Okay, so I know I’d be wiser not to even go here. Discretion being the better part of valor and all that.
But when circumcision becomes a political issue, how can I resist? Not the ghastly ritual of female genital mutilation, mind you, but male circumcision – the snip done within a week of birth.
The foreskin may be California’s newest fixation. A San Francisco group has collected enough signatures to get a measure to ban circumcision within the city limits on the fall ballot. A similar measure may be on the way for Santa Monica next year. And San Diego may not be far behind. If they have their way, everyone gets to vote on the state of everyone else’s penis. (Strictly speaking, of course, make that half of everyone else’s penis.)
My first thought on finding out about this was that it’d be a great opportunity for Jews and Muslims to work together. Not because I have any affinity for the ritual of circumcision, which seems to me to be a primordial holdover with discomforting Freudian undertones — an adaptation of the ancient rite of blood sacrifice. No, the fact is that I simply appreciate the absence of a foreskin. From the point of view of an experienced user, you might say, I can testify that the prevailing medical opinion in the US is correct: a circumcised penis really is more hygienic. And far more esthetic.
The foreskin is another of those oddities of human physiology that‘s way outlasted any function it might once have had, along with the appendix, the hymen, and tonsils. I can understand how it might be a useful thing to have if you’re still swinging naked from tree to tree in the jungle – a bit of natural protection. But since it’s been a couple of million years since our ancestors last swung, as it were (with the exception of Tarzan), I fail to see why anyone should be any more attached to a foreskin than they are to an appendix. Or, come to that, to a hymen.
As it happens, circumcision rates are down in the United States. Since hospital doctors once performed the procedure automatically in the delivery room, irrespective of religious affiliation, most American men over a certain age are circumcised. Now parents are consulted, and only 30-50% say yes. Which is precisely why this anti-circumcision campaign is so weird. Since it’s already a matter of choice – albeit not the infant’s — the question becomes why the foreskinners are protesting a procedure that most directly affects believing Jews and Muslims.
Note, for instance, that they’re using the phrase “male genital mutilation,” thus trying to make male circumcision the equivalent of female genital mutilation, which is widely — and incorrectly — believed to be an Islamic tradition. (In fact it’s North African, and derided in Islam at the very beginning, when Muhammad’s uncle Hamza taunted a pagan opponent by calling him “son of a clitoris-cutter”).
It’s a nasty little tactic, this conflation of male circumcision and female genital mutilation. The former really is just a snip, and from the reaction of newborns I’ve seen undergo it, not much worse than a (pardon me) pinprick. The latter really is mutilation: a savage cutting away of the genitalia, leaving its 12-year-old victim in extraordinary pain and at risk of death from infection. Moreover, where the former tends to increase sexual pleasure, the latter aims specifically to destroy it.
So is there a hidden point here? The activist in the NYT photo below says she’s “just a mom trying to save the little babies” (I guess the big ones be damned). I find it interesting, though, that she uses the word “intact” in her “baby on board” sign — as in virgo intacta, or virgin. Is that what this is really about? The blond and surely blue-eyed mother protecting the purity of all the little American babies? The caption gives her name as Jena. Am I being a paranoid Jew, or does this sound oddly, ah, Germanic…?