How To Write Convincingly About Circumcision
A very serious guide for bloggers and journalists
- by Hugh Young
NOBODY HAS EVER written about circumcision before, so whatever you write will be original. Research is unnecessary, just write off the top of your head, even make stuff up. That's how everybody else does it. Nobody will notice.
Your own circumcision status can't possibly bias you in any way. Men circumcised at birth are especially well qualified to write about it, because they know they're not missing anything.
Circumcision is really, really trivial, so it doesn't really matter what you write. Flippancy is essential. Make sure you use the word "snip" at least once, and any wordplay, such as "snip the tip" is guaranteed to cause ROTFL hilarity. In fact a tone of suppressed hilarity, even hysteria, is essential.
What's in a name
A bit of the Bard gives your title both levity and gravitas. Only these titles are permitted:
b) Circumcision: The Kindest Cut? (If you're really daring, what Shakespeare really wrote, The Most Unkindest Cut?, but that raises the possibility that it is.)
The first title is good for emphasising how finely balanced the decision is: Cut part of his genitals off? Leave them alone? Gosh! Which to choose? The second reassures your readers that you're not going to raise any serious doubts.
Use lots of euphemisms, cutesy ("his winkle", "his wee thingy") for babies, gruff and outdoorsy ("his tackle", "Man's best friend") for men. If you can complete the article using the word "circumcision" no more than once, and without saying "penis" or "foreskin" at all, you've got it made.
Old is good
Begin with a reference to the great antiquity of circumcision,
because old is always good. Then if you like, tout circumcision as the
latest medical miracle. (It goes without saying that it should begin
with circumcison, not with any consideration of the foreskin or any
possible functions it might have. If you say "Circumcision, the removal
of the flap of skin that covers the end of the penis..." You've defined
it off the penis before you start, and then removed it without ever either naming it or mentioning
Begin either by mentioning that the Egyptians circumcised (and imply
that they did it for exactly the same reasons we do today), or by
referring to Genesis 17 (the Covenant of Abraham). Quoting the whole
passage from the King James Version makes you look learned, but stop
before you get to the bit about circumcising your slaves. Suggest that
babies were cut in the desert with unsterilized flint knives and no
antibiotics for "hygienic reasons". Stress the importance of
circumcision in Judaism but not Brit Shalom.
(Say Jesus was circumcised, but not how Christians need not be, as per
Acts 15:5-11 & 24, Rom 2:25-29, 3:30-31, 4:8-13, Gal 5:1-6, 6:12-13
and Col 2:11, 3:9-11.) Do NOT mention Muslim circumcision, unless you
detail the gorgeous clothes in which they array the
Geese and ganders require different sauces
Dismiss any comparison with female genital cutting here: in female
cutting a helpless child who can not resist it is held down and part of
their genitals cut off, for obscure and deviously sexual reasons, with
a heavy overlay of custom, conformity, religion and fear; this violates
her fundamental right as a human being to decide for herself what part
of her own genitals she may want to keep, when she is old enough.
Cut it off, leave it alone? Gee, that's a toughie.
Circumcision is a very important decision for parents. They have to consider the issue very, very carefully before
The important decision to cut off part of a baby's genitals (or, oh yes, not cutting part off) belongs to the parents alone. Therefore they absolutely must not let anyone tell them what they ought to do (unless it is to circumcise). At the same time, you may also imply that a coin-toss is an acceptable last resort. The call is "Heads we circumcise: tails we don't leave him uncircumcised."
Emphasise that circumcision is a social norm in the US (and all social norms must be followed without question, right? Of course right). If you are somewhere the rate is low, find someone to say it is coming back.
If you mention world circumcision rates, bump up the rates in countries we like. Say it is "not common" in Northern Europe, not "virtually unknown". Give 50-year-old figures in countries where it has declined to near-zero, such as Australia and England. (Don't mention that such circumcision as still happens in England is virtually all Muslim.)
If you mention pain, call it "discomfort" and stress that nowadays all babies are given totally effective pain medication at the time of circumcision that lasts for two weeks.
List all the benefits no matter how trivial. Refer to circumcision "reducing the risk" of a long list of diseases. Do not say from what or to what, let alone how many circumcisions have to be done in vain for every one that actually prevents anything. Mention the African HIV-circumcision trials and imply they prove that circumcising developed-world babies will reduce their chance of getting HIV by "up to 60%" (or 70% or 80%, whatever you're happy with) from any source, such as receptive anal sex or dirty needles. Shroud-wave about death from HIV or cancer.
Play down the risks. Say only that they "include bleeding and infection, which are rare and can be easily treated". Do not give the full list. Do not say how rare, such as 10% for ulcers narrowing the urinary opening. Do NOT mention death.
What has sex got to do with it?
