Monday, November 16, 2009

"The Vulnerability of Men"

This is excerpted from an essay by Vincent Bach (you can read the full text here). He was born in the 60s in the USA when almost all boys were circumcised, but "by a fluke" as he says, he was left intact. He was aware of the difference from a very early age, and has written a number of essays about the issue. Incidentally, he is grateful for that "fluke" and strongly opposes circumcision.
As most of my readers probably know by now, I oppose routine infant circumcision. In talking with other mothers though, I find that many of them don't like the idea, but when they bring it up with their husbands, the father is insistent on circumcising so mom gives in and goes with it in spite of her feelings on the matter. For those mothers in particular, I share this essay.
First of all, you need to understand that circumcised men are cornered on this issue. They were circumcised without their consent and have no inherent knowledge of what being intact is like. Even though they rarely will discuss the issue, they are keenly aware that they have been surgically altered in a very private way. There are several ways for a man to deal with this issue but the safest way, psychologically speaking, is to believe at all cost that the surgery performed on them was an enhancement and is preferred by women. Confirmation of this belief is essential to their sexual self-image. Do I need to tell you that sexual self-image is a major issue for men? Didn’t think so.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the circumcised man. He asks for very little. All he wants is football on Sunday and to be assured that there is nothing wrong with his package. A nice bonus would be that women actually prefer it the way it is. Then along comes the newly pregnant wife and the issue of circumcision is no more personal to her than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she starts openly discussing it with him with all the casualness that she would with her gal pals down at the salon. Yikes! Batten down the hatch. Incoming torpedo!!!! At first the strategy is to dismiss her without appearing to be alarmed. He’ll probably toss back the usual "It's not clean" or "That could cause health problems" hoping this will scare her off since he assumes she’s heard those things before. He won’t seem particularly disturbed at first. Its part of being a man to not show vulnerability.
I think it's important to acknowledge that its perfectly understandable that our circumcised friends react this way. Men who have been circumcised have an extremely difficult dilemma. For them to acknowledge that the practice is unnecessary and harmful means that they must acknowledge a painful personal reality. For that reason circumcised men can be forgiven if they don't want to lead the parade in the fight against routine infant circumcision. I can empathize and therefore understand completely why so many men will voluntarily offer their sons up for the same procedure without giving it a second thought. To do otherwise opens them up to some vulnerable feelings that can be most unpleasant. Society puts lots of expectations on women but it also puts a couple on men. One of them is that he be sexually virile. You know - masculine, strong, potent GRRRRR!! I think many circumcised men accept without question and perpetuate the myths regarding the intact penis in order to cope with this particular expectation.

So, the problem is how do we save our son’s genitals without psychologically emasculating their fathers?

Hmm...well I think the first step is having a better understanding of just how personal an issue this is for him. The reason I spent so long discussing it is because it's extremely important and he’s not going to tell you about it.

Going into the discussion, you’ll be much better off knowing what’s really bothering him. Trust me, he really doesn’t give a hooey whether his son’s penis looks like his. What is important is that his bulb is not dimmed. Probably not a good idea to refer to the practice in initial discussions as genital mutilation (although it certainly is that). The thing that you need to get across to him with all your female charm is that you love him EXACTLY the way he is and wouldn’t change a thing. In other words, I think the best strategy is probably to build him up as high as you can before lowering this boom on him. The ship can only take a hit so big before going under. So get your armor out and start fortifying his self-image. What means everything to him is that he is the best lover and provider that you could ever hope for.
Please don’t use my lame words exactly. I ain’t got no feminine charm :-). I suspect you get it and can take it from here. Ironically, if you succeed, you’ll be giving your man a huge future reward in that his son will someday be a man and will know all too well the tremendous courage it took for his father to break with this barbaric custom and leave him intact.
You can read further writings of Vincent Bach here.


Jessica said...

And then there's my question: What do you do if you already have a circumcised son but have since realized that circumcision is unnecessary? If I have another son and leave him intact, how would I explain it to my older son without him feeling mutilated or violated? I could say, "When I knew better, I did better" but I wonder if he would really understand... As an adult he might be okay, but as a youth? Hm...

Mommy Bee said...

Jessica, that's precisely where I was three years ago. It's one of the things that made it difficult for my husband to agree with me about leaving our baby intact--because our older son was circumcised. But for me it still came down to the fact that just because I'd done something once didn't mean I should do it again...I've changed my mind about lots of things over the years (for example I moved from a very pro-spanking stance to very anti-spanking one).
As for how it is for the kids themselves...the younger boy(s) aren't old enough to have really noticed a difference yet, but my oldest son has noticed that there is a difference. He asked about it, and I told him that he is circumcised and that his brothers are not. He has not asked further about it at this point--but if/when he does, I'll answer the questions he asks.
Honestly, I think we overthink these things. What has been done has been done, and regardless of how anyone feels (or will feel) about it, it's no reason to repeat something we no longer believe in.

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