abiding by THOU SHALL NOT STEAL is also required, and was supposedly handed down hundreds more recently than child circumcision (which also applies to your slaves, btw).

    I think most of the comments here are failing to realize that if the court starts asking about the motivations of the law’s proponents, they will have to admit into evidence the reasons circumcision is harmful, and even basics like what the foreskin IS and DOES. This is not going to be pretty for the folks advocating for the right to do a forced non-therapeutic amputation of healthy normal sexually valuable parts.

  50. leper
    leper June 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm |

    ittefaaq:
    So then, the question for those who object to infants being circumcised is, what age of consent will be ok? Is 7 ok? 10? 12? Teenage years? If yes, then you are forcing boys to wait and undergo a procedure which will be far more painful to them.

    Actually this is completely false. Circumcision is less painful if done in adulthood.

    When a infant circumcision is performed the foreskin is still attached to the penis glans and has to be ripped off. This is extremely painful and can cause permanent damage to the penis.

    During puberty the foreskin naturally separates from the glans and circumcisions performed afterwards are less pain full because the foreskin is separate. There is also less chance of damage when done at this age. As a added benefit a adult has fully developed kidneys and can take proper pain medication and sedatives, which a infant cannot.

    Just because babies can’t remember it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

  51. Cel
    Cel June 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |

    Some female circumcision is less harmful than male circumcision, such as a symbolic pricking to draw blood. But all female circumcision is illegal.

    I am a male who was circumcised at 18 by my choice due to medical reasons. The operation was painless due to anesthetic, but the weeks in recovery afterwards were not pleasant, to say the least.

    But I’m still glad my parents did not get me circumcised and gave me the choice.

    Any arguments saying that one should have the right to circumcise their kid are flawed.

    The religious argument is obviously a non-starter – religion cannot justify anything.

    The “it’s not harmful” argument is false as well – there is documented proof of harm (either direct harm from the circumcision itself, or the regret for loss of potential later in life)

    The “it’s medically beneficial” argument is extremely dubious – medical complications requiring circumcisions are damn rare, and HIV prevention is not a big factor in North America (further, no one is having sex when they are 5 or 10 years old).

    So, anyone care to try anything else?

  52. William
    William June 25, 2011 at 1:07 am |

    I think that in the grand scheme of things circumcision isn’t that big a deal. I was circumcised and its a pretty unremarkable factor in my life. Yet circumcision is a border skirmish in a larger fight. I don’t think many people here have much of an issue with banning non-religious infant circumcision, but thats the easy argument.

    The harder argument is to say “no, you can’t have this religious practice” to two historically oppressed minority religions. It feels bad, we don’t want to do it, we know its going to cause trouble but…well…tough shit. At the end of the day the issue comes down to a question. Do we believe that an individual has the right to alter the body of a minor incapable of consent on the basis of religious tradition? At the end of the day there will be a winning side and a losing side, there will be a precedent waiting for generalization. Either we support the rights of individuals to have their bodies protected or we support the right of religious individuals to express their faith through the bodies of others. This discussion is, fundamentally, about the religious beliefs of the parents in opposition to the body of the child.

    Where do we draw the line? How do we meaningfully say that an infant circumcision is different from a 12 year old having a subincision forced on them? Is it because the alteration is less severe? Define severe. Is it because it is less risky? What level of risk are we willing to demand of someone without their consent in the interest of someone else’s religious liberty? Is it because we know the infant won’t remember the procedure? At what age does it stop being acceptable to disregard the child in favor of the parent’s wishes? These are real questions that are in play here and the answers we have are going to have real consequences down the line. Bluntly: if a parent can demand an unnecessary surgical procedure to be performed on a minor because of a religious belief how do we make with a straight face the argument that a parent’s religious beliefs about abortion are irrelevant when their child is pregnant? Either we’re supporting parental authority because we want to support oppressed religious minorities or we’re supporting bodily autonomy. We cannot have it both ways, no matter how much we might dislike the idea of a mohel being led away in handcuffs and the uncomfortable comparisons to the shoah that photograph is going to evoke. Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult.

    At the end of the day I just don’t believe that one human being gets to excercise their rights through the body of another without that human’s consent. If a faith says that you have to alter someone else’s body without their consent, no matter how insignificant or minor an alteration…well, then that aspect of the faith is as ugly as any other ideology or creed that would make the same argument. And my response is roughly the same.

    I don’t miss my foreskin at all, that doesn’t mean that someone else had a right to take it without asking me. I do, however, miss other things that have been taken from me through the violation of my bodily integrity. It ain’t just governments and clinic protesters who ought to keep their hands off other people’s bodies.

  53. IntimateInsurgence
    IntimateInsurgence June 25, 2011 at 2:42 am |

    I was seeing red by the time I made it to the bottom of the comments page.

    I am horrified at the attempts to justify mutilating infants.

    It really rips my heart out. I am fortunate to not have to have been traumatized at such a crucially young age, to not be missing a part of myself, taken from me when I was too vulnerable to resist. Such a permanent decision clearly needs to be in the hands of the individual.

    @CaliOak I once heard someone posit that there was a correlation between rates of male genital mutilation and those of war.

  54. Yonmei
    Yonmei June 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |

    William: Bluntly: if a parent can demand an unnecessary surgical procedure to be performed on a minor because of a religious belief how do we make with a straight face the argument that a parent’s religious beliefs about abortion are irrelevant when their child is pregnant?

    Bluntly: because forcing a child through pregnancy and childbirth against their will is a much bigger deal (and much, much more likely to permanently damage their body) than male infant circumcision.

    You may not be able to consider that with a straight face, William, but it’s still true.

    preying mantis: It would be great if they could basically do what they’ve done with vaccines in public school–have the default be “no dick-snipping,” with the parents having to positively affirm that they’re doing it for religious or medical reasons if they want to pursue it. A shitload of circumcising is done in this country either by default or because it’s just “what you do.” Making it so you actually have to seek it out wouldn’t put an undue burden on religious families but would knock a huge percentage of circumcisions out of the box.

    I agree.

    Also, I looked at the “Mohel Man” cartoon and suddenly a lot of the support I’d been feeling for the basic principle went away, because wow, that is anti-Semitic, and if that’s what the founder of the campaign is drawing, he’s anti-Semitic.

    Male infant circumcision is such a big deal religiously for Jews and Muslims that any anti-circ campaign being run by an anti-Semite doesn’t deserve support – any law against male infant circumcision has got to be considered and framed with proper respect for both of those religions, especially if the law’s intent is to make it much more difficult for the parents of a baby boy to have him circumcised.

  55. chava
    chava June 25, 2011 at 4:19 am |

    @ William–we make inevitable decisions about our children’s bodies and bodily autonomy all the time. Doesn’t that then imply that there should be some sort of gradation of “this decision is harmful past the point of tolerance” vs not?

    I get the sense that you’re arguing for a bright line of non-medical bodily modification. Any kind of non-necessary modification is and should be illegal, not taking into account the degree potential harm or damage to the child–because the autonomy of the child is the relevant point, not the harm done or not done.
    If we are going to take that kind of bright line–what about haircuts? Ear piercing? Or cutting their fingernails? Certain Jewish families wait until their child is 3 before first cutting their hair.

    And I’m not at thrilled by this:

    We cannot have it both ways, no matter how much we might dislike the idea of a mohel being led away in handcuffs and the uncomfortable comparisons to the shoah that photograph is going to evoke. Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult.

    You “dislike” the idea? It makes you “uncomfortable”? It’s “difficult”? Try terrifying and triggering in the true sense of the word. Then you might get how “uncomfortable” this makes us.

    Not to mention the shades of “well, it’s going to be difficult, but it’s for their own [barbaric] good, in the long run.”

    And hell, why IS this starting with circumcision and not, say, Kristin J’s parents. Or parents who convince their female children it’s their divine duty to marry a 60 year old at 15?

  56. machina
    machina June 25, 2011 at 5:12 am |

    chava,

    Quite possibly. I fail to see what that has to do with Abrahamic circumcision. You’re conflating two different things–the reason infants or boys are circumcised in Judaism and Islam isn’t part of the same “sex is dirty, let’s make it clean” routine it was assimilated to in America.

    Hmm any reason you think that’s the case? My uncle married a Muslim woman whose position on circumcision was that men are dirty and that circumcision was necessary for that purpose.

  57. chava
    chava June 25, 2011 at 5:50 am |

    1) I am not responsible for the beliefs of every Muslim or Jewish woman everywhere.

    2) A lot of cultural stuff gets layered on and mashed up with it. At least in Judaism, circ is just one of those things you do (chukkim). But people don’t like that, so some cultures/communities make up other reasons. It’s like people saying Jews eat kosher because it was healthy, way back when. People like having a *reason.*

    machina:
    chava,

    Quite possibly. I fail to see what that has to do with Abrahamic circumcision. You’re conflating two different things–the reason infants or boys are circumcised in Judaism and Islam isn’t part of the same “sex is dirty, let’s make it clean” routine it was assimilated to in America.

    Hmm any reason you think that’s the case? My uncle married a Muslim woman whose position on circumcision was that men are dirty and that circumcision was necessary for that purpose.

  58. Dan Bollinger
    Dan Bollinger June 25, 2011 at 7:07 am |

    Genital cutting should be carefully investigated with an eye toward human rights and a blind eye toward gender. The real issue here isn’t religion, it is sexism. We protect girls from genital assault, and rightly so. The Federal female genital mutilation law, which has no religious exemption for Muslims, prohibits even a pinprick to extract one drop of blood. Male genital cutting–aka circumcision–is certainly worse than that. We’ve come a long way with gender rights; let’s not perpetuate this harmful double standard. These males are not permitted to have a say in how their body looks, works, and feels, making the forced genital cutting of boys a human rights violation.

    Contrary to popular opinion, FGM rarely reduces a woman’s capacity for orgasm* any more than circumcision does for a man, but both remove the bulk of fine-touch nerves needed to enjoy sex. However, both assaults have the same result, an adult with altered sexuality, which is perpetrator’s real reason, the rest is all smokescreen.

    This ban should go through and all feminists should be in favor of it. If for no other reason that if the Federal FGM law is ever questioned, say by a Somali-American woman who wants her daughter to look like her, the US Supreme Court may set aside the law on the grounds that it is violates gender equity.

    Many feminists are already opposed to MGM, including Camille Paglia, Germain Greer, and Christina Hoff Sommers. Finally, leadership in the anti-FGM movement support stopping MGM, too, and vice-versa. For instance, Intact America, which works to stop MGM in the US, forced the AAP to retract their attempt to begin cutting girls at parents request.

    *Catania L, Abdulcadir O, Puppo V, Verde JB, Abdulcadir J, Abdulcadir D. Pleasure and orgasm in women with Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). J Sex Med. 2007 Nov;4(6):1666-78.

  59. Cait Sevens
    Cait Sevens June 25, 2011 at 7:20 am |

    anna:
    “I think there’s a big difference between that which sadly often happens to young girls in Africa and a very straightforward procedure like male circumcision.”

    Absolutely. Whether or not you think circumcision should be banned, please do not say it’s the same thing as female genital muitilation, the entire purpose and usual effect of which is to completely deprive women of orgasms, which doesn’t happen in circumcisions unless they are horribly botched. It really pisses me off when MRAs whine about how “genital mutilation” is supposedly illegal for girls but not for boys, as if fgm and male circumcision are the same thing.

    Female circumcision can range from less mutilation than a male circ. to far more and usually where there are girls being circ’d there are boys also being circ’d with the same blunt instruments that we never hear about.

    Also, to take the competitive view -mass circ. of male children and the byproducts used to make face cream for wealthy women and the fact that the foreskin and frenulum are the most sensitive parts of the penis and all the other reasons why male circ. is wrong, and dismiss them because of the examples of more damaging circ. of some females in Africa is hardly useful.

  60. EG
    EG June 25, 2011 at 9:39 am |

    what about haircuts? Ear piercing? Or cutting their fingernails?

    Haircuts are not permanent; hair grows back. Infants need their fingernails cut so that they don’t scratch themselves; fingernails too grow back.

    I’m not a big fan of piercing infants’ ears for just the issues of consent and bodily autonomy discussed.

    And hell, why IS this starting with circumcision and not, say, Kristin J’s parents. Or parents who convince their female children it’s their divine duty to marry a 60 year old at 15?

    Well, what do you mean by “starting”? In many, many states, it’s illegal for minors to get tattoos regardless of parental consent. The United States has a law against FGM. But sure, I’d be on board with a law prohibiting marriage, with or without parental consent, until the age of majority.

  61. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl June 25, 2011 at 9:53 am |

    I find it quite amusing that USians here commenting – whose recent and current foreign policy is about going round the world imposing *their* beliefs onto others in an often violent and always imperialistic manner – find it so very offensive that religious minority parents want to enact their beliefs with and through their children in a minimally harmful manner.
    Be consistent people.
    And tothose of you that don’t understand what Chava says when she says:

    You “dislike” the idea? It makes you “uncomfortable”? It’s “difficult”? Try terrifying and triggering in the true sense of the word. Then you might get how “uncomfortable” this makes us.

    …check your Gentile privilege.

  62. Bloix
    Bloix June 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |

    The anti-circumcision folks here seem to place a great deal of weight on personal physical autonomy and none at all on family autonomy. In the world I want to live in, the state leaves families alone as much as possible, intervening to give support and assistance but refraining from using the criminal law to coerce behavior except to prevent serious bodily harm.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t see any reason to allow the state to raise barriers to a practice that is disfavored in order to change behaviors.

    So, I could see a law that says that hospitals may not circumcise an infant boy during the mother’s hospital stay during childbirth. And I could see a law that bars state money being used for circumcision.

    But prohibiting circumcision outright, including to religious minorities for whom it is a crucial element of identity? That would be extremely damaging to the integrity of the family, which is something that is as or more important than the relatively trivial invasion of the infant boy’s physical integrity.

  63. Bloix
    Bloix June 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |

    Sorry, I meant that I see no reason to prevent the state from raising barriers. I should proof before posting.

  64. EG
    EG June 25, 2011 at 10:03 am |

    I’m a Jew, not a Gentile. I don’t think past persecution should make Jewish practices sacrosanct when they affect people who do not/cannot consent.

    That said, I’m not convinced that making circumcision illegal is the best way to go about dealing with it. But I’ve always been disturbed by it being OK for someone who is not a medical professional to go around performing minor surgery, and I’ve always been disturbed that somehow it’s OK to cut off part of a baby boy’s penis in my tradition’s practice, but for a consenting adult to get a tattoo is a no-no.

    I find it quite amusing that USians here commenting – whose recent and current foreign policy is about going round the world imposing *their* beliefs onto others in an often violent and always imperialistic manner – find it so very offensive that religious minority parents want to enact their beliefs with and through their children in a minimally harmful manner.

    I’m not sure that someone whose screen name suggests that she’s from Britain has a leg to stand on there, but regardless…when did having been born in the US mean that I approve of US foreign policy?

  65. chava
    chava June 25, 2011 at 10:20 am |

    I think those examples only make sense when responding specifically to William’s comment @58, fwiw. If we’re not going to make any sort of gradation of what is allowable non-medical modification and what is not, then yes, haircuts, ear piercing & fingernail clipping fall in that.

    What I meant by “starting” was in response to William’s comment that the anti-circ debate was a “border skirmish,” the beginnings of a larger fight, etc. I’m saying its suspect the specific religious practices that have come under attack (in America and Europe) regarding the intersection of religious freedom, children, and bodily autonomy are those of immigrants and historically marginalized people, rather than equally dubious (at least!) practices of the majority faith.

    FWIW, if the faith eventually changes so circ isn’t part of it anymore, that’s fine–one of the better parts of Judiasm is its ability to adapt over time. But I’m not at all sanguine about a(nother) law in a long historical series of states banning it. Social pressure, not legal.

    EG: Haircuts are not permanent; hair grows back.Infants need their fingernails cut so that they don’t scratch themselves; fingernails too grow back.

    I’m not a big fan of piercing infants’ ears for just the issues of consent and bodily autonomy discussed.

    Well, what do you mean by “starting”?In many, many states, it’s illegal for minors to get tattoos regardless of parental consent.The United States has a law against FGM.But sure, I’d be on board with a law prohibiting marriage, with or without parental consent, until the age of majority.

  66. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 25, 2011 at 10:21 am |

    West End? Like, London’s West End?

    If that’s right, hey, thanks for all of your help in our imperialistic conquests the last ten years or so. We couldn’t have done it without your support. Obviously, there’s no way you could dissent from what your government has done because then it would be inconsistent with your stance on circumcision. (I really hope you understand that this is a completely ridiculous jump).

  67. William
    William June 25, 2011 at 11:12 am |

    we make inevitable decisions about our children’s bodies and bodily autonomy all the time. Doesn’t that then imply that there should be some sort of gradation of “this decision is harmful past the point of tolerance” vs not?

    With the exception of ear piercing (which, truth be told, I’m pretty uncomfortable with when its dones before a kid is old enough to say they want their ears pierced) I’m hardpressed to think of an example where parents make decisions about their children’s bodies which are irreversible, surgical, and not medically necessary. I’m sure there are some other common cosmetic surgeries (I’ve a vague memory as a child of hearing about a neighbor having their infant’s earlobes detached from just behind the jawline because there was some webbing), but honestly my position is the same for those kinds of situations.

    I’m not sure we should be making gradations decisions about one person’s autonomy based on another person’s religious beliefs. If it isn’t medically necessary I don’t think parents ought to be able to do it. Parents and doctors have been assigning specific genders, and then making surgical adjustments, to intersex kids for a very long time. Theres the whole sad David Reimer case (which stems from a botched circumcision). I think airing on the side of caution for the rights of the individual versus tolerance or religious tradition or respect for parental authority is the least oppressive of a bad set of options.

    Any kind of non-necessary modification is and should be illegal, not taking into account the degree potential harm or damage to the child–because the autonomy of the child is the relevant point, not the harm done or not done.
    If we are going to take that kind of bright line–what about haircuts? Ear piercing? Or cutting their fingernails? Certain Jewish families wait until their child is 3 before first cutting their hair.

    Clipped nails and cut hair grow back. Even the most severe botch of either is unlikely to cause serious permanent damage. The same cannot be said of circumcision. I think that the permanence and the risk make circumcision fundamentally different from your other examples.

    You “dislike” the idea? It makes you “uncomfortable”? It’s “difficult”? Try terrifying and triggering in the true sense of the word. Then you might get how “uncomfortable” this makes us.

    Look, its ugly, but sometimes the rights of different groups of oppressed persons end up at odds. The only reason this is even a serious discussion is because we, as a society, tend to be a lot more careful when jews are involved because they have suffered terribly and there is a very long history of Jews suffering absolutely inhuman levels of oppression. I absolutely think its worth talking about. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone’s history gives them a claim on someone else’s body. If that means some people get triggered because someone gets arrested for taking a scalpel to an unwilling human being?

    Well…

    And hell, why IS this starting with circumcision and not, say, Kristin J’s parents. Or parents who convince their female children it’s their divine duty to marry a 60 year old at 15?

    Thats a worthwhile question. At the same time, just because the guy who is agitating for this bill is pretty obviously a racist doesn’t mean that the bodily integrity of children shouldn’t be enshrined into law. I’ve got just as big a problem with making kids handle snakes and arranged marriages.

  68. William
    William June 25, 2011 at 11:24 am |

    I’m saying its suspect the specific religious practices that have come under attack (in America and Europe) regarding the intersection of religious freedom, children, and bodily autonomy are those of immigrants and historically marginalized people, rather than equally dubious (at least!) practices of the majority faith.

    But Jews and Muslims make up a tiny minority of the circumcisions performed. Even the asshat who runs the campaign started taking shots at doctors and it looks to me like most of his animus towards Jews stems from the fact that they practice the procedure he’s decided to make his pet issue. I certainly think that laws which effect historically oppressed peoples deserve more scrutiny, but I’m not convinced that we’re dealing with animus towards Jews or Muslims as a core motivator here. It looks like animus towards circumcision.

    And, frankly, I’m kind of disgusted that Jews and Muslims think they ought to get a free pass because their brand of tradition and authority is more special than a doctor’s generations old bizarre hygiene myth-motivated authority. Fuck it, if cutting people who haven’t asked to be cut and don’t medically need to be cut is wrong then I don’t much care about the motivations of the people with the knives.

  69. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm |

    If they want to use the religious freedom argument then why is female circumcision federally banned? They had a case of Ethiopian or Somalian who was being tried for for performing his religious beliefs on his daughter..it’s unfortunate because the male circumcision case is a classic example of misandry in society the fact that this is a debate is sad because had this been about female circumcision their would be an outcry..and before any one answers about the “health” benefits..remember that most of the world is NOT circumcised..and their aren’t rampant cases of penile cancers etc..In fact I watched an interesting UK BBC show about human sexuality..and they actually had women judge different male genitalia..i was shocked because most of the women had never seen a uncircumcised penis..i had assumed circumcision was common in the UK like it is here in the US..that led me to research it and I also learned that uncircumcised men are more likely to get breast cancer than penile cancer which means it’s very rare…this barbaric practice needs to be stopped.

  70. lb
    lb June 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    I’m a jewish woman and would awithout a second thought have my son circumsized. I will also get him all of his shots. Both have medical benefits. The College of pediatricians has repeatedly said that circumcision reduces a man’s chance of transmitting and catch many sti’s.
    The choice should be with the parents. But science and not just gut judgements of calling it male genital mutilation should be listened to

  71. David
    David June 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    Yeah, the campaign could certainly drop the anti-semitism if it wanted to be more persuasive.

    On the other hand, I personally lean slightly in favor of the ban.

  72. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni June 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm |

    @chava (and anyone saying “It prevents X, cuts down on Y)

    FWIW, my brother (step-bro, not Jewish) wasn’t cut. He certainly didn’t want to be–right up until his foreskin got infected and grew onto his glans, and he had to have an emergency circumcision. My stepmother wishes she had done the procedure when he was a baby. I’m not sure how that generalizes out, but it’s interesting anecdata.

    Phimosis happens. It doesn’t need surgery unless it’s been allowed to reach a critical state. Steroid and moisturising creams, and a dose of antibiotics for the infection, usually work wonders. It does take longer than surgery would, but it really does work.

    Also, in the US, there’s less general knowledge of how to care for an intact penis (ie. don’t. Leave it alone) and parents often try to clean under the foreskin, which causes scarring and can cause adhesions. That could account for increased anecdata about phimosis from people in the US.

    The thing is, in the UK (with the exception of Muslims and Jews) penises are left intact. To hear some Americans talk you’d think intact penises made men have constant UTIs, infections under the foreskin, that they were ‘dirty’ or ‘ugly’ or ‘smelly’. Oddly enough, the cis men and boys of the UK are not staggering around, clutching their cocks, and crying in agony. Also, the people who sleep with said men are not repressing an urge to vomit, or snigger, or run away.

    I hear far fewer British women complaining about ‘death grip’ or ‘jackhammering’. Contrary to popular belief, Brits are not shy, giggling prudes when it comes to sex, it’s talked about everywhere, IRL and online, and the subject of ‘death grip’ does not pop up (sorry) with the same frequency in majority-UK venues.

    As for the argument based on the flawed “It makes transmission of STIs more difficult” studies, well yeah, it would. Bacteria typically like soft, moist mucous membranes. They wouldn’t stand a chance trying to lock onto keratinised, dry tissue. Science there, people. Speaking of science, it has improved upon ancient methods and brought forth the condom. Latex, non-latex, for penises, for vaginas, and better at cutting down fluid-borne STIs than any method other than abstinence. Condoms are surely better than cutting?

    Americans -tell the Ghost of Kellogg that, while his cereal may be delicious, his ideas on ‘purity’ were bunk.

  73. EG
    EG June 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm |

    On the topic of infections and STDs, I would point out that while I got recurrent ear infections as a child, ear infections that were sometimes resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics, nobody ever suggested that the solution was to cut my ears off.

  74. chava
    chava June 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    @ William (sorry, I suck at HTML on multiple comments)

    I think “irreversable, surgical, and not medically necessary” were the criteria I was trying to get at. From your earlier comment it sounded as if ANY bodily modification, regardless of its permenence, would constitute an infringement on the bodily autonomy of a minor.

    “With the exception of ear piercing (which, truth be told, I’m pretty uncomfortable with when its dones before a kid is old enough to say they want their ears pierced) I’m hardpressed to think of an example where parents make decisions about their children’s bodies which are irreversible, surgical, and not medically necessary. I’m sure there are some other common cosmetic surgeries (I’ve a vague memory as a child of hearing about a neighbor having their infant’s earlobes detached from just behind the jawline because there was some webbing), but honestly my position is the same for those kinds of situations.”

  75. preying mantis
    preying mantis June 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm |

    “That could account for increased anecdata about phimosis from people in the US.”

    Most likely it’s just because we’re transitioning from really, really, really commonly circumcising (no foreskin, no phimosis, no real reason to know what phimosis is or talk about foreskin maintenance with pubescent boys) to circumcising a whole lot less. So we’re getting boys and young men who have phimosis, and parents who have no fucking clue what that is and aren’t having the “So, you should be able to pull it back and clean under it by now” talk with their children because of a combination of ignorance and squeamishness, so something that should be reasonably easy to treat going critical (infection, tearing during intercourse) has started popping up in anecdata.

    Kind of like how clitoral phimosis is practically undiagnosed because nobody fucking knows it can really happen and gynecologists don’t mess with the clitoris unless the patient has voiced concerns about it, which you aren’t going to do if you know you’re having difficulty reaching orgasm but have no idea that a too-tight clitoral hood can a) happen and b) have that result.

  76. chava
    chava June 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm |

    Because that wouldn’t help…people with no external pinnea have worse troubled with infection. Repeated tonsillitis and adenoid infections, or preventative appendectomies, are more of a parallel, and indeed, medical opinion right now is leaning away from the surgical approach.

    I don’t know what the conversation between my brother’s doc and my stepmother was, but I know he’d had repeated infections and this was presented as the best option. Was the doctor biased? Possibly.

    EG:
    On the topic of infections and STDs, I would point out that while I got recurrent ear infections as a child, ear infections that were sometimes resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics, nobody ever suggested that the solution was to cut my ears off.

  77. Skeptic, MD
    Skeptic, MD June 25, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    It seems that at some point parents have to be able to consent for medical procedures for their children. If one decides that circumcision (which may have some health benefits, although at a clear but quite tiny risk) is not something parents can consent for, how do you legitimately draw the line when it comes to other procedures that are at least in part ‘cosmetic?’ Earlier this was discussed as an extreme example, but why shouldn’t it be up to the child with the cleft palate to decide if they should undergo repair? While feeding and increased ear infections can be issues, these can be dealt with with, leaving the main complication the social/psychological consequences of not appearing ‘normal.’ And cleft palate repair is a markedly more complicated and risky procedure than circumcision (a study from the journal Head and Face Medicine placed the rate of ‘minor’ perioperative complication of cleft palate/lip repair at 28% and of ‘major’ perioperative complications at 14%, vastly higher than comparable circumcision rates).

    The intactivists I’ve met or read about online typically follow the same pattern that the anti-choice movement or anti-vaccine movement do, dwelling on exceedingly rare severe complications and downplaying any benefit.

  78. Cmm
    Cmm June 25, 2011 at 7:20 pm |

    Just to clarify, my comments and information were not by way of justifying male circumcision on a religious basis. I actually haven’t stated any personal opinion on the concept or the ban.

    I was merely pointing out that no matter how passionate a tiny group of people may feel about a total ban, when that concept comes up against the concept and the visuals of putting Jews in jail for their religious practices, it will not happen. A much larger percemtageof the population of the US would find that horrifying than currently find circumcision horrifying.

    I deliberately did not mention Muslim circumcision because Americans in general seem much more comfortable placing restrictions on Muslim practices (even when they don’t have a clear idea of what that means, such as the bans on sharia law).

    Male circumcision is not just a Jewish tradition, it is a central tradition and one of the oldest; according to the Torah (and the Old Testament) it was a commandment from God to Abraham, thus predates the Ten Commandments/giving of the Torah to Moses by generations. And if Jews never stopped doing it through all the times when only they circumcised and having a circumcised penis could mean torture and/or death, they will not stop for a city ordinance, which puts the government in the position of jailing people for their religious beliefs. Repeatedly.

    Only a very small minority of people is sanguine about that prospect, such as some of the posters above. The vast majority of people will find jailing Jews for something they have been doing, legally, in this country for centuries, far more repugnant.

    Moreover, lots of fundamentalist Christians and nonreligious Jews will strongly oppose this perceived persecution. A law that requires this will either be a non starter or unenforceable; that is simply reality. And the more leaders of the anti-circumcision movement blow off the religious angle or make cartoons like the one linked, the less chance their other potentially valid points will reach the mass audience.

    Personally I would vote for a law that set non-circumcision as the default and required affirmative request by the parents, and maintained a religious exemption, but I would not vote for a total ban because of my discomfort with the implications, not to mention that as a law enforcement officer, I could personally find myself ordered to arrest someone on that basis.

    The discussion here is all well and good and there are good points to be made about bodily integrity and what parents get to decide for children and when, and I am sure the advocacy of circumcision as a general hygiene practice has been oversold in the past. But the law on the ballot in SF is simply not feasible as it stands, and passing it and enforcing it as is will probably do the anti circumcision movement actual harm.

  79. haley
    haley June 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm |

    Why is religious belief/tradition a valid argument for supporting/tolerating circumcision… and why stop there? Extending that logic of protecting peoples’ religious liberties would mean we ought to stop being pro-choice, pro-sexuality, pro-equality, anti-slavery, etc.

    I say that because the right wing, conservatives and fundamentalists form most of their world views around their religion and use the right to religious freedom as a shield and sword to not only get away with behaviors but to impose them on others.

    What does it mean to have religious freedom or religious rights? I think those are absurd ideas. You have the right to exist, to autonomy and self determination, and if that means practicing your faith or being religious, thats fine. But your autonomy, self-determination and right to exist does not include harming or restricting those same rights for others.

    I’m glad that many men are content and unharmed by their circumcision. What I’m harping against, is the fact that a unnecessary medical procedure was done to them because of aesthetic cultural and/or religious values without their consent. Consent and autonomy are sacrificed for the supposed right of “religious freedom” and that is what I think is unethical.

    Challenging the power of organized religion used to be a strength of “the Left”. Now it seems we are all too subjective and culturally relative to actually put our foot down and say “religion is not an excuse for unethical behaviors.”

    Here is an example.
    “City Questions Circumcision Ritual After Baby Dies”:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/nyregion/26circumcise.html

  80. vanessa
    vanessa June 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm |

    This is a really interesting thread. I am always shocked that people–even people that I love and respect–have allowed their someone (in the case of a bris, a non doctor someone!) to literally cut of a piece of their newborn. I honestly think it is barbaric. I get that it’s religious tradition, and I get that any ban that seems to single out Jews is, for obvious reasons, hugely problematic. I also think that having NOT cutting your infant as the default status would be great. And…well, like I said in my first comment, if I were to have children with a Jewish guy there’s no chance in hell I’d let me kid get cut. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that I’d divorce over it, but to me it feels like such a basic tenant: you do not hurt your child unless you absolutely have to, as in your child NEEDS medical care that will be painful (and even then, you do everything in your power to take away the pain).
    The whole “well I was circ’d and I turned out fine” reminds me very much of the “I was spanked and I turned out fine” camp. I mean, okay, great, whatever, glad you’re fine, but for gods sake, that does not mean hitting children is okay. It is not. There isn’t a gray area.

  81. suspect class
    suspect class June 25, 2011 at 8:56 pm |

    haley:

    Challenging the power of organized religion used to be a strength of “the Left”. Now it seems we are all too subjective and culturally relative to actually put our foot down and say “religion is not an excuse for unethical behaviors.”

    Here is an example.
    “City Questions Circumcision Ritual After Baby Dies”:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/nyregion/26circumcise.html

    The article you’re citing discusses a practice that the article itself makes clear is involved in specifically Hasidic ritual circumcisions, not all Jewish circumcisions. You’re taking a very small group of people who engage in a number of practices that are very different from those of the rest of Jewish communities, and holding it out as an example of “Jews bad.” You can’t cherry-pick examples of controversial Hasidic practices and use it against Jews generally. Or, I suppose you can and did, but it’s arguing in bad faith at best.

    And obviously, a clear difference between banning circumcision and opposing banning abortion is that the latter doesn’t impinge on people’s religious practices, except to the extent that knowing people out there are not following your religion impedes your religious freedom.

  82. EG
    EG June 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm |

    OK, Chava, fair enough. I also got pink eye repeatedly in junior high, and removing my eye was not discussed as an option (even though it was always the left one, and when I got it again a couple years ago, it was the left one again–what’s up with that, body?). My comment was supposed to be less directed at you (if there are repeated infections and circumcision is the best option, I think that’s one thing; it’s the whole allegedly preventative thing I dislike–you’re removing the foreskin because your kid might get infections?) than at lb.

    I would suggest, though, that the reason that this law is directed at circumcision rather than snake handling is probably less because Jews and Muslims do circumcision and more because circumcision is the default for most people in the US, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

  83. EG
    EG June 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm |

    And obviously, a clear difference between banning circumcision and opposing banning abortion is that the latter doesn’t impinge on people’s religious practices, except to the extent that knowing people out there are not following your religion impedes your religious freedom.

    I believe parallel being drawn has to do with requiring parental consent for a minor to have an abortion. Why is it OK to give parents the final say in whether or not to cut off a piece of an infant’s penis but not OK to give them the final say in whether or not their minor child has an abortion? I am very opposed to allowing parents to determine whether or not their minor daughter has or doesn’t have an abortion.

  84. suspect class
    suspect class June 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm |

    EG: I believe parallel being drawn has to do with requiring parental consent for a minor to have an abortion.Why is it OK to give parents the final say in whether or not to cut off a piece of an infant’s penis but not OK to give them the final say in whether or not their minor child has an abortion?I am very opposed to allowing parents to determine whether or not their minor daughter has or doesn’t have an abortion.

    I am also opposed to parental notification laws. Children have a right to medical care, including the right to make decisions regarding reproductive health. On that note, if a 14 year old can choose to get birth control, why shouldn’t a 14 year old be allowed to get a circumcision? If the proposed referendum were passed, that would be the result.

  85. suspect class
    suspect class June 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm |

    & the comment I was replying to was much broader than the issue of parental consent laws, though that issue has been discussed elsewhere in this thread.

  86. haley
    haley June 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm |

    suspect class @90:

    I would agree that if a 14 year old boy willingly (not coerced) decided to go to a doctor and have a circumcision, whether for aesthetic or religious reasons, that would be acceptable because it was an act of self determination and consent.

  87. haley
    haley June 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm |

    @suspect class @87

    My argument was made in good faith (no pun intended). You are trying to create a straw man and make assumptions about my character by citing statements I never made (nor would) such as “Jews bad” or that I’m trying to cherry pick cases against Jews.

    I don’t care what religion you are, or what sect or how small or marginalized that sect is. Religious freedom is not an ethical argument for engaging in unethical actions. I’m citing that article as a specific example of a community accepting/tolerating an otherwise unethically deemed action because people (parents in this case) have a right to religious freedom (even at the expense of children).

    From the article:

    “The practice is known as oral suction, or in Hebrew, metzitzah b’peh: after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it. It became a health issue after a boy in Staten Island and twins in Brooklyn, circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004, contracted Type-1 herpes….one of the twins died”

    “…issue has left the city struggling to balance its mandate to protect public health with the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.”

    “We’re going to do a study, and make sure that everybody is safe and at the same time, it is not the government’s business to tell people how to practice their religion.”

    The article, as am I, are addressing the intersection of the broader community and “religious rights” and how this relates to child rights, community health and sexual ethics as a whole.

  88. Chookie
    Chookie June 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm |

    The way I feel about circumcision is this…

    I grew up in the UK, where it is pretty rare to find a cut male – for the most part (religious or medical reasons aside) boys are not circumcised routinely.

    I have been with both uncut and cut men, and I have to say that uncut is more fun – there is more to play with… and contrary to what some people thing, an uncut penis is NOT less hygienic than a cut one (if your uncut man’s penis smells teach him to wash – his mother should have done that anyhow!), they do not smell more and there are not higher incidences of infections, penile cancer or other nasty diseases due to the vast majority of the male population being as mother nature intended…

    My husband was originally intact, but had to be circumcised for medical reasons (nothing “catching”) – it was due to a skin condition that was causing his foreskin and some other skin on his body to become less flexible – but on the penis it meant he was having trouble and pain retracting the foreskin and it was becoming difficult for him to both have sex and clean under his foreskin – cure – circumcision in his mid 30′s.