Stress that circumcision has no effect on sex. (This was first scientificially proved by Masters and Johnson in 1966 by touching the penis-heads of 35 circumcised and 35 uncircumcised men - three-quarters of them more than 40 years old - with single hairs, who all reported sensation at the same pressure. All married couples spend their honeymoons touching each other's genitals with single hairs and saying whether they can feel it. Sex researchers from Masters and Johnson onward have rightly ignored the foreskin, because it is just skin, unlike the eyelids, and feels no sensation - except during adult circumcision.)
Interview couples who decided to circumcise their sons. You can safely attribute any frivolous reasons you happen to support to them. Bathroom splatter, zipper injury, teasing by friends, all belong here. Any stories they have heard about their cousins' sisters' boyfriends who got "loads of infections" and "had to be circumcised" in great pain have universal applicability. Emphasise that the parents "have no regrets" because "he'll never remember it" and "it would really hurt to do it later". (Every boy not circumcised in infancy has to be circumcised later.)
Refer to "uncircumcised" boys and men only in connection with being teased by peers or rejected by women. Expressions like "anteater" and "turtleneck" are serious and appropriate ways of describing the foreskin, and men with foreskin have no feelings. Never say "intact". Nowadays you may refer to Intactivists, if you compare them all unfavourably to the Westboro Baptist Church, or hint that their interest in nothing at all happening to the genitals of "other' people's children" is unhealthy - unlike an interest in cutting parts off the genitals of other people's children, such as your article expresses. So don't even think about interviewing an Intactivist.
The bit about "looking like dad" belongs about here. Fathers never care what their sons look like, but all boys spend a lot of time contemplating (if not actually seeing) their father's penis, and obsessing about whether they look like him. Many fathers have checked into rehab/their den/their local bar to escape from the incessent nagging of their seven-year olds begging "Cut it off, dad, cut it off! It's gotta look like yours!"
Certainly compare infant circumcision with hair-cutting, vaccination, bedtimes, cutting the umbilical cord, nail-trimming, teaching French, feeding vegetables or anything else that adults do to children, no matter how minor, reversible or essential. By all means compare infant circumcision with piercing, tattooing, or anything else that consenting adults are allowed to have done to themselves. But on no account let anyone compare male genital cutting with female genital cutting (except with the worst form of FGC, and then of course, positively); alternatively, complain that anyone is questioning male gential cutting rather than female genital cutting, war, famine, the national debt or any evil.
Father knows best - if he doesn't have one
If parents disagree, say the father should decide, because he's the one with the penis - unless he is not circumcised. In that case the mother should decide, preferably while she is still semi-conscious from the birth and still feeling resentful towards all males and their penises for what one has just done to her.
Whatever the parents decide is the right decision "for your family". The circumcision decision (and that sidesplitting rhyme is a must, somewhere in every circumcision essay) must be finely tweaked to suit each family, like choosing a TV or adjusting the heating. The consent form is 15 pages long, lists all the many benefits and the handful of trivial, negligible risks, which are also rare, and always asks whether the family wants it high or low, loose or tight, and whether to spare or cut off the frenulum; and the doctor is duty-bound to follow the instructions of the whole family in the minutest detail.
It is not necessary to interview any couples who decided not to circumcise, but if you do, quote only vague reasons, like "We just didn't think it was necessary." that will carry no weight with readers. Certainly do not interview any men who resent being circumcised, because they don't exist and they should just get over it and their problems can't possibly be due to their circumcision because no problem ever is. (You can emphasise the risks of surgical foreskin restoration, but mention non-surgical restoration only to make it sound as outlandish as possible, with emphasis on heavy, clanking weights that fall off embarrassingly. Don't say how many men are restoring or what it taught them about what they lost.)
By all means interview doctors who make their living from circumcision. Their motives are purely altruistic, as they will tell you themselves. Whatever you do, don't ask an intact man how much he likes having his foreskin. Best not to talk to any.
One picture of a banana is worth 1000 words
Your article has a narrow range of possible illustrations:
More recently an aubergine or eggplant has become the vegetable of choice,
because of its close similarity to a penis.
Like the banana (or eggplant), you can use any allegorical imagery, such as a chortling baby, a smiling doctor or any cutting instrument that is not used in circumcision, such as a pair of household scissors. (An article in the SF Examiner shows a pair of left-handed aviation tin-snips...) Do NOT show blood, a Gomco Clamp, a screaming baby, or an actual circumcision being peformed (though a stock shot of kippah- and shawl-clad men bending over something unseen is permissible, especially in articles that do not otherwise mention ritual circumcision).
It should go without saying that you do not include any illustration of an actual penis. (Exception: Michaelangelo's David, because it's Art, it's safely made of marble, it's not threateningly large, and its circumcision status is debatable and/or unhistorical.)
Make 'em laff!
Cutting babies' genitals is side-splittingly hilarious, so why not finish with a little joke? Here are some rib-ticklers that nobody has ever heard before:
...but don't worry, because if you leave any out, commenters are sure to write them in.
Add some URLs to detached, objective websites like Circlist, the Gilgal Society or the Acorn Club.
Addendum: How to discuss the San Francisco MGM Bill:
The normal strict standards of accuracy, as outlined above, do not apply here.
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