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Circumcision rant [Aug. 4th, 2008|12:35 pm]
dalekboy
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[mood |infuriatedranty]

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that circumcising a child for reasons that are not solidly medical or religious is something that should be thought about in terms of what the child may prefer, not what you want.

Someone pulled me up on this, saying that they consider mutilation because of religion a bad reason for doing it.

I actually agree, and I'm surprised it took someone so long to pull me up on this one. My reasons for including it in the 'acceptable' category are a mixture of tolerance and what I think of as the significantly lesser evil.

I actually don't agree with it, but when addressing the issues around circumcision, breaking a couple of thousand year's worth of religious tradition is something that takes education and baby steps. Just saying "You're wrong and your culture and traditions of the last few thousand years are wrong..." Well, most people are going to dig in their heels and think (rightly) one doesn't understand, or is a bigot.

So why would they even start to consider the other options in that circumstance? Why would they even start to listen to your objections with an open mind, since you clearly don't have an open mind when it comes to their way of life?

I also look at it this way, there are many cultures that would look at things Western culture does, like attitudes to nudity, the lack of skin contact, and the baby sleeping in a separate room to its parents, that they would find horrific and abusive ideas. They couldn't understand how you could want to psychologically scar your child this way.

If some of my religious friends had their child circumcised because that was an aspect of their religion, I would accept it without issue. I don't have to agree with it to support them and their cultural/tradional reasons for doing it. Plus, the child will be growing up in a culture where it's the norm, so they are way less likely to have issues with it.

My preference would still be for it not to be done, but that's personal, and I'm not in a place to understand the significance of thousands of years worth of teaching and tradition.

Having been to ante-natal and breast-feeding classes, religion has still been by far the best of the non-medical reasons I've heard for circumcision. I find it quite acceptable when compared to reasons like "I want him to look like his father," and the vastly more common, "I think it looks nicer."

Some people could say the same thing about female genital mutilation or foot-binding. "I think it looks nicer, and I want her to look like her mother." People would think these reasons disgusting, and they'd be right.

The back-up excuse is often one of cleanliness and preventing disease. They want to be a good parent and reduce the risks to their child. I figure if you can't teach your child to wash their gentials effectively, then what makes you think they wash their backside properly, an area way more likely to harbour unhealthy bacteria? As for the supposedly increased risks of STDs, if you've raised the kid right and educated them about sex properly, when they're older they should be using condoms anyway, so that's no excuse.

Basically I find these reasons fall into the "I can't be bothered trying to teach my child things they should know, so I'll just mutilate them and save myself some trouble" category.

Interestingly, I've yet to hear any of these reasons coming from the fathers, only the mothers. The fathers are usually silent on the matter. Maybe they agree, but they never seem to be the one jumping forward with the reasons.

It's gender differences again. There are things and areas where one gender will have incredible difficulty understanding the needs and mindsets of the other, where they will find things acceptable for one sex and not the other. Despite the way it's often presented, it's not all guys not understanding women's needs, it does in fact work the other way, too. But that's a different rant.

I'm not saying all men don't want their kids circumcised and are forced to by their partners. There will be plenty of men out there wanting it done for all the same reasons. I'm saying that to date, I have have not heard a single non-religious guy say he wanted his son circumcised, but I've heard a number of women pushing their reasons for the decision. Some guys will probably speak up in the comments now saying they were for it, and that's fine. But they will be the first I've heard it from. Whereas I've heard women backing up their reasons for circumcision for years.

The crazy (and disgusting) thing is, that if you asked these same people to consider genital mutilation of their daughters for the exact same reasons, they would likely be utterly horrified and think you a sick bastard.

I don't think there's any good non-medical reason for mutilating the genitals of the child you profess to love and care about, but religion and cultural tradition is certainly a far superior reason compared to cosmetic preferences.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: transcendancing
2008-08-04 02:49 am (UTC)
Interesting read. I personally see no reason to do so unless medically necessary, but also I'm not going to condemn people who do it just because I disagree - as you said, there is the ability to be supportive without agreeing.
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[User Picture]From: drjon
2008-08-04 03:28 am (UTC)
To compare male and female circumcision isn't really fair: in the vast majority of cases, the male equivalent of what's called "female circumcision" would amount to severing the entire foreskin and glans off down to the corpora cavernosa, and then pushing what's left of the shaft into the pubis and stitching it up.