    He has stated that since he has been circumsised, he feels virtually no sexual pleasure and can find it hard to orgasm… I guess most men who were “done” as babies have nothing to compare it to, and as a result they say it has not affected them. But men who were circumcised as adults, after they have had sexual experiences DO say that it makes a huge difference…

    I DO see infant male circumcision as genital mutilation of an unconsenting infant – A baby cannot consent to you chopping off the most sensitive part of their body, it WILL hurt (even if they use a numbing cream, once that wears off your baby WILL feel incredible pain) and I do support any bill that eventually banns what is for the most part a totally unnecessary procedure.

    The vast majority of boys will not need a medical circumcision, and if they do, it can be done when needed under a general anaesthetic. Very different to how most routine circumcisions are performed when done routinely. Most infants are not given any form of anaesthesia – and if you are telling me that a numbing gel can deal with the pain of having the end of a penis lopped off works you are in Lala land as far as I am concerned!

    The research that claims that it can help prevent penile cancer, HIV and other STI’s are flawed because there are not higher incidences of these in countries that do not traditionally chop the ends off their baby boys penises (ie europe).

    And if you are going to argue that removal of a body part prevents cancer, lets start chopping the breasts of baby girls in an effort to prevent breast cancer! – not acceptable eh??? of course not! But it is acceptable to remove the most sensitive part of your boys penis on the spurious grounds that it will prevent penile cancer, or even that it will “make him look just like daddy” or will prevent him being mocked in the locker room….

    There is no good reason for an uncircumcised penis to smell or be unhygienic – just teach your sons to wash!

    I only had girls, but believe me, if I had had a boy he would not have been non-consensually mutilated!

  89. Hugh7
    Hugh7 June 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm |

    Shoshie:
    Jill-

    If the focus of the campaign is the substantially larger percentage of circumcisions that are done routinely in hospitals, than why does the campaign material focus so heavily on demonization of Jews?It certainly raises my hackles quite a bit.And, yeah, it was made by the person who wrote the law and is heading the campaign.So I’m not particularly willing to trust in good intentions.

    The campaign material does not focus heavily on demonization of Jews. One comic strip, obscure until the ADL heard about it, featured demonization of circumcisors. Apparently it all started as an in-joke. It came out of left-field to the rest of us. The San Francisco people have disavowed the San Diego comic. It wasn’t put out by the movement as a whole by any means – for years every organised Intactivist group had had “no antisemitism” written into their terms and conditions, but social media now mean that every Tom Dick and Adolf can have their say. Interestingly the REAL anti-semites, the American Nazi Party and the KKK, have nothing to say about circumcision. (They probably think it is “the white American thing to do”.)

  90. Hugh7
    Hugh7 June 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm |

    suspect class: I am also opposed to parental notification laws. Children have a right to medical care, including the right to make decisions regarding reproductive health. On that note, if a 14 year old can choose to get birth control, why shouldn’t a 14 year old be allowed to get a circumcision? If the proposed referendum were passed, that would be the result.

    Because circumcision is a permanent reduction of a sexual organ, and a 14 year old might want one for conformist reasons before he fully understood the effect it might have on his sexual functioning. A 14 year old can have birth control on the pragmatic basis that a 14 year old using birth control is a lesser evil than a pregnant 14 year old or a 14 year old father.

  91. Azalea
    Azalea June 26, 2011 at 1:19 am |

    There is something disturbingly disgusting about a parent claiming the religius right to cut their child’s perfectly healthy genitalia. Gender has no relevance. There are mutilated girls withut clitori that say they dont fele damaged and dnt think they are missing anything, but how the hell wuld they know when they were missing a part of their genitalia before they ever got the chance t use it. The fact that nbdy wants anybdy to have a real choice in the matter goes t further show how disgusting it really is, if circumcision is so great why arent the 70% of men in the world who are not circumcized lined up to get it done?

  92. Azalea
    Azalea June 26, 2011 at 1:29 am |

    William: I think that in most cases I would agree with you, but I think that this isn’t as straightforward a religious liberty issue as some are presenting it. Children aren’t the property of their parents and, as much as I think its important to respect custom, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a religious group asserting it’s right to religious expression upon the bodies of individuals in general, much less the bodies of individuals incapable of consent. Whether circumcision is good, bad, or indifferent is irrelevant here because we’re talking about alterations to a human body. Barring a serious medical need, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of allowing people to make decisions about the bodies of others. Thats doubly true when those decisions lead to permanent alterations. .

    I TOTALLY agree with you here. That is what bothers me so much that circumcision isn’t about a PARENT expressing their religion but about a parent IMPOSING , PAINFULLY and PERMANENTLY a religious rite on a person who cant not consent or resist. What is so horrible about allowing your child to decide what medically unnecessary procedures will happen to their genitals?

  93. Azalea
    Azalea June 26, 2011 at 1:38 am |

    lb: I’m a jewish woman and would awithout a second thought have my son circumsized. I will also get him all of his shots. Both have medical benefits. The College of pediatricians has repeatedly said that circumcision reduces a man’s chance of transmitting and catch many sti’s.The choice should be with the parents. But science and not just gut judgements of calling it male genital mutilation should be listened to

    The College of Pediatrics debunked that BS myth . Circumcision is cutting off a piece of a newborn baby’s genitals and inflictign pain o him because you want to. There is NO medical or scientific benefit to circumcision.

  94. Miss S
    Miss S June 26, 2011 at 2:27 am |

    I don’t care what religion you are, or what sect or how small or marginalized that sect is. Religious freedom is not an ethical argument for engaging in unethical actions.

    Unethical to whom? Obviously not the people of the marginalized sect. So, the people who aren’t marginalized get to impose their ethics on the marginalized group?

    Sounds like…. business as usual.

    For the record, my family isn’t Jewish. My family is Black American, and all of the men are circumcised. It’s more of a cultural thing than religious for us.

  95. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. June 26, 2011 at 2:39 am |

    Miss S: So, the people who aren’t marginalized get to impose their ethics on the marginalized group?

    The marginalized “group” in this context is the infant with a penis who cannot speak for zirself about what ze wants done with it. The marginalized group is not a religious sect, its an unconsenting person, a human being with a separate identity from zir parents.

  96. Skeptic, MD
    Skeptic, MD June 26, 2011 at 7:13 am |

    To be honest, the conensensus pediatric opinion wasn’t that there were no health benefits, rather that there weren’t enough to clearly outweigh the possible risks. The flip-side of this is the risks weren’t sufficiently frequent (particularly when balanced against possible benefits) to recommend against it, which they clearly would if it was purely a cosmetic procedure.

  97. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 26, 2011 at 8:55 am |

    EG: I would suggest, though, that the reason that this law is directed at circumcision rather than snake handling is probably less because Jews and Muslims do circumcision and more because circumcision is the default for most people in the US, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

    Also, awareness. I agree wholeheartedly that the way this law is handled and why it probably came into existence has to do with otherizing religious-folks, regardless of my own opinion on whether or not it’s just. BUT – I can honestly say that I’d never heard about children snake handling before Kristen’s comment. (I’m really sorry you went through that, and I’m glad you ended up so awesome on this side of it).

  98. Amarantha
    Amarantha June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |

    Chookie,
    I know several people who were circumcised as a adult (as part of conversion), and they have not suffered a “virtual lack of sexual pleasure and inability to orgasm.” That’s not to say it can’t happen, but that your husband’s response to adult circumcision is not necessarily the norm. Anecdata, etc. etc.
    Also, I think it’s a mistake to say that the reactions of an adult who has a body part removed will mirror those of a child who grew up without it. The body will naturally process sensation differently if all the neural connections associated with pleasure form before surgery. For some people, being circumcised as adults may cause very little loss of sensitivity, and for others, being cut as a baby could be the easiest.

    People who use the scare tactics of claiming horrible side effects and disfigurement as the reason for banning circ are either disingenuous or misguided–dozens of studies have found both relatively little harm and relatively little benefit to the procedure.

    The real issue is one of autonomy–do you believe that parents should have the right to make non-medically necessary, permanent medical decisions for their children? Personally, I think parents do have that right, as long as the harm is minimal and the benefits important. I think that level of harm is not zero. And I think they should be allowed to weigh all sorts of benefits–acceptance in your culture being a huge one–when doing the calculus. For example my parents made me wait pierce my ears until I was 10–they wanted me to be old enough to make that decision. But everyone else in my class had pierced ears, and not having them made me feel left out and even more gawky than I already was. I promptly got them pierced at 10. Now I think they should have privileged conformity over consent and just pierced my ears when I was really young.

    An example of a level of harm I think should be legally allowed: I was spanked as a child. Did I like it? No. Did I think it helped? No. Was I damaged by it? Very possibly, but I can’t actually pinpoint specific long-term consequences associated with it. Do I think society should frown upon any corporal punishment, so that parents increasingly feel pressure not to use it? Yes. Should it have been illegal for my parents to do so, that it would have been better for me to be taken away from my parents if they were caught? HELL NO!

  99. William
    William June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |

    Yonmei, sorry I missed your response earlier @61

    because forcing a child through pregnancy and childbirth against their will is a much bigger deal (and much, much more likely to permanently damage their body) than male infant circumcision.

    I absolutely agree, but you and I both know that there are a lot of people who do not and that the forced birth movement looks for lateral angles and isn’t terribly concerned with intellectual honesty. Just because forcing a pregnancy to term (or, for that matter, forcing a minor to have an abortion) is a violation many orders of magnitude more severe and troubling than circumcision doesn’t mean that both issues don’t have the similar and related underlying assumptions and arguments about what parents ought to be able to do to minors in their care. Saying that circumcision and forced pregnancy or abortion are the same thing would be patently ridiculous, but they are related by a question of parental authority.

    If a circumcision ban is stricken down, or if a religious exception is forced in, you can bet that whatever legal logic used there will be incorporated into the forced birth movement’s rhetoric and legal strategy because you’ll have a legal ruling upholding the authority of a parent and that parent’s religion in opposition to the bodily sovereignty of a minor. Saying that a parent with a strong religious belief can inflict the stricture of that belief on the bodies of their children is an ugly, dangerous precedent whose consequences could do a lot of damage.

  100. BobSutan
    BobSutan June 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

    anna:
    “I think there’s a big difference between that which sadly often happens to young girls in Africa and a very straightforward procedure like male circumcision.”

    Absolutely. Whether or not you think circumcision should be banned, please do not say it’s the same thing as female genital muitilation, the entire purpose and usual effect of which is to completely deprive women of orgasms, which doesn’t happen in circumcisions unless they are horribly botched. It really pisses me off when MRAs whine about how “genital mutilation” is supposedly illegal for girls but not for boys, as if fgm and male circumcision are the same thing.

    You’re so sure of yourself you can’t see past you own bias. It’s sad really. As for your flawed assumptions, yes, assumptions, that are flawed, not all female circumcision is the same. Many varieties are exactly on par with traditional male circumcision. You going to line up and let that happen to baby girls? Hmmm?

  101. Bloix
    Bloix June 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm |

    Vannessa – you think that circumcision is “barbaric” and therefore you want to make it illegal. Do you mean barbaric in its dictionary definition – uncivilized, savage? It’s hard to imagine an ethnic or religious community less “barbaric” than the Jews. Or perhaps you’re simply using “barbaric” to mean “icky,” which itself has no meaning other than, “it gives me the creeps.”

    Well, maybe it does give you the creeps. But do you really advocate putting parents in prison to save your fee-fees?

  102. IntimateInsurgence
    IntimateInsurgence June 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    because forcing a child through pregnancy and childbirth against their will is a much bigger deal (and much, much more likely to permanently damage their body) than male infant circumcision.

    I’m sorry, but the analysis here is completely backwards. Physiologically speaking, women are naturally capable of having children. This may or may not lead to permanent damage. MGM is nothing BUT permanent damage (except in the case of medical necessity).
    I definitely don’t think women are nothing but walking wombs, but at the same time, using this to say mutilation is “just not that bad” is pretty sickening.

  103. Miss S
    Miss S June 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm |

    The marginalized “group” in this context is the infant with a penis who cannot speak for zirself about what ze wants done with it. The marginalized group is not a religious sect, its an unconsenting person, a human being with a separate identity from zir parents.

    I disagree. Parents have to make all kinds of decisions regarding their children. Then again, I’m one of those women who had their ears pierced as children and certainly don’t feel oppressed. (I bring this up since someone chose to compare the two things.

    Also? The fact that a given person finds an uncircumcised penis more fun because there is “more to play with” should not be relevant in legislation. We can all find different things “fun” and “sexy.”

  104. Miss S
    Miss S June 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm |

    Bloix what does this mean??

    It’s hard to imagine an ethnic or religious community less “barbaric” than the Jews.

    Should any ethnic or religious group be considered more or less barbaric than another? Can’t we just banish the concept of any ethnic/religiois group as barbaric?

  105. Jacobtk
    Jacobtk June 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm |

    People who use the scare tactics of claiming horrible side effects and disfigurement as the reason for banning circ are either disingenuous or misguided–dozens of studies have found both relatively little harm and relatively little benefit to the procedure.

    They are not disingenuous or misguided. Cutting off the tip of a boy’s penis is painful and medically dangerous. It is only because of medical standards in the US that there are not more complications here. In other countries, particularly Muslim countries where most male and female circumcisions are performed, the rate of complications is higher. And while a small percentage of male circumcisions result in complications in the US (between 0.6%  to 2%), because the surgery is done so much (about 79% of all males or 119 million males in the US are circumcised) it results in a thousands of boys suffering various issues from infection to castration.

    The real issue is one of autonomy–do you believe that parents should have the right to make non-medically necessary, permanent medical decisions for their children? Personally, I think parents do have that right, as long as the harm is minimal and the benefits important. 

    So you would allow a parent to cut their child to meet their culture’s scarification rite of passage in adulthood? Or bind their heads? Or stretch their lips? Or tattoo their child? Or remove their child’s baby teeth? These are all things that parents are prohibited from doing despite that they are no more or less harmful than mutilating a boy’s penis. The reason they are barred has little to do with the child’s autonomy, and more to do with the barbarity of the act. So the real issue is why we as a culture find mutilating a boy acceptable while doing the same thing to a girl is considered the most outrageous act of inhumanity possible.

  106. Bloix
    Bloix June 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |

    IntimateInsurgence says, “using this to say mutilation is “just not that bad” is pretty sickening.”

    Jews have been circumcising their male children for well over 2000 years. They enjoy sex, have children, and urinate with no difficulty. These are male children, so it’s the patriarchal gender – we’re not dealing with a procedure that serves to reduce or eliminate sexual pleasure or the ability to procreate.

    Like Vanessa, it makes you sick. Well, your fee-fees are important, I guess. Important enough to send parents to prison?

  107. William
    William June 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm |

    Parents have to make all kinds of decisions regarding their children.

    Not to be crude but…its not their cock. Parents are custodians, not owners.

    Say I ask you to dog sit for me while I’m unable to be in any contact because I’m going to be the first man to jog naked across Antarctica. I expect you to walk the dog, feed it, give it water, play with it, make sure my dog is doing well in my absence. If my dog gets sick I expect you to take it to the vet. I’ve even signed a form giving you full rights to make any medical decisions that might pop up. None of that means we won’t have some ugly words if I come home from scaring penguins and find my dog’s ears docked.

    Then again, I’m one of those women who had their ears pierced as children and certainly don’t feel oppressed.

    I’m not interested in marrying a man. Somehow I still seem to understand why gay marriage is a human rights issue.

  108. David
    David June 26, 2011 at 10:47 pm |

    Bloix:
    IntimateInsurgence says, “using this to say mutilation is “just not that bad” is pretty sickening.”

    Jews have been circumcising their male children for well over 2000 years.They enjoy sex, have children, and urinate with no difficulty.These are male children, so it’s the patriarchal gender – we’re not dealing with a procedure that serves to reduce or eliminate sexual pleasure or the ability to procreate.

    Like Vanessa, it makes you sick.Well, your fee-fees are important, I guess.Important enough to send parents to prison?

    Yeah, go ahead and mutilate a guy’s penis as much as you want. He’s got a “patriarchical gender card”, so he probably can just trade that in for some new foreskin at the store.

  109. Miss S
    Miss S June 27, 2011 at 12:31 am |

    Bloix- I just reread my comment and it sounded harsher than I meant. I totally agree with you, I just don’t like the idea of ‘less barbaric’ because I don’t want any ethnic/religious group considered that.

    I’m really tired of the ‘Oh I would never do that so no one else should ever want to either’ line. How many marginalized groups have been colonized by people who assumed they knew a better way? How many groups have lost parts of their heritage because the majority decided that their own practices were superior?

    Circumcision doesn’t involve anyone except the parents and child, and it shouldn’t.

  110. Miss S
    Miss S June 27, 2011 at 12:38 am |

    William there’s a difference between babysitter and parent. I would be pissed if a babysitter decided to circumcise my child too.

    I realize what your last statement was trying to say, but I just don’t agree. I believe that circumcision should be involve the child and their parents. I don’t need to be a boy or a parent to say this.

    Also, I doubt a bill like this would pass here. I’ve been lightly involved in politics, and alot of politicians frequent the place that I wait tables. The Jewish community on the East Coast have alot of political influence.

  111. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster June 27, 2011 at 1:18 am |

    IntimateInsurgence: Physiologically speaking, women are naturally capable of having children. This may or may not lead to permanent damage. MGM is nothing BUT permanent damage (except in the case of medical necessity).

    It may not be “damage,” but yeah, carrying a child to term causes permanent changes to your body (not to mention your life), plus some of the risks involved (like, I dunno, dying) are permanent as well. And I’d say the physical changes are a lot more significant than the loss of a foreskin. (Not to mention the part where you’ve HAD A KID and need to either raise it or find someone to adopt it, which is a pretty major deal.) If we’re going to speak in physiological terms, let’s stick to facts and not make comparisons that aren’t wildly outrageous. “Natural” doesn’t mean safe or easy or without risk.

    As for circumcision, I like the First Amendment and the establishment clause, and I’m pretty sure this law is “prohibiting the free exercise” of Judaism and Islam. And I’m scared how many otherwise lefty folks see no problem in attacking a practice of two religions that have been consistently demonized throughout Western history. Like others, I don’t think this law will stop anyone, just piss people off and take up a lot of the court’s time.

  112. chava
    chava June 27, 2011 at 1:18 am |

    Wait….is the dog the cock in this allegory?

    William: Not to be crude but…its not their cock. Parents are custodians, not owners.

    Say I ask you to dog sit for me while I’m unable to be in any contact because I’m going to be the first man to jog naked across Antarctica. I expect you to walk the dog, feed it, give it water, play with it, make sure my dog is doing well in my absence. If my dog gets sick I expect you to take it to the vet. I’ve even signed a form giving you full rights to make any medical decisions that might pop up. None of that means we won’t have some ugly words if I come home from scaring penguins and find my dog’s ears docked.

    I’m not interested in marrying a man. Somehow I still seem to understand why gay marriage is a human rights issue.

  113. chava
    chava June 27, 2011 at 1:31 am |

    While I strongly object to the word “barbaric” when applied to marginalized groups (mine or others)…..no. Please don’t do the “Jews are *so much* better than other religions, super smart and civilized” thing. It smacks of model minority syndrome.
    ******
    FYI, for those of you who have described Jewish or Muslim circumcision as barbaric–the word comes from “barbara,” (like to babble) the noise the Greeks (and later Arabs–it’s where we get that lovely term, “Berber”) thought their “uncivilized” enemies made. The Greeks also banned circumcision.

    In any event, regardless of the child autonomy issues at hand, it would be good to be able to make your point without invoking implicit Civilization of the West against Barbaric Practices of the East rubbish.

    Bloix:
    Vannessa – you think that circumcision is “barbaric” and therefore you want to make it illegal.Do you mean barbaric in its dictionary definition – uncivilized, savage?It’s hard to imagine an ethnic or religious community less “barbaric” than the Jews.Or perhaps you’re simply using “barbaric” to mean “icky,” which itself has no meaning other than, “it gives me the creeps.”

    Well, maybe it does give you the creeps. But do you really advocate putting parents in prison to save your fee-fees?

  114. IntimateInsurgence
    IntimateInsurgence June 27, 2011 at 5:16 am |

    @111 I’m no statist. It having been done for 2000 years, whether or not it’s “legal”, and your belief that it’s happyfinegood because cut men can still perform base functions has no bearing on the reprehensibility of permanently mutilating an infant.

    @114 I don’t need a lecture on pregnancy; I didn’t make the comparison in the first place. But you do realize that there are risks associated with cutting off pieces of the body too?

    I wasn’t trying to downplay the risks of pregnancy here. My point was that trauma during genital mutilation is a certainty, not a possibility.

    I don’t care what your propaganda says; religious or CULTural. It doesn’t take a very refined moral compass to know that needlessly cutting infants is a vile practice.

  115. Blacky
    Blacky June 27, 2011 at 6:06 am |

    Bloix:
    Like Vanessa, it makes you sick.Well, your fee-fees are important, I guess.Important enough to send parents to prison?

    You’re asking the wrong question.
    Important enough to spare a kid a procedure that could go wrong or that he may not want to have been done later in his life?
    Yes.
    If that means threatening parents with prison, so be it.

    I’m appaled and disgusted that suddenly religious freedom and parents wishes trump bodily autonomy, because it’s just boys and “a tiny nick of their dick”.

  116. Azalea
    Azalea June 27, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    Miss S: Bloix- I just reread my comment and it sounded harsher than I meant. I totally agree with you, I just don’t like the idea of ‘less barbaric’ because I don’t want any ethnic/religious group considered that. I’m really tired of the ‘Oh I would never do that so no one else should ever want to either’ line. How many marginalized groups have been colonized by people who assumed they knew a better way? How many groups have lost parts of their heritage because the majority decided that their own practices were superior? Circumcision doesn’t involve anyone except the parents and child, and it shouldn’t.

    I don’t know of a single black man who would voluntarily let someone cut their genitals without medical necessity. Ask your male family members, if they weren’t circumcised as babies would they have VOLUNTARILY gotten it done when they were older, without anesthesia (because newborns dont get any) straped down to a surgical table so they can’t move and it will take about 5-10 minutes of cutting to do it just right.

    Please…let us know what they say. Then ask yourself WTF would you FORCE pain on a child that you wouldnt force upon yourself?

    I am willing to bet the reason they would circumcise their sons is because someone forced circumcision on them. It’s like the oldest hazing ritual in this country.

  117. vanessa
    vanessa June 27, 2011 at 12:42 pm |

    wait, are there 2 Vanessas? Because I don’t think I said that it’s barbaric…

  118. Brandy
    Brandy June 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm |

    vanessa:
    wait, are there 2 Vanessas? Because I don’t think I said that it’s barbaric…

    See: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/06/24/banning-circumcision-in-san-francisco/#comment-373153

  119. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl June 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    Um, Azalea:

    Re: this description of male circumcision:

    straped [ sic ] down to a surgical table so they can’t move and it will take about 5-10 minutes of cutting to do it just right.

    I went to my cousin’s brit milah, there was no strapping and the mohel was so fast I didn’t realise it had actually happened, the baby gave one squawk and then had a feed. Hardly the torture you are trying to envoke.

  120. Andie
    Andie June 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    As repugnant as I think circumcision is, I think it’s one of those areas where the approach should be ‘Education, not Legislation’.

    I’m one of those people who cringe at the idea of circumcising infants (or even piercing their ears), but I can see how an outright ban would be problematic with the number of people who would do it anyway.

    Appealing to parents’ sensibilities in regards to putting their child through unnecessary pain, debunking the myths around non-circumcision and for the love of god, let’s knock it off with the ‘I want his to look like Daddy’s’ reasoning. How hard is it to tell a kid “Well, Billy, once upon a time, when Daddy was a baby, people had no problem with slicing off the end of your penis for no apparent reason, and encouraged it. But we think they were wrong, so we didn’t, because we like you and don’t think cutting babies is cool.”

    Not TOO difficult.

  121. Bridget
    Bridget June 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm |

    As I understand it, the methods used for Bris and for hospital circumcision are quite different, and the hospital method seems much more traumatic.

  122. chava
    chava June 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm |

    What about the harm TO THE CHILD of placing the child’s parents in jail FOR A YEAR while the infant goes into the foster system? Because this law proposes 1 yr in jail for the parents, AFAIK. ( I wonder if the parents would have any say in asking for foster parents of their faith…hmmm…so forced removal of children into Christian homes…lovely.)

    RE: the idea that the likleyhood this will pass having zero to do with othering but rather only prevalence: The Supreme Court supported the rights of the Amish/Mennonites to pull their children out of school at 8th grade (1972). They denied Native groups the right to use peyote in their rituals. I’m not aware of the legal intricacies, but the racial ones seem pretty clear-cut.

    Blacky:
    If that means threatening parents with prison, so be it.

  123. chava
    chava June 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm |

    Yes, heaven forfend we not use/trust the Western hospital system for everything. In all seriousness, assuming a basic level of competence, what you want for a good surgery is the frequency with which the person does the procedure. An MD has very little to do with it.

    vanessa:
    This is a really interesting thread. I am always shocked that people–even people that I love and respect–have allowed theirsomeone (in the case of a bris, a non doctor someone!)

  124. Feminist Blog Roundup | Feminist Cupcake

    [...] 4. Jill at Feministe made me aware that there is a call to ban circumcision in San Fransisco. [...]

  125. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm |

    Also, all the mohels I know are medical professionals, either doctors or nurses.

  126. Amarantha
    Amarantha June 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm |

    The people who are suggesting that parents go to jail for circumcising their children have obviously not spent a second in foster care. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. Wow.

  127. Amarantha
    Amarantha June 27, 2011 at 4:24 pm |

    Citation for these numbers please?

    And while a small percentage of male circumcisions result in complications in the US (between 0.6% to 2%

    So you would allow a parent to cut their child to meet their culture’s scarification rite of passage in adulthood? Or bind their heads? Or stretch their lips? Or tattoo their child? Or remove their child’s baby teeth? These are all things that parents are prohibited from doing despite that they are no more or less harmful than mutilating a boy’s penis. The reason they are barred has little to do with the child’s autonomy, and more to do with the barbarity of the act.

    Circumcision is not as harmful as lip stretching or head binding, and the fact that you say it is just proves the point I was trying to make: people who claim horrible disfigurement are disingenuous.
    As for tattooing, I don’t see why parents can’t tattoo their kids if it is a widespread practice in a culture that could prevent infection from the tattoo. If everyone in a culture was tattooed, I’d want to be too; and I wouldn’t care if it was done to me as a child before I could consent.

  128. groggette
    groggette June 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm |

    Amarantha: If everyone in a culture was tattooed, I’d want to be too; and I wouldn’t care if it was done to me as a child before I could consent.

    …. Any one else find this incredibly problematic considering one of the religious groups this law is being aimed at?

  129. Meowser
    Meowser June 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm |

    What about the harm TO THE CHILD of placing the child’s parents in jail FOR A YEAR while the infant goes into the foster system? Because this law proposes 1 yr in jail for the parents, AFAIK.

    My understanding is that it is the person performing the circumcision who would be fined or jailed, not the parents.

    Still, hauling mohels off to jail? Really? So what happens if the parents hop a BART train and have the bris in Oakland?

  130. chava
    chava June 27, 2011 at 6:04 pm |

    “Instead, the referendum expressly states that the ban would apply equally to religious circumcisions. If it passes, Jewish parents in San Francisco who hold a traditional bris, or circumcision ritual, could be sentenced to a year in jail.”

    From TIME’s article on it (June 13)

    Meowser: My understanding is that it is the person performing the circumcision who would be fined or jailed, not the parents.

    Still, hauling mohels off to jail?Really?So what happens if the parents hop a BART train and have the bris in Oakland?

  131. David
    David June 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm |

    I’m part jewish. I’m also circumcised. And while I understand y’all’s concern about jews and muslims being persecuted by this law, I don’t think it is a very solid moral ground to stand on when we say “It’s problematic because group A could be targeted this is passed.”

    Well, this is true. However, if circumcision is morally suspect, like many here would agree, the immorality of cutting off part of a boy’s penis trumps the collateral damage of such a law. Just because Jews have been doing this for thousands of years doesn’t mean it’s right, or acceptable, or unquestionable by default. I would hope that at the very least, the people here would be willing to question “sacred” tradition in the pursuit of higher justice.

    I think the consciousness around this issue is slowly shifting. In the past I scoffed at the anti-circ crowd. I realize now that my position before was informed more by a desire not to see myself victimised by the practice of circumcision. While I still don’t, and in fact, still believe that the best way is to not see oneself as a victim of anything – I do think that it is rather flippant the way that people dismiss circumcision as something minor. Sure, the kid might not feel much now, but the bigger issue is that x number of years from now, they’re not going to have the same feeling that they would have had. That decision was made without their consultation. That, in some ways, is a bit fucked up.

    Yeah, I’m fine with a mohel getting hauled off to jail. Because I don’t think that being jewish precludes one from doing harmful things to other people. If the parents get hauled off? Well, child abuse is child abuse, and parents can do bad things too. We have laws for a reason.

  132. Florence
    Florence June 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm |

    Hospital circumcision does not involve strapping anyone down. There is a small instrument that slips over the penis and isolates the foreskin and the incision is made around it. It takes about 30 seconds.

  133. Meowser
    Meowser June 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm |

    Wow, Chava…if that’s true, that pretty much means that no way on earth would it ever pass. People might go for banning the procedure at SF hospitals…but jailing parents for a year and putting all their kids into an already-overcrowded foster care system? And getting stopped by the cops and having them take the kid’s diaper off to make sure he’s intact? What could possibly go wrong with that?

  134. Bloix
    Bloix June 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm |

    “I’m appaled and disgusted that suddenly religious freedom and parents wishes trump bodily autonomy”

    There’s nothing sudden about it. It’s been going on for a very long time.

    I don’t have any problem understanding that for you, an infant’s right to bodily autonomy is the highest possible value – higher than his right to two parents who love him, so that you would be willing to put his parents in prison, or put him into foster care, in order to preserve his bodily autonomy.

    What I don’t understand is your inability to accept that other people don’t share your elevation of bodily autonomy to the highest possible value. Where does it come from? Why is it so important? You haven’t made your case. Saying “I’m appalled and disgusted” is just another way of saying “I don’t like it so there.” It’s not an argument, it’s just your feelings. Try thinking hard about why other people might have different feelings. Not everyone who is different from you is an evil person.

  135. Miss S
    Miss S June 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm |

    …. Any one else find this incredibly problematic considering one of the religious groups this law is being aimed at?

    …no, but I’m obviously missing something. Is there a cultural significance for Jewish people and tattoos?

    (I’m not being snarky and I’m sorry if I sound clueless, but I really don’t know.)

  136. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm |

    Miss S: Is there a cultural significance for Jewish people and tattoos?

    Tattoos are forbidden, according to Jewish law. This is one reason why the Nazis chose to tattoo numbers on the arms of people in concentration camps.

    That said, I don’t really see the connection from the original comment. Amarantha, I think, was arguing in favor of allowing Jews and Muslims to continue circumcising male minors. She has also identified as Jewish, so I don’t entirely understand what groggette was getting at. But I could definitely be missing something.

  137. Mr. Kristen J.
    Mr. Kristen J. June 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm |

    Bloix: What I don’t understand is your inability to accept that other people don’t share your elevation of bodily autonomy to the highest possible value. Where does it come from? Why is it so important? You haven’t made your case.

    I’m surprised that a defense of bodily autonomy needs to be made here. Bodily autonomy is the foundational human right. Without the right to be free in your choices with respect to your own corporeal form, you have no free will. Liberty, if it means anything, is the ability to make decisions about your physical existence.

    The freedom of religion is subsumed by the right to bodily autonomy. It is right to believe as an internal matter what ever the hell you want to believe and the right to act on those beliefs in a non-coercive manner.

    What individuals are asking for here is the right to act on *their* beliefs in a coercive manner.

    The only *higher* values you might be referring to are social cohesion/conformity. I have yet to see a compelling defense of social cohesion over bodily autonomy.

  138. Mr. Kristen J.
    Mr. Kristen J. June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |

    Huh, the first time I try blockquoting and I fail.

  139. Blacky
    Blacky June 28, 2011 at 5:42 am |

    chava:
    What about the harm TO THE CHILD of placing the child’s parents in jail FOR A YEAR while the infant goes into the foster system?

    So, parents should get a free pass on everything that would bring others to prison?
    Interesting point of view.

  140. Blacky
    Blacky June 28, 2011 at 5:57 am |

    Bloix:
    What I don’t understand is your inability to accept that other people don’t share your elevation of bodily autonomy to the highest possible value.Where does it come from?

    My arguments are lifted directly from feminists regarding FGM and abortion.
    Bodily autonomy must be there for everyone or noone.
    Everyone who tries to restrict it to a certain group (e.g. women and girls) is inconsequent and noncredible in my eyes.
    This whole thread is a perfect example for feminist and religious cherry picking, I’ll bookmark it for futher reference.

  141. August
    August June 28, 2011 at 7:02 am |

    @Florence:

    Hospital circs absolutely DO strap the baby down. Mine uses one of these: http://www.quickmedical.com/images/sku/tnails_250/1356.jpg

    It’s cutely called the Circumstraint (circumcision + restraint, gotta love a good play on words!) despite the fact that it looks absolutely medieval.

  142. chava
    chava June 28, 2011 at 7:15 am |

    1) The perfect is the enemy of the good (Voltaire). Interestingly, the conclusion the legal system came to in my current country re: outright banning circ (France).
    2) There are reasons we don’t draft both parents at once, or why if at all possible/moral, our legal system should avoid arresting both parents at once. Sorry if that hurts the feelings of the childfree.

    Blacky: So, parents should get a free pass on everything that would bring others to prison?
    Interesting point of view.

  143. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 8:00 am |

    I don’t have any problem understanding that for you, an infant’s right to bodily autonomy is the highest possible value – higher than his right to two parents who love him, so that you would be willing to put his parents in prison, or put him into foster care, in order to preserve his bodily autonomy.

    You’re arguing application, not theory. You could just as easily fine the parents and have a jail sentence for the person performing the circumcision. If done at the state level you could all but eliminate medical circumcision without court involvement at all by making the penalty for performing a medically unnecessary circumcision be the loss or suspension of a license. The details of enforcement can be altered without changing the fundamental position of a strong respect for human bodily autonomy and consent.

    What I don’t understand is your inability to accept that other people don’t share your elevation of bodily autonomy to the highest possible value.

    I accept that they don’t, I just don’t care. Because…

    Where does it come from? Why is it so important?

    Western liberal philosophy has been pushing in this direction since the enlightenment. There has been a general movement away from the rights of authority figures and towards the rights of individuals. Locke, Mill, Paine, Butler, the list goes on. If we want to talk about specific arguments around the ways in which Power is applied to unwilling bodies we can bring in Foucault. Socially we can talk about the constitution, in particular the 13th amendment prohibition on owning persons and the discussions of privacy which have flowed from the 4th amendment. We could talk about the ways in which society has limited corporal punishment. We can talk about the push away from allowing schools to act as temporary parents. We can talk about the increasing sexual freedom of youth.

    You’re arguing that somehow a strong commitment to bodily autonomy is new, radical and suspect. I think thats only true from a conservative and traditional perspective. I say fuck tradition and it’s defenders, what the hell have they ever done for us?

    Saying “I’m appalled and disgusted” is just another way of saying “I don’t like it so there.”

    But there are many people here making arguments considerably more sophisticated that “I’m appalled and disgusted.” Hell, I’m circumcised and I could give a shit.

    Still, go and find me an argument for anything short of a mathematic proof that doesn’t ultimately come down to sentiment. I’ll wait.

    Try thinking hard about why other people might have different feelings. Not everyone who is different from you is an evil person.

    One doesn’t have to think their opponents are evil to stand against them. My aunt is a racist. She doesn’t burn crosses on lawns. Instead she has that sheltered, old-fashioned, fear-based racism that lead to her having one black friend (a doctor and clearly “one of the good ones”) and saying stupid shit from time to time. It isn’t rooted in malice, its cultural, shes ignorant and lazy rather than evil. Doesn’t change that she’s a tool. Doesn’t change that sometimes someone has to let her know shes being a tool.

  144. groggette
    groggette June 28, 2011 at 9:01 am |

    @Shoshie, You’re right, I was refering to forced tattooing of the Jewish people. I thought that particular argument of Amarantha was bullshit regardless (not everyone wants something done to them without their consent just becuase everyone else is doing it, in fact I’d be pretty pissed if it happened to me) but the added wording of the tattoos squicked me out because of that history. That said, I didn’t realize (either missed the comment or just forgot it as I read the thread) that Amarantha herself is Jewish and it is completely possible I read into the comment more than what was there.

  145. Amarantha
    Amarantha June 28, 2011 at 10:01 am |

    groggette, I was addressing the grab bag of various body modifications (head binding/lip stretching) that someone threw out there as an analogy to circumcision. Tattooing was the only one that seemed on par with circumcision in terms of length/duration of harm. I was also talking about a hypothetical culture in which everyone is tattooed.

