Sunday, April 1, 2018

Of Menstruation and Prepuces

by David Balashinsky

As long as I have been involved in the movement to end male genital mutilation (involuntary male circumcision) I have been possessed by the conviction that it has a great deal in common with second-wave feminism.  In fact, it is my contention that these movements do not merely share certain fundamental premises, resulting in broad areas of philosophical overlap, but that they spring from the same philosophical well.  It would be more accurate, then, to say that they simply represent different manifestations of the same two fundamental principles.  These two principles are, first (and not necessarily in this order), sex- and gender-equality and, second, acceptance of the human body.

It is a paradox that so many partisans among feminists (especially third-wave feminists) and among intactivists do not recognize their movements' common philosophical antecedents and similarities.  Some intactivists, and MRAs in particular, are wont to condemn feminism as being perfectly and hypocritically unconcerned with the human-rights violation of genital cutting to which males in our society routinely are subjected.   At the same time, some feminists are wont to condemn intactivism as a fulsome and opportunistic male appropriation of feminist claims on behalf of the right to bodily integrity rendering it a veritable paradigm of whataboutism in service of the larger, sinister effort to maintain male privilege.

To some extent, both are right and both are wrong.  It is a valid claim that some feminists have a moral blind spot with respect to involuntary male circumcision just as it is also a valid claim that some intactivists unfairly blame women and feminism, rather than men and patriarchy, for the existence and the persistence of MGM; moreover, that these particular intactivists seem to think that, because men have it that bad, women, in comparison, must have it that good.

Both sexes have advantages and disadvantages, privileges and restrictions, and often these advantages and disadvantages happen to be both at the same time: double-edged swords, so to speak.  Thus, it is often the case that, what one sex sees as a privilege enjoyed by the other sex, the other sex sees as a  disadvantage or a restriction.  Military conscription comes readily to mind as a case in point.  MRAs are quick to note that men have historically been subject to the draft whereas women were not and this has unfairly disadvantaged men while privileging women.  Feminists counter that sexist attitudes about female physical weakness and emotional unfitness for combat is what is in fact responsible for the tradition of male-only military conscription.  This has deprived women of an equal opportunity to serve in combat.  (There is an even more fundamental feminist critique of patriarchal societies that the act of committing violence itself is a privilege conferred exclusively upon males.)  One could go down a list of such examples.  Another is the allegation by MRAs that family courts routinely favor mothers over fathers in custody disputes.  Whether or not such an allegation is valid and even granting, for argument's sake,  that it is (there is considerable controversy as to whether or not this allegation is factually correct but whether it is or isn't need not concern us here), the feminist counter-argument is that, if they are biased in favor of granting custody to mothers, because they are organs of systemic patriarchal culture, these courts are merely reinforcing traditional gender roles according to which women are assigned the role of primary child-rearers and thus consigned to the domestic sphere while men, unburdened with the responsibilities of child-rearing and housework, remain free to go forth into the world in order to seek their fortunes and find professional fulfillment.

I happen to think that, in short, both women and men are perfectly justified at times in exhorting the other to "Check your privilege!"

I do not want to go any farther afield than I have with these examples, although I believe that many more could be adduced.  The point is that, in these conflicts, which may appear superficially to pit the interests of one sex against the interests of the other, there is in fact one common solution which would further the interests of both.  I see that solution as feminism (and in this I identify unabashedly as an old-school, second-wave feminist) but, call it what you will, the principle of gender- and sex-equality, when impartially applied, would yield benefits in most if not all cases to both women (individually and collectively) and men (individually and collectively) and to society broadly.   Allowing women to serve in combat and subjecting women to the draft equally with men would proportionately decrease each man's risk of dying in combat in comparison to his risk under a male-only military-conscription policy.  And it would elevate women to the level of equality with men in the opportunity to serve their country and to achieve such personal and professional fulfillment as a career in the armed forces can offer.  (To say nothing of the statement that it would make that ours is a society that regards women as the equals of men.)  And sex- and gender-neutral granting of child custody that is based on factors wholly separate from stereotyping and uninfluenced by the unfair advantages of one parent or the other on account of sex should be the goal of and in the interest of everyone in our society.

One would think that our common humanity and common interests would encourage all intactivists and all feminists to recognize within the philosophies of the other the bedrock principles that are common to both and to which both groups subscribe, or at least profess to subscribe.  It is bewildering to me (though, in my more pessimistic moments, not entirely bewildering) that they don't.  But they ought to.

Along comes an essay that strikingly illustrates why they ought to because it can be used to demonstrate almost perfectly the thesis that the claims on behalf of sex- and gender equality and on behalf of acceptance of the human body in general that are made by both intactivists and feminists are not dissimilar, let alone antagonistic to one another, but are, in fact, identical.   Such an essay is a piece that appeared in this morning's New York Times,  Menstrual Pads Can't Fix Prejudice by Chris Bobel.  What is so particularly striking about this essay and the reason that it is so illustrative of this thesis is that almost everything that Ms. Bobel states here about menstruation - especially with respect to its cross-cultural and historic stigmatization - could be stated with equal validity about the male prepuce.   (Of course, it is probably not a coincidence that we should find ourselves the heirs of a millennia-long tradition of stigmatizing both menstruation in women and the prepuce in men given their common intrinsic relation to the genitourinary system and our species' penchant for defining our bodies and our bodily functions - female and male - as worthy of revulsion.)  In other words, Bobel's overarching point about the stigmatization of menstruation fits almost to a T intactivists' point about the stigmatization of the male prepuce, so much so that Bobel's essay could almost serve as a template for the intactivist claims on behalf of the male prepuce.   In fact, so striking are the similarities between Bobel's arguments about menstruation and intactivists' arguments about the male prepuce,  and so illustrative of the thesis that the feminist and intactivist arguments about body-rights and body-shaming ultimately are identical is Bobel's essay, that I can think of no better way to demonstrate both than by providing here a series of excerpts from it, each followed by my own paraphrasing in which menstruation has been replaced by male prepuce or other such similar substitutions.  Bobel's words appear first and my paraphrasing  follows each excerpt in italics and with my own substitutions written in red.




