Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bohemian Mama: Just my thoughts..Circumcision

Before Yarrow’s birth, our midwife asked a us a list of questions: Do you want to vaccinate the baby for Hep B? Do you want the baby to get a vitamin K shot? If you have a boy, will you be having him circumcised? That last question made me realize how lucky little girls are in America. Whatever dangers they may be prone to here, they are at least safe from circumcision. We hadn’t even bothered discussing circumcision during my pregnancy, if we’d had a boy, he’d have been no more likely than Yarrow to be cut. It wasn’t an option for us. I’m not going to argue that circumcision is abusive, or that it should be banned, just as female circumcision is in this country; it’s a sensitive topic. Parents who have chosen to circumcise tend to get defensive and parents who chose not to tend to be strident. I can understand both reactions, especially because, looking at it from the outside, circumcision is brutal. It is a violent rite of passage for boys in our culture - better fitted, perhaps, to our primitive past than to this sleek, softer age. It has no medical benefits, though parents crowd around it for many vocalized reasons - from reducing masturbation to preventing the spread of AIDS. But no reason is as common as the simple desire of the father: “I want my son to look like me.”

A month or two ago, NPR interviewed an African woman on circumcision. It had just been made illegal in her country and she was arguing against the law. Circumcision, she argued, reduces disease, cures promiscuity, and besides, “I want my daughter to look normal, to look like me.” There are differences between female and male circumcision, for certain, but it’s hard for me to see them clearly. Both leave behind children well acquainted with pain, children who have been wounded in a ritual, a cosmetic procedure, that looks too much like sacrifice.

It’s a practice that, I think, requires a second look. A discussion. I have written harshly about it, not because I want to offend or argue, but because I have no other words. Circumcision affects me on an emotional level, as so much violence does. I know so many parents whom I love and respect, whose sons are well loved and happy, and who have chosen to have their sons circumcised, but I don’t understand it. I don’t follow the reasons behind the decision. I would like to understand.


  1. I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the emotions surrounding this topic. As a father who has two boys, one who is circumcised and who is not, and also as a physician who has performed many circumcisions, I find myself feeling rather neutral on the whole issue. For one, I think the idea that it is a 'brutal and abusive' action is a bit overstated. The procedure is actually very quick and clean, with pain medication given to the infant. That doesn't mean the child doesn't throw a fit during the procedure, but I have also had many infants act the same way when I was changing their diaper. Now, you make a good point that many parents do it simply so the son "looks like his father" or "looks like his brothers". These motivations are for better or worse, and may not be the best intentions. That being said, I think we need to keep a few historical, and biblical, facts in mind. For one, Jesus was circumcised. In fact, many of us still celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision on the eighth day after Christmas. Also, circumcision is never condemned in scripture, rather Paul writes "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity" (Galatians 5:6) So basically, it doesn't matter if you are or are not, as long as your faith and salvation are in Christ.

    I do not think it is a procedure that should be banned, nor should parents be condemned for having it done. There are reasonable arguments for and against and I will say that calling it abusive and brutal simply is an exaggeration.

  2. Thanks so much for responding, and for responding thoughtfully. I really wanted your opinion, in part, I think, because you might be one of the only people I know who is "neutral" on the issue, and also because I have a lot of respect for your judgement, knowledge,and faith.

    To respond - First, as to terminology. I don't think brutal is an overstatement, though I wouldn't use it in the extreme sense, as in savage, or inhumane, but in the harsh, demanding, or even (in my mind) irrational sense.. Abusive, remember, I chose not to use, and purposely.

    We do celebrate the Circumcision, and I agree that circumcision was an essential aspect of the old covenant, which was a covenant rich in blood symbolism. But circumcision, like animal sacrifice, like the dietary laws, has been transcended by Christ.

    I'm definitely not arguing for a banning. My hope is that at some point, discussion and understanding will move circumcision into distant memory, without government intrusion. I'm also not trying to condemn parents for having done it, but I am hoping that they'll avoid doing it in the future. I guess I think of it as still retaining some "grandfathered in" legitimacy, but I don't expect that legitimacy to continue forever...if that makes sense.

    Blessings to you!

  3. This is a VERY sensitive topic for me as well, not least of all because my own father was the opposite of supportive in mine and my husband's decision not to circumcise our son. It hurt very much, but I felt--and still do feel--very strongly about it.

    Every now and then, someone will mention something about him "getting made fun of by the other boys" or having to get it done later when it will apparently be much more painful. But I do not regret and will never regret my decision. When my baby son was put into my arms the moment after his birth, I knew that God made him perfect just the way he was.

    And to me, the argument that "he won't remember" is the stupidest excuse for needlessly inflicting pain on _my_ child!

    I think circumcision will become less and less common as time goes on. In the U.K., it's known as something Jewish people do.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. That has to be SO hard! I can't imagine dealing with negative family reactions in something like this..

    I think it's an awful argument too - that "he'll be made fun of". I don't think I've heard of any guy being made fun of for being circumcised or not..but then, not being a guy I don't exactly have inside knowledge. :)