A Kinder, More Genital Nation
Spectator, April 9-15, 1993
In case you think that Playboy is just a lot of naked women sandwiched between advice on wine, fashion and stereo components, you should also know that Playboy Enterprises takes its politics very seriously. Both editorially through the magazine and financially through the Playboy Foundation, the organization is an activist one. The right to control one's body and the freedom to enjoy one's sexuality are among their highest priorities.
Each monthly issue has at least one piece supporting a woman's sovereignty over her body, and the Playboy Foundation devotes a large chunk of its coffers to protecting that right. Yet, over one million Americans every year are subjected to nonconsensual, life-scarring surgery, all without medical necessity, and the only response Playboy has offered is an occasional chuckle.
This is not just any surgery, mind you. This is genital mutilation or, more specifically, the amputation of a few thousand erogenous nerve endings. Indeed, the acknowledged goal behind its popularization in America was specifically to deprive its victims of enough sexual pleasure so as to discourage them from masturbating.
That is, routine circumcision is a combined and clear violation of some of the most important tenets of the Playboy Philosophy. For Playboy to ignore that violation, something must be keeping it in a state of denial.
Playboy, unfortunately, is not the only resident ofthat state. Children's rights agencies, packed with crusaders who protect little children from physical harm, outraged especially by sexual attacks on children, and wielding powerful laws that specifically bar the infliction of pain and injury upon children, are comfortable neighbors of Playboy in the state of denial.
Insurance companies and health care reformers demand that unnecessary medical expenses be eliminated, yet they wink at the hundreds of millions of your wasted dollars which fund the circumcision industry.
What, then, are the psychological barriers that keep Playboy and others from confronting the issue of circumcision?
First, circumcision is a men's issue, if only because 100% of its American victims are male. So, all those factors which usually induce us to deny the validity of men's issues also operate here.
The traditional message that it is unmanly to complain blends nicely with the feminist message that men don't deserve to complain. The traditional message that men must protect women blends nicely with the feminist message that helping men is equivalent to hurting women. The effect of this blend is that men feel uncomfortable just thinking about men's issues, let alone talking about them..
Male pain is the only pain which actually brings laughter and applause.
Another factor is that the ubiquitous sight of male pain desensitizes us to it. Violence against males is literally all around us. In the media, it is a staple of entertainment, with men comprising over 90% of the victims on television. Relevant, too, is the context of the violence. When a woman is the victim, it is usually the "bad guy" who commits it, reinforcing our mindset that violence against women is always wrong. The main purpose of the portrayal is to get the audience angry enough that it will watch the rest of the story to see to it that the villain is punished for his transgression. Of the "justified" and approved violence in entertainment, the percentage directed against men is even higher than 90%.
Even more poignant, men are the victims of virtually all violence in comedy. Male pain is the only pain which actually brings laughter and applause. Moreover, attacks on male sexuality are the "funniest" of all. If a kick to the groin is a guaranteed formula for laughter, is it so surprising that a scalpel to the groin does not arouse mass sympathy?
Although it is politically correct to dismiss the importance of violence against men, the preponderance of male victims in the media is mirrored by a preponderance of male victims in real life.
Committed to ignoring violence against men, Senator Joe Biden held hearings for two years on his "Violence Against Women Act" (which makes violence against women a more serious crime than violence against men) without ever discovering that the female victim is more stereotype than reality. The Bureau of justice Statistics reports that males age 12 and older are 76% more likely than females to be victims of violent crimes. Men are three times more likely to be victims of homicide. (The Bureau also asserts that women who are raped are actually among the more likely victims of violent crime to report their victimization.).
We are so desensitized to violence against the male body that, only for men, does real violence overlap with entertainment. Given the protest against simple portrayals of violence against women, imagine the howls of anger if real women were really beaten into real bloody unconsciousness, and it was broadcast on network television as entertainment. Think about that the next
time you watch a boxing match. I was once talking with a stranger in a hotel lobby. I told him that I was in town to speak about circumcision, and gave him a little preview of my talk. He became agitated, exclaiming, "How can we do this to our own children!?!" I reminded him that we don't do it to our "children"... We do it to our boys. There's a big difference.
