GUIDELINES AND SUGGESTIONS
for presenting information questioning and opposing infant circumcision to the public and in classes for expectant parents:
Written by Rosemary Romberg (author of Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, © 1985, Bergin & Garvey, S. Hadley, MA.)
INTACT Educational Foundation is a no longer existing organization which was originally founded by Jeffrey R. Wood of Wilbraham, MA. in 1976 for the purpose of distributing information in regards to circumcision of infants. My own activism in this began in 1977 and in 1979 Mr. Wood appointed me as vice president and west coast representative of INTACT. (At that time there were only a few dozen of us who had emerged as activists in this and we had only a handful of information sheets and a few slide sets for distribution.)
By 1983, Mr. Wood and I mutually decided that our personal styles and philosophies were too divergent and we split forces. My efforts in this were then renamed “Peaceful Beginnings.” Within the next couple of years Mr. Wood experienced a “burn-out” (like many of us!) and his activities and organization have ceased to exist, but he will always be remembered as one of the original founders of the ever growing concern over infant circumcision. Peaceful Beginnings still exists, although since the early 90’s I have experienced personal exhaustion with the subject and have kept my activities with it on “low burner” in recent years.
However, upon reaching the new millennium I have discovered the ease and adventure of cyberspace. This is one among many that I have updated and released on my website. The following is adapted from a widely distributed handout which I wrote for INTACT Educational Foundation. It was originally printed in 1981 and was later revised in 1983.
(INTACT/Peaceful Beginnings) Philosophy and Policy:
1. The human body is designed correctly the way it normally comes into the world. It does not need to have any part of it cut off in order to promote health, insure cleanliness, or look better.
2. The foreskin of the penis is a useful, protective piece of body tissue. All parts of the body (i.e. ears, noses, fingers, toes, tonsils, foreskins …) can pose problems for some individuals. However, no healthy, normal part of the body should be needlessly destroyed simply because a small percentage of people may have problems.
3. The newborn infant is a sensitive, feeling human being at the time of birth and during the neonatal period as well as during all other stages of life. He should be treated with gentleness, love and respect. Subjecting him to unnecessary surgery, regardless of whether or not pain relief is used, is inconsistent with a philosophy of gentleness, respect, and non-violence towards the infant.
4. Circumcision is a form of body alteration which some people consider cosmetic surgery and others consider mutilation. All reasoning human beings have the right to choose any form of temporary (i.e. shaving, dyeing of hair, cosmetics …) or permanent (i.e. piercing of any body part, tattooing, rhinoplasty …) form of body alteration for themselves.* We do not oppose circumcision as a personal choice of the adult male. (We would, however, encourage such an individual to examine all the risks of the operation and the pros and cons of the circumcised state before making this decision.)
We are opposed to the unnecessary alteration of another person’s body without his permission.
5. Despite all these years of activism, infant circumcision is still common in much of the U.S. today. In some hospitals and birthing centers, the procedure is often almost “automatic”, so that all too frequently, naive, overwhelmed new parents find themselves drifting along with the tide.
All expectant parents should be educated about infant circumcision, its history, precise and detailed descriptions and depictions of how the operation is done, the common arguments for and against it, the common complications of circumcision, the sexual and protective functions of the foreskin, and the very simple care of the intact male infant and child.
Although some critics have urged us to be more “balanced” and “non-committal”, our research and experience has indicated that all of the medical arguments for the operation are not adequately substantiated, while the “social” rationalizations are, at best, vague and spurious. Our countless experiences with parents who have deeply regretted their choice of having sons circumcised and our concern for the right and feelings of helpless infants prevents us from being neutral about this.
6. We encourage the distribution of factual, educational material on this subject to prospective parents, childbirth educators, medical professionals, and other concerned individuals.
The materials distributed by INTACT/Peaceful Beginnings have been primarily factual information, descriptions and depictions of babies being circumcised, and accounts of personal experiences and viewpoints. These have been sold in single and bulk quantities at a nominal cost to cover our expenses.
