After being confronted by Intactivists for his views on circumcision, Josh Bowman wants to cut through the rhetoric of the anti-circumcision movement.
I wanted to reply to some comments I received on a previous post and understand why I (and other writers) have managed to raise the ire of so many commentators out there by expressing what I consider to be relatively mundane views on what I always assumed was a prominent and common practice – circumcision.
“…you let your wife harm your son without the least bit of resistance. You both should be ashamed of yourselves. “
“Just passing by to tell you that you’re a failure of a parent for letting this happen.”
“Your wife’s a bitch.”
“Inflicting this amputation on the unconsenting is a human-rights violation.”
“Welcome to our world of insanity our beloved new born boy. First we tear you away from your mother’s loving arms and we take you into another room where she can not hear you scream…”
“If adult men decide they want to get bits cut off them… fine. Their call. Doing that to kids isn’t ok, there’s nothing ok about it.”
“The circumcised ones are prone to pound away like jackhammers with a single speed setting. It is because of decreased sensitivity? I don’t know.”
“I am anti-circumcision. It violates human rights when preformed on infants/children. It is a potential human rights violation when preformed on adults. FYI I love my foreskin.”
“LOL @ “I am pro-circ” followed by “we treat our penises poorly”. Get your head checked.”
I never realized, as I was growing up a young circumcised Jew (and being ok with it), that I had actually joined a movement from birth. That movement, from what I can tell, is called the “pro-circ” movement, and we are the enemies of the “intactivists”. We “violate human rights”, through “amputating” the foreskin. Which, from what I understand, we absolutely loathe.
Language is a funny thing. Language can be used to cement ideology, to make abstract ideas more concrete, to give names to new concepts. The power of chanting, of repetition can be empowering, or it can be sinister. A repeated word can be a mantra, and with language we can categorize, separate, and other.
There is power in a movement. When we create terminology and language, we can begin to relate to each other and, conversely, label those who disagree with us. So, if I’m liberal, I hate conservatives, and vice versa. If I’m pro-choice, I hate anti-choicers. If I’m pro-life, I hate pro-aborts.
Binaries are easy to create, and once you start enforcing them, it becomes very hard to get back to a place of understanding. I remember arguing with my mother many years ago (during the height of my own activist fervor), because she was a second-wave feminist, and I was third-wave, and I considered her to not be trans-positive enough. She was a bad feminist, in my mind. My mom is an award-winning comedienne, writer, and has marched for more good causes than I can imagine.
And I was being an arrogant little jerk.
I had stumbled upon a movement in university, and became so self-righteous about it that I was outraged by anybody who did not immediately hold all of the views I held. I was appalled by the racism I saw around me, the trans-phobia. All of these people who were unenlightened! It was disgusting.
It was much faster and easier to judge those around me than to try to understand where they were coming from. It was great for a while, until I was judged. Eventually, I encountered people who were even more activist than me! More anti-oppression. Better feminists. I got labeled, tried, and convicted in a court of public opinion.
I took some time after that to think. I realized that change is something that happens agonizingly slowly, but it does happen. I realized that there will always be a difference of opinion, and that is wonderful, because what kind of society would we be if we didn’t disagree? I realized the dangers inherent in ideological fervor, and how hurtful we can be when we don’t take the time to recognize that not all of us are at the same place, but all of us deserve some level of respect.
I don’t know a lot about this intactivist movement, but I’m willing to listen. At the same time, I am circumcised, and that practice has a deep, cultural significance for me. I love my parents, and respect their choice to give me a bris. For many, many years, this practice has been incredibly common in North American society. So please don’t be surprised or angry when people are in favour of it. I’m not interested in violating human rights, but I get my back up when I’m attacked or labeled for views that until recently, I’ve never even thought twice about.
I believe change happens through education and dialogue over time. So, let’s talk about circumcision like the gentlemen and ladies that we are.
Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley