Share |

Feed aggregator

Navigating Gender Stereotypes and the Circumcision Imperative

Beyond the Bris - November 26, 2014 - 10:39am
By B.J. EPSTEIN It’s a well-known phenomenon that a pregnant body is seen as a public one, and can become a war zone of sorts. People feel able to comment on any aspect of the woman’s body and behavior, and to ask questions or give advice about how to raise the forthcoming child. It’s frustrating, intrusive, and often upsetting. Sometimes, however, it can also lead to useful opportunities for challenging other people’s beliefs.

When I was pregnant, we knew that we were expecting a girl, but we chose not to tell anyone. For one thing, the baby’s sex simply didn’t matter to us, and we don’t have stereotyped views of the sexes, so we didn’t want to get into conversations where people told us all about how to raise girls versus boys, or why one was better than the other, or what the baby was going to be like. Also, we didn’t want to receive gendered clothing or toys as gifts, and it felt good to be able to respond to comments such as, “But how can I buy your baby an outfit if I don’t know what sex it will be?” I always pointed out that babies don’t actually care what clothes they are wearing or what toys they are playing with; baby girls, for example, do not in fact object to wearing blue.

What I hadn’t expected was how many people would assume that we were having a boy (perhaps because boys are still preferred, even in this supposedly modern time) and would then instruct us about how essential it was to get this hypothetical child circumcised. We heard all the usual arguments: circumcision is necessary due to the laws of Judaism; it is cleaner; it is healthier; it is wrong and even harmful not to circumcise; a Jewish boy will feel “left out” if not circumcised; it’s against our forefathers and everything they went through to not do it; and so on. I was, frankly, stunned by all this. Such comments felt like an attack, and a very personal one too.

My wife and I kept firmly saying that we felt that male infant circumcision was genital mutilation (although not as extreme as what happens to girls in some cultures). We said that boys can be taught how to keep their penises and foreskins clean and that being circumcised doesn’t automatically protect a boy from sexually transmitted diseases or other infections. We offered statistics about how many boys are circumcised here in England (the number is much lower in Europe than it is in the US, where I’m originally from and where my relatives still live), explaining how any son of ours wouldn’t actually feel different from other boys in the UK. We even reminded some relatives about how I’m not that religious and don’t feel compelled to raise our children in complete accordance with Jewish law, even if they will certainly be taught about Jewish history, culture, and beliefs.

These responses were not accepted. We were just told that we were looking at the issue the wrong way.

Eventually, exhausted by these conversations, I asked that we stop talking about it. I said my wife and I understood their point of view, but we’d made the decision not to circumcise, and we hoped everyone else could accept and respect it. There was a brief time when relatives stopped bringing it up.

But then the offensive mounted new attacks by emailing us anecdotes from men, including non-Jews, who said they were “glad” and “grateful” that their parents circumcised them. We were also sent scanned pages from books and articles about the importance of circumcision. My irritation increased, so in retaliation, I began photocopying pages from books too and sending links to medical research. I said I was happy for those men who were grateful to be circumcised but that not everyone was appreciative of such a major decision being made on their behalf when they were infants; we reminded people about various medical and legal cases where men had physical, mental, emotional, or sexual damage from their circumcisions.

We were at an impasse. I asked once again for respect for our choices regarding our child. One of the worst offenders in my natal family said yes, of course, it was our child and we needed to make the decisions.

But she, and others, still didn’t seem to understand what the issue was. To them, circumcision is minor – you have a lovely party and the baby boy doesn’t even remember getting the snip. As a Jew, you just do it. It’s tradition.

I was getting quite angry. This ire grew when a male Jewish colleague approached me at a work event. We are collegial but not friends, so I was surprised when he asked me about the sex of the baby and then said, “Well, of course you’ll have a bris, right?” I sighed and said no. I explained why we were against it and he looked shocked. “But it’s gross not to circumcise a baby!” he exclaimed. I started to explain again and then wondered why I was even bothering. After all, it wasn’t any of his business. But I realized that even though I didn’t appreciate people’s nosiness and bossiness, or the way they made my pregnant body a space for their own prejudices and opinions, I could continue to use these discussions as a way of making them reflect on their own long-held views. So I stopped myself from rolling my eyes and tried to clarify why I thought circumcision was wrong.

And that’s how I approached it with people after that. I listened to their opinion and then attempted to say, as calmly as possible, why my wife and I had decided not to circumcise any baby boys we had.