At one time I had established very careful guidelines about what type of material was and was not acceptable for distribution by INTACT/Peaceful Beginnings. Today the movement has grown far beyond my own scope or control. Most of the new energy is healthy and encouraging. However, there also exist treatises that are extremely threatening and destructive. Other material is sometimes poorly thought out, endless rehashing of old material, or plagiarizing (sometimes inadvertently) of the works of others.
I will continue to strongly discourage material with claims that cannot be substantiated, that is sarcastic or condemnatory towards parents of circumcised sons or medical practitioners who perform the operation, or that is sexually kinky. Of equal destructiveness is intertangling the issue with other causes or deliberate attacks against other people’s spiritual/theological beliefs and/or personal philosophies.. (More will be said on this matter further on.)
7. We maintain a philosophy of acceptance and understanding of parents of circumcised sons and medical professionals who have performed and/or participated in the operation. This is especially important because the above category includes a large percentage of present day opponents of the operation – myself included. Parents do not sign circumcision consent forms out of deliberate intent to harm the child. Doctors don’t normally perform the operation out of sadism. Usually people have merely lacked information, especially those of us who gave birth in times or places where infant circumcision has been almost automatic. Even today, some parents who read and are influenced by our information still become confused and pressured by conflicting material from other sources, social expectations, or disapproving relatives.
We only need remember how our own minds have grown and changed to remain aware that a calm, rational presentation of facts and materials in a non-condemnatory manner will be more likely to encourage people to think and change their views while angry accusations will only create enemies and turn people against our cause.
8. We also refrain from making value judgments about any supposed “worth” of a circumcised or intact (non-circumcised) individual. Such judgments are not valid, irrelevant to the issue, and can cause unnecessary antagonism
9. Whenever possible, all statements in regards to circumcision should be backed up with documented, scientific research. Statements such as “circumcision may cause crib death” or “circumcision may lead to homosexuality” have not been backed up with studies to support or disprove such connections. Therefore, if statements like these must be mentioned they should either be clearly presented as speculations or reworded as questions.
10. We expect that those involved in our cause will refrain from conducting physical examinations and/or giving medical advice unless they be licensed medical practitioners. By “medical advice” we mean counsel pertaining to the diagnosis and treatment of an apparently abnormal condition in a specific individual, as opposed to gathering and sharing information of a general nature. Naturally, anyone facing a problem should be encouraged to choose a health care provider whose views are in accordance with ours. In many cases we are able to refer people to medical professionals who have been in direct contact with us and have agreed to be available for contact or support.
11. We encourage an atmosphere of understanding, listening, and two-way discussion in presenting our message to the general public and in prenatal classes. Consideration of the feelings of others in regards to this most emotionally sensitive topic is of utmost importance. “Preaching” and long repetitive monologues on the subject are strongly discouraged, as less formal, two-way discussions are provenly much more effective.
12. Other issues, particularly those that are equally emotional, should not be intertangled with the concern against infant circumcision. Topics such as natural childbirth, family-centered maternity care, birth alternatives, and breastfeeding are matters of widespread, general concern, especially in childbirth classes, and can hardly be separated from discussion of infant circumcision. But more specific, controversial topics will only dilute our message and alienate others if they are intermixed with this issue.
Some prime examples of this include vegetarianism/animal rights, opposition to routine immunizations, or either a strongly pro or anti stance on abortion.
For example, linking non-circumcision and animal rights will only “lose” anyone in the crowd who eats meat or wears leather shoes. Mixing anti-circumcision with opposition to routine immunization will only backfire. This would threaten to equate harmless foreskins with dangerous, life threatening diseases such as polio or diphtheria.
Connecting non-circumcision with opposition to abortion is bound to anger anyone in the crowd who may have had an abortion in the past. But linking it to any “abortion on demand/ fetal non-personhood” position will only deeply hurt any expectant mother who already greatly values and loves her growing child within. Although I personally consider abortion to be every bit as cruel and violating as infant circumcision, I also feel strongly about separating the two issues. Remaining on neutral ground gives one the freedom to borrow arguments from both sides. For example, if the unborn child has rights, certainly the already born child must also have rights, while if each person has the right to whatever is or is not done to his or her own body, this should be incontestable in regards to keeping or destroying any normally occurring body structure.
