Monday, April 11, 2011

A topic I wish I could just nip in the bud

Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist, writes The Advice Goddess, which we adore and read to each other weekly, and runs a damn fine blog.  Her linked columns deal with topics like the TSA becoming the primary body groper of the nation, the insane over-paranoia we have about the country's children-to-pedophile ratio, and the general level of corruption and stupidity in the government.  She is witty and acerbic, and is well worth your time.

But she's got a couple of causes she supports that just gobsmack me.  One of them is her zeal against the procedure known as circumcision.  Recently she posted a tragic story about a baby who died after a circumcision went wrong, mainly due to the doctor doing it at the end of the day and not wanting to hang around to keep an eye on the kid afterward.

That's an unarguable calamity.  It's a perfect example of how proper precautions must be taken after any medical procedure, no matter how simple or routine.  People can die from infection, errors during the procedure, allergy to the anesthetic, anything.  ANY medical procedure has an element of risk, however small, so care must be taken, and thought must be given to any and all such procedures.

What flabbergasts me is this is being used as the latest example by some people to show we must stop the circumcision procedure entirely.  Not just because of the (vanishingly small, but still extant) risk of the procedure, but the idea that men are made to feel incomplete, diminished, or otherwise Less Of A Man as a result of the removal of a flap of skin approximately the acreage of an adult thumbnail.

The first I ever heard of this position was a Dave Barry column from 1991, where he discussed an organization called RECAP, which attempted to help men regain what had criminally stolen from them before their eyes could focus.  Penn and Teller dedicated an episode of their spectacular show "BULLSHIT!" to it; they spent a good amount of time showing how the procedure was done, but also spent a fair amount of time quietly jibing people who "literally mourned the loss of my foreskin". They came down on the anti-side of the argument, but they showed that it was something that could be made fun of as well. So anyway, not a new bone of contention.

The statement of Amy's statement that gets my goat the most in her reply is, "I don't understand why we consider circumcision of girls barbaric, yet are so automatic about circumcising boys."

Come come now; yes you do, and so does everyone who considers this such an important cause:

1) A tradition that the majority of the people of the country ascribe to

2) Some measurable hygienic effects, as opposed to none for the female version

3) Aesthetic appeal in this country, shaped mainly by the majority of examples seen being circumcised, making it seem to be the "norm".

Let's hit them one by one:

1) It is traditional (which does not equal "correct" to view one's own religious and social traditions as perfectly reasonable, while seeing others' as barbaric and hideous, especially if they're from Forn Parts.  MY belief that a man was born of a virgin, grew to manhood, performed miracles, was killed and rose again in three days, then floated into the sky forty days later makes perfect sense, while the one about space aliens blowing up the bad emotion ghosts in volcanoes is OBVIOUS claptrap.  So if something Has Been Done For Ages, it is understandable for one to assume that it is done For A Good Reason, and any attempt to have it stopped is suspect.

2) Many of the laws set down in the Bible have some measurable health benefits. The Kosher dietary laws are a pretty damn good set of rules to follow if you're stuck in the desert - lay off the foods that spoil quickly, and stick to the stuff that can be preserved, or made with few ingredients.  Indeed, it is hypothesized that they were placed in the bible to give them weight, so that more people would follow them, as opposed to if they were mere suggested guidelines. 

Similarly, there are some hygienic benefits to a semi-whacked tallywhacker, especially if you're wandering in the desert.  Sand gets EVERYWHERE.  Even today, it can have some small benefit while washing - a bit less to do in the shower, nothing needs to be rolled back to get clean.

In some small number of cases, a circumcision must be performed in adulthood due to issues with the patient's foreskin.  "Prime Time" Sam Roberts of the Opie and Anthony show has discussed at length his procedure, required due to a malformed foreskin that would not retract during the act of physical love.  While it is not comparable to the procedure on a chile, as Mr. Roberts was old enough to consent to The Quickening, it does show that there are cases where it has a medical benefit.

One of the arguments made by anti-brisians is to compare it to the ritual genital mutilations performed by many cultures in Africa and other area that people don't go to or care about because they have nothing we need.  And that's an emotional argument, but a false one.  To make a fair comparison between two things in an argument, they should be what I refer to as mathematically similar: same shape, different size.  The two acts are not similar because in the case of the female, the entire clitoris and often the labia are removed, solely for the purpose of rendering the woman incapable of sexual pleasure, or in some cases, sexual acrtivity at all.  The female circumcision, to the best of my knowledge, has no health benefits, however small.