When our little girl was born, one of my relatives said to me, “You knew all along she was a girl and yet you had all those arguments about circumcision. Why? Wasn’t that annoying?” I said it was annoying and we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress and bother, but it was beneficial for a couple of reasons. On a personal level, I learned to stand up for the decisions we were making about rearing our children. But on a larger, societal level, I felt that potentially my wife and I were giving some stubborn people new ways of considering the issue of circumcision. Maybe somehow a few of the facts or ideas we offered would sink in, and perhaps could help prevent other babies from being unnecessarily circumcised in the future.

Pregnant women and their babies can often seem like pawns in cultural and religious wars, and that shouldn’t be the case, but perhaps sometimes we can occasionally use them to win a battle or two, in the hope that eventually the war will end.

B.J. Epstein is a senior lecturer in literature and public engagement at the University of East Anglia in England. She’s also a writer, editor, and Swedish-to-English translator. She lives with her wife and daughter and can be reached through www.awaywithwords.se.
Categories: External Blogs

Though Mom Under Gag Order, Protesters Hope to Voice Her Message: Don't Circumcise My Healthy Son

Beyond the Bris - November 20, 2014 - 1:19pm
In May, a peaceful protest on behalf of the boy and his mom in front
of the Court that upheld the circumcision order earlier this November. 
By REBECCA WALD

A group of concerned Floridians will be taking to the streets in protest on Sunday, Nov. 23, to raise awareness about the distressing case of a healthy four-year-old boy that a family court judge has ordered circumcised against his mother’s wishes.

The child’s parents—who never married—are in conflict about the procedure. Beyond the Bris has been covering the case, which is detailed here. Following that report, the Broward/Palm Beach New Times posted an article of their own on developments in the case.

The protest will take place at a central location at City Place in West Palm Beach from 10:00am - 4:00pm. City Place is near the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, from which the mother, Heather Hironimus, is awaiting a full written decision that she can use for appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

“This is a story of stunning cruelty, human rights’ abuse, and indifference to the dignity and physical integrity of children by the Florida court system, says John Geisheker who is executive director and general counsel to the international group Doctors Opposing Circumcision.

Geisheker says the family court judge who issued the order, Hon. Jeffrey Dana Gillen, relied on amateurish, 1930s folklore to support the father’s demand to circumcise his child, and fully ignored the only expert witness, a physician who advised against the circumcision, saying he would not do so to his own child.

In his unconventional ruling, Judge Gillen placed a gag order on the mother, preventing her from speaking out publicly on the matter and also from telling her son that she is opposed to the procedure.

This is hardly the first protest by anti-circumcision activists, who have been appearing in cities across the U.S. in recent years to bring attention to the cruelty of circumcising healthy infants and young boys. One very visible protester on the national circuit is Brother K, who came up with the idea of grabbing people’s attention by wearing a distinctive “blood stained man” suit. Brother K is planning to attend Sunday’s protest.

Another protest is taking place in Tampa tomorrow, Nov. 20, from 10:00am - 4:00pm at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, 800 Twiggs Street, Tampa FL, 33062.
Categories: External Blogs

Upheld: Healthy Florida Boy to be Circumcised Against Mom's Wishes

Beyond the Bris - November 18, 2014 - 10:48am
The above photo is from the Facebook community "Chase's
Guardians," which has more than 3000 "Likes" and is trying
to raise funds for a possible appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
By REBECCA WALD
The fight to save her four-year-old son from non-medically necessary circumcision recently got a lot tougher for a South Florida mom. On November 6 an appellate court upheld a ruling allowing the boy’s father to have him circumcised—despite his mother’s deeply held belief that the procedure will be painful, damaging and emotionally harmful to him.

The mother, Heather Hironimus of Boynton Beach, and the father, Dennis Nebus of Boca Raton, had a brief relationship but never married. In January of 2012 the parents agreed to a court-ordered parenting plan which provided that the father would be responsible for scheduling and paying for the child’s circumcision. Although not initially opposed to the surgery, Hironimus says she later changed her mind after researching the procedure.

There are a number of very strange aspects to this case. The lower court judge Hon. Jeffrey Dana Gillen never appointed a Guardian ad Litem to advocate for the best interests of the child and testimony by a child mental health professional was not allowed during trial. The lower court also placed a gag order on Hironimus preventing her from speaking about the case to the media or publicly raising funds for an appeal. She was also ordered not to tell her son that she opposes the procedure in any way, and for visitation to be with the father for two days prior to, and twelve days following, the procedure.

Perhaps most disturbing is the age of the child. Circumcision beyond infancy is a more complicated procedure with an arguably greater risk of surgical complications. The boy will need need to be put under general anesthesia and intubated to facilitate ventilation of his lungs. At this age he will also be aware that his foreskin has been removed and will probably remember the event—including the court-mandated prolonged separation from his mother during this traumatic time.

