Culture is the Culprit

My husband cut off his thumb when I was pregnant with our daughter.  After she was born I considered surgically amputating her thumb as well.  So she could look like him.  So she could avoid those pesky hangnails and the feeling of smashing her thumb with a hammer.  Besides, the doctors would leave just a bit of it, a little stump, so it would still have some function.

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It took me awhile to figure out what it was about the Michael Vick dogfighting case that didn’t sit quite right with me.  While I think dogfighting is atrocious and Vick should have been punished for participating in it, the issue was not that black and white to me.  While being vilified by the majority of Americans, Vick had also been victimized by the culture in which he was raised–a culture in which dogfighting was socially acceptable.  “We never knew there was nothing wrong with it,” his brother is quoted here as saying.

We are all products of our culture.

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We cannot withhold facts for fear of offending because the importance of the information outweighs people’s right to not be challenged in their beliefs.  -Maddy Reid

When I was pregnant with my daughter my midwife asked if I would circumcise if I had a boy.  My first two thoughts were:  “Isn’t that just what you do?” and “It seems like such a bizarre thing to do.”

After that appointment I went online to look for information and within minutes was watching a video of the procedure. . . with sound.  My husband found me crying a short time later, and I told him I would never do that to any son of mine.

When my midwife asked me again at my next appointment if I’d decided whether or not to circumcise I said, “no way.”  As it’s been said about circumcision, the more you know, the more you’re against it.  In truth, I’d sooner gnaw off my own arm than subject my non-consenting child to such a barbaric act.  (I’m fairly certain that’s not an exaggeration.)

Months passed before I revisited the issue, though.  (Some things are so disturbing they must be left alone in a dark corner for a while.)  When I did I discovered that:

  • The foreskin is not a useless flap of skin.  It provides an immunological and physical barrier against disease and supports the growth of beneficial bacteria.  It also contains thousands of nerve endings and offers a gliding action that enhances sexual pleasure.
  • Circumcision became popular in the U.S. as a means to prevent masturbation.  Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of breakfast cereal fame, recommended it as a preventative measure and as punishment for those caught masturbating, for whom the procedure would preferably be performed without anesthesia.  (He recommended carbolic acid for girls’ genitals.)
  • Circumcision is painful.  The foreskin must be ripped and cut away from the glans, to which, in infancy, it is adhered like a fingernail to a finger.  Anesthesia is not always used and even when it is, it’s inadequate.
  • Circumcision does not prevent UTIs or HIV or any other STD.  (European countries have far lower rates of both circumcision and HIV than the U.S.)  Antibiotics can easily treat UTIs, and condoms and abstinence prevent STDs.
  • Circumcision can disrupt a previously established breastfeeding relationship.
  • Circumcision can lead to complications including infection, excessive blood loss, excessive skin removal, loss of glans (head of penis) and other deformities, sexual dysfunction in later life, and death.
  • Over time the exposed glans becomes keratinized and loses sensitivity, as it is forced to become an external organ that must weather constant chafing from clothes.
  • The U.S. and Israel are the only two countries in the world where the majority of male infants are circumcised.  (In Muslim countries circumcision occurs anytime during childhood.)
  • Females are protected by U.S. law from routine infant circumcision.
  • The female genital mutilation we abhor in other countries is ethically no different from male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) in the U.S.
  • No major medical association in the world recommends circumcision.

The more I learned, yes, the more I was against it.  The more pissed off I was, to be precise.  Pissed off that the wool could be pulled over the eyes of so many well-meaning parents–my friends, my family members.  Pissed off that the natural penis is billed as unclean, unhealthy and ugly, and the foreskin as useless.  Pissed off that our culture has decided that baby girls have the right to genital integrity, but baby boys do not.  Pissed off that men and their partners are missing out on the full sexual experience as nature intended it.  Pissed off that anyone other than the owner of the penis would be granted the right to make irreversible decisions about it for strictly cosmetic and cultural reasons.

We are all products of our culture.  And sometimes culture needs to be called out on being a horrifically shitty mess.

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I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.  -Maya Angelou

To learn more about the functions of the foreskin and to be inspired to change our circumcision culture visit:

Doctors Opposing Circumcision

Jewish Circumcision Resource Center

Jews Against Circumcision

Intact Network

Peaceful Parenting

Saving Our Sons

Keeping Future Sons Intact

Psychology Today series

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Of course I didn’t really consider surgically removing my daughter’s thumb.  That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

 Today’s post was graciously submitted by Ashley of Mama Raw and was originally published on her website.  Ashley is also the director of Intact Houston and a volunteer with Saving Our Sons.  Stop by her Facebook Page to let her know that you appreciate her work.
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