"The period is finally having its moment."
 The foreskin is finally having its moment.
"In the last decade, the difficulties women and girls across the globe face during menstruation have inspired a raft of grass-roots campaigns." 
In the last several decades, the difficulties men and boys across the globe face because they have foreskins have inspired a raft of grass-roots campaigns.
"Access to safe, accessible bathrooms and materials to manage menstruation is now recognized as a human rights issue. . . ." 
Growing up with one's whole penis is now recognized as a human rights issue.
"For centuries, around the world, menstruation has been treated as a source of shame, rather than as a normal, healthy part of women’s lives.  Initiatives to 'make menstruation matter' are both welcome and overdue."
For centuries, around the world, the male prepuce has been treated as a source of shame, rather than as a normal, healthy part of men's bodies.  Initiatives on behalf of "foreskin pride" are both welcome and overdue.
"Why, then, after years studying these efforts, do I feel ambivalent?  Because too many of them have opted to focus on providing women with new products, failing to substantively fight the core problem surrounding menstruation: cultural stigma."
Why, then, after years studying these efforts, do I feel ambivalent? Because too many of them have opted to focus on rationalizing and justifying involuntary male circumcision while failing to substantively fight the core problem surrounding the male prepuce: cultural stigma.
"[A] woman’s fear of inadvertently revealing she is menstruating remains a distraction and burden."
A man’s fear of revealing that he has a prepuce remains a distraction and burden.
"These fears and stigmas are prevalent in the rich world, too. As the historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg has shown, in the United States at the turn of the century, menstruation became increasingly medicalized: Doctors, who were mostly men, and increasingly viewed as experts, coached mothers to socialize their daughters to keep tidy and discreet. Menarche, the first menstrual period, was effectively reduced from a sign of womanhood to a 'hygienic crisis.'”
These fears and stigmas are prevalent in the rich world, too. As numerous historians have shown, in the United States during the nineteenth century, male circumcision became increasingly medicalized: Doctors, who were mostly men, and increasingly viewed as experts, coached parents to subject their sons to circumcision.   The male prepuce was effectively pathologized and reduced from an intrinsic and functional part of the penis to a vestigial structure and a potential hygienic crisis.  
"Even now, American girls are socialized to see menstruation, and more generally, their bodies, as problems to be solved through use of the 'right' products. Today, we are exporting this view around the world."
Even now, Americans of both sexes are socialized to see the male prepuce as a problem to be solved through the use of surgery.  Today, we are exporting this view around the world.
"The outsize attention paid to products reduces menstruation to a hygiene issue when it should be much more. The monthly shedding of the uterine lining is part of a cycle that lasts, on average, for 40 years. It is a vital marker of health and a pivotal developmental milestone for half the world’s population."
The outsize attention paid to pathologizing the male prepuce  reduces it to a hygiene issue when it should be much more.  The male prepuce is a natural and essential body part for half the world’s population.
"We must resist the well-meaning impulse to improve the lives of menstruating girls through consumption. The greater need is for people to understand that periods aren’t something shameful and best kept hidden. When menstruation is treated as normal, it becomes more than a nuisance, a punch line or a weapon wielded to keep women in their place."
We must resist the well-meaning impulse to improve the lives of boys and men through involuntary circumcision.   The greater need is for people to understand that the male prepuce isn't something shameful and best amputated.  When the male prepuce is treated as normal, it becomes more than a nuisance or a punch line against which involuntary circumcision is wielded as a weapon to remove the male prepuce from its rightful place.
"Our aim must be to transform the revulsion into respect, to shift from 'eww' to 'oh.' We need to redirect resources toward promoting innovative, inclusive and culturally sensitive community-based education about the menstrual cycle. And the audience must be not only girls, but also everyone surrounding them — boys, parents, teachers, religious leaders and health professionals."
Our aim must be to transform the revulsion into respect, to shift from “eww” to “oh.” We need to redirect resources toward promoting innovative, inclusive and culturally sensitive community-based education about the male prepuce.  And the audience must be not only boys, but also everyone surrounding them — girls, parents, teachers, religious leaders and health professionals.
"But menstrual activism won’t be meaningful if it is reduced to Western-style 'better living through more consumption.' After all, periods remain taboo in high-income countries where commercial products have been the norm for decades. Challenging the social stigma and disgust directed at the female body must be our main mission — in the developing world and everywhere else."
But intactivism won’t be meaningful if it is reduced to Western-style lawsuits and legal proscriptions.   After all, the male prepuce remains taboo in the United States as well as in one or two other industrialized countries and most of the Islamic world.   Challenging the social stigma and disgust directed at the male prepuce must be our main mission — in the developing world and everywhere else.


Need I say more?

But I will.  I have not paraphrased Bobel's essay in order to mock it or because I disagree with any of it (and I encourage the reader to read Bobel's essay in its entirety and entirely on the basis of its own merits) but simply to illustrate my point that feminism and intactivism not only are much more alike than they are dissimilar but that they both stand on exactly the same philosophical foundation.  And, more particularly, that the same body-rights - including bodily self-ownership and the right not to have parts or functions of one's body stigmatized - that feminists claim on behalf of girls and women are no less intrinsic and important to boys and men.

The underlying principles of feminism could be extended to the animal rights movement, as well.  As a matter of fact, a few years ago I wrote an essay that I called Of Cats' Claws and Foreskins which I published as an open letter to a member of the New York State Assembly, Linda Rosenthal (after sending it to her as a private email and receiving no response), who had introduced a bill to make it illegal to subject cats to declawing when not medically indicated.   Rosenthal had made an impassioned and eloquent statement in support of her proposed legislation and I was struck at the time by the realization that exactly the words that she had used about cat declawing could be used with equal validity about involuntary male circumcision.  In my essay I threw Rosenthal's words back at her but paraphrased in the manner with which I have just paraphrased Bobel's.  Rosenthal stated
There's no reason to do it unless the animal has [an] infection that is never going away, or if there is a cancer or tumor-related issue in the claw.  It's basically done because humans want it done, and I don't think it's our right to mutilate our animals for our own satisfaction. 
Merely substituting "infant" for "animal" and "prepuce" for "claw," I paraphrased Rosenthal as follows
There's no reason to do it unless the infant has [an] infection that is never going away, or if there is a cancer or tumor-related issue in the prepuce.  It's basically done because humans want it done, and I don't think it's our right to mutilate our infants for our own satisfaction.
Respect for the fundamental rights of all sentient creatures and, at the very least, behaving toward all of them with empathy and compassion:  that, when you get right down to it, is what feminism and intactivism both are all about.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Letter to the Iceland Alþingi on the Proposed Involuntary-Circumcision Ban

