Circumcision: You Do What You Know (Video)

Pin It

circumcision bannerI’ve written on the cultural element of routine infant circumcision (RIC) before and it’s something that we have to revisit over and over and over again if we’re going to see change.  One of the things that people often forget is that cultural biases are incredibly powerful in the way we process information and accept (or reject) arbitrary or even harmful behaviours.  In addition to this cultural bias and how it influences us, we forget too that our own experiences – even if we don’t remember them – shape the way we think about issues.

For many people, the decision to perform RIC comes down to, “My husband/I had it done so my child will have it done.”  The implication is that what is fine for one is fine for another, that there was no harm done to the adult in question so no harm to consider for the child.  The problem here is that we haven’t considered how much of a person’s response to this is based on their own defence mechanisms because of previous trauma (as an infant) or an actual appraisal of events.  Common defence mechanisms that are relevant to the circumcision discussion include: denial (of any wrongdoing or trauma), repression, intellectualization, and rationalization.  Indeed when we speak to individuals about RIC many of these things can be blatantly seen in their justifications and because of our cultural bias, we accept these justifications as completely valid and without concern for any hint of a defence mechanism.

BUT… (of course there’s a but)… What if you heard these same discussions from females about female circumcision?  What would you think then?

If you don’t believe they exist, watch the following and then tell me how we can state that what applies to males in our cultural context doesn’t apply to females in a different cultural context.  Or why we can justify the same behaviours for one sex and not another.  I won’t ask you to change your mind immediately, but to at least open it to the possibility that our discussions and our justifications may not be all they seem on the surface.

Pin It


  1. Melissa K says

    I spoke with my Jewish husband about what we would do if we had a son. He likes to think that he is logical and a debater so I asked him to debate this with me. I told him my counter-argument would always be the “female circumcision defense.” After a single conversation almost a year ago, I said that I would like him to really think about it deeply, and I left it alone. We are trying for our second now, and I asked him if we would circumcise if we had a boy. He said he didn’t think he would and was comfortable discussing the benefits of not circumcising a boy. Thank you for both informing me about this and giving me the tools to convince my husband that circumcision doesn’t have to be taken for granted and how weak the arguments in favor really are.

    • says

      Kudos to you for talking openly and honestly and kudos to your husband for being open to hearing information and not making rash, defensive decisions. :)

      • Melissa K says

        It took a couple defensive conversations before I realized that I needed to leave him with the knowledge and give him time to ponder. It takes time to consolidate new information into a new mental model especially for something so taken for granted.

  2. Jespren says

    Thanks for posting I find, when discussing circumcision with your average person, we have a serious cultural blind spot when it comes to female circumcision and it’s complete compatibility with the male version. I have been in multiple conversations where the person, trying to defend the difference, said (some version of) ‘men don’t care if they are circumcised, but if you had been circumcised wouldn’t you be angry at your parents and feel weird about it?’. To which I have always replied ‘as a 20th century American woman, yes, I would feel ashamed of my body and angry at my parents, but as a 19th century American woman I wouldn’t have, and if I was a 20th century African woman or Muslim woman from any number of cultures I would feel ashamed and awkward and upset at my parents if they *hadn’t* circumcised me’. Americans are really, really culturally blinded when we discuss circumcision of either male or female.

    • says

      I know!!! And it comes up over and over. I really wonder how people don’t see the cultural bias they have from where they are coming from. What I find most interesting is that when it’s pointed out, they will go to extreme lengths to still justify the difference. Cognitive dissonance much?

      • Melissa K says


        If you are going to respect the cognitive development of children, then you should respect that cognitive dissonance is a part of the learning process for adults too. This is a deeply embedded model that is tapping into something very innate because MANY cultures, both modern and historical, have permanent body modification as a central tenant of gender (though I’m not a cognitive anthropologist so don’t ask me for anything beyond conjecture). Retooling a deeply held belief (especially for those, unlike many of your readers, who don’t regularly question and examine their beliefs) is a very difficult and time consuming task. It is those who won’t engage and debate who are not learning.

        tl;dr It takes a lot of effort to learn! We are developmentalists! We know this! Don’t ridicule adults for taking time and struggling as they learn. At least they are engaging with the topic.

        • says

          Very good point Melissa! Thank you for bringing it up :) But I want to be clear I’m not “ridiculing” at all – just expressing my own frustration over handling these types of responses over and over and over.

          • Melissa K says

            Well you did take on the task of teaching the entire world! :)

            I will stick to teaching my friends and family for now. I’m still accepting my role as a teacher as well as a researcher (and I have an Education PhD!)

  3. says

    I apologize in advance for being persnickerty, but the baby in the image is terribly bored or tired. Apparently discussions of this nature make him yawn. I can’t help but notice that every time I see the sign in the image. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *