Monday, November 19, 2007


Thanks for all the comments on my first post about "Snowflower and the Secret Fan", which I read for my book club discussion last week.

At bookclub, I brought up my thoughts on comparing the current U.S. cultural practice of circumcising baby boys, to the footbinding of girls in China and a lively discussion ensued. Most were shocked at the comparison, except the one other mother who hasn't had her son circumcised. Her only comment was "I knew you were going to bring that up". She obviously saw the comparison too.

I wanted to clarify why I think of the two as similar. They are/were both performed on children and those children are/were given no choice in the matter. Baby boys are strapped to a table to stop them moving while they are circumcised. In S&TSF, "Third Sister" who had tried to escape the footbinding, was subsequently strapped to a chair while having her feet bound. Footbinding was NOT performed to stop women fleeing their husband's household, although of course it is true that they physically could not do that anyway.

There is no medical reason to perform either 'operation'. Footbinding was done for aesthetic and financial reasons - small feet were seen as a sign of beauty, the smaller your feet, the more beautiful you were seen as. And no man would marry a "big footed" woman, only the most poorest women did not have their feet bound - they needed full use of them, so they could work. I understand that circumcision was performed in days gone by for health reasons - the instance of UTIs and Penile Cancer were greater in uncircumcised men. However, simple good hygiene (daily washing) gives the same result as circumcision. And we all take a daily bath or shower, right?

Both operations cause great pain to one degree or another. It goes without saying that having your feet bound so that they fold over in half causes great pain. And that operation goes on for two whole years. Ew. But did you know that the majority of circumcisions performed in the US are done without sufficient, or any anaestesia at all? And it's not a small majority like 51 or 52%. It's something like 80 or 85%. How much pain do you think a newborn, straight out of your birth canal, suffers while part of his most sensitive areas are cut off? And you didn't want to pay for him to be anaesthetised? Think about it next time you have an ingrown toe-nail taken off with no pain meds.

So.... what is my point? I can't remember, I lost track.

Oh yes. Cultural traditions. I think that circumcision was started for health reasons. They don't exist anymore - we all live in houses with running water and can wash ourselves everyday. But it has gotten so ingrained in U.S. culture, that people still do it. Even after bringing up all the points above (and more) at bookclub discussion, people still said they'd do it again. Just because.

Is that sufficient reason to do anything? Just because.

I'm actually pretty open-minded about the whole subject. When we had our first son, I told my American husband that we could have him circumcised if he could give me one GOOD reason to do it. He still hasn't come up with that reason. And no-one else I've ever talked to about it since has either.

So, cyberspace. Can you do it? I am honestly not on a crusade, I look at it more as a quest for understanding.

Although if I were to make it a crusade, I'd ask that each and every circumcision in the future is performed with medication, I mean what year is this? 1907? If you can't afford the meds, please email me....

And so to conclude my post, I'll tell you where I got all my "facts" from. If you can call them that. Google "chinese footbinding". I read most of the posts in the first 2 pages of results. Do it even if you're not interested in my subject matter above. It is fascinating. A magazine I read at the pediatrician's office (the one that always made me wait at least an hour - so I had time to read the magazines). My cousin-in-law's recount of her own son's circumcision. A bookclub member's account of seeing many circumcisions when she was a nurse (she paid for pain meds for her own son, who apparently didn't make a peep). My in-laws account of why my husband is circumcised. A discussion with my new pediatrician (the one who only makes me wait 20 mins) and factsheets she gave me on the subject - don't ask me to resurrect them, go search the Fort Myers landfill if you like.

OK, that's it, I think I got it all out. Now please, don't bash me too hard.......


Joel said...

i think the argument to stop Ritual Infant Circumcision is pretty strong.

NO medical organization in the world recommends it.

it permanently removes thousands and thousands of pleasurable nerve endings from the tip of the penis.

its done entirely without the consent of the individual.

what more do people need to hear to think about what they are doing?

do we surgically remove an infants teeth to prevent cavities and plaque build up?

well think about how much easier it is pull back a little piece of skin in the shower than to brush your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day.

its easier than shampooing your hair, clipping your toenails, or virtually any other measure of hygiene.

not to mention that we teach a baby girl to clean between her folds of labia and beneath her clitoral hood to clean the build up of smegma that she aquires.

funny how many americans don't even realise that girls get smegma too!

as for the looks argument, i'll go back to the "tooth" analogy.

imagine we all had our teeth removed at birth. your parents had no teeth, your friends had no teeth, no one ever EVER had teeth.. to you a mouth would look like it was supposed to be a soft cavern..

if by chance you one day you saw someone with a full mouth of teeth smiling at you.. you'd be horrified... why are there bones jutting out of there?

gross! thats not right! thats nasty!

funny then, how in our culture a mouth full of straight clean teeth is so beautiful, and an adult with no teeth in their mouth would be the one getting the funny looks.

think about that before you tell me having a whole, unsurgically modified penis looks funny.

whose the one with a skewed view here?

:p thanks for listening to me rant. hopefully it got you thinking.

Beverly said...

The origins of circumcision are Jewish, no? Western civilization may have adopted the tradition for health reasons, but the practice was started among Jews as one way to differentiate themselves from non-Jews.

I'm still not seeing how it compares to footbinding. I guess I don't view it as extremely as you do.

Bezzie said...

Hm. I know NYC wanted to start a campaign to help grown men uncircumsized become circumsized because there are studies that show it reduces the spread of AIDS. However, those studies are based on data from African cultures where (like you said) hygiene and access to running water, soap, etc. isn't as plentiful in the U.S.
I can tell you that no matter what I say or what you say, neither of us will change the other's mind.
However, I think we can agree that before a parent(s) decides on whether or not they want their boy circumsized the should research both sides of the coin.
I know I did and I stand behind the decision I made based on that.