September 14, 2009 § 4 Comments

great article on male circumcision in the new york times.

As one of the few countries where circumcision is widely practiced for non-religious reasons, the United States is an anomaly. Most European countries have largely abandoned routine neonatal circumcision; the British stopped doing it when they started the National Health Service in 1948. The service refused to cover the practice because it was deemed not medically necessary, and some Europeans will frankly say they find the idea barbaric and unnatural. Yet in the United States, circumcision is the norm, and the vast majority of men — and in all likelihood the majority of doctors — are circumcised, even though rates have dropped in recent years.

Physicians reject any comparison between male and female circumcision because, they say, male circumcision does not injure men or impair any physiological or sexual functioning.

But critics say a double standard prevails: though female genital cutting is also rooted in cultural traditions, it is prohibited by law in America and considered a human rights violation. These critics object to circumcising boys for the same reasons many find female circumcision loathsome: they believe parents have no right to permanently alter the genitalia of a baby who cannot consent, boy or girl, and that far from being a useless flap of skin, the foreskin, which is densely filled with nerve endings, serves a function, protecting and lubricating the head of the penis and maintaining its sensitivity, much like an eyelid does.

i promised gloria le may a post on circumcision.  since she was the catalyst that changed my mind on whether or not male circumcision is a moral question.  before i had put it firmly in the realm of religious and cultural question.

here’s where i am now.  if i have a penis child, i will not have them circumcised.  i do not want to decrease his pleasure in sex by cutting off nerve endings on his penis.  i mean i just dont buy the it doesnt have an effect on the functioning of the penis.  and furthermore i dont believe in unnecessary surgery without consent.  im not going to get my kid lipsuction because she would ‘fit in’ better with the other girls.  or because it is ‘common knowledge’ that being thinner is healthier.

and even if there is evidence that het men who are circumcised are less likely to acquire aids.  who says my son will be het?  or a son? and i didnt get my daughter the hpv vaccine.  or any other.

and when he gets to the age when he can decide to get a circumcision.  that will be his choice.  not mine.

as a midwife or birth assistant i would not refuse to support a mother’s birth because she is going to circumcise her child, daughter or son.  yes. i dont think the practice is biologically necessary most of the time.  but i live in a mamacentric universe.  i support empowering mothers to be able to make their own choices.


§ 4 Responses to foreskin

  • Hugh7 says:

    Good so far, but where do you draw the line? Do you support empowering mothers to be able to make their own choices to sell their daughters into slavery, to binding their daughters’ feet? If not, why draw the line on the far side of genital cutting?

    If mothers have power to decide to choose to cut parts of their babies’ genitals off, that’s more than power enough. Empowering them to make their own birth choices is one thing, but their babies – and the men and women they are going to grow up to be – need to be empowered too, retroactively if need be.

  • Gloria Lemay says:

    Thanks for writing down your view and being willing to look again at the human rights aspect of genital alteration. Very well said.

  • mama says:

    that is a ridiculous argument. i dont believe because of what may happen to a child in the future-circumision, slavery, death, ahem…- that that means that child does not deserve the best birth possible. and i will support any mama’s desire to provide that for her child. if that means me attending her birth. so be it. i am honored.
    furthermore i believe that supporting a woman during her birth and other archetypal moments allows for her to be more empowered in other areas of her life. including the decisions that she makes for her children. i believe that during moments such a birth, women can discover their incredible reservoir of strength, if we support them in that process. i also do not believe that most women want to hurt their child. but a lot of us in this world become numb to pain because of how much we have endured. and we in the process become numb to others’ pain as well. including our children.
    if we want women to stand up against incredible economic and social forces to stand up for themselves and their children and their communities, we must support them in finding the strength to do so.
    for women who give birth, the birth changes them. how am i to say what she will think about circumcision, foot binding, slavery or whatever other child torture you may envision, after she has been through this incredible process, this incredible transformation called birth?
    i dont live in the states. or north america. i live in cairo, egypt. i have talked to mother who have made the kind of bone chilling decisions about their children that i have never had to make. i dont know what i would have done in their situations. but i do know that there are worse choices than circumcision for your child. i know that there are worse things than foot binding. and i know that i have no right to judge mothers’ decision that i have never had to make.
    i have the luxury of deciding not to circumcise my child. i have the privilege of seeing it as a choice.
    i also have to say that i dislike arguments like this. the argument that says: oh, where do you draw the line? and then you lump a bunch of ethnic practices together that have nothing to do with each other – other than that they are somewhat -exotic- and centered around children. without any reference to cultural context, who has the power in decision making.
    frankly your comment smells like mama-blaming. like women who choose to circumcise their children should also be traumatized in their birth and left unsupported…yeah, i guess, that is what those bad mamas get…since you disagree with one choice they made as parents…

  • Hugh7 says:

    @mama: I certainly don’t suggest you should refuse to attend a mama who plans to circumcise (or footbind or sell into slavery) her child, because that would indeed be worse, but “empowering them to make their own decisions” does have limits when those decisions disempower the child or the adult they are to become (and don’t benefit the mama in any way at all).

    And footbinding at any rate is quite comparable to circumcision in relevant ways, because it is painful, imposed on the child for supposedly erotic purposes later in life, and certainly disempowering. (Of course the pain goes on for much longer, etc. etc. If an analogy matches completely, it is no longer an analogy.)

    While it is the mama who binds/circumcises the child, it is at the behest of men, or in fear of rejection by men (the girl by her suitors, the boy by his father). So if she is to be empowered, the greater empowerment is to resist their demands, not acquiesce to them.

    Of course many other issues are more important and worse than circumcision, but that is the one you decided we should discuss here.

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