The Case for Male Circumcision @Her.meneutics

I really had no idea how passionate people could be about this topic until I tweeted my intent to respond to a discussion of it. Below is the intro to my allegedly man-hating take. Above is a photo of my two precious boys.

What mother hasn’t, in the halcyon days after the birth of a son, felt her ferocious she-wolf instincts kick in when it comes time for her boy to be circumcised? Having perhaps suffered violence to her genitals during the birth, the physical ache to all that is vulnerable in her world can seem unbearable. And then it is done, and life goes on.

Anti-circumcision activists would have us believe that life does not in fact go on, that boys grow into men whose sexual pleasure (and that of the women they love) is compromised by this act of “genital mutilation.” While increasing numbers are swayed by both argument and sentiment, I’m stupefied by the controversy.

Male sexual pleasure is not my highest priority, having rarely witnessed a lack thereof. Nor is my own, if in fact I’m speaking out of my ignorance of the delight foreskin can deliver. What I am concerned about is sky-rocketing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and the gender inequality evident in these rates. …

Read the rest here. For a taste of the emotion this topic inspires, be sure to read the comments, and my response to them.

Update 9/14/09: I posted this definitive comment in response to the 90+ comments on my post, and will have nothing further to say on this topic for the time being.

I really appreciate all the insightful, civil comments on this post. I’m not going to respond to them or to the hostile ones, as I’ve said my piece and others have filled in the blanks.

What I would like to explain is that as a journalist, I look for an angle on a topic that has not been covered sufficiently elsewhere. In my research for this post, I noticed that the writers I was reading seemed to miss the comparison to women’s embodied experience, so I chose to highlight that comparison.

I always consider what I write a contribution to public conversation, not a definitive statement on any given topic. Thus, I am gratified that what I’ve written has spurred people to think about something they might not have otherwise considered. If readers disagree with me, fine. Let the conversation continue and lead to change where it might be necessary.

In regard to this particular issue, I confess a subtle bias that I did not reveal in the post. I trust the Bible as my primary source of authority and have a bias towards its commands and injunctions. For example, I suspect that a kosher diet is probably healthiest, even though I don’t keep kosher. When God told women to stay outside the camp during menstruation, I think of that as a mercy. In the case of circumcision, I tend to think that if God ordained it, there is something inherently beneficial in the act itself.

When Abraham was commanded to be circumcised, he was a grown man, and must have been as horrified as many of you. Family members who did not hear from God must have been even more horrified. (LL Barkat made this point to me privately.) Still, circumcision became the sign of faith. Even if there were no medical benefits that science would later suggest, there are other values demonstrated in the act: pleasure is not our highest end; we are to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over our most vulnerable, intimate issues and trust him with our whole selves; logic is not to be our final authority, etc.

Don’t misunderstand. As I’ve already stated, the apostles declared circumcision of the heart the true sign of faith, as was consistent with Jesus’ reforms. Our Lord affirmed the Law though, and so I respect it, even when I don’t entirely understand it or live it out or think we are subject to it. I simply have a bias towards it.

I confess that there is a superstitious element to my reasoning. I also confess that scientism is probably the bigger problem with all kinds of medical procedures. If postmodernism has done nothing else, it has given us back a willingness to own our instincts.

Which brings me back to our faithful reader, Christian Lawyer, who I chose to engage because she consistently makes good points.

This I agree with: “If you want to teach our young people that they are powerless in the face of the “culture,” have at it, but don’t be surprised when these same young people succumb to the buffeting winds of suggestion, peer pressure, and defeatism rather than learning to stand strong and take responsibility for themselves and the circumstances of their lives.

The paternalism of the far right complementarians, just like the maternalism of the the far left feminists, is disempowering to women and instead breeds weakness.”

However, I never said I was powerless. I said I was influenced. Because of public conversations like the ones we have here at Her.meneutics, the excesses of both feminism and FAR RIGHT complementarianism may weaken. I hope to advance those goals.

With this, I disagree:

“Advocating cutting off men’s foreskins to protect women, rather than advocating education and contraception for women so they can protect themselves, is just another creepy example of the disempowerment of women under the guise of ‘protection.'”

Not either/or, but both/and. I am grateful that my mother took me to a gynecologist for contraception when she knew I was having sex and had no intention of stopping. However, this doctor (like the one who performed my tubal ligation) doled out treatment without asking a single penetrating question. I think this was a combination of both sexism and scientism.

Finally, I am no longer going to respond to anyone who does not own their comments with their full name and/or a link to their website or blog. I own my public comments both here and elsewhere. When I comment on other blogs, I usually do so under my initials, CAS, and leave the link to my blog when that feature is offered. In this way, internet searches of my name lead only to my work, but I am still held accountable for what I write online.

Thanks again for your interest. I look forward to what my colleagues have to say on this topic.

2 Comments on “The Case for Male Circumcision @Her.meneutics

  1. …….. There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    * Jews Against Circumcision

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D.

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D.

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1

    The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors ……….