“Another essay about that? Aren’t multiple articles and a novel enough, already?”
“All the ills in the world, and this is what you focus on?”
[Attempt to keep a straight face]
“You’re attacking a sacred tradition. And you’re making me feel very uncomfortable.”
“But it’s an AIDS cure! Don’t you realize that in Africa, men are lining up for this?”
[Attempt not to squirm]
“Lisa, you’re squandering your talents. Write Moby DICK instead! Get it?”
Ah, the occupational hazards of writing about circumcision.
If I could change the fact that I still find this topic so deeply compelling, I would. I’m a nice girl. I don’t relish conversations about the male anatomy. I don’t enjoy confrontation. I don’t like risking anger, irritation, ridicule, or condescending tolerance every time I explore another aspect of what friends call my “favorite subject.”
But I don’t seem to have much say in what interests me as a writer. It’s almost physical. The first clue I get that an idea is brewing is that my blood pressure goes up. I might be reading an article, and find myself thinking: Grrr, why doesn’t anyone ever point out the fact that…? And soon, my fingers start tingling with the desire to tap.
As J. D. Salinger said, the best way to write is to ask yourself what you’d most like to read. Then, he said, “You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.”
Even aside from circumcision, I’m drawn to provocative topics, and I feel driven to write mostly when there’s something that hasn’t been said. Though at times I’d like to weigh in on issues like foreign oil dependence, other writers are already doing that, and admirably.
So, given that writing is hard, and given that I’m fortunate enough to have the time to write freely, I go with what shouts at me. Change what shouts at me? I can’t, any more than a gay person can be straight.
Currently, I’m up to my eyeballs juggling a nonfiction book that shouts at me, a new novel that has reached up and grabbed me by the neck, and a few other irresistible projects. That’s why you haven’t heard from me in awhile.
Here’s my latest, published on the Huffington Post—
Comments on the post may drive its prominence upward, so if you feel so inclined, please do join the conversation.
Thank you all so much for your patience. I’ll keep in touch!
Lisa Braver Moss
your pithy, irreverent perspective on so many things is a great gift to the rest of us who have vague intimations along these lines but not the abilities nor clarity of someone who can think clearly for herself, and write clearly for the rest of us. thank-you
Yes, thank goodness this subject “shouts” at you and you are compelled to express yourself with such clarity on this topic. One day people will thank you for speaking about that which few would dare to speak and this atrocity we call “holy” will be a thing of the past! I deeply appreciate your voice, your courage and your clear expression!
I know it’s funny to play off the idea of fascination with male body parts, but being interested in how sexual authority is marked upon infant males isn’t that!
It’s one of those things. The idea that that circumcision is an expression of misogyny is an anathema to some (most?) people. Sadly, the idea that boys and men are victims of misogyny as well as girls and women, goes along with it.
Dan, thank you for writing. I completely agree with you that there’s a subtle but pernicious element of misogyny inherent in the practice of infant male circumcision. This is rarely discussed but has recently been brilliantly laid out by my friend and colleague Miriam Pollack in Tikkun Magazine and also in the Huffington Post. There are situations in which the mother (whether Jewish or not) who expresses concern, squeamishness, or emotion about the impending circumcision of her baby boy is essentially patted on the head and told to calm down — told, in essence, that her biological imperative to protect the child is irrelevant or wrong. If that’s not a feminist issue, what is? And of course the male infant is harmed in that complex, baffling transaction. Anyway, thanks again for your comments. While I do occasionally succumb to banter, I’m also dead serious about this topic, having written articles and given speeches beginning around 25 years ago. I also penned The Measure of His Grief, the first novel ever to address male circumcision as a topic. http://www.lisabravermoss.com
Lisa, thank you for your reference to my writing about how circumcision affects mothers. I would add to this that even if the mother is not overtly silenced or her feelings not actively trivialized, the culture/religion has already accomplished this simply by silencing her and convincing her that it is o.k. to override her most life supporting instinctual feelings to protect her newborn–certainly, against a knife cutting out a piece of healthy tissue. Additionally, below the radar and below consciousness, is the primal violation of the maternal-infant bond, which may never be articulated but may persist in multiple ways throughout the male’s life with an inexplicable discomfort with intimacy, or persistent trust issues, or unaccountable panic attacks under certain situations, etc. Circumcision cuts more than foreskin; it re-aligns familial relationships in a hierarchical value system where maternal entitlement to protect her male offspring is subordinate to her community’s requirement to alter his sexual organ in order to prove his tribal membership. In terms of Jewish values, where the sanctity of life, the protection of children are paramount, circumcision lacks any relation to that which is truly “holy”. We need to ask, “Who defines the sacred?”
Lisa & Miriam,
Thanks! I have read some of Miriam’s articles. I have not read Lisa’s novel, but I will.
I agree with with both of you re silencing and condescension toward mothers. I’m sure it’s no surprise to either of you that people (including mothers) don’t exactly hold back being condescending to Dads who express similar feelings. So, I’m unsure how convincing that argument is to some. For example, Dina Lucas Relle argues that the absolute maternal impulse to protect is, in a way, a vestige of motherhood misogynistically understood as an emotional weakness. Here’s the essay:
Ms. Lucas Relle, disturbingly, argues that ritual circumcision is symbolic of a mother’s acceptance that she cannot always protect her son. (In light of that, I wonder how a mother should symbolize her acceptance of the fact that she cannot always protect her daughter.)
As a parent, I find the thought that we need artificial symbols of our powerlessness odd, not to mention disturbing. Just yesterday, I watched a bigger girl follow my 3 yo daughter around the playground, telling her she was too small to do stuff and physically stopping my daughter (grabbing her hands) from doing things she was, apparently (sarcasm intended), too small to do while the bigger girl’s parent silently watched. I eventually intervened, but I know I won’t always be there. (Duh, right?) Earlier this year, my son at 1.5 months had to spend 5 days in the pediatric ICU with my wife, who barely slept the whole time, with RSV (a common and serious viral lower respiratory infection). Again, the feeling of powerlessness. (BTW, he’s just fine now!) The idea that we would take a knife to an infant to drive that point home, a point which life itself drives home early and often, is both sadistic and stupid.
As a Dad and husband, what gets to me is the misogynistic claim circumcision represents, which – btw, I learned from Miriam’s articles: If a father has the duty and authority to circumcise even his own son, he has unmitigated sexual authority over (at least) his whole family. I reject the ‘duty’ to circumcise, because I want no part of that unjustifiable authority. I don’t want my son to think he’s due that authority, either.