    As for the “not everyone wants something done to them without their consent just because everyone else is doing it” comment. Yes, that’s true, but what I’m saying is that many people, perhaps most in this country, do not share that belief, and that forcing parents to not partake in those cultural practices also has harms. The harm/benefit has to be weighed, and in this case, I don’t think the harms of circumcision make it something that is worthy of being outlawed. (In fact, there is no consensus in the literature as to whether circumcision lessens sensitivity, the claim that seems to be taken for granted in this thread.)

    I just don’t think bodily autonomy is the most absolute important principle in the world. There are competing claims and principles that have equal weight and have to be considered. So you can’t make it this rigid, absolutist law assuming that bodily autonomy is the universal and highest value. It’s not. And any law that effectively makes 79% of parents in this country criminals (whether they are fined or imprisoned), is a law that hasn’t done its ethical calculations properly.

    i guess, fundamentally, I am a liberal politically, but believe that culture, obligation, duty, and yes, social cohesion are factors that should sometimes limit personal autonomy and have significant weight. I also believe that a given culture has some right to impose its values on members of that culture. Cultures do that all the time in less obvious ways, and I fail to see how the fact that it’s done to the body and is permanent is this bright line.

    By the way, the assumption that Western liberal ideals should be imposed on a resistant set of people, regardless of their mindset, and that their parents should be locked up for not conforming to it, is pretty Imperialist.

  146. Angel H.
    Angel H. June 28, 2011 at 10:07 am |

    Amarantha: By the way, the assumption that Western liberal ideals should be imposed on a resistant set of people, regardless of their mindset, and that their parents should be locked up for not conforming to it, is pretty Imperialist.

    THANK YOU!

  147. Li
    Li June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |

    Amarantha:

    By the way, the assumption that Western liberal ideals should be imposed on a resistant set of people, regardless of their mindset, and that their parents should be locked up for not conforming to it, is pretty Imperialist.

    This.

  148. JDP
    JDP June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    Jacobtk:
    So you would allow a parent to cut their child to meet their culture’s scarification rite of passage in adulthood? Or bind their heads? Or stretch their lips? Or tattoo their child? Or remove their child’s baby teeth?

    I don’t think a blanket ban on any of these things is acceptable.

    These are all things that parents are prohibited from doing despite that they are no more or less harmful than mutilating a boy’s penis. The reason they are barred has little to do with the child’s autonomy, and more to do with the barbarity of the act.

    No, parents are prohibited from doing these things not because of child autonomy or “barbarity” (whatever that is) but because in our society someone with a stretched lip or with facial moko or whatever is considered “unprofessional” and excluded from a huge range of professions and social experiences. The culture police tend to take a hands-off approach when it comes to adults making those choices, because there is a sense that it’s not your place to tell them not to ruin their chances at getting a good job and being respected by their community. These are the same sorts of people who support a blanket ban on hijab and niqab, for that matter. Or people who object to American families who do not speak English to their children in the home. It’s all the same bullshit.

  149. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |

    but believe that culture, obligation, duty, and yes, social cohesion are factors that should sometimes limit personal autonomy and have significant weight.

    And I find that argument fundamentally monstrous, illiberal, and utterly opposed to human rights. Bodily autonomy isn’t negotiable. Fuck culture, fuck duty, fuck and fuck social cohesion. No one has a claim over the body of another. No one. Anyone who argues otherwise is a tyrant who is explicitly promoting the idea that some humans have the right to inflict their wills upon the bodies of others. That sometimes the humans trying to claim the right to abuse others have themselves been oppressed is irrelevant.

    I also believe that a given culture has some right to impose its values on members of that culture.

    Where do we draw the line? More importantly, how do we deal with cultural impositions which, by nature, do not allow individuals to opt out of that culture because the occur in the absolute absence of consent? I don’t think evangelical churches should be forced to perform marriage ceremonies for unions. At the same time I don’t think evangelical parents should be able to ship their queer kids off for conversion therapy. If you cannot opt out it isn’t tolerance, its tyranny.

    Cultures do that all the time in less obvious ways, and I fail to see how the fact that it’s done to the body and is permanent is this bright line.

    I’m opposed to those other impositions as well. But the body is a good place to begin the battle because it is physical, material, and permanent.

    By the way, the assumption that Western liberal ideals should be imposed on a resistant set of people, regardless of their mindset, and that their parents should be locked up for not conforming to it, is pretty Imperialist.

    Yes, it is. On the other hand, my horse is the individual and consensual webs of interaction, so I’m not too terribly concerned if the more tyrannical aspects of a culture die in the process. I don’t believe that everything has intrinsic value and that protect tyrants because they’re culturally relevant is a good thing. Its not because I’m better, ideas are neutral and have only the values we put in them. It is because this is my line. This is the world I have chosen to promote. These are my values, that no human being is allowed to lay claim to the body of another. If that makes me an imperialist I’ll gladly be fitted for a pith helmet.

  150. Miss S
    Miss S June 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    No one has a claim over the body of another. No one. Anyone who argues otherwise is a tyrant who is explicitly promoting the idea that some humans have the right to inflict their wills upon the bodies of others.

    But forcing your cultural, liberal, Western values on others is okay, and putting them in jail for disagreeing is also okay?

    For someone who regularly speaks out against the authority the police have, and how power dynamics harm minorities more than the majority, I’m surprised you would support legislation that would put an already marginalized group at odds with the police.

    For the record, not everyone shares the Western liberal belief that bodily autonomy trumps cultural norms. Telling people who have been practicing a ritual for centuries that they must stop is nothing more than an attempt at placing your values as superior to theirs.

  151. Miss S
    Miss S June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |

    Mr. Kristen J, this point is where the disagreement lies, I think.

    Bodily autonomy is the foundational human right.

    This isn’t true for everyone. It’s not true for every culture. I realize that the U.S often values individual rights over “the common good” or “conformity” or “culture.” This isn’t true for everyone in the world, and it’s not true for all communities within the U.S.

    If you value the individual above all, then you would likely disagree with circumcision. If you value religion, culture, family, community, or conformity above all, then you wouldn’t see a problem with circumcision.

    Thank God I live on the East Coast.

  152. Florence
    Florence June 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm |

    August: August 6.28.2011 at 7:02 am
    @Florence:

    Hospital circs absolutely DO strap the baby down. Mine uses one of these: http://www.quickmedical.com/images/sku/tnails_250/1356.jpg

    It’s cutely called the Circumstraint (circumcision + restraint, gotta love a good play on words!) despite the fact that it looks absolutely medieval.

    I gotta wonder where you live where that’s standard procedure. My rural podunk hospital doesn’t even do that shit.

  153. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |

    But forcing your cultural, liberal, Western values on others is okay, and putting them in jail for disagreeing is also okay?

    I’m also opposed to slavery, drug prohibition, blue laws, FGM, child marriage, pedophilia, rape, and the restriction of abortion rights. Yep, liberal, western, imperialist. Thats the nature of being a supporter of human rights in the context of individual liberty.

    If someone wants to do something I find illiberal thats fine all the way up until they do it to someone who isn’t consenting. Then it ceases to be cool and becomes crime. I’m not saying jews can’t be circumcised because its icky, I’m saying jews shouldn’t be able to circumcise other people without their consent. Infants cannot consent, therefore I believe that old Jews should have to wait until young Jews are old enough to consent before the old Jews cut off parts of the young jews. Kinda like how I feel that, no matter what the cultural context, a 30 year old marrying a 14 year old is probably a situation beyond the bounds of consent and that the state should step in. Doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.

    For someone who regularly speaks out against the authority the police have, and how power dynamics harm minorities more than the majority, I’m surprised you would support legislation that would put an already marginalized group at odds with the police.

    Strikes me that you’re trying to shame me into line. Let me break it down for you. I think that one of the primary functions of the government is to protect individuals from tyranny. One of my big problems with the police and with poweris that the majority all too often uses power to hijack the state’s coercive authority in order to promote specific ways of being. This is problematic for me because I believe people generally ought to be left alone to make their own choices.

    People. Not communities, not minorities, but the individuals who make up those fluid groups. If you leave individuals alone they can decide what groups and communities they want to be a part of, to what degree, and what restrictions they are willing to accept in order to be accepted into those communities. Thats consent and I generally feel it ought to be a prerequisite to any human interaction. Kids are people. They’re immature and inexperienced people so they need someone to look out for them, but they’re still (to my mind) people with the same basic rights as anyone else. They just need a little guidance until they’re old enough to make their own decisions. That guidance, to my mind, shouldn’t include things that are going to make irrevocable changes to the person unless theres a really good reason. I don’t think “because we’ve always done it” or “because this is important to a religion that the child could well opt out of in 18 years” is a strong enough case to overcome individual sovereignty. I don’t think the burden of proof should be on the person who is not consenting to prove that an infliction is too severe, I think it should be on the person wanting to inflict.

    Might this put Jewish communities at odds with the police? That depends on how you write the laws. I don’t think imprisoning parents is a good idea, but mohels and surgeons tend to be upstanding members of their communities and you can get a lot of effect from fines, professional penalties, and even very low jail terms (7 days in a County lock up would dissuade a lot of people). Even if the laws are primarily symbolic you’ll probably eliminate nearly all of the non-religious circumcisions out there, disincentivize religious circumcision, and breed a healthy disrespect for the law amongst the remaining communities.

    For the record, not everyone shares the Western liberal belief that bodily autonomy trumps cultural norms.

    Theres bullies everywhere. I believe that norms are the enemy. That doesn’t make me good and others evil, but thats my line. I’ve yet to see any evidence that binding norms which are not explicitly and clearly based on the immediate protection of others are anything other than deeply oppressive. I don’t really give a shit if that offends someone’s delicate religious sensibilities.

    Telling people who have been practicing a ritual for centuries that they must stop is nothing more than an attempt at placing your values as superior to theirs.

    When that ritual involves the permanent alteration of the body of a non-consenting individuals I’m not too terribly uncomfortable with placing my values in front of someone else’s because, frankly, thats what all laws do. Today its a Jewish infant, tomorrow its an evangelical’s teenager, the day after that its someone on the street holding hands with someone of the “wrong” gender. Fuck that.

  154. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm |

    And some values are superior to others (not saying circumcision falls into this category, but I cannot get on board with full-on cultural relativism which says that there are no better or worse values or belief systems).

    I think thats dangerous ground. Objectively, there is nothing better about being anti-rape than pro-rape. They’re both subjective values and there really isn’t any kind of external authority that means being anti-rape is right. Saying that its better plays into a game of traditions and authority wank that ends with religious dogma. I’d argue that it also puts us at grave risk of lazy thinking.

    Its easy to maintain a position when you can boil an argument down to “its right because its good!” I think its more important to be able to actually stake out your subjective values, think around how to make one’s positions as internally consistent with those values as possible, and then defend them because they lead to the kinds of outcomes you would like to see. I’m a survivor of rape, I know how that is likely to impact a person, I want to see a world where other people don’t have to experience that. The experiences I have intersect with a lot of other ways I have been oppressed and thinking about those intersections have lead to deeper values and positions I would like to promote not because they’re “right” but because those positions are likely to produce a world in which specific values lead to specific outcomes.

  155. chava
    chava June 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm |

    @ William

    I’m also opposed to slavery, drug prohibition, blue laws, FGM, child marriage, pedophilia, rape, and the restriction of abortion rights. Yep, liberal, western, imperialist. Thats the nature of being a supporter of human rights in the context of individual liberty.

    OK, well enough. But it would be nice to see some acknowledgement that along with those positive values, “liberal, western, imperialist” is often merely a cover for something that is not at all in “the nature of being a supporter of human rights.” That the reason this law is dangerous is that while today it might be circumcision, the pattern says that tomorrow it might be no Hebrew in shul, or hijab on the street. I know it is PARTLY about bodily autonomy, but the reality of these type of law is that they are often a gateway to the dark side of imperialism, and should thus be treated with great caution, esp when it comes to “application, not theory,” as you put it.
    Not to mention the final implication of this argument– that “imperialist” is good and we should be going into countries that have immoral customs and fixing them. Cause *that* works out so well.


    Kids are people. They’re immature and inexperienced people so they need someone to look out for them, but they’re still (to my mind) people with the same basic rights as anyone else. They just need a little guidance until they’re old enough to make their own decisions. That guidance, to my mind, shouldn’t include things that are going to make irrevocable changes to the person unless theres a really good reason.

    Children are absolutely people. But there is a grey area here that I’m uncomfortable not addressing. Your child may want to do themselves permenant bodily harm in many ways before they reach the age of majority (binge drink, highly unadvisable tattoos, etc). I think parents should have a right to forbid/impose certain actions within reason. It’s that “within reason” that is application, not theory–which seems to be a sticking point here. Again, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and hard line principles tend to leave out troublesome grey areas.


    Theres bullies everywhere. I believe that norms are the enemy. That doesn’t make me good and others evil, but thats my line. I’ve yet to see any evidence that binding norms which are not explicitly and clearly based on the immediate protection of others are anything other than deeply oppressive. I don’t really give a shit if that offends someone’s delicate religious sensibilities.

    Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Clothing is a pretty binding norm, but not being nude doesn’t oppress me. Dietary customs tend to be fairly binding, but not generally oppressive (although they can limit one’s community).


    When that ritual involves the permanent alteration of the body of a non-consenting individuals I’m not too terribly uncomfortable with placing my values in front of someone else’s because, frankly, thats what all laws do. Today its a Jewish infant, tomorrow its an evangelical’s teenager, the day after that its someone on the street holding hands with someone of the “wrong” gender. Fuck that.

    Again, the other “today this,” tomorrow that side of this argument is that today it’s circumcision, tomorrow it’s teaching Hebrew. Unless the US government starts making more racially equitable decisions when it comes to marginalized people, I’m not comfortable with this law.

  156. chava
    chava June 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm |

    ARGH bolding fail. This should be in bold:

    “I’m also opposed to slavery, drug prohibition, blue laws, FGM, child marriage, pedophilia, rape, and the restriction of abortion rights. Yep, liberal, western, imperialist. Thats the nature of being a supporter of human rights in the context of individual liberty.”

  157. August
    August June 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm |

    @Florence:

    I live in a big city and work in a big, popular, moneyed hospital. Strapping newborns to that board is standard procedure for us.

  158. Josh
    Josh June 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm |

    And any law that effectively makes 79% of parents in this country criminals (whether they are fined or imprisoned), is a law that hasn’t done its ethical calculations properly.

    Used to happen all the time that parents hit their kids. Then, there was a law against it. Then, enforcement of that law got stricter and stricter. Then, fewer parents hit their kids.

    But it’s not like everyone who ever did it in the past was sent to jail.

  159. Josh
    Josh June 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |

    Children are absolutely people. But there is a grey area here that I’m uncomfortable not addressing. Your child may want to do themselves permenant bodily harm in many ways before they reach the age of majority (binge drink, highly unadvisable tattoos, etc). I think parents should have a right to forbid/impose certain actions within reason. It’s that “within reason” that is application, not theory–which seems to be a sticking point here. Again, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and hard line principles tend to leave out troublesome grey areas.

    [...]

    Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Clothing is a pretty binding norm, but not being nude doesn’t oppress me. Dietary customs tend to be fairly binding, but not generally oppressive (although they can limit one’s community).

    But there is such a huge difference between the examples you’re giving, and cutting off a piece of someone else’s body. You’re comparing that to clothing? Or keeping your child from eating pork? I don’t even.

    If you see a slippery slope being possible with such a law being implemented, what about the slippery slope that could follow from laws about child abuse being written with the objections of religious groups in mind?

  160. chava
    chava June 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |

    No, actually I *wasn’t*. I was pointing out that the blanket assertion that all norms are bad is flawed.

    Josh:

    Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Clothing is a pretty binding norm, but not being nude doesn’t oppress me. Dietary customs tend to be fairly binding, but not generally oppressive (although they can limit one’s community).

    But there is such a huge difference between the examples you’re giving, and cutting off a piece of someone else’s body. You’re comparing that to clothing? Or keeping your child from eating pork? I don’t even.

  161. Josh
    Josh June 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm |

    You’re right – I misread on that part. Apologies.

  162. chava
    chava June 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm |

    RE: The supposed lack of ethnic/religious motivation:

    The Netherlands issued a strong condemnation of circ, stopping short of an outright ban, in 2004. They’ve recently voted in a law to ban kosher & halal slaughter (conveniently only after their Muslim population skyrocketed in the last 10 years).

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13947163
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2977086.stm

  163. vanessa
    vanessa June 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    Cultural relativism is not all its cut out to be. Pun intended.

    There are lots of cultures where the subjugation of women is common and everyday, where abuse is considered normal, etc. No one is saying THAT is okay.

  164. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm |

    But it would be nice to see some acknowledgement that along with those positive values, “liberal, western, imperialist” is often merely a cover for something that is not at all in “the nature of being a supporter of human rights.”

    I’m not sure you can abandon something you believe to be a moral imperative because you don’t like the motives of some of it’s other supporters. Early feminism was steeped in racism and had a lot to do with the vile temperance movement, but suffrage is still pretty damned important.

    That the reason this law is dangerous is that while today it might be circumcision, the pattern says that tomorrow it might be no Hebrew in shul, or hijab on the street.

    I don’t doubt that. Still doesn’t change the fact that infant circumcision is something that occurs as a result of one person claiming authority over the body of someone incapable of consent. “No harm no foul” and “but tradition!” can’t overcome that. If someone goes after Hebrew or hijabs I’ll be against that because, you know, individual liberty.

    Still, I get what you’re saying. Once upon a time I thought the idea of banning the Hijab sounded pretty good. Then I got slapped around (right here on Feministe, actually) limped off to lick my wounds, and had to actually think about what the fuck I was supporting. Turns out I learned a lot by being forced to actually think it through and defend something which eventually I found to be indefensible. I’m not sure theres ever going to be something which is going to stop people from being assholes or ignorant, but I don’t think “but what might some asshat try to build on this” is an especially good argument for letting someone get away with violating someone else’s consent.

    Not to mention the final implication of this argument– that “imperialist” is good and we should be going into countries that have immoral customs and fixing them. Cause *that* works out so well.

    I was being flip, but point taken. I think accusations of imperialism are out of place in the context of a law like this in the US because we aren’t exporting it. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you want to promote your own customs you open up your borders and give people the support to escape more oppressive regiemes, but thats a whole different topic.

    Your child may want to do themselves permenant bodily harm in many ways before they reach the age of majority (binge drink, highly unadvisable tattoos, etc). I think parents should have a right to forbid/impose certain actions within reason. It’s that “within reason” that is application, not theory–which seems to be a sticking point here. Again, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and hard line principles tend to leave out troublesome grey areas.</blockquote?

    You're absolutely right. I think a very good guideline though would be to consider the difference between delaying and inflicting. If you're 15 and want to get a bitchin' dragon tat across your forehead it doesn't seem like too terrible an infringement to let a parent say "wait till you're 18." At the same time, I'd be pretty uncomfortable with the reverse. On the other hand, if that same 15 year old said they didn't want an appendectomy after their appendix burst because they just broke up with their boyfriend, I think a very good argument could be made for the parent overriding that decision in the interest of health because of the extreme dangers. I think binge drinking would follow a similar path, as it is something the child can still do later. A kid can't undo a circumcision.

    I'm looking for logic explaining why a Jewish parent ought to be able to consent to a non-necessary, permanent, cosmetic procedure on an infant without that child's consent while an Evangelical parent shouldn't be allowed to restrict their 15 year old's use of birth control. I know why I find both problematic, but I've yet to hear much of an argument beyond "because tradition and culture and community and stuff" from supporters of circumcision.

    Some of them are and some of them aren’t. Clothing is a pretty binding norm, but not being nude doesn’t oppress me. Dietary customs tend to be fairly binding, but not generally oppressive (although they can limit one’s community).

    Clothing might not be oppressive for you, but I could refer you to some trans folk whose mileage has certainly varied even when they aren’t part of the religion throwing the temper tantrum. Dietary customs might not oppress you, but I know that if my (orthodox Jewish) boss knew that the occasional consumption of blood was part of my religious practice I’d run into some real problems. Not all vectors of oppression oppress all persons who encounter them, but for any norm you can find that isn’t specifically aimed at preventing one person from abusing another I’ll bet I can find an oppressed person.

  165. William
    William June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |

    There are lots of cultures where the subjugation of women is common and everyday, where abuse is considered normal, etc. No one is saying THAT is okay.

    Well, except for the “extreme” elements of these Judaic religions who always seem to argue that any attempt to restrict their oppression and privilege is just like racism and will inevitably lead to another commie Nazi. Or something.

  166. David
    David June 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm |

    I’m surprised the amount of rationalization that people are willing to enage in, and the vast number of hoops they jump through in order to justify the indefensible.

    When religion, “the sacred”, and “culture” are at stake, even more so.

  167. Mr. Kristen J.
    Mr. Kristen J. June 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm |

    Miss S:
    Mr. Kristen J, this point is where the disagreement lies, I think.

    Bodily autonomy is the foundational human right.

    This isn’t true for everyone. It’s not true for every culture. I realize that the U.S often values individual rights over “the common good” or “conformity” or “culture.”This isn’t true for everyone in the world, and it’s not true for all communities within the U.S.

    This is a matter of logic, not opinion. Rights stand in opposition to obligations, i.e., things that are owed to you versus things that are owed by you to others. Definitionally.

    When I said bodily autonomy is a “foundational,” I’m not making a normative/rhetorical argument about the superiority of bodily autonomy. Ownership of self is the logical foundation of all other rights. Self ownership is the basis for each person’s right to the exclusive use of their body/mind regardless of whether that use is sex, childbirth, labor, or religous practice.

    More generally, and this is not aimed at you Miss S., I’m not coming from a “western” perspective and the assumption that I am is obnoxious.

  168. miga
    miga June 28, 2011 at 11:45 pm |

    “By the way, the assumption that Western liberal ideals should be imposed on a resistant set of people, regardless of their mindset, and that their parents should be locked up for not conforming to it, is pretty Imperialist.”

    YES!

    Y’all do also realize that his whole idea of individual rights being paramount is a cultural standard as well, and one that not even everyone born and bred in the “civilized” US holds to the gold standard. I’m not a moral relativist, or arguing that it’s better or worse than any other one, (for myself, the jury’s out on circumcision, and this discussion is giving me lots to dwell on) but let’s not pretend that we’re operating on an objective level here.

    And can we PLEASE stop calling people, cultures, etc. barbaric?!?!

  169. chava
    chava June 29, 2011 at 5:18 am |

    Without trying to be obnoxious, I am actually curious–*isn’t* the train of thought/logic/philosophy you’re referencing historically “Western”? The idea that individual liberty (or more properly, the liberty of the citizen) is foundational, leading to a concept of human rights, and standing in opposition to the state/monarch is, AFAIK, an invention of European and American philosophers in the 16th-18th centuries. But this is not my area, so I’m happy to be wrong…

    Mr. Kristen J.: This is a matter of logic, not opinion.Rights stand in opposition to obligations, i.e., things that are owed to you versus things that are owed by you to others.Definitionally.

    When I said bodily autonomy is a “foundational,” I’m not making a normative/rhetorical argument about the superiority of bodily autonomy.Ownership of self is the logical foundation of all other rights.Self ownership is the basis for each person’s right to the exclusive use of their body/mind regardless of whether that use is sex, childbirth, labor, or religous practice.

    More generally, and this is not aimed at you Miss S., I’m not coming from a “western” perspective and the assumption that I am is obnoxious.

  170. chava
    chava June 29, 2011 at 5:27 am |

    “I’m looking for logic explaining why a Jewish parent ought to be able to consent to a non-necessary, permanent, cosmetic procedure on an infant without that child’s consent while an Evangelical parent shouldn’t be allowed to restrict their 15 year old’s use of birth control. I know why I find both problematic, but I’ve yet to hear much of an argument beyond “because tradition and culture and community and stuff” from supporters of circumcision.”

    Well, degree of potential harm to the minor–but I think you said upthread that particular gradation doesn’t work for you. Nonetheless, it’s not “because tradition and culture and community and stuff.”

  171. William
    William June 29, 2011 at 7:38 am |

    Y’all do also realize that his whole idea of individual rights being paramount is a cultural standard as well, and one that not even everyone born and bred in the “civilized” US holds to the gold standard.

    I realize that, its just that when it comes to violations of consent I do not care. The world I would like to see is a world where consent is respected and people who disregard consent are subjected to disciplinary power designed to coerce them into respecting the consent of others. I’m no more interested in the cultural objections of a Jewish parent than I am the “but technically she totally said yes!” horseshit of a PUA. Consent is my bright red line.

    Is circumcision worth putting a bullet in someone? No, of course not, its a relatively harmless violation. Then again, I don’t think we should be playing “no harm no foul” because that encourages people to get right up against the line. I think its a good idea to disincentivize infant circumcision. I don’t think its a good idea to listen to people who argue that their traditions give them a right to put their hands on the bodies of another. The degree of violation ought to dictate the magnitude of response, not whether we respond at all.

  172. JDP
    JDP June 29, 2011 at 9:18 am |

    In terms of actions by a parent that have permanent effects on their children, where do things like “language spoken in the home” fit in? Fluency in English (in the US) is critical to academic achievement in our English-only educational system. Presence of a strong accent is likely to have major negative effects on job prospects. Primary language acquisition is pretty irreversible.

    Should parents have the right to determine which language they’ll speak in their home? Or should it be up to the government to dictate that speaking a language besides English in the home is a crime? Should my father be considered morally and legally culpable for speaking Spanish in the home?

    Parents make irreversible decisions concerning their children all the time. Circumcision may be irreversible but it does not compromise one’s ability to have a happy and fulfilling sex life. Learning Spanish or another language in the home instead of English may be irreversible but there’s nothing unethical about that, and it would be fascist to claim that the government has a right to control the language in which one speaks in the home.

    “Irreversibility” does not fly as a justification for prohibiting ritual practice, and that goes not only for circumcision but also for things like moko or ritual scarification or whatever. Ultimately this is not about human rights but about policing what American bodies look like and how Americans relate to their bodies. Otherwise there wouldn’t be such a huge portion of the anti-circ movement devoted towards convincing circumcised men that they are unable to “correctly” relate to their sexuality because they are circumcised.

  173. Andie
    Andie June 29, 2011 at 9:23 am |

    JDP: Ultimately this is not about human rights but about policing what American bodies look like and how Americans relate to their bodies.

    Couldn’t the same be said for circumcision, since one of the most popular arguments (aside from religious or cultural reasoning) is “Well we don’t want him to look DIFFERENT”?

  174. William
    William June 29, 2011 at 9:51 am |

    Should parents have the right to determine which language they’ll speak in their home?

    I think thats a bad analogy because the limitations that primary language acquisition might impose are not the result of what language the child speaks or what accent they speak with but rather external oppression. Circumcision violates the rights of the person whose body is being altered without their consent. Language acquisition, on the other hand, only puts a person at risk of having their rights violated by a deeply oppressive society. They aren’t quite the same animal.

    Or should it be up to the government to dictate that speaking a language besides English in the home is a crime?

    This is a poor fit for an argument against aggressive protection of children’s individual sovereignty for at least two reasons. The first is that language spoken in the home isn’t spoken primarily to develop language acquisition in children. I’m sure your father said lots of things in Spanish while you were an infant which had absolutely nothing to do with you. Your acquisition of language was secondary to the use of language in your home as a means of communication between individuals. To ask your father to stop speaking Spanish in the home would constitute a significant infringement of his liberty because the language he speaks really isn’t about whether or not theres a kid present. To ask him to speak only English would be a violation not only of his general liberty to speak, but it would also impose a very real constraint upon him by compelling him to both learn and speak English. I think you can guess where I would stand on compelling someone to do something without their consent. Activity is a greater violation, in my eyes, than inactivity. “You must” is almost always worse than “you mustn’t.”

    The second reason I’m not sure language spoken in the home is a good analogy is that speaking Spanish in the home doesn’t forclose your ability to learn English later if you so choose. A lot of people do it. We’re a country of immigrants, a lot of our innovation has historically been the product of immigrants whose first language was not English, even though English is a very difficult language to learn people manage to do it all the time. A child is always going to learn the language of their parents, its a natural and unavoidable consequence of being a social animal. One does not opt in or opt out of learning language. Circumcision, on the other hand, is an action. I think that natural development and intentional alterations are two different things.

    Ultimately this is not about human rights but about policing what American bodies look like and how Americans relate to their bodies.

    That assertion would hold a lot more water if we were talking about a blanket ban on circumcision rather than on infant circumcision. I think subincisions are really neat (I wouldn’t get one because I don’t deal well with pain), we live in a society where piercings and tattoos are all but banal, I’m not more than two or three phone calls away from finding someone who would be willing, trained, and well-equipped to give me a scar, brand, or implant of my choosing, it probably wouldn’t take more than a month to find someone to do a minor cosmetic amputation. We’re careening towards a posthuman society and I think thats wonderful, I think its interesting, I genuinely love the fact that people have an ever increasing range of choices when it comes to expressing themselves through their flesh. At the same time, the idea of someone expressing themselves through someone else’s flesh is utterly repellent to me.

    Body mods are, to me, like sex. I’m cool with what I’m into not being what everyone is into and I think anything that makes someone happy is generally good as long as everyone involved is voicing informed, meaningful, enthusiastic consent.

  175. JDP
    JDP June 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    William: I think thats a bad analogy because the limitations that primary language acquisition might impose are not the result of what language the child speaks or what accent they speak with but rather external oppression.

    No, wait a second, you earlier said this:

    More importantly, how do we deal with cultural impositions which, by nature, do not allow individuals to opt out of that culture because the occur in the absolute absence of consent?

    Language acquisition is an aspect of bodily autonomy. A child has no choice in their initial language acquisition. I can’t look around and say “wow, my world would be so much bigger if only my parents spoke French in the home.” It simply doesn’t work that way, and while I agree that certain forms of discrimination against people who speak specific languages is an injustice that can be confronted, the opportunities that are limited by the language your parents choose to raise you with cannot. That language does also to some degree make you a member of communities more or less by force.

    Circumcision violates the rights of the person whose body is being altered without their consent. Language acquisition, on the other hand, only puts a person at risk of having their rights violated by a deeply oppressive society. They aren’t quite the same animal.

    Then let’s go the other way. Let’s say that parents choose not to offer a child access to a cultural or ethnic identity by intentionally assimilating, and in doing so limit their children’s access to languages, customs, etc. A strict example would be a Romani parent choosing to raise their children without Romanipen and in doing so permanently denying them access to the Romani community and a Romani cultural identity.

    Community and identity are not limitless. Some of those limits on adult identity are imposed by parental choice and some of those limits are imposed by other aspects of happenstance. Should the government prohibit people from having children if one or both parents carry markers associated with genetic disorders?

    This is a poor fit for an argument against aggressive protection of children’s individual sovereignty for at least two reasons. The first is that language spoken in the home isn’t spoken primarily to develop language acquisition in children. I’m sure your father said lots of things in Spanish while you were an infant which had absolutely nothing to do with you. Your acquisition of language was secondary to the use of language in your home as a means of communication between individuals. To ask your father to stop speaking Spanish in the home would constitute a significant infringement of his liberty because the language he speaks really isn’t about whether or not theres a kid present. To ask him to speak only English would be a violation not only of his general liberty to speak, but it would also impose a very real constraint upon him by compelling him to both learn and speak English. I think you can guess where I would stand on compelling someone to do something without their consent. Activity is a greater violation, in my eyes, than inactivity. “You must” is almost always worse than “you mustn’t.”

    Except my mother was not and is not fluent in Spanish. And my father is perfectly fluent in English. My father spoke Spanish with us because he felt it was important that we at least have access to that part of our identity and not be alienated from it. Nowadays my brothers and I will sometimes speak Spanish to each other, but my father almost ubiquitously speaks English except when conversing with his sister and cousins.

    The second reason I’m not sure language spoken in the home is a good analogy is that speaking Spanish in the home doesn’t forclose your ability to learn English later if you so choose. A lot of people do it. We’re a country of immigrants, a lot of our innovation has historically been the product of immigrants whose first language was not English, even though English is a very difficult language to learn people manage to do it all the time. A child is always going to learn the language of their parents, its a natural and unavoidable consequence of being a social animal. One does not opt in or opt out of learning language. Circumcision, on the other hand, is an action. I think that natural development and intentional alterations are two different things.

    Except circumcision does not preclude one from having pleasurable and satisfying sex. It’s not like we’re talking about castration or complete phallectomy. We’re talking about a change that is, frankly, almost entirely cosmetic. The same goes for things like ritual scarification, ritual tattooing, and so on.

    That assertion would hold a lot more water if we were talking about a blanket ban on circumcision rather than on infant circumcision. I think subincisions are really neat (I wouldn’t get one because I don’t deal well with pain), we live in a society where piercings and tattoos are all but banal, I’m not more than two or three phone calls away from finding someone who would be willing, trained, and well-equipped to give me a scar, brand, or implant of my choosing, it probably wouldn’t take more than a month to find someone to do a minor cosmetic amputation. We’re careening towards a posthuman society and I think thats wonderful, I think its interesting, I genuinely love the fact that people have an ever increasing range of choices when it comes to expressing themselves through their flesh. At the same time, the idea of someone expressing themselves through someone else’s flesh is utterly repellent to me.

    Well I’m glad that you feel the privilege to reduce culturally important rituals into faddish “self-expression.” Brit milah is a very different thing from “hey, I think my penis would look better without a foreskin.” Moko is a very different thing from “hey, I want a tattoo on my face.” Arilta is vastly more than “wow, I want a subincision because I think it’s cool.” Etc. Or, for that matter, the difference between ritual use of peyote or other entheogens, versus recreational drug use. The widespread appropriation of culturally important rituals into western counterculture for shock value or to get high is, IMO, completely abominable.

  176. William
    William June 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    Language acquisition is an aspect of bodily autonomy. A child has no choice in their initial language acquisition. I can’t look around and say “wow, my world would be so much bigger if only my parents spoke French in the home.”

    There is a difference between natural, unavoidable human development and cultural rituals. Language acquisition is something that is far less cultural than functional, it stands somewhere between physical growth and toilet training on the biological/cultural spectrum.

    Then let’s go the other way. Let’s say that parents choose not to offer a child access to a cultural or ethnic identity by intentionally assimilating, and in doing so limit their children’s access to languages, customs, etc. A strict example would be a Romani parent choosing to raise their children without Romanipen and in doing so permanently denying them access to the Romani community and a Romani cultural identity.

    I can speak from experience here. It sucks to lose a part of your cultural identity to the assimilation process. Its unfortunate. At the same time, I don’t feel that my lack of Romanipen is the same kind of violation as my lack of bodily autonomy. More to the point, the loss of a culture doesn’t feel like the loss of liberty. I’ve experienced both and they have different flavors. Its subjective but, really, what isn’t?

    Should the government prohibit people from having children if one or both parents carry markers associated with genetic disorders?

    A potential fetus isn’t a person, so no.

    Except my mother was not and is not fluent in Spanish. And my father is perfectly fluent in English. My father spoke Spanish with us because he felt it was important that we at least have access to that part of our identity and not be alienated from it. Nowadays my brothers and I will sometimes speak Spanish to each other, but my father almost ubiquitously speaks English except when conversing with his sister and cousins.

    So, just to get this straight, your mother spoke a language other than Spanish (English, from the context), your father spoke both Spanish and English and strove to speak Spanish with you because he thought it was an important thing for your to learn, in order to communicate with your parents you would have had to have grown up bilingual, and you’re arguing that somehow the privilege of having two languages is going to be curtailed if we defend bodily autonomy because society discriminates against people who only speak a non-dominant language? I’m really not following your line of argument here.

    Except circumcision does not preclude one from having pleasurable and satisfying sex. It’s not like we’re talking about castration or complete phallectomy. We’re talking about a change that is, frankly, almost entirely cosmetic. The same goes for things like ritual scarification, ritual tattooing, and so on.

    The level of alteration is irrelevant. I’m circumcised, I don’t really care, the lack of a foreskin isn’t a deal for me, but thats not what I’m talking about. If you allow bodily autonomy to be trumped by cultural mores you’ve created a huge gap in individual liberty. That this one example is benign and done on infants before they’re able to encode memory doesn’t change the fundamental precedent thats being set. It doesn’t matter if the cultural more is a Jewish tradition thousands of years old or a modern western invention of public health panics and anti-masturbation crusades. I don’t care what the level of infringement or the reasoning behind it is, all I care about is bodily autonomy.

    Well I’m glad that you feel the privilege to reduce culturally important rituals into faddish “self-expression.”