In an interesting side note, an Orthodox Jewish website has condemned the ruling ordering the boy to be circumcised.

No doubt in part due to the gag order on the mother, this case is not garnering much publicity, although Facebook and Twitter are buzzing and several celebrities have tweeted their support. Given that the case has already reached an appeals court, the chances of the mother prevailing at this point appear slim. Beyond the Bris will continue to follow this story and issue news updates as they happen. 
UPDATE: Chase's mother has been granted a 10-day extension to submit her notice of intent to appeal. She has until December 1st to file this notice, but still seeks an appellate attorney in the proceedings. Those who would like to help can donate funds to go towards her appeal at SavingChase.Org
Categories: External Blogs

FGM horrid, but MGM beneficial? Not so fast!

International Coalition for Genital Integrity - November 7, 2014 - 10:08pm
Male circumcision removes just as much tissue and nerves, causes just as much pain, and results in about the same sexual harm as the most common form of female genital mutilation. I sometimes make this statement in order to shock people into understanding that male and female genital mutilation (MGM and FGM) aren’t diametrically opposed, [...]
Categories: External Newsfeed

New Documentary Film on Wilhelm Reich In the Works

Beyond the Bris - October 31, 2014 - 10:00am
Jewish psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) wrote passionately against the practice of infant circumcision calling it "one of the worst treatments of children." Now there is a new documentary film in the works about Reich's life—and an active Kickstarter campaign to help fund what promises to be a very important project.

Kevin Hinchey, who is a co-director of the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund in Rangely Maine, will write and direct the film. He says it will set the record straight about Reich's life and legacy, using the best available historical materials.

Beyond the Bris hopes this important project gets the funding it needs—and that perhaps Reich's views on the harmfulness of circumcision will be mentioned in the documentary. Today parents from all walks are questioning the practice that Reich so abhorred. Perhaps the circumcision issue will spark a renewed interest in Reich among today's young parents and parents-to-be.

Please note: click the "K" in the upper left corner of the video box to go directly to the Kickstarter campaign.


Categories: External Blogs

THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 2:18pm
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a magazine with its origins in Britain, a largely intact country, would take a sober and objective look at the San Francisco circumcision ballot measure. The Economist correctly concludes, “Whatever the fate of his proposed … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

ZIMBABWE: A familiar fear – one intervention at a time, likely the norm in HIV prevention

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 2:06pm
Many critics of the African circumcision trials drew the obvious conclusion that a push for male circumcision in Africa and elsewhere would result in a corresponding drop in condom use. In a partially useful risk reduction intervention, such a result … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

“Circumcise @Oprah” protest … Thank you, @GlenCallender

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:34pm
Glen Callender loves his foreskin. I love the size of his balls. Wow! Thanks, Glen, for sticking it to The Woman!
Categories: External Blogs

OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 3:41pm
Growing up in Texas, the only Jews I knew lived in the Bible. As far as I could understand, circumcised boys were all my fundamentalist and not so fundamentalist Christian friends. Intact boys were foreigners or the kids who spoke … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

SWAZILAND: Mass HIV infection, shortage of medical personnel, and now false hope

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 3:06pm
In a nation where the HIV infection rate is said to be nearing 50%, people are desperate. Getting sick with wholly curable diseases can be life-threatening. Getting HIV is a short-order yet slowly unfolding death sentence. It may take 10 … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

GENITAL CUTTING: Geese get equal treatment in Africa at Dr. Piot’s urging

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 2:46pm
When the Kenyan and Ugandan studies were announced linking lower HIV infection risk with male circumcision, many sober voices immediately called for safe and consensual procedures by trained clinicians instead of those provided in the wild by folk doctors, if … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

Change

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 1:49pm
This blog, Male Circumcision and HIV, is going on hiatus indefinitely. The way the world interacts on issues of public health and culture is changing. This blog was started before twitter and facebook and the social revolution that characterizes online … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

DENMARK: Circumcision associated with sexual dysfunction in men and women

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 1:23pm
UPDATE: Download paper here. Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print] Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark. Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M. Source Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

Change Again

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 12:57pm
I’m starting a “best of” effort to import old posts from typepad.com. Scroll down for posts in the order they were originally published.
Categories: External Blogs

CNN’s “The Debate” asks, Should teens make circumcision decision?

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 11:14am
Given a choice between the occasional teen obsessing over getting circumcised and a majority of parents obsessing over doing the circumcising for said teens before they are of an age to raise a ruckus, the former seems far preferable. This … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs