Why Do Boys Get All The Circumcision?

Nawal Nour speaking with a Sudanese interpreter (c) Brigham and Women's Hospital

Though infant male circumcision is left to the discretion of parents, female circumcision performed on a minor is completely banned in the United States. This strange kind of sexism was the topic of debate at a Harvard Law School panel discussion today.

Male circumcision has long claimed to be the lesser of the two evils— safer, and with potential health benefits. Unfortunately, those potential health benefits are for people facing an AIDS epidemic, not Americans, and every medical procedure has risks.

“I don’t like seeing the poor little penises bleeding,” said panelist Dr. Nawal Nour, an obstetrician/gynecologist who founded the African Women’s Health Center in Boston. She stopped performing the procedure. Another panelist, Law Professor Sarah Waldeck, said that as a middle-age white woman from the midwest she couldn’t be objective on the issue— in her demographic, circumcision is the norm.

Waldeck’s perspective on male circumcision spoke to her early point about female circumcision— that the cultural aspects have to be taken into account when determining laws if they are going to be effective. Because the people the ban is aimed at view female circumcision as normal, she argued, the law is more likely to provoke backlash than lasting change.

“Getting people to stop circumcising their daughters is as difficult as trying to convince Jewish people to stop circumcising their sons,” Waldeck said. Dr. Nour pointed out that in a traditional Jewish bris, the circumcision is not performed in a hospital, or even by a medical professional.

Instead of an outright ban, Waldeck proposed gradual nudging, likening it to the success of the anti-smoking campaigns versus the failures of alcohol prohibition.

At the same time, Dr. Nour, who works directly with patients facing this issue, said she believed that the ban was working because it gave them a way to opt out. Suddenly, all the arguments of tradition and future marriages could be outweighed by  the procedures illegality.

“The law is a way out of the old tradition,” Dr. Nour said.

Which begs the question, how many Jewish parents are looking for a way out of hosting a bris?

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7 thoughts on “Why Do Boys Get All The Circumcision?

  1. I do think there are parents who want to “opt out” within Judaism. Also within the larger American culture there are parents who want to opt out. Often couples are divided – and cutting their child often leads to long term strain in the marriage.

    What really would happen is that instead of being a subject that is not discussed, circumcision would become a subject that IS discussed. Men would more frequently come to see that their circumcision was unneeded and harmful to them. By recognizing that, they could be kinder to their boys and end the cycle of trauma.

    As an Jewish American male circumcised by a Rabbi at 6 months, I wish this procedure HAD been illegal, -with no religious exception. It IS a human rights violation! Just like it is for girls. There is no justification for modifying and impairing the future sex life of the adult, that the child will become, and that is undoubtedly what happens. Sexual lubricants and Viagra type drugs are needed in America, not Europe or Asia because we are practically the only nation besides Israel that circumcises boys.

    • Thank you for sharing your own experiences. I’m glad that you think legislation would provoke a discussion about circumcision and that it might settle arguments between couples. One of the other points brought up in the lecture is that because female circumcision is illegal, men marrying in the United States don’t expect their future wives to be circumcised. If male circumcision became illegal here, maybe people in the Jewish community would stop expecting their “members” to be circumcised :).

      Thank you for commenting!

  2. As this is a fundamental question of the most basic human right of bodily integrity, circumcision should not even be open for discussion for any reason–whether for some alleged, but unproven, medical benefits, or the irrational beliefs of parents–especially since there is scientific evidence of the harm done & the unnecessary risks inherent in this procedure.

    It is time we started practicing human rights instead of violating them for no rational reason.

  3. ……… There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    * Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1

    The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel
    http://www.cirp.org/pages/cultural/kimmel1/

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors ……………..

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