    So am I, because I believe that cultures can kiss my entire ass and that human agency and liberty trumps all. Thats really the bottom line here. A bunch of people are up in arms that their little age-old taboos aren’t being granted the deference they believe they deserve. Boo fucking who, welcome to the future. If a culture can’t survive having to wait for people to consent to being a part of it then I really don’t have any interest in seeing that culture preserved because I want to live in a world where individual sovereignty and bodily autonomy trump people who think that their sentiments ought to be inflicted on others.

    Brit milah is a very different thing from “hey, I think my penis would look better without a foreskin.” Moko is a very different thing from “hey, I want a tattoo on my face.” Arilta is vastly more than “wow, I want a subincision because I think it’s cool.”

    Why? Because we say it is? Because the weight of tradition invests things with magic? Because the practices of groups are more important and valuable than the practices of individuals? Sorry, not buying that. Just because some individuals get more out of a ritual due to their investment in the culture does not mean that somehow other individuals engaging in similar rituals in the absence of culture find their experiences somehow invalidated. Anyway, this has nothing to do with the fundamental issue of consent.

    Or, for that matter, the difference between ritual use of peyote or other entheogens, versus recreational drug use.

    I’ve found both to be deeply satisfying. Frankly, the line between recreation and rite blurs sometimes.

    The widespread appropriation of culturally important rituals into western counterculture for shock value or to get high is, IMO, completely abominable.

    And the great thing about a liberal society is that your can find it abominable and I can find it transcendently admirable at the same time. So long as no one’s consent is being disregarded, that is.

  177. chava
    chava June 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

    “It sucks to lose a part of your cultural identity to the assimilation process. Its unfortunate. At the same time, I don’t feel that my lack of Romanipen is the same kind of violation as my lack of bodily autonomy. More to the point, the loss of a culture doesn’t feel like the loss of liberty. I’ve experienced both and they have different flavors. Its subjective but, really, what isn’t?

    Well, your claim that Logic shows that one is definably worse than the other would seem to say that it is, in fact, NOT subjective at all. I understand and respect that bodily autonomy is your (subjective) line in the sand. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to describe the erosion of a culture through the mechanism of the State as “unfortunante,” “uncomfortable,” or something that “sucks.” In other words, your consistent trivialisation of the concerns of marginalized people and their “little age-old taboos” is disturbing, and a case in point why I am so hesitant to get behind this law.
    You said upthread that the discussion of the intersection of these two intersecting groups of concerns was “important” and “a discussion worth having,” but I’ve seen nothing except mockery whenever anyone suggests that the erosion of their cultural practices is threatening, scary, or worthy of concern. Just “too bad, welcome to the modern world.”

  178. JDP
    JDP June 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm |

    BTW, William, a close friend of mine faced the same situation with assimilated Romani parents. She’s perhaps not as forgiving about it as you are, especially because the erosion of a Romani identity in her family occurred under Nazi and Soviet duress. So in her case, loss of liberty and loss of culture were entwined.

    Additionally, I think your focus on the foreskin thing is missing the point. Liberty is a characteristic of actions. People should be free to express their sexuality as they see fit and to reconcile their sexuality with other aspects of their identity. But I don’t see the majority of ritual body modification as practices that restrict liberty, and male circumcision is one of these practices that does not restrict liberty; we both agree that circumcision basically has no effect at all on one’s ability to develop a fulfilling sexuality. Similarly, I don’t see any reason why ritual scarification or ritual tattooing would have any effect at all on one’s ability to develop an identity and express that identity and so on in a free manner. By prohibiting these sorts of practices, though, you do restrict the relationships between parents and children and children and their communities in such a way that the government does restrict liberty by saying “there are right ways and wrong ways to engage those identities and we will punish you, sometimes severely, if you engage those identities in the wrong way.”

    I recognize that you’re seeing a slippery slope, but I’m seeing a slippery slope too. When you permit a government to mandate social norms (or worse, as is the case in the San Francisco situation, you allow a popular referendum to mandate those norms) for how people are allowed to negotiate their identities within minority communities, you’re opening a can of worms. When are parents allowed to start talking with their children about sex? When are parents allowed to tell their children that it’s okay to be gay? When are parents allowed to start talking about safe sex? When are parents allowed to make condoms available to their kids? What languages are parents allowed to raise their children in? And so on.

    I’m cool with encouraging discussion within the Jewish community (And the Muslim community. And the Filipino community. And so on.) about whether there is a place for circumcision in the future of these communities. I am not cool with blanket bans on cultural practices, and I’m definitely not cool with putting civil rights issues to popular referendum. Civil rights should not be trusted to gut populism.

  179. Mr. Kristen J.
    Mr. Kristen J. June 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |

    Chava,

    The dichotomy between rights and obligations is fairly well worn ground in both eastern and western philosophical grounds. One of my largest pet peeves is the invisibility of diverse perspectives within eastern philosophy. Yes, rights are an important part of eastern philosophy and most often form the underlying assumptions on which notions of social rites or social cohesion are based.

  180. William
    William June 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm |

    Well, your claim that Logic shows that one is definably worse than the other would seem to say that it is, in fact, NOT subjective at all.

    One is less important to me, less central to the world I would like to promote, and thus I am less interested in fighting for it. Seriously, are postmodern ethics really that tough to undertand? I’m not right, you’re not right, but this is the fight I’ve chosen because these are the things I value most.

    In other words, your consistent trivialisation of the concerns of marginalized people and their “little age-old taboos” is disturbing, and a case in point why I am so hesitant to get behind this law.

    Aww shucks, I guess I’m just not the right kind of marginalized to matter. Yeah, I trivialize. Partly because I’m a dick but mostly because I believe that a lot of things are trivial. Taking things too seriously tends to lead to pretty bad outcomes. So I smirk, a lot, because I’m not too interested in holding much at all sacred other than the rights of human beings to do whatever the fuck they please so long as everyone involved is consenting. I could wax poetic about trickster archetypes but, honestly, I don’t think it’d be worth the derail. Its cool if you’re uncomfortable, but I’m gonna go right ahead and keep being a dick. I could even make a good argument that I’ve got a religious obligation to shit in the collective punchbowl.

    You said upthread that the discussion of the intersection of these two intersecting groups of concerns was “important” and “a discussion worth having,” but I’ve seen nothing except mockery whenever anyone suggests that the erosion of their cultural practices is threatening, scary, or worthy of concern. Just “too bad, welcome to the modern world.”

    I think its worth having because thinking things through is always good and we should keep an eye on potential oppression. At the same time, it isn’t like the defenders of the faith are lacking advocates. I’ve no problem with the discussion, but I’m not exactly going to back off from a rabid defense of consent. This discussion has helped me think through some issues around consent that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. My position hasn’t changed, and my attitude is obnoxious as ever, but my world is a little bigger than it was before.

    Frankly, I’m not too terribly swayed by accusations of cultural erosion here because we all know that isn’t about to happen. Jews and Muslims aren’t going to stop circumcising and no one is going to go to jail. They’ve got plenty of political pull and parental authority is as strong as ever. No one is being eroded, no matter how loudly they scream they are. Kinda like how I don’t take the heritage foundation seriously when they whinge about how signing gay marriage licenses infringes on their rights. Yeah, whatever, moving on.

    Truthfully, a lot of what I wanted from this discussion was just to make people defending infant circumcision admit what they were defending. I might be an asshole, but I’m not the one publicly arguing that religious groups ought to get to use culture and tradition to infringe on bodily autonomy. I’m not the one making the hilarious argument that telling a social group that it doesn’t own it’s members body is somehow imperialistic and thus just like the war in Iraq. I believe that even if I’m an asshole, most of the people who read this thread are going to see those kinds of arguments for what they are. Call it bullbaiting.

  181. William
    William June 29, 2011 at 5:30 pm |

    But I don’t see the majority of ritual body modification as practices that restrict liberty

    I’m male bodied and male identified. I have nipples. They’re pretty much useless. I’d be able to perform sexually without them and the minor pleasure I can derive from them wouldn’t be missed at all if I’d grown up without them. They’re still mine. Just because a loss is almost infinitesimal doesn’t mean its a loss. Its not about the value, but about the underlying principle that no one gets to choose for my body but me. More importantly, I know some people for whom the loss would be substantially greater.

    By prohibiting these sorts of practices, though, you do restrict the relationships between parents and children and children and their communities in such a way that the government does restrict liberty by saying “there are right ways and wrong ways to engage those identities and we will punish you, sometimes severely, if you engage those identities in the wrong way.”

    And I think that ways of engaging in identities which demand a lack of consent are ways of engaging in identity which the State has a legitimate interest in restricting precisely because kids don’t have the ability to say “no.”

    When you permit a government to mandate social norms (or worse, as is the case in the San Francisco situation, you allow a popular referendum to mandate those norms) for how people are allowed to negotiate their identities within minority communities, you’re opening a can of worms.

    I agree. But at the end of the day someone is going to be on a slope. I’d rather it be a community than bodily autonomy or consent. Communities are better equipped to defend themselves.

    When are parents allowed to start talking with their children about sex? When are parents allowed to tell their children that it’s okay to be gay? When are parents allowed to start talking about safe sex? When are parents allowed to make condoms available to their kids? What languages are parents allowed to raise their children in? And so on.

    The converse of most of those statements are just as easily invoked, and I think thats where the difference is. All those things you mentioned are similar to not circumcising in that the child could later say “fuck it, I want this” and then pursue it. They could learn about sex, be gay, use a condom, learn English. They couldn’t grow a foreskin or heal back a scar or reclaim a lost clitoris.

    Civil rights should not be trusted to gut populism.

    That we agree on. Still, we’re talking about competing rights here. I’m always going to be more suspicious of communities than of individuals, though.

  182. Moises
    Moises June 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm |

    Comrade Kevin:
    I’ve been “mutilated” and somehow never felt as though I was somehow lacking because of it.

    Well gee, of course we would know the difference, right?

    .I think there’s a big difference between that which sadly often happens to young girls in Africa and a very straightforward procedure like male circumcision.

    Yep, a big difference: the two letters “f” and “e”

  183. Moises
    Moises June 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm |

    By the way, there’s no reason a young Jewish boy couldn’t choose to get circumcised upon entering adulthood at age 13, since that’s when he’ll be responsible for upholding his end of the covenant anyway. Having grown up Jewish, the only serviceable reason I can see for bris being performed at infancy is because the kid isn’t old enough to understand what’s being done with him or refuse to participate. Hebrew school teachers claimed it was “because they haven’t yet developed the nerves to feel pain” but considering the myriad examples of adult circumcision throughout Jewish history–doubtlessly a more meaningful expression of one’s covenant with El–I think that’s more about saving the adults from the discomfort and embarrassment of hearing the boy scream and wail in protest. It’s hard to claim you’re timing something for humanitarian reasons when the thing involves cutting off part of someone’s penis, but maybe that’s just my perspective. Me, I wish I had the choice. It might’ve saved me a lot of confusion and saved G-d an uncommitted, uncertain follower.

  184. chava
    chava June 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm |

    “One is less important to me, less central to the world I would like to promote, and thus I am less interested in fighting for it. Seriously, are postmodern ethics really that tough to undertand? I’m not right, you’re not right, but this is the fight I’ve chosen because these are the things I value most.”

    Eh. I’ve never been sanguine about the ways in which postmodern ethical theory works itself out in application. Nonetheless, I do get where you’re coming from on this–and it has been an interesting discussion.

    “Aww shucks, I guess I’m just not the right kind of marginalized to matter. ”

    Dude. “Marginalized people” here referring not to ALL marginalized people, but the groups under discussion. But you know, you can just take the postmodernist backflip and say it was play/flip/trivializing, so whatevs. You’re almost as entertaining as Derrida.

  185. Yonmei
    Yonmei June 30, 2011 at 4:24 am |

    William: Truthfully, a lot of what I wanted from this discussion was just to make people defending infant circumcision admit what they were defending.

    Trolling. I just lost a lot of respect for you.

    If you’ve got an opinion, share it. If your opinion is attacked, defend it. If you see an opinion you disagree with, attack it. If you change your mind, say so.

    None of that is trolling. Making provocative comments with the intent of scoring points: that’s trolling.

  186. William
    William June 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    Trolling. I just lost a lot of respect for you.

    Certainly your right not to respect me, but you’re dead wrong about trolling. Trolling isn’t trying to score points, though. Trolling is trying to work up the other party. I have a horse here, I’ve made that horse pretty clear, and I’ve been arguing in good faith. I’m not just trying to piss people off for shits and giggles.

    What I wanted to do was drag the fundamental conflict here out into light: people who support a religious exemption allowing infant circumcision believe that religion and tradition supersedes bodily autonomy and consent. I wanted to make them say that explicitly, as several have, because I genuinely believe it to be a losing argument. I think we have a tendency to forget that marginalized people can oppress within their communities and that we often use a lot of justifications and bullshit to cover up the fact that if we’re going to be honestly committed to the ideas of bodily autonomy and the necessity of consent that sometimes marginalized groups are going to end up losing some of their traditions. We find ways to justify exceptions so we don’t feel like we’re being oppressive towards marginalized peoples or disrespecting their traditions because our liberal values view those traditions as valuable. Thats great, but sometimes traditions come into conflict with individual rights. I don’t think that should be hidden. So I did my damnedest to drag it out.

    If you’ve got an opinion, share it. If your opinion is attacked, defend it. If you see an opinion you disagree with, attack it. If you change your mind, say so.

    None of that is trolling. Making provocative comments with the intent of scoring points: that’s trolling.

    Why attack an opinion when it attacks itself by being baited out into the light? Frankly, its the same tactic I use when the forced birth lobby comes out and I’ve yet to be accused of trolling then. I believe that people who read feministe are likely to be horrified by arguments that religions have a claim on someone’s body regardless of ability to consent. I don’t think its trolling to bait someone into admitting that thats the center of their argument. It certainly isn’t “scoring points,” its just cutting to the chase.

    Troll isn’t synonymous with “asshole.” I’ll take the latter, but given that I’m not just here to russel feathers the former isn’t even remotely accurate.

  187. David
    David June 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm |

    Yonmei:
    William: Truthfully, a lot of what I wanted from this discussion was just to make people defending infant circumcision admit what they were defending.

    Trolling. I just lost a lot of respect for you.

    If you’ve got an opinion, share it. If your opinion is attacked, defend it. If you see an opinion you disagree with, attack it. If you change your mind, say so.

    None of that is trolling. Making provocative comments with the intent of scoring points: that’s trolling.

    I see nothing wrong with provoking people who try to disguise dick-cutting as an elevated cultural state – like speaking two languages or reading your preferred holy book.

    Sometimes tradition is just asking to be attacked. This is one of those times.

  188. JDP
    JDP June 30, 2011 at 9:41 pm |

    If we’re going to be honestly committed to bodily autonomy, then we’re going to have to fight vaccination too. I mean, the anti-vaxer movement is a lot larger and more influential than the anti-circ movement, so we should give them voice, right?

    More importantly, this isn’t about bodily autonomy, and you’ve already admitted it. You yourself stated that this is about this being about a watershed decision we all have to make vis a vis parental rights concerning their children and religion. You stated that fighting ritual circumcision is necessary to also fight anti-gay camps and so on.

    That’s not about bodily autonomy, but mental autonomy, and in that sort of case, the cost of trying to ban anti-gay camps is that fundamentalist christians are going to challenge the rights of minorities to send their kids to day camp or sleep-away camps that promise and promote safe space for those minorities. Not only that, but you’re not going to eradicate anti-gay abuse in those situations. Instead, you’re just going to eradicate safe spaces where minority children can swim and play baseball and make friends and so on. I don’t see how that’s a trade we should consider acceptable.

    If you want to eradicate truly harmful behaviors that parents engage in, such as bullying gay children, enforcing abominable gender roles on children, etc., the solution is to work for a more liberal society where those pressures don’t exist. The solution is not to push referenda on civil rights that intentionally target minorities, especially referenda that are accompanied by printed media that triumphantly portrays The Great White Beast beating up highly racialized Jews, then stealing Jewish children in order to raise them “in a more enlightened way,” then going onward to meet up with a few other lily-white folks and leave a burning “intactivist symbol” in a manner that quite frankly invokes American nativist and racist terrorism, or haha check out issue #3 where Foreskin Man takes on Africa.

    Legislation that targets minorities does not create a more liberal society. It does not create precedents that bind the majority. It simply marginalizes minorities even further.

  189. chava
    chava July 1, 2011 at 5:21 am |

    “What I wanted to do was drag the fundamental conflict here out into light: people who support a religious exemption allowing infant circumcision believe that religion and tradition supersedes bodily autonomy and consent. I wanted to make them say that explicitly, as several have, because I genuinely believe it to be a losing argument.”

    Yes, because no one would have said it explicity without your “bullbaiting” or “dragging [them] into the light.” It required your formidable powers of argumentation to magically make people say it so they would look “hilarious.”

    Arrogant much?

  190. chava
    chava July 1, 2011 at 5:22 am |

    “What I wanted to do was drag the fundamental conflict here out into light: people who support a religious exemption allowing infant circumcision believe that religion and tradition supersedes bodily autonomy and consent. I wanted to make them say that explicitly, as several have, because I genuinely believe it to be a losing argument.”

    Yes, because no one would have said it explicity without your “bullbaiting” or “dragging [them] into the light.” It required your formidable white, male, atheist powers of argumentation to magically make Jews and Muslims say it so they would look “hilarious.”

    Arrogant much?

  191. chava
    chava July 1, 2011 at 5:24 am |

    OK, Browser Malfunction, hooray. Jill, if you have a mo, would you mind deleting the duplicate?

  192. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 1, 2011 at 5:47 am |

    Yonmei: None of that is trolling. Making provocative comments with the intent of scoring points: that’s trolling.

    There is so much irony I don’t even

    [/trolling]

  193. William
    William July 1, 2011 at 10:09 am |

    If we’re going to be honestly committed to bodily autonomy, then we’re going to have to fight vaccination too. I mean, the anti-vaxer movement is a lot larger and more influential than the anti-circ movement, so we should give them voice, right?

    I think thats a fair question, but I’m not sure it pans out. At the end of the day I find vaccination a lot more defensible because it has a clear, valid, overwhelming medical benefit for the child with demonstrably low risks of negative impact and a risk of long-term negative impact just this side of non-zero. When a kid turns 18 the only thing they don’t have as a result of an HPV vaccination is HPV, the needle doesn’t even leave a scar. You’re talking about a radically different level and reason for action. More to the point, I’ve never said that I feel the bodily autonomy of a child trumps medical necessity, especially when we’re talking about a child young enough to be unable to understand whats going on.