It's also worth mentioning that male circumcision is usually a scriptually-mandated religious procedure; whereas female circumcision is, to the best of my knowledge, a culturally-mandated one.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2008-08-04 04:30 am (UTC)
This was my thought - although I'm still not in favour of male circumcision.
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2008-08-04 03:32 am (UTC)

Rant alert.

I find the whole idea of ring-barking babies to be barbaric. Superstitions as an excuse to justify it? Nah, you're cutting a baby unnecessarily, without anaesthetic in a part of his body that has a lot of nerve endings. Look at a calendar, work out what century you live in and do the right fucking thing. If you're Jewish, do you still shit 200 metres outside town or have you adapted to the changes in technologies? From my point of view, circumcision is simply child abuse. It's about as necessary as an ear-piercing.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-08-04 06:08 am (UTC)

Re: Rant alert.

I don't disagree with you, but one of the major points of my argument against it in general is that for many people it's purely an asthetic choice, rather than a cultural/traditional one. I'm not saying that any of those choices are good ones, but I know that one that makes my skin crawl more.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-08-04 06:14 am (UTC)
If someone said "I'll circumcise my son because it's the done thing in my social group." they would be condemned...

Actually, no they wouldn't. As I mentioned, it happens all the time, and the reasons are usually down to a preferred look on the part of the parents, and no-one argues against that. Soemone saying 'it's what is done in my social circle' isn't really that different to 'they look nicer.'

As to arguments over religion, I tend to respect people's beliefs. I would rather they they be a good person because that's who they want to be, rather than their invisible friend telling them to, or doing it out of fear, or for a big reward in the next world, but at the end of the day, educating people is better than damning them.

You educate them, hopefully they'll reach the conclusions on their own, you criticise them, they stop listening.
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[User Picture]From: rachelholkner
2008-08-04 03:57 am (UTC)
I assume that the reason guys don't talk about decisions regarding their son's circumcision is that it means they are, in effect, talking about their own dicks. And most guys are not going to do that in a room full of strangers (ante-natal class for example). I've witnessed it too, and it's often accompanied by floor-gazing on the part of the men.
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[User Picture]From: drjon
2008-08-04 04:32 am (UTC)
That's not the floor they're gazing at.
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[User Picture]From: sjl
2008-08-04 04:56 am (UTC)
Speaking as a circumcised male, I find myself in an interesting position. Personal preference would be to not circumcise my child. However, being circumcised myself, I am utterly - utterly - ignorant of the necessary hygienic practices.

Which raises a conundrum: in the absence of good quality, reliable information on what my hypothetical son needs to do to maintain his own health and well being, it could be argued that he would be better off being circumcised. (Of course, the other approach - and the one I would pursue in this situation - would be to do whatever it took to find out. Some men would be too embarrassed to do this - I'm not saying it's right or wrong, just that it is.)
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2008-08-04 06:39 am (UTC)
You could google "foreskin cleaning"... but probably don't do it at work.
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From: fe2h2o
2008-08-04 05:21 am (UTC)
See... for us, I figured it was pretty much Paddington's call. I wasn't keen on it, but if he'd had a strong preference, I'd probably have gone along with it.
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[User Picture]From: paul_ewins
2008-08-04 05:49 am (UTC)
Of all the issues facing mankind male circumcision would have to be the least important.

The upsides are trivial, the downsides are trivial. No, really, the benefits are statistically miniscule and the risks are even smaller.

To compare it in any way to female genital mutilation or foot binding is just so wrong as they cause serious damage to women whereas male circumcision changes nothing.

If you ask yourself "How would my life have been different if I was/wasn't circumcised" the answer for 99.9% of western males should be "it wouldn't be different at all". What football team you support is more likely to shape your life than whether or not you have a foreskin.

If you want to fight against barbaric practices why don't you join Amnesty International or an anti capital punishment group or even help the RSPCA fight against tail-docking of dogs. Any of those would contribute far more to making our world a better place.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-08-04 07:04 am (UTC)
Of all the issues facing mankind male circumcision would have to be the least important.

Actually, I would have said that fandom and worldcons were the least important, but that's just me ;)

But seriously, while it's not of world shattering importance, neither is it so trivial. There are lots of guys that have various physical issues due to circumcision. These include inability to get en erection without pain or even skin tears and bleeding because too much was removed, not to mention guys where the glans is severly damaged.