In a similar manner, the concern against infant circumcision will only be weakened when presented to the general public intermixed with other specific religious or political causes. (However, when addressing a specific or political group, linking our philosophies and observations with theirs – for example backing up our views with quotes from the Bible when addressing Christians – may be particularly advantageous.)
Of primary importance, however, – any deliberate attack, whether against certain types of people, lifestyles, philosophies, or spiritual beliefs, or against religious beliefs in general – especially when directed against any mainstream, well-recognized group, – can only threaten to undermine the potential support of others in the cause, and will greatly weaken or even destroy our efforts, and our much desired position of recognition and respectability in the eyes of the public.
Activists opposing infant circumcision cover a wide array of different types of people – ranging from political radicals, atheists, and ex-hippies to political conservatives, Christian fundamentalists and Mormons. Expecting agreement or even understanding among us along so many diverse “tangents” would be impossible. But mutual respect and agreement to keep the issue “pure” and undiluted with other irrelevant issues can be our strength.
If we truly wish infant circumcision to become a relic of the past, we must reach the hearts and minds of mainstream American society. (Immeasurable amounts of energy has been wasted on “preaching to the converted” in this!) It is impossible to be heard or accepted by others unless we truly like them and respect them. Bear in mind that over 90% of Americans do believe in God, and over 80% consider themselves Christian. Therefore, any deliberate attack against religion or the Christian faith intertangled with our efforts is simply a “death knell” to any hopes of success for our concerns for infants.
Of course, we all simply make “blunders.” It is not uncommon to say or do something that is offensive to another faith or group of people without realizing or understanding it. If this happens, by all means listen and learn from what they have to say, however difficult this sometimes can be. Remember that what can seem like nonsense to some people can have deep spiritual and emotional significance to others.
13. Our primary concern is routine, medical, non-religious, infant circumcision. We are aware that for some observantly Jewish people, circumcision of their newborn sons is an expression of a covenant with God. We strongly oppose any attitudes of discrimination or anti-Semitism towards Jewish people. While we are aware that the Jewish baby is certainly just as vulnerable to pain, trauma, and risk of complications, and is just as “foreskin deprived” as any other circumcised baby, we also recognize that this specific group of people is facing a religious belief that dates back thousands of years (rather than a spurious medical fad that dates back scarcely a century!) Some Jewish parents have had to decide that if their son is destined to strongly identify with being Jewish and grow up in a culture in which the circumcised penis is the only acceptable norm, perhaps having a foreskin may ultimately be more “traumatic” for him than the trauma of the operation.
However, we have found that some Jewish people do strongly question this aspect of their faith, regarding it as simply a social tradition rather than a sacred covenant. Over the years many Jewish people have contacted us, read our literature, and have taken it to heart. (Because the Jewish circumcision ceremony normally takes place on the eighth day of the baby’s life, Jews have tended to be more aware of circumcision than the rest of us whose babies underwent the operation shortly after birth amidst a blur of other hospital rituals.)
Some of our centrally involved activists have been practicing Jews or come from Jewish backgrounds. We do have access to literature that includes observations written on the subject from a Jewish perspective and accounts of “alternative bris” options from parents who have chosen to have a Jewish celebration of the child’s life without cutting or hurting the baby.
IDEAS FOR SPECIFIC ACTION
1. Share information which questions or opposes routine infant circumcision with others, especially expectant parents and people who may have children in the future
2. If you are a childbirth instructor or health care provider who works with expectant parents, show our slides or video presentations on the subject to your clientele, include discussion of the subject in your class presentations and/or personal discussions, include some of our many handouts as part of your informational packets, and refer people to one or more of the highly informative books on the subject.
3. Share our information with others who work with expectant parents, such as childbirth educators, health care providers, public health workers. Be sure they are given information about purchasing our material in bulk for their own use.
