Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cutting remarks

Cosmetic surgery?

Remember the episode of Seinfeld titled “The Bris”? Jerry gets quizzed by Elaine:
Elaine: Hey, Jerry, you ever seen one?
Jerry: Oh, you mean that wasn't ... uh?
Elaine: Yeah.
Jerry: No. Have you?
Elaine: Yeah.
Jerry: What'd you think?
Elaine: [wrinkles her nose] It had no face, no personality. It was like a Martian. But hey, you know, that's me.
I was reminded of this when Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle decided to have some fun with circumcision in her opinion column this morning:
The ballot measure bills itself as a ban on “forced genital cutting” and “mutilation.” Clearly the authors want to confuse voters by equating male circumcision to female genital mutilation, the barbaric, unsanitary butchering of a young girl's private parts in a procedure that has been known to leave girls severely infected and in pain.
Saunders is echoing the remarks of Rabbi Gil Leeds, who similarly complained that “mutilation” is a misnomer. I tend to disagree, since the permanent amputation of part of the penis should not be treated as a trivial matter, even if the results aren't on the same level as the brutality of so-called “female circumcision.”

Saunders tips her hand even while trying to be even-handed. She cites a pediatrician while ostensibly presenting both sides:
[Dr. Erica Goldman] informs parents of the pluses—reduced chances of urinary tract infection and sexually transmitted diseases—as well as the risks—it's a permanent cosmetic change.
Oy! The “risk” of circumcision is that it's a cosmetic change? It's not a direct quotation, so we can't simply blame Dr. Goldman for this conclusion. It's what Saunders picked out as the key item, ignoring all other factors. (Should we tell circumcised boys that the lack of a foreskin is why they need lube? Is Johnson & Johnson—manufacturers of K-Y Jelly—behind the push for more male circumcisions? This calls for an investigation!)

I snorted when I saw Saunders using the words “cosmetic change,” but I guffawed when I read her peroration. Like the dutiful right-wing columnist that she is, Debra has to complain about “nanny state” legislation and frame the anti-circumcision measure in those terms, slipping in an allusion to the city's ban on toy giveaways with unhealthy fast food. It's a poor fit:
A busybody law? Check. Does it address a problem most folks did not know existed? Check. Pun opportunities? Oh, yeah. First they came for the Chicken McNuggets, then they came for my son's ...
No, no, no, Debra. You're missing the point entirely. The ballot initiative says they have to leave your son's nuggets alone!


Miki Z. said...

It seems like when I was younger, parents were still pretty sure that they owned their children, but were not quite as vocal about their ownership. I was hoping that was a trend that would continue toward full acknowledgement that children are people too and that an ideal parent protects their child as much as necessary and allows as much freedom as possible.

João Paulo said...

It’s funny how male circumcision is such a “non-subject” in Spain, Portugal, and in most European countries. I just spoke to a friend who is a pediatrician and she confirmed that it is performed only if there is a medical condition such as phimosis. Infection prevention is not an indication for the procedure. Evidently, religious communities such as Jews or Muslims are a minority but even so, it must be done in a hospital and the child must be sedated. As for the hygienic argument, it’s so silly I won’t even discuss it.

And yes, we don’t need no K-Y jelly.

Disturbingly Openminded said...

This is a sore point in my marriage. Like almost every American male my age, I'm circumcised. When I married the love of life (then and now!), I agreed that our children would be raised Jewish.

So when our son came along, snip, snip.

"It's no big deal," she tells me. "How would I know?," I counter.

"It's a tradition in Judaism," she tells me. "Thank goodness the tradition isn't cutting off the right thumb," I snark back.

"Oh, get over it," she says.

But I can't. Over the last 5 to 6 years I have felt more strongly that I failed my son somehow. I can't avoid the conclusion that I put my wants (to marry to love of my life) above my duty to my son (who wouldn't be here if not for the love of my life.)

Gift of the Magi.

Kinda depressing.

Karen said...

It sometimes seems to me that San Francisco goes too far in regulating things of this kind, but this time I'm all for the regulation. It seems as inhumane to arbitrarily futz with a male child's organs as with a female's.

The guys who'd like to have it done as adults but are afraid of the pain, I have two words for you: tylenol and codeine.

MI Dawn said...

I've grown to change my mind about this issue. As a girl, I had no opinion. In college, a friend of mine had to be circumcised, and when I saw the pain he was in, and the length of time it took for him to recover, I swore I would have any male children circumcised.

Later on, as I read more, I realized that my friend probably needed better lessons in self-hygiene and the circ may have been unnecessary. He had not been taught (don't play with yourself, it's bad) to wash thoroughly and slide the foreskin back to clean under it.

Now, I would not circumcise a male child unless medically necessary (hypospadias, frequent UTIs). Phimosis, unless really severe, cannot be diagnosed in a male child until 2 or 3 as the foreskin is naturally attached to the penis at birth (to circ a child the adhesions need to be broken), and over time it becomes more mobile.

Do I think no male should be circumcised? Probably. Just like I believe no female should be circumcised. But at least, if it IS done, it should not be allowed until the child is old enough to give informed consent, at age 18.

Stay-At-Home-Momologues said...

MI Dawn, phimosis actually can't be diagnosed until the child is at least 18 years old. The average age a child can retract his foreskin is 10 years old - and he should be the only one to ever try to retract it. So there is a HUGE window where the foreskin will naturally release and still be considered normal. I'm very glad that you stayed open-minded about this topic and are not using your friend's circumstances as your only experience. =D