by David Balashinsky

Three weeks ago I received a very cordial message, in somewhat broken English, from Ms. Íris Björg Þorvaldsdóttir, of Intact Iceland.  I received the message at the Facebook page Jews Against Circumcision where I am one of the page administrators.  Ms. Þorvaldsdóttir inquired whether we had been following the proposed involuntary-circumcision ban that was currently before a committee of the Icelandic Alþingi (or parliament).  More to the point, she contacted us because this committee had by then already received several letters in opposition to the proposed legislation from Jewish individuals and organizations.  Mindful of the fact that the brit milah and all genital mutilation is ardently opposed by numerous Jews around the world, Þorvaldsdóttir was concerned that these letters in opposition to the proposed legislation might erroneously convey the impression - in the absence of any statements to the contrary by Jews who oppose genital cutting - first, that Jews the world over are unanimous in their support of the brit milah (and of the right of parents to inflict genital cutting on their children) and, second, that those Jewish individuals and organizations that had written in opposition to the legislation might be taken, therefore, to be speaking on behalf of Jews everywhere.  Knowing both of these propositions to be false and anticipating, rightly, that we would not want them to go unchallenged, Þorvaldsdóttir contacted Jews Against Circumcision in order, as she phrased it, that "you can see what you are up against."  That was the catalyst - and a welcome, timely and fortunate catalyst it was - for the letter that was sent to the Iceland Alþingi (where it can be found, along with numerous other comments, both pro and con, through this link) a revised version of which is reproduced below.  

I mention Ms. Þorvaldsdóttir's name here, more than any other reason, because I want to give credit where it is due But for Þorvaldsdóttir's astute activism on behalf of this cause, the letter that follows would not have come to be written.  Although I was aware of the pending legislation before the committee of the Alþingi, I was not aware that public comments about it were being offered and accepted.  Consequently, I had no plans to lend my voice - either on my own behalf or on behalf of members of Jews Against Circumcision - in support of the proposed legislation.  I had signed a petition to the Alþingi in support of the legislation about a month prior and, of course, I had shared it among the several like-minded Facebook groups that I either administer or belong to, but that had been the extent of it.  I was not aware of the opportunity to write to the committee directly.  In making Jews Against Circumcision aware of this opportunity, Þorvaldsdóttir did the cause of genital autonomy, Jews who oppose brit milah, the Facebook group Jews Against Circumcision and me personally a tremendous service.  That is the second reason why I want to acknowledge Þorvaldsdóttir here.  I am extremely grateful to her and I am happy to have an opportunity to thank her publicly for her having reached out to our group.

A brief word or two about Ms. Þorvaldsdóttir herself is warranted here also.  Þorvaldsdóttir is a native of Iceland and the mother of three young children.  Her youngest child is a boy and it was not until his impending birth that the matter of involuntary non-therapeutic circumcision and the worldwide movement to eradicate it (like that of its sister movement, the worldwide effort to end FGM) really entered her consciousness.  She became involved in Intact Denmark (where she was living at the time) and subsequently went on to found Intact Iceland.  She is a champion of human rights and human dignity.  When male genital mutilation is finally outlawed (as I hope it will be), and finally eradicated (as I know it will be), it will be due to the indefatigable efforts of great humanitarians like her.

A couple of words about the letter itself are warranted here, also.   What is reproduced below is, in the main, what was sent to the Alþingi.  However, the present version has been revised in a few minor ways but also in one significant respect.  I have added a paragraph (which begins with "Sixth,") because, after sharing a draft of this letter on the Facebook page Jews Against Circumcision in my quest for co-signers, I received at least a couple of comments from men who described themselves as former Jews.  I would imagine that their feelings about their identity and the factors that led them to renounce Judaism and even their very Jewishness are complex but clearly their resentment - rage, even - at the harm that had been done to their bodies in the name of Judaism was a - probably, the - precipitating factor.  While their no longer identifying as Jews obviously precluded their co-signing the letter as Jews, their feelings about this got me thinking about this phenomenon and it occurred to me that the feelings of such men deserve to be represented here.  Not merely because these are valid sentiments and highly relevant to this discussion but because such sentiments perfectly contradict the claim by some defenders of MGM that outlawing involuntary circumcision would constitute an existential threat to Jews and Judaism.  The feelings of these men demonstrate unambiguously that the continuation of the forced genital cutting of Jewish infants has as much potential to alienate Jews from their religion (and from their ethnic group) as it has to bind them to it.  That alienation represents its own kind of existential threat to Judaism and to the Jewish PeopleAs I explain in the paragraph itself, as notions of bodily integrity become more universalized - as men who were subjected to forced genital cutting look around at the Me Too movement, at the FGM-eradication movement, at the abortion rights movement, and at many other absolutely valid movements, all of which start from the premise of the inviolability of each person's physical boundaries - it is inevitable that more and more of them will ask, "What about me? - What about my rights?" 

A final word:  I want to explain why I am publishing this letter here.  Its original purpose, after all, was to lend my voice - on my own behalf and on behalf of like-minded Jewish individuals who oppose genital mutilation - in support of the involuntary circumcision ban that, as of this writing, is being considered by the Alþingi in Iceland.  But, after writing it, I came to feel that the letter might serve a larger purpose that transcends that current parochial one.  I believe that it can stand on its own as a manifesto by Jews who oppose genital cutting.  Even if the current effort in Iceland succeeds, the struggle to end genital mutilation everywhere else will go on.  And as long as it does, enlightened Jews will be a part of it.


25 March 2018

Ágæta Alþingi / Dear Members of the Parliament:

We, the undersigned, are members of the group Jews Against Circumcision.  We are writing in support of your proposed ban on non-therapeutic involuntary circumcision of minors.  We are also writing in rebuttal to letters that you have received in opposition to the proposed legislation from several prominent Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations.  We want it to be known that, on the matter of involuntary circumcision, these organizations do not speak for all Jews and they do not speak for us.

First, a word about who we are and what we believe in.  We are men and women who come from different walks of life and different parts of the world but who are united in our identification as Jews and in our unwavering opposition to male genital mutilation ("circumcision").  Some of us are secular Jews, identifying as Jewish ethnically and culturally, and some of us are religious Jews for whom Judaism is central to our beliefs and values.  Some of us have been subjected to involuntary circumcision and others have not.  Some of us were subjected to involuntary circumcision within the context of the brit milah.  Other members of our group were subjected to it merely because we were born into a particular time and place and so were swept up in the tide of medicalized (but nonetheless customary) involuntary circumcision that has been a blot on the practice of neonatal medical care during the past one hundred seventy-five years or so.   For those of us who have been subjected to involuntary circumcision, we maintain not only that we were harmed by it but that, in being denied a choice regarding the very configuration of our own bodies, we were deprived of our fundamental human rights and dignity. 

We emphatically do not reject our Jewishness and, for those of us who are religious, we do not reject Judaism: what we reject is involuntary circumcision.  We reject it and we oppose it on the following grounds:

First, we reject the proposition that involuntary circumcision is essential to the practice of Judaism for the individual himself.  It isn't.  Jewish women are not subjected to involuntary circumcision and they are no less spiritual - nor do they regard themselves any less beloved by Him (or Her) who they believe to be the Creator of the universe - than their Jewish fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who were.  More to the point, there are countless Jewish boys and men the world over - no less spiritual and no less devout than our Jewish brethren who have written to oppose the involuntary-circumcision ban - who were not, as neonates, subjected to this ancient and barbaric ritual.

Second, we reject the proposition that involuntary circumcision is essential to the survival of Judaism as a cohesive religion.  It isn't.  Religious Jews around the world, in ever-increasing numbers, are replacing the brit milah with the brit shalom, a non-violent, non-harmful religious ceremony that serves exactly the same spiritual and communal purposes as the brit milah but without the harm, without the blood, without the pain, without the trauma, and without the human rights violation.

Third, we reject the proposition that involuntary circumcision is essential to the continued existence of the Jews as a distinct people.  It isn't.  The Jewish people existed long before the advent of involuntary neonatal circumcision as a religious mandate, we existed longer still before involuntary circumcision was expanded into the radical prepucectomy (peri'ah) that is practiced today, and we will continue to exist long after involuntary circumcision has gone the way of various other strict religious mandates that are no longer followed by the majority of Jews, such as certain dietary restrictions, the proscription against intermarriage, and post-menstrual ritual bathing.  And we will continue to exist long after it has gone the way of other long-discarded and long-rejected customs and acts that were once practiced by our forebears contemporaneously with involuntary circumcision  including polygyny, death by stoning, and slavery.

Fourth, we reject the proposition that involuntary circumcision is a necessary part of being Jewish.  It isn't.  A Jewish girl is no less Jewish than her brother.  And a Jewish boy born to a Jewish mother is no less Jewish by virtue of not having had part of his penis cut off.  Jewishness is a product of one's genes, one's heritage, one's family life and upbringing, one's values, one's traditions and culture and, in the case of Judaism, it is a product of one's religious beliefs.

Fifth, we reject involuntary circumcision because we regard all genital cutting of children without their consent as a violation of the fundamental human right to grow up with all of one's body parts intact. That means that every human being has an inherent right to grow up with the genitals that she or he was born with.  This belief is inextricable from the ethical and moral beliefs that we, as Jews, hold dear.  Our fervent opposition to involuntary circumcision, then, is not in spite of our Jewish beliefs and values but because of them.

Sixth, in contrast to the concerns raised by the ADL and others, we regard the continued practice of involuntary circumcision as constituting as much of a threat (and potentially an even greater one) to the survival of Judaism as a religion and to the Jewish people as a People as banning it would be.  Our concerns in this regard have been prompted by comments that we have received from self-described "former Jews" who, owing entirely to their resentment about what was done to their genitals as infants without their consent, have rejected not just the brit milah but their Judaism and even their Jewishness.  The brit milah, far from girding these unfortunate men to their religion and to their people, resulted ultimately in driving them away.  We fear that this trend will not only continue but increase.  Involuntary circumcision has, for a long time, been on a collision course with modernity, especially with respect to the progress the world has made insofar as fundamental human rights are concerned.  We are now witnessing that collision and its unfortunate results unfolding in real time.  As the world has modernized, the brit milah has become increasingly impossible to reconcile with contemporary notions of autonomy and the inviolability of each person's physical boundaries.  It is inevitable, we fear, that more and more Jews will be driven to renounce their Jewishness and Judaism altogether if they are made to feel that their acceptance of genital cutting is a non-negotiable condition of remaining within the fold.

Seventh, we reject the broad assertion that the movement to ban involuntary circumcision - and the specific assertion that the proposed legislation banning it that is before this committee of the Alþingi - is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on Jews or Judaism.  It isn't.  We Jewish opponents of involuntary circumcision regard this movement as a progressive human-rights struggle and we regard this legislation as a long-overdue inclusion of boys - including Jewish ones - within the protective ambit of the already-existing legal framework under which female genital mutilation has been banned in Iceland and throughout much of the world.  We regard the proposed legislation not as an attack on Jews but as the inevitable logical conclusion of contemporary and increasingly universal standards regarding human rights and children's rights as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948) and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and ratified in 1990), and specifically as articulated in Article 37, part a of the latter which states that "No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Eighth, we reject the assertion that the right to subject an infant or child to involuntary circumcision is a fundamental right that comes under the rubric of "religious freedom."  While we recognize that the freedom to believe (or not to believe, for that matter) is fundamental and, therefore, absolute and illimitable, we reject the extension of that principle to the assertion that the freedom to act is likewise fundamental and, therefore, absolute and illimitable.  We believe that one person's right to practice her or his religion ends where another person's body begins.  We believe that one person's fundamental right of religious liberty is delimited by every other person's even more fundamental right not to be physically harmed.  We believe that the only person who has a right to cause to have his or her genitals (or any other body part) mutilated, deformed, scarred, or surgically altered in any way is the individual himself or herself.  No one else has a right to decide what parts of a boy's penis he gets to keep and what parts get cut off.  We do not consider that a radical or even a controversial position, much less an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic (or anti-Muslim) one.  On the contrary, we consider it to be simply and rather obviously in accordance with contemporary norms regarding fundamental human rights and human dignity.   We believe that no one has the right to cut off part of an unconsenting child's penis as a religious rite, for reasons of culture, for reasons of cosmesis, for reasons of convenience, for reasons of conformity, for reasons of tradition or on the basis of dubious and specious justifications related to  health or hygiene when perfectly efficacious non-invasive, non-harmful, non-painful and non-permanent alternatives are readily available (such as soap and water and, in adulthood, the use of a condom).

Having stated all of the foregoing, we also wish it to be known that neither do we oppose circumcision under all circumstances.  While we may not approve, we subscribe to the right of a man to choose circumcision for himself for whatever reason he may have once he is an adult and of an age at which he can make informed choices about his own body.  Once he is capable of exercising informed consent,  we endorse, on the principle of autonomy and self-determination, his right to have his body altered in accordance with his own beliefs and values - whether these beliefs have their origin in religion or anything else.  It is his body and that is why it should be his choice.

We also acknowledge the social context in which opposition to this proposed legislation by the ADL and other Jewish organizations has arisen.  We are fully aware of the history of anti-Semitism and the persecution of our ancestors throughout so much of European history.  And we acknowledge that that persecution has manifested itself in circumcision prohibitions in generations past.  When these earlier prohibitions were enacted, after all, they were part of explicitly anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish government programs.  It is understandable, especially with the memory of the Holocaust still fresh in our minds, that some Jews would hear ominous echoes of Europe's dark anti-Semitic past in the current effort to prohibit involuntary circumcision.  Such fears may acquire even greater validation and urgency given the alarming recrudescence of nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism that has occurred on both sides of the Atlantic during the past few years (and especially during the last year and a half).

But, as Jews who oppose involuntary circumcision, we vigorously reject the assertion that the modern genital autonomy movement (which seeks to ban all genital cutting: of girls as well as of boys) is nothing more than a resurgent manifestation of anti-Semitism.  Indeed, we are offended by that assertion.  Circumcision prohibitions from centuries past that were anti-Jewish in design and the contemporary movement to ban involuntary circumcision are as different as night and day.  Although they may coincidentally culminate in and intersect at the point of banning involuntary circumcision, they are fundamentally dissimilar in origin and purpose.  Previous prohibitions originated in ethnic and religious hatred while the modern genital autonomy movement originates in respect for the body-rights of the individual and in a philosophical objection to violence and to the needless causing of pain and suffering to infants.  Previous prohibitions sought to ban an ancient, involuntary blood-letting ritual not because of what it is but because of who practiced it.  The modern genital autonomy movement seeks to ban the same ancient, involuntary blood-letting ritual not because of who practices it but because of what it is. 

We also reject the assertion that the effect, if not the stated purpose, of the proposed involuntary-circumcision prohibition would be to make Jews (or Muslims) personae non gratae in Iceland.  As Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL put it, "Such a ban would mean that no Jewish family could be raised in Iceland, and it is inconceivable that a Jewish community could remain in any country that prohibited brit milah."  That assertion completely discounts the thousands upon thousands of Jews who abhor the brit milah and would be only too happy to raise their families - and to raise them as proudly Jewish - in a country where brit milah is prohibited by law.  How many new Jewish parents have been pressured - against their natural maternal and paternal instincts, against their inmost beliefs, and against their better judgment - into subjecting their offspring to circumcision?  Time and again we learn of the extent to which it is the social pressure on behalf of involuntary circumcision that is brought to bear on new parents by their parents, relatives or others in their community that is chiefly and ultimately responsible for the perpetuation of this odious practice.  The paradox is that, contrary to Mr. Greenblatt's supposition that the involuntary-circumcision ban must necessarily result in an exodus of Jews from Iceland, such a prohibition could just as likely have the opposite effect: an influx of Jews who would gladly raise their families in a country where they are free of the pressure to subject their children to genital mutilation.

There is nothing in the text of the proposed bill that could lead anyone to fairly conclude that it is motivated by anti-Jewish (or even anti-Islamic) sentiment.  The bill has sponsors from the Progress Party, the People's Party, the Left-Green Movement and the Pirate Party.  And while the Progressive Party and the People's Party have recently been linked with populism and the espousal of anti-immigration sentiments, the bill is also co-sponsored by MPs from parties that are associated mainly with environmentalism, feminism and pacifism (the Left-Green Movement), and direct democracy (the Pirate Party).

We are thus left to weigh the merits and potential significance of the proposed legislation against the historical backdrop of anti-Semitism and against the contemporary backdrop of xenophobia and anti-immigrant nationalism that have swept across much of the northern hemisphere.  We are left, further, to weigh, as best we can with the information that is currently available to us, whether the proposed legislation has roots sunk deep within nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic soil, as some have claimed of this and of similar proposed legislation elsewhere or, as we would like to believe, that it is the flowering of the same humanist and progressive impulses that inform the genital autonomy movement of which Jews Against Circumcision is a part.

Having done so, we wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorse this legislation.  The proposed circumcision prohibition would ban all non-therapeutic involuntary genital cutting of boys, no matter what reasons are entertained by the child's parents for wanting to subject their child to circumcision, no matter what that child's parents' religion or ethnicity happens to be and, for that matter, even irrespective of any ulterior or merely unfairly impugned motives on the part of the bill's sponsors.  This opportunity is too important not to seize.  The right of every child to be free of genital cutting is an idea whose time has come.  The proposed circumcision ban, as we see it, represents the inevitable and irresistible march of human progress toward greater respect for the rights of the child and the rights of the individual.  Consistent with our Jewish ethos and with the concept of tikkun olam, we endorse that progress and are proud, as Jews, to be a part of it.

Revised 13 April 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Response to Liza Wyles

by David Balashinsky

What is it with Romper and male genital mutilation?  Once again the parenting site has published a non-apology-apologia for it (the title is literally 9 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Choosing To Circumcise My Son).  And what is it with its author, Liza Wyles, and lists?   Of the many articles she has produced for Romper, I counted sixty, published just in the past six months or so, that consist of some sort of enumeration as reflected in titles on the pattern of 8 Reasons This, 9 Reasons That, and 10 Reasons The Other.   This style of composition seems to be prevalent among online magazines nowadays; possibly because one of its cardinal virtues is that it is conducive to brevity.  More likely, because the audience for these media platforms has had its attention span unnaturally stunted by early and excessive exposure to electronic interfaces and commercial media.  Yet another reason might be that the target audience may be presumed to be youngish parents with neonates, infants, toddlers and tweens abounding.  This is not an audience with much leisure time so a series of bullet points is probably the format that market research has shown is best suited to catching and holding such readers' attention.

Whatever the reasons, I will follow Wyles's pattern here, addressing each item in her list in turn.   First, however, I must preface my comments - which I offer as a refutation of Wyles's arguments - by observing that, like Wyles, I am Jewish.  This matters in the historical and cultural context in which the debate over the ethics and appropriateness of male genital mutilation is taking place.  As a Jewish man, I feel not only a particular right but a a special obligation to speak out forcefully against involuntary genital cutting, not only of Jewish males but of all males, females, and intersex children.  All of us, no matter our ethnicity, our sex, or our parents' religion, have an innate and an inalienable right not to have parts of our bodies amputated for non-essential, non-medical reasons.  

The fact that I am Jewish matters also in the present case because, of the nine reasons Wyles gives for having subjected her son to circumcision - or rather, for refusing to apologize for having subjected her son's penis to circumcision - about half of these have no more rational a basis than the momentum of tradition.  In other words, much as Ej Dickson did in the virtual pages of Romper last spring  (and please see my response to Ms. Dickson  here),  Wyles couches her defense of her decision to subject her infant son to genital mutilation in terms of its cultural (and, to a lesser extent in her case, religious) meaning.  This becomes problematical for those who oppose genital mutilation because recourse to arguments of "religious liberty" or "cultural significance" by those who defend it immediately places the question not only beyond the bounds of rational discourse but, more to the point, out of bounds for those outside the cultural or religious group.  In the case of male genital mutilation, which has been a part of Judaism and Jewish tradition for millennia, non-Jews who oppose the practice risk opening themselves to the charge of anti-Semitism: usually wrongly but sometimes rightly, for, of course, there are anti-Semites who oppose genital mutilation, just as there are anti-Semites who have written great music.   (The fact that some anti-Semites oppose male genital mutilation certainly doesn't make genital mutilation right.)  It is all the more important, therefore, that those of us  within the group who oppose male genital mutilation - and our numbers are growing daily - speak out against this anachronistic human rights violation.  Thus, I write as someone who has something in common with Wyles - something that is of more than just passing significance to our identities and experience. 

I also have something in common with Wyles's son.  Like him, I was subjected to genital cutting without my consent and for no more compelling a reason than the force of tradition.  Like Wyles's son, I did not have a bris (nor did I have a bar mitzvah; my parents were both confirmed atheists).  But, like Wyles's son,  I was born into a time and place - into a culture - in which cutting off part of a boy's penis seemed (and still - but, mercifully, less so - seems) perfectly natural.    

That is where the similarities between Wyles, on the one hand, and her son and me, on the other, end.  For, you see Wyles, undoubtedly, was allowed to grow up with her genitalia intact.  She will never have to wonder what erogenous sensations were forever lost to her before she could even experience them.  She does not have to look at her genitalia and be confronted every day with a scar instead of the healthy tissue that should be there but isn't because it was amputated.  In the quotidian moments of nakedness that we all experience - dressing, bathing, peeing - Wyles is never presented with the bizarre and ghastly sight of an internal organ converted through surgical means into an external one. 

Wyles fully anticipates opprobrium for her decision.  In her essay, she writes, "I can't avoid life's haters.  So I fully expect to get flak for choosing to circumcise my son and not apologizing about it."  Well, Wyles certainly doesn't owe me an apology.  The person to whom she really owes an apology is her son.  And, of course, perhaps his future sex partners, particularly if they are female.  And while I don't consider myself a hater, I do hate injustice and human rights violations.   And genital mutilation certainly ranks high on the list of human rights violations.  Turning to Wyles's list, then, let's take it point by point.  I will also, so to speak, turn to Wyles herself, and address the remainder of my comments to her.  Thus, Ms. Wyles, to your nine reasons why you won't apologize for having chosen to circumcise your son:

Because it had cultural relevance:  You write that "it just felt 'right' to have my son circumcised, as he is the son of a Jewish mother."  Female genital mutilation, too, feels "right" and has just as much "cultural relevance" for those who subject their daughters to it.  That doesn't make it ethical.  Moreover, without having been subjected to genital mutilation, your son would be still be the son of a Jewish mother and would be not one iota less Jewish himself.

Because it's what our families have done for generations:  My own family has a multi-generational history of pedophilia and incestuous childhood sexual abuse.  That's not a valid reason for continuing the tradition.   Similarly, slavery, the legal subordination of women,  discrimination against LGBTQ persons, domestic violence, severe corporal punishment of children, stoning, gladiatorial contests, public animal-fighting- and -torture spectacles and ritual human- and animal sacrifice at one time or another also have been practiced for generations (and some of these still are).  That doesn't make these practices ethical, nor does the fact that they persisted for generations constitute a sufficient justification for them to continue.  Forced genital mutilation belongs to this list of wrongs long practiced but that no longer have any place in a modern, civilized society. 


Under this listed rationale, you also state the following: "with circumcision, it felt like a testament to what our families have been doing, to no ill effect [emphasis added], for years and years."  Have you given your male forebears - both immediate and remote (since you speak of "generations") and all the male relatives in your cohort detailed questionnaires  concerning their sex lives, including their penile function and their overall sexual satisfaction?  If not, there is absolutely no way that you can make that statement with certainty, let alone as though it were an incontrovertible fact.  You, yourself, simply may be unaware of the ill effects, but that doesn't mean that there weren't and aren't any.   Infant male circumcision has been definitively associated with  adverse effects upon male sexual functionsensation, and overall satisfaction.  You might also want to check with all the women in your family since studies have also established an association between male circumcision and several sexual dysfunctions or problems in women, including dyspareunia (painful intercourse), difficulty reaching orgasm and overall sexual dissatisfaction.  You should not blithely assume, simply because your relatives have not disclosed to you the most intimate aspects of their sex lives, that all is well, and always has been well, in their bedrooms.  In the absence of their having shared this personal and likely deeply embarrassing information with you - whatever the quality of their sex lives: whether great or not so great - only by assuming that absence of evidence is evidence of absence can you conclude that circumcision has had "no ill effect" on the sexual and emotional lives of the women and men in your family.  More likely, it's just not something they are apt to share with you at family get-togethers.

Because my husband was in favor of it:  What if your husband wanted to torture and beat your son because he thought he was gay?   Suppose your husband wanted to cut off some other part of your child's body, or perhaps pierce his nose or tongue, or have him tattooed?   What if it were not your son's genitals that we are speaking about but your daughter's?  And what if your husband wanted your daughter to undergo labiaplasty for cosmetic reasons?  (This last example strikes most of us as repellent and yet, the alleged aesthetic superiority of a surgically reduced penis is frequently cited by parents as a valid reason for subjecting their sons to radical prepucectomy.  Indeed, her anxiety that, without having undergone this surgery, her son might have "his penis compared to a Sharpei [sic] by a cruel future sexual partner" was actually one of the reasons that Ej Dickson gave for subjecting her son, Sol, to genital cutting [see links above].  To add insult to injury and to heap perversity upon perversity, Ms. Dickson is now a deputy editor at Men's Health Magazine.   What could be more Trumpian than to hire an advocate of male genital mutilation - which harms men's health, to say nothing of their sex lives - as a writer and editor for a media platform and magazine that, as its publisher claims ,  "inspire[s] health, healing, happiness, and love in the world" and professes to be "the premiere destination for wellness content with a purpose"?)   Would these other mutilations and non-therapeutic bodily alterations, too, be okay simply because your husband is in favor of them?  Let me anticipate your response here: these would fall within the category of things you "knew we had to be in agreement on," and you would never (it is to be hoped) agree to such things.  But what about two other parents who do agree that selective amputations of other body parts,  or tattoos or piercings of their child's body are properly their decision and theirs alone, irrespective of what the child herself may want.  What then?  


