To be clear, I am Jewish, male, and circumcised. Another point of clarification: I am not attempting to make the argument that we should make room for any tradition. There are some seriously terrible and oppressive traditions out there. I am saying that this is fine, not barbaric, not mutilation, and is much more like giving a kid a vaccination or choosing a school, and you need to rethink your argument if you want me to believe otherwise. One other point: I don’t know much about female circumcision, but I do know that anyone seriously involved in this debate that I have checked up on differentiates female mutilation and male circumcision on most levels.
This kind of decision is fundamentalist in nature as opposed to liberal, and while that is fine and even good, it needs to be clear. People who judge circumcision as a barbaric evil should be clear that they are judging the culture of Jews, Muslims, parents who decide that it serves the health of their child and others.
People argue that thousands of years of tradition is not any sort of support for the continuation of such practices. It’s barbaric! After all, sacrificing animals is rarely used as a way of thanking God, women are allowed to be Rabbis, and anti-gay sentiments in religious texts are considered to be plain old wrong by right-minded people; the point being that religious traditions change as the world changes.
But circumcision isn’t the same as those because it hasn’t been shown to cause permanent harm. There is no evidence that it is oppressive. Its history is its precedent. Law works on precedent and the precedent for circumcision is millions (billions?) of men who feel that they are part of a long tradition, healthy, clean and hygienic, and totally sensitive-- feeling great “down there”. That’s the precedent.
The history has been largely for thousands of years and millions (billions?) of people, outside of a small minority of medical mistakes and unsanitary decisions, successful, clean, healthy, and culturally important. The onus is on opponents of circumcision to prove it is a shitty and barbaric tradition. Until then it is a choice for religious and cultural communities to make for hygienic, health, and traditional reasons.
In the German case, German culture took precedence. Perhaps that is okay, but it’s important to be clear that this isn’t a win for progress or children. It is a win for German taste (which is sometimes exclusive of religious, racial, and cultural groups), and the historical precedent is actually with the other side.
Parents Mutilating Children
People tell me that circumcision is actually bodily mutilation. People say parents are deciding something for their kids, and that infringes on the rights of the child. First of all, as I said above, the evidence thus far is that male circumcision is, by and large, healthy, safe, and hygienic, as well as vital to certain religions and cultures.
The charges of mutilation come from grossed out people seeing or hearing about something that looks gross and makes a baby cry. Babies cry about a lot of things, but I won’t try to argue that it doesn’t hurt. I am sure it does, but so do a lot of body altering choices that parents make for their children: Vaccinations, ear piercings, sexual assignment surgery, and various fixes for disabilities and physical idiosyncrasies large and small (leg straightening or tear-duct widening), hormones, anti-biotics, and more. The charge that male circumcision is somehow the only body altering thing that we do to babies in the West is obviously false.
Many of the above procedures may be morally wrong, kind of bad, or gross to you, but let’s talk about the values behind our decisions on what to ban and draw lines from there, rather than outlawing this specific act as if it is separate. As well, the above list is just an ‘off the top of my head’ list of body altering, painful, choices that parents make for health reasons. Circumcision made its way through Muslim and Jewish culture in part because it is hygienic and though there is debate on what the health benefits are there are clearly benefits, not only because the lot of us are uncritical religio-zombies (though plenty of us are).
Is there a fundamental difference in the nature of physical and mental abuse? Which one is worse? My parents made all sorts of educational, cultural, dietary and familial decisions that impacted my life. Should parents no longer choose a city to live in, school to go to, food to eat as a family, clothes to wear? My school shaped my entire worldview. My city polluted my lungs and provided green space too, and as the saying goes I am very much what I ate as a child. My parents made those choices. Which choices are okay?
How did my parents know that my brother wanted wider tear ducts? The answer is that they didn’t. On the advice of medical experts, in order to prevent infection, they chose a procedure that altered the tear ducts he was born with. Maybe kids should remain in the womb until they are able to talk (how would they learn to talk?). There is only one sure fire way to not make choices for kids that can irreparably impact their lives, and I guess that not having kids is not a realistic choice.
Parents make choices for their kids all the time. They make choices that impact mental and physical futures. They make choices for tradition (school choice, home life, food choices) and for health (vaccinations, tear-duct surgery) and sometimes they hurt, but we only define them as mutilation if they look gross like circumcision might to you. To be clear, when things go wrong with medical procedures, traditional practices, and other activities I feel terrible and in case it isn't clear I am not defending unsound practices or unreasonable risks for our children.
Again, I am not attempting to argue that everything is okay because parents choose this or that so they can choose anything and everything. In this case though, the burden of proof falls on opponents of circumcision. So far it sits in a category with a plethora of other traditional and health related choices that parents make that we think are generally okay. There are cases of circumcisions gone wrong and even unhealthy procedures being used by conservative (to say the least) communities, but that’s true of all medical procedures and traditional choices.
Circumcision isn’t mandatory, nor should it be. It is not the only way to be healthy and hygienic and connected to one’s culture, but it is one way.
Of course, there is no reason for unhygienic traditions to take place as still do in some communities. That should stop. There is no reason for you to circumcise your kids since the health and safety reasons are not mandatory in our society. No one is saying that it is a choice you should make.
Male circumcision is hygienic, has positive effects, connects us to our cultures in a physical way, and in most cases has entered the 21st century in terms of health and safety codes. At the end of the day, circumcision in a healthy and safe way is fine.