I regularly read the news from places where I used to live, places where my friends and family have settled, places that I know well and in which I feel I have a vested interest. So, a couple of months ago, when I saw a few stories about a proposed ban on infant circumcision in San Francisco, I took notice. Most of the articles I read at the time dismissed the man gathering signatures as a weirdo, and the idea as too farfetched to ever succeed. Well, weirdo or not, Lloyd Schofield's measure may actually end up on November's ballot, and I'm really, really conflicted about that possibility.
Firstly, I'd like to say -- though I've said it before and will, undoubtedly, say it again -- I am completely opposed to the practice of circumcising infants and children. It is, in my opinion, a grievous violation of another person's body. A cosmetic surgery that, in the first world where I live, serves no medical purpose. A betrayal of your child's innate trust in you. There is no situation in which I consider it excusable, and I say that as someone who chose a bris shalom over a brit milah to varying degrees of protest from friends and family. With full understanding of and respect for the Jewish tradition, we could not fathom marring our son's perfect body, least of all without his consent.
That said, the reaction to the proposed ban on circumcision, now that it's making more than local headlines, has surprised me somewhat. I never expected to receive a thank you card from my son in twenty years, expressing his gratitude that I made such an enlightened decision, but I've read some male perspectives ranging from "I was circumcised and I resent the implication that my parents mutililated me" to "Who cares?" Very few responses have been supportive of the proposed measure, and I've read exactly zero men's opinions that lean in fervent favor of the ban. What gives?
As someone who fights with voice and vote for body autonomy -- for the rights of every person to make his or her own choice about the only thing we each (should) own inalienably -- I'm shocked at the lack of response this is getting from pro-choice feminists. Women who would go to the mat over my right to do what I want with my uterus aren't willing to so much as argue for my son's wang. And I think I know why, at least in part. It's an uncomfortable subject, and a valid sticking point for those who might otherwise vote to ban circumcision: antisemitism. Is it possible that I'm engaging in antisemitism by being an intactivist? I say no, and here's why (though, YOU may be an antisemite, so you know... check that shit):
1. To get this out of the way, Jews can be antisemitic. Self loathing takes many forms. This is not that.
2. You would be hard-pressed to find a reasonable member of any cultural or religious group that believes wholeheartedly in every single tenet they are supposed to uphold. I think 'reasonable' is key here; I appreciate that we allow zealots their beliefs, but I also appreciate that the zealot's right to be zealous ends at another person's body and/or wellbeing. This fact is decreasingly true, but mostly holds for now.
3. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization as a procedure that intentionally alters or injures genital organs for non-medical reasons (sound familiar?). It is internationally recognized as a human rights violation. This, too, was a difficult issue as FGM's prevalence in some African and Asian cultures brought up questions of racism and ethnocentrism. Since the WHO first began actively discouraging the practice and campaigning for changes in public policy in 1997, it has been outlawed here in the US. I doubt you could find anyone willing to come out in favor of the removal of an infant's clitoral hood or partial removal of her labia.
4. It is obviously unfortunate to kick an entire culture while they're down, and Jews, like African immigrants to the United States, have certainly had enough outright assaults on our traditions. Being downtrodden, however, does not make us automatically right. Those who need social justice the most are the most helpless members of already oppressed groups.
Despite all this, I still don't know how I feel about legislature barring observant Jews (and Muslims, for that matter) from participating in a tradition they hold dear. Part of me wishes everyone would just wake up tomorrow and decide that it's mean to cut up a baby, regardless of the history, what Moses said or the cruelty of boys' locker rooms. I know, though, that the discussion is what will facilitate change. I hope sufficient discussion happens before November, because a thousand dollar fine won't help any more than my wished-for inexplicable overnight revelation. In the meantime, I'll be rooting for you, Lloyd Schofield, because everyone deserves a turn on the ballot whether I've made up my mind to agree with him or not.
(Readers, what do you think about this ballot measure? I'm especially interested if you live in SF!)