4. Place ads in local newspapers, newsletters, other publications on the internet or on websites and Facebook pages so that people can contact you for information. Ads placed in publications focused on childbirth education, infant care, alternative health, or general health care issues can be especially fruitful.
5. Write letters, letters, letters, letters, and letters. Keep them short, sweet and to the point. And (from one who has learned much the hard way!) focus your energies on targeting publications that are likely to print them. Most smaller newspapers print all or most letters received, especially from local residents. Childbirth education publications and other specific interest periodicals are often hungry for items of interest such as this, whether they agree with you or not. Larger, well-known publications have to be more selective in which letters they print, but a letter printed in one of these (i.e. “Time”, “Newsweek”, “Family Circle”, etc.) could reach millions.
Also, bear in mind that “snail mail” letters usually have a greater impact than e-mail.
Writing letters to specific individuals, especially well-known public figures or organizations can be less fruitful. Composing the letter may provide a vent for your own passions, and may have an impact somewhere, but letters like this are rarely answered. I suspect that many only reach some secretary and get shelved or discarded. Be judicious about where and how you expend your energies in this, as an activist’s time and resources can become limited.
Finally, simply giving a listening ear or words of encouragement to other groups or individuals can be the most valuable gift of all. Positive support and unity can be extremely energizing, while attacks and bickering can be equally draining and demoralizing. Ironically, at least in my experience, discouraging energies have usually come from other activists within the ranks rather than from outside, pro-circumcision sources.
6. Organize Protest Demonstrations.
7. Organize discussion groups, show slides or video presentations, or set up information booths with literature available at workshops that deal with childbirth education, health care, or similar issues.
8. Activism can become expensive. Few of us can afford to tap heavily into our own personal, household expenses. If you are in a position to do so, please contribute monetarily or with your time and talents to the efforts of other activists or organizations. Even small amounts of money can go a long way towards purchasing postage, ads, printing costs, or office supplies. Just sparing an afternoon to stuff envelopes for someone else will be greatly appreciated.
9. Continue educating yourself. The internet is now filled with a plethora of highly informative websites. The following are just a few:
There are countless others as information on the internet is constantly changing and being updated. Please refer to the other resources link on this site for more information.
There are also countless facebook sites filled with information and sometimes fascinating discussions.
Some of the more recommended facebook sites include:
Genital Cutting Is Not A Parental Right
Saving Our Sons
Intactivists Take Action
His Body – His Choice
Children Are Circumcised Because They Can’t Say No!
10. Join an e-mail sharing group. For strongly interested parents and lay people the best group to join is: “againstcirc.” To subscribe: firstname.lastname@example.org
A wide variety of viewpoints get batted back and forth. We do sometimes go off on tangents about loosely related issues. There are some who find this group a safe arena to vent their anger over this highly emotional issue. But we can be an enjoyable group to work with, and with e-mail one can always control how much or little one wishes to participate. I enjoy tossing various ideas and perspectives into this group just to see what others will do with it. One never stops learning from others. – R.
(Please comment folks!)
If you decide to become a NOCIRC representative there is also an e-mail sharing group for these people. There are other e-mail special interest groups as well, but AGAINSTCIRC is a good place to start.
11. If you like to write and compile information, especially if you have things to share with a unique perspective, differing from whatever else is already out there on the internet, consider setting up your own website.
GUIDELINES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR PRESENTING NON-CIRCUMCISION INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC AND IN CLASSES FOR EXPECTANT PARENTS:
Now you’ve read the literature and seen the pictures! You’re fired up and incensed!
Infant circumcision is totally unnecessary! Babies are being inflicted with a severe amount of pain! There are many advantages to having a foreskin! Many parents have felt deep remorse over naively allowing their sons to be circumcised! Many infants have been victims of horrible complications! Many men do resent that a portion of their body was cut off without their permission! Now you want to do whatever you can to put a stop to this horrible scandal!
You can influence other people, whether you are a childbirth instructor, health care provider, or otherwise concerned citizen. People will listen, learn and make decisions based on the ideas and information that you give them. However, infant circumcision is a highly sensitive and emotionally loaded subject. Expectant parents are undergoing many profound changes and upheavals in their lives. Therefore, a certain amount of care and understanding is necessary in presenting this information.