    As for the size of a movement, I’m not sure where you’re going with that. I’m pretty sure there are more Jews and Muslims in the US than committed vaccination opponents. Either way I don’t feel the numbers of the mob ought to have much to do with it’s influence in the rights of other human beings.

    More importantly, this isn’t about bodily autonomy, and you’ve already admitted it. You yourself stated that this is about this being about a watershed decision we all have to make vis a vis parental rights concerning their children and religion. You stated that fighting ritual circumcision is necessary to also fight anti-gay camps and so on.

    The discussion of circumcision is about bodily autonomy because you’re talking about altering someone’s body without their consent and with no reasonable justification beyond “because God wills it.” Its also a border fight in the large battle against far more significant religious infringements on bodily autonomy like abortion restriction or sodomy laws. Its also a means of chipping away at parental authority and establishing a precedent that can be used against conversion therapy. Theres a lot at play here because social issues tend to be overdetermined.

    That’s not about bodily autonomy, but mental autonomy, and in that sort of case, the cost of trying to ban anti-gay camps is that fundamentalist christians are going to challenge the rights of minorities to send their kids to day camp or sleep-away camps that promise and promote safe space for those minorities.

    We’re verging into derail territory here so I’ll just say that I don’t see an incredible amount of difference between bodily and mental autonomy. They’re different faces of the same value for me but I recognize that mental autonomy isn’t a winning fight yet. Thats one of the reasons I’m aggressive about bodily autonomy, because I believe that a more expansive view of bodily autonomy will open up a space for a more expansive view of other kinds of autonomy.

    For the record, I don’t want to ban conversion therapy camps. I think thats a poor tactic. I want to limit the authority of parents to send their kids to camps that the kids don’t want to go to. At the same time, I’ve supported the APA’s efforts to make the provision of conversion therapy a black letter violation of the ethics code. Bringing it back to bodily autonomy I’ve commented on some of the garbage Zucker is trying to get into the DSM-V around gender identity issues.

  194. JDP
    JDP July 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm |

    William: I think thats a fair question, but I’m not sure it pans out. At the end of the day I find vaccination a lot more defensible because it has a clear, valid, overwhelming medical benefit for the child with demonstrably low risks of negative impact and a risk of long-term negative impact just this side of non-zero. When a kid turns 18 the only thing they don’t have as a result of an HPV vaccination is HPV, the needle doesn’t even leave a scar. You’re talking about a radically different level and reason for action. More to the point, I’ve never said that I feel the bodily autonomy of a child trumps medical necessity, especially when we’re talking about a child young enough to be unable to understand whats going on.

    I don’t disagree, but there are plenty of people out there who sincerely believe that vaccinations cause debilitating conditions etc. We can argue back and forth about questions of whether a parent’s concern vis a vis a medical treatment should trump our medical knowledge and public health concerns such as herd immunity, but it should be pointed out here that parents can opt out of vaccinating their children on a number of legal grounds. In my opinion this is dangerous to the children and sometimes to others as well, but I think you’d have a very hard time mandating vaccinations across the board without exemptions for JWs, CSs, and anti-vaxers.

    As for the size of a movement, I’m not sure where you’re going with that. I’m pretty sure there are more Jews and Muslims in the US than committed vaccination opponents. Either way I don’t feel the numbers of the mob ought to have much to do with it’s influence in the rights of other human beings.

    “Ought” and “do” are different things. If you don’t think movement size has a role in the support for legislation, I’m not really sure we have much to discuss here.

    The discussion of circumcision is about bodily autonomy because you’re talking about altering someone’s body without their consent and with no reasonable justification beyond “because God wills it.” Its also a border fight in the large battle against far more significant religious infringements on bodily autonomy like abortion restriction or sodomy laws. Its also a means of chipping away at parental authority and establishing a precedent that can be used against conversion therapy. Theres a lot at play here because social issues tend to be overdetermined.

    Do you really think that banning circumcision is going to help abortion laws or sodomy laws? If anything, I can see it going the other way, with the law being interpreted to say that minors are wards of the state WRT medical concerns, and that the state wills that minors will not be permitted abortions, that sex with a minor (even by another minor, and especially by a minor of the same sex) is a crime against the state, and so on.

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I strongly disagree with your assertion that this would serve as the foundation for additional civil rights.

    We’re verging into derail territory here so I’ll just say that I don’t see an incredible amount of difference between bodily and mental autonomy. They’re different faces of the same value for me but I recognize that mental autonomy isn’t a winning fight yet. Thats one of the reasons I’m aggressive about bodily autonomy, because I believe that a more expansive view of bodily autonomy will open up a space for a more expansive view of other kinds of autonomy.

    So my language example is salient, then. So which freedom is more important; the freedom of a parent to speak the language of their choice in the home, or the freedom of the child to learn English as a first language?

    For the record, I don’t want to ban conversion therapy camps. I think thats a poor tactic. I want to limit the authority of parents to send their kids to camps that the kids don’t want to go to. At the same time, I’ve supported the APA’s efforts to make the provision of conversion therapy a black letter violation of the ethics code. Bringing it back to bodily autonomy I’ve commented on some of the garbage Zucker is trying to get into the DSM-V around gender identity issues.

    So you think that a ban on circumcision will serve to weaken the power of parents to send their children to conversion camps, but you don’t want to ban conversion camps.

    You’re not making sense here.

  195. Azalea
    Azalea July 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    WestEndGirl:
    Um, Azalea:

    Re: this description of male circumcision:

    I went to my cousin’s brit milah, there was no strapping and the mohel was so fast I didn’t realise it had actually happened, the baby gave one squawk and then had a feed. Hardly the torture you are trying to envoke.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmX6RdRNoqk

    Fear my ass, watch the entire video if you can stomach it but its a HOSPITALIZED circumcision and yes the baby is strapped down and yes he is screaming in pain. They say it is VERY painful. Have at it.

  196. William
    William July 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm |

    In my opinion this is dangerous to the children and sometimes to others as well, but I think you’d have a very hard time mandating vaccinations across the board without exemptions for JWs, CSs, and anti-vaxers.

    Except there is a difference between mandating that someone do something (vaccinate) and prohibiting someone from doing something (circumcise). We’re back to your language example here. To ban Spanish in the home would necessarily force your father to learn, teach, and speak English. Even if he already knows English it requires that he do specific things. It isn’t as simple as not speaking Spanish. That puts a substantial burden on him. The same is true of vaccinations. Mandating vaccination requires action rather than prohibiting it. Compelling specific behaviors is on much shakier ground legally, historically, philosophically, and I believe ethically. Banning circumcision doesn’t force anyone to do anything, it merely restricts. Theres a difference there.

    Do you really think that banning circumcision is going to help abortion laws or sodomy laws?

    Not immediately. Who could have predicted a century ago that the supreme court case protect abortion would revolve primarily around privacy rights? Precedents which lean towards bodily autonomy are tools, they might be useful in the future. In addition to the ideological support they are also of potential pragmatic use.

    If anything, I can see it going the other way, with the law being interpreted to say that minors are wards of the state WRT medical concerns, and that the state wills that minors will not be permitted abortions, that sex with a minor (even by another minor, and especially by a minor of the same sex) is a crime against the state, and so on.

    How is it that you’ve interpreted an argument for bodily autonomy and the centrality of consent as an argument for children being wards of the state? Especially when I’ve repeatedly said that I believe parents do have a valid role in medical decisions up to a certain age? I’m not arguing that the state ought to decide what is acceptable, I’m arguing that outside of medical treatment alterations to the body need to occur in the context of meaningful consent. Appendicitis? The parents make the call. Breast implants? I think we can wait till the kid is capable of articulating informed and meaningful consent. Frankly I don’t think a religious argument makes cosmetic surgery any more special than a cultural or traditional argument. People ought to decide about their own bodies whenever possible. Nothing prevents circumcision from happening later, therefore circumcision shouldn’t happen until the person being circumcised wants it to.

    So which freedom is more important; the freedom of a parent to speak the language of their choice in the home, or the freedom of the child to learn English as a first language?

    Explain to me why a child has a right to choose which language will be the first they learn and how a claim to that right supersedes a parent’s right to free speech. What you’re describing, to me, is a role reversal in which the theoretical child is making a values argument to learn English from their parents as a first language and believes that their value is so important it ought to override their parent’s fundamental right to speak Spanish. Ok, so now the kid is the parent, the parent is the kid, future opportunities in a racist culture stands in for faith, and language stands in for circumcision. Autonomy trumps, no one has a claim on the bodies of others, Spanish gets spoken in the home.

    More deeply, though, you know that a child learning their first language isn’t going to know the difference between English or Spanish. What you’re really arguing isn’t the rights of the child but, as in your odd accusations of states owning kids if parents don’t, the opinion of a privileged society. It isn’t the child asking to learn English and instead being taught Spanish by a parent, but a society saying English is more important than spanish. It isn’t the child whose autonomy is being violated by the parent, but the parent’s autonomy being violated by society. The Spanish-speaking parent’s tongue becomes the uncircumcised penis and the theoretical argument about what language ought to be taught in the home becomes the privileged and powerful parent looking to assert their preference against another’s consent.

    So you think that a ban on circumcision will serve to weaken the power of parents to send their children to conversion camps, but you don’t want to ban conversion camps.

    You’re not making sense here.

    Banning conversion camps is a poor tactic because they’ll sell their wares under another name or, as evangelicals in this country are so fond of doing, just flat lie. Instead I’m in favor of getting rid of them by supporting the rights of children to say no, working to make it virtually impossible to effectively bill for that kind of service, professionally shaming therapists who participate and, once enough time has passed that conversion therapists are suitably marginalized, going after their professional credentials.

    Circumcision, on the other hand, is easier to ban because you can’t easily pretend its something else. Look, I know that a ban on infant circumcision won’t stop most Jews or Muslims from circumcising their children. I’m also not a big fan of the way this law is written. I think going after practitioners, rather than parents, would be far more effective and far less likely to cause collateral damage to children. What a ban almost certainly will do is reduce those 95% of circumcisions which occur in the absence of strong religious convictions to almost 0. Creating a religious exception to the law weakens the impact of saying “consent is important.” Leaving out a religious exemption maintains the unambiguous precedent of the law and forces religious folks to think about whether this practice really is all that important to them without actually doing much in the way of damage.

  197. brandy
    brandy July 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm |

    Annie:
    I also think there is a HUGE difference between FGM and male circumcision. Men who are circumcised can still have pleasure in sex, can still procreate, and it doesn’t tend to cause infection and other serious problems. There’s scientific literature to back that up. It’s in no way shape or form the same.

    As for the “minor nick”, part of the problem is that the probability of harm and the magnitude of harm when it occurs (two separate inquiries) is different for male circumcision than female.In male circumcision, the probability of harm is very, very low.When it does occur, it is usually just a nick to the penis.A doctor would have to be drunk or grossly incompetent to nick off an entire penis.(And you don’t hear of a lot of lawsuits against mohels).Even a “minor” nick of the clitoris carries a high risk of loss of sensation.And when the procedure goes wrong, it goes very, very wrong and all sensation is lost. So both the probability of harm and the magnitude of harm are greater in FGM.

    There are scientific studies which show that female circumcision doesn’t prevent pleasure either, and it certainly doesn’t prevent procreation. If it did cultures that do it would no longer exist.

    Dan Bollinger posted a reference to one such study. Here is a link to another, where researches found that circumcised women experience sexual arousal and orgasm as frequently as uncircumcised women.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2837

    So while cutting off the clitoris (it’s actually the outer tip that is removed, clitoris extends deep inside the body) is a more invasive procedure than male circumcision, at least two scientific studies do not support your claim that it leads to inability to have sexual pleasure.

    I object the second paragraph of the quoted text even more. You actually claim with a straight face that when performed under same conditions merely nicking a girls’ clitoris or clitoral hood carries a greater probability and magnitude of harm than male circumcision. You make this ridiculous claim without any data to support it, despite the fact that male circumcision is far more invasive procedure, which involves amputation of a tissue, lasts a couple of hundred times longer, often involves anesthesia and when done leaves the patient with an open wound. None of this is true when nicking a girls’ clitoral hood.

    When male circumcision goes terribly wrong the worst possible end result is death of the patient. There are documented cases where circumcision directly or indirectly led to death. August posted a link to a study that estimates over 100 boys die in the US die each year due to circumcision. How many cases can you cite where nicking a girls’ clitoral hood led to death, a procedure that according to you has greater magnitude of potential harm?

    And how about the harm when procedure is successful. Unlike the mere nicking successful circumcision always involves permanent removal of a healthy tissue. Given this fact one can reasonable argue that circumcision is by it’s very nature a harmful procedure, and that it always involves harming a child. You cannot make the same claim for a procedure that merely nicks the tissue.

  198. brandy
    brandy July 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm |

    WestEndGirl: I went to my cousin’s brit milah, there was no strapping and the mohel was so fast I didn’t realise it had actually happened, the baby gave one squawk and then had a feed. Hardly the torture you are trying to envoke.

    If it was done as fast as you claim then I bet the baby was “prepared” in the other room first. Preparation in this case involves forcibly separating the head of the penis from the foreskin because during infancy the two are fused together with the similar tissue that connects fingernail to a finger.

  199. Matt
    Matt July 3, 2011 at 7:24 pm |

    Miss S:
    William there’s a difference between babysitter and parent. I would be pissed if a babysitter decided to circumcise my child too.

    I realize what your last statement was trying to say, but I just don’t agree. I believe that circumcision should be involve the child and their parents. I don’t need to be a boy or a parent to say this.

    Also, I doubt a bill like this would pass here.I’ve been lightly involved in politics, and alot of politicians frequent the place that I wait tables. The Jewish community on the East Coast have alot of political influence.

    You are a disingenuous sack of crap. Circumcision involves the parents and the parents. WTF has the child got to do with it? The child has no fucking part in it. The child gets no say, doesn’t even understand what is happening and couldn’t understand it if you explained it, seeing as babies just born can’t speak… If you think parents deserve absolute control over their child’s life say so, don’t bring in all this omg violating autonomy shit when you are the one advocating violating autonomy of a child who is given no rights and is not, by you, considered a human being.

  200. chava
    chava July 4, 2011 at 2:02 am |

    Sack of crap? Way to attempt to engage in an actual discussion. I love how you accuse feminists of name-calling and then do this.

    Also, a 13 year old Muslim boy understands what’s happening, circumcising doesn’t mean the child “is given no rights” and it doesn’t mean you don’t consider them a human being. But, you know, generalize away.

    Matt: You are a disingenuous sack of crap. Circumcision involves the parents and the parents. WTF has the child got to do with it? The child has no fucking part in it. The child gets no say, doesn’t even understand what is happening and couldn’t understand it if you explained it, seeing as babies just born can’t speak… If you think parents deserve absolute control over their child’s life say so, don’t bring in all this omg violating autonomy shit when you are the one advocating violating autonomy of a child who is given no rights and is not, by you, considered a human being.

  201. Azalea
    Azalea July 4, 2011 at 2:25 am |

    chava:
    Sack of crap?Way to attempt to engage in an actual discussion. I love how you accuse feminists of name-calling and then do this.

    Also, a 13 year old Muslim boy understands what’s happening, circumcising doesn’t mean the child “is given no rights” and it doesn’t mean you don’t consider them a human being.But, you know, generalize away.

    But circumcision typically happens to newborns who cant consent who arent given any pain relief and have parts of their healthy genitali forcibly and painfully removed without medical necessity or benefit.

  202. chava
    chava July 4, 2011 at 2:33 am |

    Yes, in the US that is the majority.
    In most of Europe and the Arab world, it is not. Circ just happened to become an issue for Europe, along with kosher and halal slaughter, when their (poor, immigrant) Muslim population skyrocketed.

    And really, can we drop the no pain meds thing? There SHOULD be pain meds. Many people will or would use pain meds unless their doctors tell them babies don’t feel pain, at all (a common belief until recently). It doesn’t have to do with just circ, but medicine as a whole.

    Azalea: But circumcision typically happens to newborns who cant consent who arent given any pain relief and have parts of their healthy genitali forcibly and painfully removed without medical necessity or benefit.

  203. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines July 4, 2011 at 5:00 am |

    Chava – In the Muslim community in the UK, circumcision is carried out in a hospital/clinic under a general anaesthetic and pain relief is given afterwards. No babies are strapped down. Not sure about the Jewish community as the hospital wasn’t in an area with a high Jewish community.

  204. chava
    chava July 4, 2011 at 5:18 am |

    There’s no theological or cultural reason for the Jewish community not to give pain relief, so if the medical myth has been discredited, I would imagine its done in the UK? I do know some rabbis/mohels here who claim that since its done so much faster at a bris (vs hospital), it hurts the child more to administer the anasthetic.

    As far as Muslim circ–I think they do it in-hospital w/anesthesia in large swaths of the Arab world now, too. Not positive.

    Safiya Outlines:
    Chava – In the Muslim community in the UK, circumcision is carried out in a hospital/clinic under a general anaesthetic and pain relief is given afterwards. No babies are strapped down. Not sure about the Jewish community as the hospital wasn’t in an area with a high Jewish community.

  205. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines July 4, 2011 at 7:18 am |

    Chava – I think it depends on where in the Muslim world, which is after all a huge place with massively different living standards. In modern, urban places it is generally done in a hospital with anaesthetic.

    As for hurting more to administer the anaesthetic, Emla or Ametop top cream is available which numbs the skin so that cannulation doesn’t hurt. I cannot speak for other countries, but this is widely used in the UK. Also, the anaesthetist may choose to do a gas induction, where the patient inhales the anaesthetic and cannulation is not required while the patient is awake.

    Certainly anaesthesia is not without risks, but to say it is more painful then actually performing a circumcision is untrue.

  206. Azalea
    Azalea July 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    chava:
    Yes, in the US that is the majority.
    In most of Europe and the Arab world, it is not.Circ just happened to become an issue for Europe, along with kosher and halal slaughter, when their (poor, immigrant) Muslim population skyrocketed.

    And really, can we drop the no pain meds thing?There SHOULD be pain meds.Many people will or would use pain meds unless their doctors tell them babies don’t feel pain, at all (a common belief until recently).It doesn’t have to do with just circ, but medicine as a whole.

    There SHOULD but in the US there typically ISNT and even if there WERE does it take away ALL of their pain? NObody should have their GENITALS torns apart for shits and giggles or because SOMEONE else and not the genitalia owner thinks that is what SHOULD happen.

    I think waiting until the child is old enough to consent doesn’t infringe on the child’s right to religious expression but how can one person’s religion have dominion over another person’s genitalia in such a painful and permanent manner?

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