Charities that want you to sponsor children overseas show twice as many little girls as little boys in their ads. They know that people rush to the aid of girls, but don't respond as readily to the plight of little boys.
A third factor keeping us from confronting circumcision is opposition by the very movement which is supposed to demand attention to gender issues. Like the archetypal southern sheriff who left a victimized black with nowhere to turn because the sheriff himself was a racist, the Equal Rights enforcement industry leaves us with nowhere to turn because it itself is sexist.
When it comes to boys, these spokespeople remain silent.
Their record at vehemently and successfully opposing unnecessary operations upon women is well documented. One bill to ensure that hysterectomies never be performed unless proven to be absolutely necessary passed the California legislature unanimously.
If we were circumcising little girls instead of little boys, it would have been outlawed long ago. Indeed, throughout the United Nations and within the United States. Concerned American institutions are actively fighting against female circumcision (which we don't have) even as they ignore male circumcision (which we do have).
When it comes to boys, these spokespeople remain silent. One professional feminist, knowledgeable about research into the learning process of pre-borns (let alone newborns) and a ready advocate against sexual abuse, tried to squirm her way out of the issue by suggesting: "How do we really know that there is any long-term memory of this?" Yet, this woman would be the first to prosecute a dentist who fondled an unconscious patient, or, even worse, a man who masturbated into the face of an infant girl. The whole issue of "memory" is a red herring.
While being solicited by a recruiter for a children's rights group, I engaged her in a conversation about circumcision. She blandly said that she didn't really care about it, since it hadn't happened to her. So much for the sexist stereotype, proclaimed by traditionalists and feminists alike, that women are more empathetic than men.
Still, circumcision is a very special men's issue, for even many men's rights advocates themselves are in deep denial over it. One member of Men's Rights, Inc., searching desperately for an excuse to rationalize the operation, actually assured me that he is glad he was circumcised and feels less sexual pleasure because, now, he is less vulnerable to premature ejaculation!
If numbing his penis were his goal, wouldn't using a condom be a more obvious and logical route, with the added benefit of protection against disease and pregnancy? How could this highly moral do-unto-others- type of guy condone unnecessary surgery and the infliction of physical and emotional trauma upon millions of innocent American boys, just to make it a shade less likely that he will prematurely ejaculate? Hell, he could wear 5 condoms and probably never ejaculate!
Men are not taught the same sense of sovereignty over our bodies which women learn.
Clearly, beyond the normal denial over men's issues, there is a very special denial when it comes to circumcision. It, more than most men's issues, involves our own bodies, and men are not taught the same sense of sovereignty over our bodies which women learn.
Beginning when most of us are strapped down and circumcised to inaugurate our own lives, through childhood when we are deprived of the same rights of privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms that are granted to our female schoolmates, and culminating in the ritual end of boyhood when we march our bodies to the post office and register them with the Selective Service System, American males are continually, reminded that our bodies do not have the same rights enjoyed by the female body.
Girls are taught that a gentle caress might be legitimate grounds for complaint, while boys are taught that an occasional unwanted punch in the face is to be accepted. In a recent episode of NBC's sitcom "Wings," Joe's nose is broken by a man who mistakenly thinks his wife is having an affair with Joe. Although the entire "humorous" episode evolved around this assault, no character at any time suggested that Joe report the crime to the police and file charges; violence is just an expected part of life as a male.
Never underestimate the power of misandry (hatred of men) in our society.
The reasons for psychological denial about circumcision go even farther. By the time a man is old enough to think about men's issues, he is too old to be a potential victim of involuntary circumcision. Men might be as empathetic as women but, like women, we are more sympathetic toward women than toward other men.
Never underestimate the power of misandry (hatred of men) in our society. Our confidence in the very survival of our society depends upon maintaining a pool of men who, should the need arise, are willing to kill other men in our behalf. The ability to kill another human being upon command, however, does not come easily. It must be nurtured through years of misandrist indoctrination.
Moreover, circumcision is not just violence toward men; it is violence toward the penis. While "penis envy" is now a cliché, "penis hatred" is rarely mentioned, yet is at least as significant.