A delicate balance must be struck between the extremes of being too cautious and neutral with the information and being overly vehement. Since our society has been geared towards believing that circumcision is right, neutral information will not make an impression on people. Most people, given neutral information, will go ahead and choose circumcision for their sons. However, if the material or method of presentation comes across too angry and vehement, people will turn off to it and refuse to learn any more about it. Let us consider both stances in more detail:
1. The Problem of Being Neutral about this Issue:
Occasionally one hears the objection that circumcision information and pictures have no place in classes for expectant parents. The material is too “upsetting” and inappropriate” to be shown to pregnant women. Obviously this attitude can hardly be considered well-thought-out. Since circumcision is normally performed on newborn babies, all expectant parents are asked to make a decision about this procedure. No other segment of the population (except perhaps doctors and other practitioners) are more directly concerned with this matter than are people who are about to give birth. In many cases the “decision” about circumcision has scarcely deserved to be called such, for most parents have had virtually no information about it and many have simply believed that they had to have it done. Since it is the role of the childbirth educator to help expectant parents make intelligent choices about such thins as where and how to give birth, hospital procedures, nutrition, breastfeeding, etc. it is hardly consistent to give them little or no information about an operation that may be performed on their baby.
The admonition is sometimes made that the pictures of circumcision are just too “upsetting” for expectant parents to see. Some doctors will not do the operation with the parents present for this same reason. Our response to that is — if circumcision is too horrible for parents to see, then perhaps it is too horrible for babies to experience!! If the general public ever thinks about circumcision at all, most people imagine a momentary clipping of a little bit of skin. Apathy is comfortable. It usually is painful and upsetting to be shown the truth. But perhaps it is time that the adults bore the brunt of the “upset” over circumcision, rather than the babies!!
When my oldest three children were born back in the 70’s, such now commonly accepted practices as taking childbirth classes and father participation in birth were radical departures from the norm. Birth outside of a standard delivery room was rare, an initial 12 hour or more stay in the hospital nursery before being brought to the mother was the norm, birth centers and birthing rooms were unheard of, and nothing was known or said about maternal-infant bonding.
A mother had to battle considerable pressures and misinformation to successfully breastfeed. Finding home birth options and birth attendants involved an extremely underground, “speakeasy” type of unofficial network.
Most people who first became parents in the 1980’s, 90’s or early 2,000’s, have no idea how hard us “old veterans” had to work back then just to get our voices heard, break down so many barriers, and introduce ideas and practices that today have become well accepted. We have all had to face considerable “upset”, “controversy”, “struggle” and immense frustration in our endeavor to innovate such things as childbirth education, birth alternatives, maternal infant bonding, family centered birth, and breastfeeding support. At one time we had thought that by now (by the 21st century) routine infant circumcision would be eradicated. The rates have become lower in recent years, certainly largely as a result of our efforts. But for some people the concept of circumcision has taken on a crabgrass-like stranglehold in their consciousness that, it seems, no amount of factual information nor babies’ screams will eradicate. Sometimes practices disappear in increments rather than over night. So please carry on the work we have started and don’t be afraid of whatever “upset” you might encounter along the way.
Childbirth education is an emotionally laden responsibility for all of us because there are helpless babies involved that have no choice. Even if adults raise objections, don’t lose sight of your responsibility to the helpless infants who cannot speak for themselves. If we must take a stand against infant circumcision, or other similar concerns surrounding infants, it is simply because we care too much about these babies to be neutral.
2. The Problem of Being too Vehement:
The opposite problem, that of coming across in an extremely angry, condemnatory manner can sometimes be more detrimental to our cause than being too neutral. One can easily become so “fired up” over an issue to the point of totally disregarding the feelings of others. This can backfire by causing listeners to “turn off”, dismissing the person, and therefore the underlying concern as “fanatical” and “extremist.” Standing on a “soapbox” and yelling things like “Circumcision is barbaric torture and you should absolutely not have it done!!” or “Parents who have their babies circumcised are mindless animals who do not think enough of their children to say no to the doctor and refuse to have it done!!” (Yes, I’ve heard statements like this! And yes, probably most of us would admit to feeling this way inside as well!)
Those of us who are effectively presenting messages reflecting our ongoing concerns opposing infant circumcision usually find ourselves presenting the information a lot more tactfully and gently to others than our inner feelings may wish to express. Consideration and understanding of the viewpoints and feelings of others is essential. Remember that most people know little or nothing about circumcision and most Americans have been led to believe (perhaps subconsciously) that the operation is beneficial. Therefore, people need to be inspired to think, not dictated to or screamed at.
3. Additional Considerations:
A. Semantics: Words can have a tremendous positive or negative impact depending on how they are used. We commonly use the term “intact” as a positive reference to the penis that has a foreskin, because “uncircumcised” sounds negative to many people (as if something wasn’t done that should have been.) “Circumcision” or “circumcised” sounds positive to many people. “Removal” of the foreskin sounds too harmless and benign. (i.e. We remove tumors and warts.)
“Cut off” and “procedure” are mild, but less positive terms to intersperse. “Operation” is a good term because it reminds people that circumcision is surgery. Stronger terms such as “amputate”, “mutilate” or “torture” can have considerable impact, but are also quite threatening. In my own writing I have tried to use a mixture of stronger and milder terms in hopes of achieving an effective balance in the impact.
B. Sexuality: Sexual concerns are inevitable when the subject matter is genitalia. As activists we are all acutely aware that greater sensitivity exists in the glans of the intact male and that the foreskin offers greater pleasure in masturbation and foreplay and greater ease in penetration. However, unless someone is an intimate friend, we simply do not know what types of reservations or fears some people may have. Therefore, I have chosen to treat this facet of the issue with great caution when dealing with the uninformed public. Unless people specifically ask about sexual matters or express a great deal of interest in the overall subject, it can be too emotionally overwhelming to “hit” people initially with a great deal of information about sexuality.
C. Accountability: Much information about circumcision is based on fact, which is supported by scientific studies and/or personal experience. But other statements are simply opinions, possibilities and speculations. Ideas like this may or may not be true, and may require further investigation.
As activists who question or oppose infant circumcision it is essential that we present the subject intelligently and honestly, and know the difference between facts and possibilities. For example, we know as established fact that infant circumcision can result in hemorrhage, infection, meatal ulceration, need for restorative surgery, and eventual resentment over the loss of ones foreskin. Whether or not the operation can result in crib death, stuttering, rheumatic fever, homosexuality, or “ingrown toenails” may be speculated about, but is not known. No one has produced enough evidence to prove or disprove some things. It is often appropriate to mention the more plausible areas of speculation. Indeed, most scientific studies begin with speculation and questioning.
In my own writings I have frequently worded speculative ideas in the form of a question, i.e. “Could there be a connection between _____ and _____?”
D. Consideration of Others: Please do remember that parents who have chosen to have their sons circumcised are still human. We have been misinformed, confused, overly accepting, and often in a state of denial, but none of us have believed at the time that we were deliberately doing something to harm the child. (Remember, I am and always will be the mother of three circumcised sons. No amount of activism on my part or anyone else’s can ever change that! But for those who have been enlightened enough to have only intact sons, a definite air of self-righteousness can prevail! Perhaps some of my own prior attitudes of superiority and intolerance about other issues such has total breastfeeding have gotten fed back to me!)
If you teach childbirth classes or otherwise deal with expectant or new parents, remember that most of today’s young American fathers have been circumcised, probably during infancy. Therefore, the best approach is to relate the information positively, by emphasizing that it is okay to leave ones son intact, it is okay for a boy to have his foreskin, and it is better for the baby not to be traumatized by circumcision, …. rather than denouncing the “inferiority” of the circumcised penis. Whether or valid or not, this always results in much defensiveness from circumcised men. The common reply from many circumcised fathers is often, “Well, it was done to me and I’m okay!”
Perhaps the best answer is that most of us who are adults today were not usually afforded the benefits of today’s more natural and humane choices in birth or infant care. Most of us were born under anesthesia, did not have immediate contact with our parents after birth, were bottle fed, and/or had our tonsils taken out. Maybe we can still say that we are “okay.” (But are we really?) Our parents did the best they could with what little information was available on these issues at that time, but most of us today want better for our own children.
4. Presenting Information Opposing Infant Circumcision in Prenatal Classes:
Most prenatal classes are a series of 6-8 weeks. When I used to teach these classes, I usually waited until the 3rd or 4th class before presenting circumcision information. This is a “touchier” subject than many other issues, and I felt more comfortable waiting until the class members had all gotten to know me and each other and felt settled into the class routine. I always handed out several information sheets covering numerous birth related topics at the end of each class. Frequently this was material that would be discussed at the next class. Following the 3rd class session I would include 3 or 4 general information oriented articles on circumcision along with other material, without prior discussion of the subject. Invariably the students would return the following week filled with questions and opinions about it.
At the following class we would have a 10 or 15 minute two-way discussion of the subject followed by a presentation of pictures or slides of actual circumcisions. I sometimes found that the comments made by students were stronger than anything that I as an instructor felt free to say. I have heard parents exclaim such things as: “Oh! How could anybody do that to a baby?!” and “Well, I think it’s a really stupid thing to do!”
I usually found that the pictures, information sheets, and other people’s input did most of the “teaching”, without my having to say very much more.. However, I have been accused of being too gentle and cautious in my style of presentation, and I have been criticized for being overly vehement and upsetting in presenting the subject. No matter what you say or do, or how you go about it, it is impossible to please everybody!
5. Avoiding “Burn-Out”
Activism can be rewarding, healing, and exhilarating. But it can also become exhausting, depleting, and discouraging. I never wanted to be an anti-circumcision activist. I began my research deeply concerned about infant pain, but neutral about the pros or cons of circumcision itself. I am not comfortable in the role of insisting that people do or don’t do things one specific way. On most issues I would honestly rather point people to a variety of choices with “balanced” information on both sides. Since my first three sons were circumcised, I would rather have been able to believe that what we chose for our sons was correct. But the overwhelming information I have amassed and the heartrending experiences others have shared with me have demanded that I strongly oppose infant circumcision. It is easy to be “neutral” about something when one does not know very much about it. I simply know too much to remain neutral.
At least today, the original “trail-blazing” has been done (by me and a few dozen other brave individuals during the 70’s and early 80’s.) As a newer activist you have all of this already established work to build on with the reassurance that you are not alone.
A. Take care of yourself: It is tempting to allow yourself to become so totally immersed in a specific issue that it becomes an obsession, crowding out any emotional balance over any other equally important life concerns.
“Burn out” happens as a result of discouragement, repeated focusing on the same subject matter, lack of support and/or attacks from others, and emotional exhaustion. (I have been through this myself. After intensively immersing myself in anti-circumcision concerns from the late 70’s to the early 90’s, I reached a point where I felt total revulsion over any subject matter associated with foreskins or circumcision! Today I have cautiously revived my activism, on a limited basis, mostly in answer to the urgings of my colleagues, and the relative ease of working on a computer.)
Therefore, no matter how “fired up” you may feel, make space in your life for other pursuits and interests. (Today I have another “life” as a professional craftsperson.) Sometimes you have to “compartmentalize” your energies. There are many people out there who, no matter what you do or say, simply do not “hear” our message. This is heartbreaking to all of us, of course, if they subsequently give birth to a baby boy and have him circumcised anyway. But sometimes, especially if these are people who are a part of your life, it becomes necessary to put this issue aside and “connect” with them in other areas of life that you can comfortably share.
(I am not always able to share interest in other people’s all consuming issues, nor do all of the other anti-circumcision activists necessarily share in my deeply felt concerns on other matters.)