At the same time, the fact that your husband was in favor of subjecting your son to genital mutilation is no more convincing an argument in support of the practice than is the parallel argument that majorities of women in FGM-practicing nations continue to support that practice.  These are women, after all - and not coincidentally - who, like your husband, were themselves subjected to genital cutting, yet they support the practice and often in greater numbers than do their male compatriots.   This phenomenon is mirrored here in the continued support of male genital cutting by male victims themselves.  That's not a valid justification for mutilating someone else's genitals without her or his consent.  

Because our doctors supported it: A majority of the world's doctors actually oppose it.

Because there were no negative long-term effects [that] I was aware of at the time:  It's been known for over 150 years that removing the male prepuce adversely affects penile sensation. That's why it was advocated as a prophylaxis against masturbation during the 19th century when it was popularized in Great Britain and the United States.   Contemporary research has borne this out.  It has also been known for generations that there are many other deleterious sequela related to male genital cutting including but not limited to an increased incidence of meatal stenosis, an increased risk of sepsis, hemorrhage, and  death.  If you didn't know this when you subjected your son to genital cutting, it's either because you didn't adequately research it or because you were unable to put aside your bias when you did, and this led you to an erroneous conclusion.  (You certainly would not be the first person to fall into that trap.) At the same time, your lack of awareness of the negative long-term effects of infant male circumcision is entirely understandable, given that much of the discourse on this topic is heavily weighted by the mainstream media's reliance on and unquestioning deference to  the leading pro-circumcision professional medical trade organization in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, both of which essentially ignore the negative long-term effects of infant circumcision.  Yet these organizations' positions on non-therapeutic infant circumcision have been roundly condemned by bioethicists, attorneys, psychologists, human-rights activists and, of course, physicians.

Because it was what's familiar to me:  One could say the same of domestic violence.  Children who grow up in homes in which domestic violence regularly occurs are familiar with domestic violence.  They also often grow up only to repeat the pattern.  Familiarity with something harmful doesn't make it less so.  Often, we cling to the familiar even when we know it's not good for us because we derive a false sense of security from the very familiarity of it.  That is one of the reasons victims often remain in abusive relationships.  As with the argument "because it's what our families have done for generations," the mere fact that something has persisted or simply that one is familiar with it is not, in and of itself, a valid reason to go on doing it. 

Because it was what I thought was best when he was born:  Implicit in this statement is its antithesis: that, while you may once have thought cutting off part of your son's genitals was the best possible thing you could do for him (it sounds absurd when phrased that way, doesn't it?) you now no longer are quite so sure.  If that is true - and I dearly hope it is - you should consider that there is no shame in learning and growing.  It is something of a mantra in intactivist circles that when we know better, we do better.  I don't question your sincerity and I don't doubt that you did what you thought best at the time.  But that doesn't mean that it was best, and it doesn't mean that you should now dig in your heels just to save face.  It is far less blameworthy to be wrong and to learn from one's mistakes than it is to be intransigent.

Because I only need to do right by my family:  No - you needed to do right by your son. Male genital mutilation isn't a "family" decision just as it isn't something that the entire family undergoes.  You write in your essay - or list -  that "there are some decisions that are personal and affect only us."  But it didn't affect you  - singular or plural - it affected your son.  It was only he who had a crucial part of his penis cut off  -  not you, and not your daughter.  So please stop speaking about your son's unnecessary and irreversible genital surgery as though it were a harmless family affair in which all were equally involved, all had equal input, and all were equally affected.
 

And while I would never condone any violence or mistreatment of children, circumcision is a safe practice that didn't jeopardize our son's health:  Wrong on every count.  Cutting off part of your child's body in the absence of an emergent medical necessity is, by definition, an act of violence against and a mistreatment of your child.  Male genital mutilation is a harm in and of itself, even without the untoward complications.  It is no more "safe" for the victim than amputating any other body part would be "safe."  In fact, every one of the claims that you make on behalf of male genital mutilation, in this statement and throughout your essay -  it's "familiar," it has "cultural relevance," your "husband supported it," even that it's "safe" - can be be made of female genital mutilation now that  it, too, is being "medicalized" and increasingly performed in aseptic conditions by trained medical professionals.  As for "never" condoning violence or mistreatment - in effect you just did.  Or, if not condoning male genital mutilation, at the very least you just devoted a dozen or so paragraphs to justifying it.  But in this context, the distinction between condoning and justifying is a distinction without a difference.

Which brings me to some final thoughts.  You seem to want to have it both ways.  You write that you "only need to do right by my family and not those who judge me."  And you dismiss as "haters" those who may criticize you for having deprived your son of the right to grow up whole and to experience the full range of sensations and intimacy that are possible only with a whole and fully functional penis.  Thus, you seem to be going out of your way here to prove that you are perfectly unconcerned with the opinions of those who may disagree with your choice and with the rationalizations that you have given for it.  Yet, at the same time that you are professing scorn for such judgement, you appear to be inviting it.  
If you truly are unconcerned with the opinions of others, why publish this list?  And why go to such lengths to justify the decision that you made?


The overriding impression one gets is that the groundswell of moral and ethical opposition to male genital mutilation has managed to resonate somewhere deep within the recesses of your conscience and that is why you feel compelled now to offer this strained and desperate-seeming defense of a dying, barbaric and inhumane practice.  Your refusal to acknowledge any error in having subjected your baby to this harmful, tragically irreversible and totally unnecessary genital surgery strikes me less as evidence of your confidence in the rightness of the decision that you made seven years ago than as defensiveness and overcompensation. 

Implicit throughout your essay is the acknowledgment that what you did to your son was harmful and unethical.    You, yourself, state that "Thinking about the act, it really is terribly cruel." "The choice should have been his. . . ."  And you anticipate the possibility that "He may grow up and hate us for this decision.  He will be justified in being angry that we made a decision about his body for him."  But, of course, it's not simply that you made "a decision about his body" but that you made one that was both harmful and totally unnecessary.   If the anger comes, that will be its genesis: your son's realization not only that something important was irrevocably stolen from him (and how much, he will only be able to guess) but that it was all for nothing.  That you deprived him of an important body part that may have tremendous value to him but for reasons that have meaning only for you.  If he had had cancer and the choice were between saving a limb and saving his life, I'm confident that your son wouldn't be angry at you in the least for having made a reasonable decision about his body on his behalf.  But a prepuce is not a birth defect and having one is not a pathological condition in need of surgical intervention.  And its removal was absolutely not necessary for him to live his life as a Jewish man in accordance with the values and beliefs that you instill in him and in harmony with all the other, non-harmful traditions that are meaningful to our people in which he may share and find fulfillment.  

You make much of your assertion that this decision was a "personal" one.  Indeed, this is one of the claims most often made by parents who claim a right to surgically alter  their children's genitals.  Thus, you write, "While we realize our decisions reach beyond the walls of our apartment, when it comes to our behavior and how we vote, and how diligently we recycle (very), there are some decisions that are personal and affect only us.  I am not beholden to the public when it comes to how I manage certain aspects of my children’s wellbeing."   Yet this assertion, too, is belied by your publishing this defense of infant male genital mutilation.   It is at best naive of you to think - and, at worst, disingenuous of you to pretend - that, in publishing your list of pro-MGM rationalizations, you are not giving aid and comfort to those who insist on perpetuating this inhumane and unethical practice.  One has only to read through the comments that appear under your post on Romper's Facebook page.  As so often occurs when someone publishes a commentary in a parenting site to the effect that it's my child and I can do what I want - it doesn't concern you or anyone else, the effect is to harden the opinions of pro-genital cutters and to embolden them.  Thus, while your decision may have affected only your son, your  publicly justifying your decision most emphatically is an act that reaches "beyond the walls of [your] apartment."  For you are not only validating, retrospectively, the decision already made by you and by other parents who, like you, subjected their children to genital cutting but you are giving your imprimatur, prospectively, to parents who have yet to make that decision.  Do you imagine that a parent like yourself, but one questioning the ethics of this genital surgery and whose decision hangs in the balance, is not susceptible to pro-genital-cutting rationalizations?  Such arguments may very well resonate with some parents.  Unfortunately, it is not they but their sons (and their sons' future sex partners) who will ultimately pay the price for your public rationalizations.  Who knows how many additional infant boys will be (and the men that they become will have been) subjected to genital cutting at least in part because of your words?  Not only your son but, potentially, many other sons, boys, men and women will have cause to be angry at you and to hate you - not for what you did to your son but for what you have implicitly encouraged others to do to theirs.

One of the things that most struck me about your post were these comments: "I can't have regrets.  If in the end it turns out to have been a mistake . . . I will need to deal with it."  Of course you can have regrets.  Anyone who has no regrets is someone who has never made a mistake,  or someone who has never learned from her mistakes, or, worse, someone who refuses to learn from her mistakes.   The brash tenor of your essay - the whole in-your-face, spoiling-for-a-fight,  I refuse to apologize attitude of it - makes me concerned that you are in that last category.  I hope not.  And the good news is that there is no need to be.  Most people on my side of the divide were once on yours.  I, myself, used to think circumcision was harmless and seldom questioned it.  But male genital mutilation, with all the bogus and hyped-up claims and pointless appeals to Tradition! is such a house of cards that all it really takes for it to come crumbling down within the mind of each of us is to question it.

Speaking as one Jew to another, and especially as one who has cast off the cultural blinkers that enabled me to accept what was done to me and what is done still to over one million unoffending infants annually in the United States, while I acknowledge the importance to you of the reasons why you believe you were justified in having your son's penis cut, I feel an even greater obligation - as someone who values human rights, personal autonomy and bodily integrity and, yes, as a Jew - to urge you away from such unenlightened thinking and toward a more progressive notion of Jewishness and a more universal conception of human rights.  Toward that end, I would like to point you toward three invaluable sources.

First, the educational video Child Circumcision: An Elephant in the Hospital, which is a recording of a lecture delivered by Ryan McAllister, Ph.D. that also includes a brief video of an actual circumcision.   In your essay, you recounted how the hospital where your son's genital surgery took place had a policy barring you from observing that which you refer to as a "procedure."  Once you have seen an actual male circumcision, you will readily understand why your hospital didn't want you to see it.  You will also understand how gross a mischaracterization of male circumcision it is to refer to it, as you did, as a mere "snip" and to the densely innervated and highly complex anatomical structure that is the prepuce as mere "skin."  Even though it is seven years too late for your son, I believe that, as Michelle Storms, M.D. (quoted in McAllister's video) has stated, "Any person who wants to subject a child to this  should be required to witness one first."  (There is, of course, much more to McAllister's lecture than this, and I would hope that you would listen to it in its entirely and with an open mind.)


Second: this account by Rosemary Romberg of her own personal journey from being a mother who had her sons' penises circumcised to an active campaigner against the practice.  Ms. Romberg is perhaps the preeminent exemplar of what is known in intactivist circles as a regret mom or a regret parent: someone who had her or his son's penis circumcised but came to regret it.  Sadly - but also, encouragingly - Ms. Romberg is not alone.  I refer you to the writings of Ms. Romberg (and to those of other regret moms) particularly because of your comment, "I can't have regrets."  These courageous women and men demonstrate not only that it is possible to regret having subjected a child to the needless pain and harm of circumcision but that - far from destroying these parents - this very regret was an integral part of their growth as parents and as ethical human beings.

Finally: I refer you to Beyond the Bris.  This is a website created by Rebecca Wald by and for "Jewish people who are united in the belief that circumcising healthy children is harmful and unnecessary. . . ."  In the pages of this site you will become acquainted with "the voices and faces of the pro-intact Jewish movement":  Jewish women and men who are "moving in what we feel is a more thoughtful, more ethical, and more Jewish direction. . . ."  Especially because of your comments to the effect that you had your son's penis cut because of your identification as Jewish and because of the history of this practice in your family (as well as in that of your non-Jewish husband's family) I think it important for you to hear what other Jews have to say about this custom.  The burgeoning movement of renunciation of this anachronistic practice by us Jews ourselves is animated not only by our deeply held conviction that it is unethical but that it is positively incompatible in the modern world with Jewish ethics and values.  In short, Jewish opponents of male genital mutilation do not feel ourselves to be less Jewish because of our opposition to this practice but more Jewish by virtue of our opposition to it.  We encourage you to join us.