To say that male circumcision changes nothing is incorrect. Can you imagine what it would be like for you if you were one of the unlucky ones? Where an erection meant pain, and intercourse was agonising? And all because of a procedure that you had no say in?

There are many men for whom it has changed everything. Apart from the above mentioned physical issues, there are issues of self-esteem, thoughts of parental betrayal, feelings of inadequacy compared to 'complete' males, depression issues, etc. As mentioned in my previous post, there are men trying to regrow or recreate their foreskins - these aren't the actions of men unaffected by what has been done. I don't just talk out my bum, I actively research these things.

So in that light, I think the comparisons to some of the more horrific practices visited upon women is fair. Just because the numbers of seriously affected people may be significantly lower, it doesn't make it any less barbaric.

Not all female genital mutilation is the extreme kind. In some cultures the girl loses a small enough section of labia that the difference to her genitals and her ability to enjoy sex is minimal. But the fact that those women are relatively unaffected doesn't make it okay. I still find it a terrible practice, and I'd rather it didn't happen at all, to either gender.

Suppose for a moment you're on the mark in saying that if asked 99.9% of Western males would say their lives would be no different one way or the other. In Australia that leaves you with, very approximately, 10,000 males for whom it would be an issue. Even if only a quarter of them are circumcised, that's 2,500 guys who are affected by something that they had no control over.

Let's remember another factor, too. On the whole, western males tend not to talk about their emotional, medical, or physical issues. A hell of a lot of guys die from various curable ailments because they don't tell anyone, don't want to see a doctor, and leave it far too late to be helped. So, it may well be a far bigger issue than either you or I are aware of. Many guys are unhappy with their penis size, or have erection issues, but how many men do you know who told you that they have these problems? During my short time working in the sex shop, I sold a lot of penis enlargers.

As to making the world a better place, I agree, all those things you mentioned are worthy. As are better education for all socio-economic groups, better solutions to the problems of child labour, stopping whaling, etc. I, like everyone else, looks to the issues that speak to them. In my case the issues that speak to me are environmental, educating farmers so they don't fuck up the land, educating city folks into the real needs of the country areas, the eradication of introduced pests, that sort of thing. I may not be hugely active, but those are the things I work towards, when I can.

This rant was me venting and expressing an opinion, I wasn't saying it was of world importance. That you disagree with it is fine, I expected some folks to disagree with it, to have counter-arguments, to say I was wrong about this or that. That's good, because it forces myself and others to rethink what we know, to question our arguments and stances. In fact, I made such a lengthy reply to your comment because you brought up a bunch of really good issues and arguments.
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[User Picture]From: kaelajael
2008-08-04 02:23 pm (UTC)
I have two boys - one is circumcised, the other isn't.
When I was pregnant, we discussed long and hard about whether we would choose to do it and after weighing up the relevant factors for our life at the time we chose to have our baby circumcised.
There were a number of reasons, but the biggest one for us was that we lived in hot, humid and dusty place, and we personally knew of a number of boys who had to be done because of infections when they were older (5-15) and each of them then had issues with pain and scarring.
Our second son isn't circumcised, because the doctor I had when he was born refused to perform the procedure despite our requests.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-08-05 01:49 am (UTC)
See, whether I agree with it or not, I can fully respect the decision. You thought about this, you had personal experience of other uncircumcised people having difficulties, you made an informed choice to have it done.

Where were you living?
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[User Picture]From: battblush
2008-08-05 01:27 am (UTC)
While we're on the subject of mutilating babies, I find ear piercing on infants to be obscene. I want to slap the parents whenever I see it. Piercing (or any form of mutilation) should be made by informed consent, not because the parent has a preference.

As for the argument "because I want him to look like his father" argument: my husband has a split in his ear lobe due to a birth deformity. Should I then have Connor's ear surgically split so he'll look like his Dad? Answer: see beginning of my rant.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-08-05 01:53 am (UTC)
You echoed one of my ranty replies above with your second paragraph.

And yes, I don't think infants should have their ears pierced. I think if a child is going to have their ears pierced, it should be considered as an option only when the child has requested it.

And that doesn't include mum or aunty asking the child "So do you want you ears pierced?" Let the child decide they want it done, rather than placing the idea in their mind because you want it done.
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