Circumcision is a topic which, for many, can ignite a firestorm of emotions and defenses. Some people have an extremely difficult time dealing with it. A common response for some people is to “close down.” Learn not to take these reactions personally. (This has been hard for me!) If you find yourself becoming discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted take a “breather” from your activism. Focus on other things for a while until your feel able to go back to it. It is almost impossible to work effectively if you are in a state of depression or exhaustion. If you do not allow yourself breaks like this, your inner psyche almost certainly will eventually force you to do so by “crashing” emotionally. Hopefully you will be wise enough to replenish your energy with little “vacations” from your activism, so that you can return and continue with renewed enthusiasm.
B. Avoid becoming hung up on ego gratification or specific outcomes: If you want “fame and glory” become a movie star or sports “super-hero.” Activism is more likely to bring attacks and frustration. Even when others do give you praise and appreciation, most of this is “cotton-candy” elusive. While it may feel flattering, “fame” is not a substance which can nurture ones soul. Only true friendship and close relationships can do that. To the “world” out there, you may be the center of attention one day and forgotten the next. Learn to grow beyond this. Need for ego satisfaction can be a tremendous hindrance. You are doing your work as your “gift to the world”, from whatever you feel stirred within your soul to do. Nothing more matters.
During the 70’s and early 80’s when the number of anti-circumcision activists numbered at a few dozen, some of us did believe that one of us would emerge to “glory” as the “anti-circumcision messiah”, leading our nation to the demise of circumcision. We were naive in our ardor. Most of us probably thought our job would be over by the 90’s. To our astonishment, we have found that while rates of circumcision have continued to decline, and the movement has grown by astonishing dimensions, the concept of circumcision has maintained a far stronger “stranglehold” on the American consciousness than most of us had previously realized.
Routine infant circumcision will end, probably during the 21st century if not within our own lifetimes. But it will end as a result of the overall awareness and voices of thousands, and eventually millions of us all working in our own way, as cooperatively as possible, as our message continues to reach others. No one person will, (or needs to ) rise to “fame and glory” in the process.
C. Support each other: There is a saying that goes: “If we don’t all hang together, we will all hang separately!” Opponents of infant circumcision represent a wide range of different personality types, backgrounds, personal philosophies, spiritual orientations, strengths, weaknesses, perspectives, and stands on other emotionally laden issues. None of us can totally agree on every interrelated nuance of the overall issue, and no one has ever mastered the art of pleasing everybody. But neither can any one person do it all (or would want to!)
Simply giving positive support to the work that someone else has done can go a long way in keeping all of us encouraged. Sometimes one may have to bypass other disagreements over style or differing viewpoints to stay focused on our overall goals. Squabbling over trivia or personal clashes can tear any movement apart. (I’ve been guilty of this too!)
Support can also take the form of constructive criticism. This can be the most educating, but often the most difficult to accept. Whether the criticism is something as simple as correcting of someone’s grammar and punctuation, questioning the validity of a reference, or a total difference of opinion on some matter, we can learn much if we can remain open and willing to hear other people’s input. (In fact, most of us intentionally seek other people’s suggestions on important writings and other matters.) While each of us may, or may not choose to accept the incoming suggestions and criticisms of others, it is hoped that each of us can possess enough emotional maturity to understand the difference between a suggestion/criticism (intended as something helpful) and a personal attack.
* Other workers in this cause, including many who have known me for years, may be surprised to learn that in 1996 I elected to have a “tummy tuck” and breast reduction surgery. It was a deeply personal choice for myself which I opted for well into adulthood after many years of serious consideration. Today I have mixed feelings about my decision. (The post operative pain was much worse than I had anticipated. Difficulties with the healing of the incisions under my breasts have given me considerable discomfort. I doubt that I will ever choose surgery again unless absolutely medically necessary.) I do not believe that my personal choice for surgery on my own body in any way conflicts with my opposition to routine infant circumcision. If anything, my experience further emphasizes the importance of individual choice in regards to body alteration.
(One of these days I will write up in detail the story of my experience with surgery. I certainly have a far different perspective in surgery today than I ever did before!) – R.R.
by Rosemary Romberg
(Revised – 2013)