Control: “to exercise restraining or directing influence over”

When I argue against non-therapeutic child circumcision, I’m strictly interested in protecting the child’s right to decide for himself. I do not seek conditions or expectations on what he “should” choose, or why. Everyone is an individual with his own preferences independent of what his parents prefer. The two may be similar, or even identical. In the case of ritual circumcision, I suspect that possibility is much more likely than not. But the two may not be similar. That’s what matters.

There is usually significant resistance to the statement that non-therapeutic child circumcision is mutilation. It is mutilation because it fits both the definition of the word and its consideration within the context of female genital cutting. In that context all non-therapeutic cutting is classified as mutilation. However, I do not suggest that the application of an accurate description implies anything about intent. I oppose forcing the surgery on someone who doesn’t need it and can’t consent, even though I accept that its imposition is well-intentioned. The problem is the cognitive dissonance involved.

Here is an example of cognitive dissonance by Rabbi Mark S. Glickman, commenting on proposed prohibitions on non-therapeutic child circumcision:

I know that the idea of circumcision may sound barbaric. But the practice is not. It is a loving way […]. … Unlike female genital mutilation, Jewish circumcision is not a way to limit or control the child, and it does not destroy sexual desire.

First, this opinion is not unique to religious circumcision. Every circumcision in America occurs under the mistaken assumptions that FGM is always ill-intentioned, that parental intent determines the outcome without regard for the action, and that male circumcision is not about control. These alleged distinctions have been repeated so many times that they’re incorrectly accepted as facts. They are not facts.

As the first excerpt suggests, the focus here is about intent. Rabbi Glickman claims that circumcision is not a way to limit or control the child. Yet, the next two sentences he writes are as follows:

Many find the practice troubling, I believe, because it so dramatically distinguishes religious values from commonly accepted modern American ones. America idealizes nature; Judaism and other religions try to control it and improve it. …

I’m confused about how trying to “control [his nature] and improve it” is not an attempt to control the child.

Here’s another example commenting on tweets from Russell Crowe:

That Crowe, who won stardom (and an Oscar) for playing a Roman gladiator, is unable to distinguish between real barbarism and a religious ritual that profits health is mildly dispiriting, especially when one of circumcision’s central aims is to curb male barbarism. Men are supposed to be reminded of God and, one could argue, moral behavior, in the very place they are most likely to betray religious ideals.

“Circumcision is the indelible symbol that a man can be more than just an animal,” Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom, said. “The fact that you seal your connection with God and with tradition into that organ makes it incredibly difficult for that organ to be used as a weapon of manipulation or destruction. For men, this is the center of being: Is masculinity to be defined in terms of power and violence, or control and strength? What you see in the news is what happens when men make the wrong choice.”

To be clear, I do not believe that circumcision as a form of control is exclusive to Jewish (or religious) circumcision. Control is inherent in every forced, non-therapeutic circumcision. Typical American reasons offered for circumcising healthy children are also control. Whether it’s to make the son “look like daddy” or to make him appealing to his future sexual partner(s), the message is clear. The way he is born is not acceptable. Someone has to make him better, a subjective concept, regardless of whether or not he wants to be made “better”.

Even circumcising to reduce his risk of certain future ailments is a form of control. It’s an indication that he isn’t capable of practicing sufficient hygiene or engaging in safe, responsible sex. It’s an unintentional declaration that “I know better than you what you need”. During childhood, that’s parenting. When it extends permanently beyond childhood, without chance for the individual to choose differently, it’s control.

Note: Title definition.

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