3) There are many things that we consider the "norm" in this country based solely on tradition and, more often, marketing.  Shaved armpits on ladies is solely the creation of the Gillette corporation, who wanted a new market for their razors.  So they started a campaign suggesting that a shaven underarm was more attractive to men, and damn if it didn't catch on to the point that it's as ingrained in the public mind as the use of table napkins.  That doesn't make it "right", merely what it "is".  Based on the tradition, the majority of penii are circumcised, so that's what most people (read: women) have seen.  So when you are used to version 1 of something, when you see version 2, it will be perceived as "different".  So again, there will be people who choose to get the procedure done based on what is seen as "normal".  It is not right or wrong in and of itself, it is simply what is done.  I've seen babies of astonishingly young age with pierced ears, yet I've heard neither hue nor cry about it.

I am fully aware of the argument that it renders the tip of the Special Purpose less sensitive, and is part of a massive religious conspiracy to deaden the pleasure, and hence the desire, of sexual congress.  Based on circumstancial (and some personal) evidence, one could easily come to the conclusion that it don't work.

Bear clearly in mind, I am not making the argument FOR circumcision per se.  I am simply pointing out the things which people who stand erect against it act as if they have no awareness of.  This is totally an example of an argument that we have come up with because time on our hands.  A hundred years ago, farmers did not have time to think about how much better their life would be if they had an intact cock.  indeed, considering how much they were sweating, and how little they were bathing, the measurable advantages of the circumcision were probably even more pronounced. 

I expect the comment chain for this post to be Homeric.  This is one of those topics that when one writes about, people Find Out About It, and tell others, and before you know it, people who didn't know you were alive are now coming at you with virtual pitchforks.  When they see that usual topics of this blog tend toward gummy bears and underwear, they'll be disappointed indeed.


  1. This blog post provides plenty of food for thought, not to mention plenty of penis-centric wordplay. :-) As a mother, the tragedy of that poor little baby was what bothered me the most, but it seems to me that the neglectful doctor was to blame, not circumcision itself. When you're carrying on about penis size and such, however, it all too often seems to be a case of people having too much time on their hands (among other things ;-)). While we're at it, shall we all blame the Industrial Revolution for giving us modern folks too much time on our hands?

  2. "Homeric comments" huh?

    Well, let me uncross my legs first and then we'll see. Actually, I can't recall Homer ever waxing forth on the subject. On the other hand I do remember coming across a fragment of an unfinished dialogue by Critias . . . originally attributed to Euripides and carrying the working title of "The Whackers Of Tally" . . . wherein Minos goes into a hissy concerning the popularity of Daedalus. He remarks: "His pud doth swing mightily about, eclipsing Phaeton when at full mast. And all the widows and temple maidens follow him about the streets of Heraklion like a swarm of bees, their eyes searching diligently for the third print in the dust!"

    Modern scholars believe this fragment was adapted into the screenplay for the 1960 film THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS.

  3. Uh, how is a (dying, mind you) cultural fetish a reason to force a kid into surgery? That is possibly the worst excuse. We don't force 14 year old girls to get breast implants because big boobs are a cultural plus. Also, you're inevitably forcing him to conform to your generation's sexual norm, not his. The health issues (which occur less than 1% of the time) are usually minor, treatable with conservative methods and something to be dealt with later, not at birth. You absolutely cannot circumcise a baby thinking it will protect him from something he almost certainly will never have. Interesting you talk about tight foreskins (rare), but fail to talk of malformed penises, hair on the penis, screwed up urethras, ED, etc. that can result from circumcision. The health arguments for are easily outweighed by the risks of circumcision, both the procedure itself and the risks of complications. I don't get the piercing analogy. That's not surgery, it's hardly invasive and it is reversible.
    I cannot imagine considering this for my child. I think more than the scientific arguments against, I wouldn't want it floating in his head that we thought he would never be smart enough to make his own decision. I was circumcised and, while I love them otherwise, I've never forgiven my parents for not loving me enough to care when I was a baby.

  4. Point taken, Amy and Anonymous. Keep in mind, of course, that I'm not into anything that requires sharp objects coming into contact with my flesh for any reason. I've never even had my ears pierced - and I don't intend to start now! :-)