Even before the current war against male sexuality, men were getting negative messages about the penis. Women were told that public nudity is a no-no because men are so attracted to the female body that naked women would incite uncontrollable mobs of eager men. Men, on the other hand, were told that the law prohibits public nudity because the sight of their bodies incites horror and disgust in women.
There are few concepts more damaging to self-image than learning that your body is terrifying and revolting. Men's Rights, Inc., was once contacted by a Missouri man who had a radio program on men's issues. He called because he wanted to do a show on the penis (in literature, health issues, self image, etc.) but his boss would not permit it. The penis is offensive, the station manager opined.
While the vagina and clitoris are not offensive,
the penis is offensive, the station manager explained.
The man had mentioned his disappointment to women at the station, who volunteered that their women's shows often speak about the vagina and clitoris. He had returned to the station manager and asked why talk about the vagina and clitoris was allowed, but talk about the penis was forbidden. While the vagina and clitoris are not offensive, the penis is offensive, the station manager explained.
Our friend then mentioned his latest disappointment to his female colleagues, who told him that they talk about the penis on their own shows. He questioned the station manager about this newest double standard, and was informed that the penis is offensive when a man talks about it, but not necessarily when a woman talks about it.
Another barrier to effective communication about circumcision is that many pro-intact advocates are confused about their opposition. Rosemary Romberg, founder of Gentle Beginnings, criticizes circumcision as an attack by men (namely, doctors) upon women (namely, mothers), with the agenda being to weaken the maternal protective instinct and sabotage mother-child bonding. To her and, apparently, to most of the activists at an international conference on circumcision, the involuntary unnecessary circumcision of boys is a patriarchal attack upon women.
There is a problem with politically correct warfare against the patriarchy. The problem is that we don't live in one. Our own society is far more complex than that, with matriarchal strains running everywhere. For example, it is almost impossible for an unwed father to win custody of his child from a stranger that the mother designates, let alone prevail over the mother herself. If this were a patriarchy, a father's right to his children would be direct, and would not depend upon his first establishing a legal relationship with the matriarch.
Similarly, if this were a patriarchy, it would be sperm donors rather than surrogate mothers who had the right to seek custody of their offspring. And, if this were a patriarchy, the Amerasian children born in Vietnam would have had no difficulty entering our country. Their legal obstacle was not that they were half-American, but rather that it was the wrong half; children born of American mothers overseas are automatically citizens. The list continues.
My father's penis... I was far more disturbed by its difference in size
than comforted by the similarity of its mutilation.
Because of all these barriers to logical thought, excuses that people use for circumcising their sons can verge on the ridiculous. Some people actually justify surgery in order to make their son "look like" his father. Frankly, I never spent that much time looking at my father's penis and, the one or two times I happened to see it, I was far more disturbed by its difference in size than comforted by the similarity of its mutilation. Furthermore, I didn't spend a lot of time looking at my father's clothing and appearance. Why don't pro-scalpel parents dress their sons the same as their fathers and shave their little heads when those fathers go bald ... to save the poor boys' dismay at not "looking like" their fathers?
Besides the physical complications inherent in any surgery (infections, permanent and painful scarring, sex change operations necessitated by botched amputations of the penis, and even death), there is untold emotional trauma. We know that children learn even at the young age of the circumcision victim and we know that childhood traumas can be the most difficult to resolve. What inevitable lessons do boys learn about their sexuality and about the world when they are strapped down and, despite their
screams of helpless terror, a stranger slices their genitals?
Circumcision is not at the top of the list of men's issues only because even more serious men's problems have been allowed to fester and grow. But, if it were done to girls instead of boys, it would certainly be near the top of the list of women's issues.
Men are now beginning to develop ...outrage over the violation of their bodies
...and ...to express that outrage.
Risky, painful, unnecessary surgery perpetrated upon millions of unwilling female victims would be stopped. Sexual assault, culminating in irreversible mutilation and the amputation of a protective and pleasurable organ, would be stopped. Denying women the right to make a fundamental and personal choice about their own bodies and, instead, giving the power of decision to people who have absolutely no personal stake would be stopped.
Men are now beginning to develop the same sense of outrage over the violation of their bodies that women feel, and equally important, men are beginning to express that outrage. Even though the victims are "only males," it is time to join the rest of the industrialized Western world and halt this primitive but profitable ritual.