Religion & Beliefs

Circumcision is Somewhere Between Ear Piercing and Foot Binding

I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  Someone in my book club last night said it was the only book in the past year that our entire book club enjoyed.  I nodded with the rest … Read More

By / September 5, 2008

I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  Someone in my book club last night said it was the only book in the past year that our entire book club enjoyed.  I nodded with the rest of ‘em.  I don’t know if anyone else remembered that MY book, My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy was the book we read last month.  It had been a whole month.  And so I didn’t say, “Wait, didn’t you all enjoy My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy?” I just sat there, mute as a Chinese woman.  I didn’t question.   I’ve been thinking about cultural teachings and practices since reading Snow Flower.  Chinese women were taught to be quiet.  Jews are taught to question.   At age six, Chinese girls’ feet were broken, their toes tucked under, and then tightly wrapped for months.  Each time their feet were rewrapped, the wraps were pulled tighter.  Walking after the bones reset and healed was pretty much impossible, so Chinese women spent their whole lives in one room, the women’s chamber.  Foot binding—-a practice most people today would agree was savage and cruel—-wasn’t completely banned until only about 50 years ago.   This is an 86 year-old woman.  Look at her tiny shoe. Why did they bind?   For social advancement.  The smaller the foot, the sexier the woman and the more marriagable she would become.  This was the cultural belief.  Chinese people lived by these beliefs for centuries and no one questioned.   Eight-day-old Jewish boys get their penises circumcised.  I WANT TO MAKE CLEAR THAT I DON’T THINK CIRCUMCISION HURTS BOYS THE WAY FOOT BINDING HURT CHINESE GIRLS.  I don’t know how circumcision hurts a boy, if at all.  Some circumcised men claim that circumcision feels better.  I have no idea and don’t claim to know.  My guess is that the snip hurts, probably like it hurts to get your ears pierced.  Lobes rarely get infection; usually the skin heals within a few days. The similarities I see are cultural.   Americans and especially Jewish Americans are caught up in a cultural practice. Why do we circumcise? Because Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son; because circumcision has been a 4,000 year tradition; because circumcision marks a Jewish boy;  because maybe it’s easier to keep a circumcised penis clean; because a circumcised penis looks better; because a boy should look like his father; because a boy shouldn’t feel strange in the locker room at the JCC. In Venezuela, where my partner is from, circumcision, like foot binding, is practiced to raise a child’s social position. Victoria said, “I don’t want our boy parading around in front of my family with a poor boy’s penis.” I don’t either.  And I want our boy to be identified as a Jew.  But I want to make sure we don’t permanently alter our boy’s body without seriously questioning.

Andrea Askowitz, author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy, is guest blogging for Jewcy, and she’ll be here all week.  Lucky you!

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