Where Sex and Violence FirstMeet
by Jeannine Parvati Baker
Cold, wet and tired from the long morning rally, my eight-year-old asks againwhy we are here. We are standing with about fifty others--media people,organizers, and just your ordinary eccentrics, grandmothers and fathers,university professors, musicians, nurses, and midwives, lawyers, artists,writers, men's rights activists and children--gathered in the industrialsection of Seattle in November. We are all here for one purpose--to reportabout and demonstrate against the manufacturers of circumstraint boards--theplastic Y-shaped cradle boards used to hold infants immobile during medicalprocedures.
The members of NOHARMM (National Organization to Halt the Abuse and RoutineMutilation of Males) and NOCIRC (National Organization of CircumcisionInformation Resource Centers, especially the local chapter in Seattle) calledthe action. We gathered together on Veteran's Day to hold a peacefuldemonstration a the only place the boards are manufactured in the US. Itwas aired on three TV news stations the same evening, showing us fillinga circumstraint board with flowers.
Previously there had been talk of doing a guerrilla theater to get the mediaand manufacturer's attention--the fantasy scripts ranged from building anadult circumstraint board and staging a mock circumcision of a man, to strappinga dog to the board and circumcising the animal in public. The reasoning behindthe dog circumcision. There would surely be an outcry among animal-rightsactivists if that were done, which would highlight in some minds the insanityof doing this, unabashedly, to humans as a matter of course. These gruesomefantasies eventually yielded to the idea of placing cut flowers in acircumstraint board in front of the manufacturing offices.
I felt compelled by conscience to attend the demonstration, yet, up untilthis decision, was uneasy about to what degree if any, I could participatein an expression of violence. That we chose to prayerfully and respectfullyplace flowers was an action that I, as a mother and midwife, could wholeheartedlyembrace. Taking the idea one step further, as a midwife it was my practiceto advise postpartum visitors to bring potted plants rather than cut flowers.Flowers, separated from their matrix, the earth, fade and die; a live plant,like a newborn, is still growing. Surrounded by growing plants reminds themother that the baby grows best in her arms, close to the heart. A motheris the baby's earth. That is why we need more mothers working with the politicalorganizations to end genital mutilation--to bring the bigger picture, theconnection with our Source, to give a voice to the Earth.
My Sacred Obligation
For over a generation I have been devotedly writing and speaking againstcircumcision. My awakening came in the 1960s when I was training to be aprimal therapist. During one session, I assisted an adult to relive his owncircumcision as an infant. Since then, though my mother's religion commandscircumcision, I felt I had to honor my sacred obligation and protect my babiesfrom harm. My sons are all intact and so will be my grandchildren.
I used to say, by nature, I wasn't very political. Of course not, for I wasraised female and became a mother in a patristic culture. We were not encouragedto be effective in the political arena. When I looked up the definition of*politics* in Webster's, I was surprised to discover that the second definitionis "practical wisdom." Who else but mothers have been practicing wisdom dayand night by caring for our children? If a country is to politically thrive,it must include the voices of the mothers and grandmothers--those who havean obvious, vested interest (call it cellular or genetic) in sustaining thelife that we have brought forth, in ensuring that the Earth is also intactto support that life.
To answer my youngest daughter's question, why are we here? My response was,"How could we not be." When I learned that only in dominator societies, inwarring cultures, does genital mutilation of the young occur, I saw a wayI could be a peacemaker--by fulfilling my central responsibility as mother.By raising peaceful sons, mothers could stop the destruction of our Earth.If mother protected their boys from the unconscientious initiation into themilitary cult, we would create a sustainable future.
As the Cheyenne Indians say, a nation can fall only when the hearts of themothers are to the ground. The big problem with circumcision is that mothersintuitively know it is wrong, yet they deny this natural impulse to protecttheir babies. This denial creates a lack of trust in a mother's own capacityto protect him from the knife (sword). She will distrust her own abilityto raise her son, enrolling the "expert" or "authority" even to the extentof literally cutting off parts of his body so that he will fit on the Procrusteanbed of the mythical "normal man"--a warrior. When we abdicate this powerto protect our babies in the early postpartum, no wonder there is rampant"postpartum depression," i.e. the mother's heart is on the ground.
"Just Say No" to Circumcision
To raise up the jubilant heart of mothering, we must do everything we canto end circumcision. My daughter and I traveled from our cozy, book-linedhome to rainy Seattle to be counted among those who invite the perpetratorsof violence against babies via circumcision to conscience. This was in mymind with each flower I laid to rest on the circumstraint board on Veteran'sDay. It has been a long war "the tradition of the fathers" has waged to doviolence to children, to do violence to their mothers and the men thesecircumcised men become. It is time to say the war is over by empowering mothersto "just say no to circumcision."
After a generations work to stop circumcision, it is heartening to witnessthe involvement of the men's rights community; men are giving voice to theirexperience of the damage done to them without their consent. For severalyears, at the International Symposia on Circumcision, I have presented aHealing Ceremony for those involved in ending genital mutilation. Seatedin a circle, circumcisors, as well as their victims, share their stories.This "word medicine" is a deep healing balm on over soul. As men recognizewhat has been done to them and the mask of denial slips down, a potent forcefor healing and protecting the sons of the future emerges. Unmasked, thereal men are now present and can effectively awaken their brothers to thehorror of infant-male genital mutilation.
At the strategy meeting in Seattle, attention was given to the words we usein this movement. The term *mutilation* came up as a red flag--one too startlingand offensive. However, again the dictionary tells it like it is: A mutilationis to cut off or damage a body part, or remove an essential part. This isprecisely what circumcision does, as the foreskin is the most highly innervatedtissue, with specialized secretions which are irreplaceable.
The etymology of the word penis includes an early meaning from Roman times--thepenates of Gods of the Interior, from Inner Household Gods. By mutilatingthe "Gods of the Interior" we are disabling our sons from being in touchwith their innermost feelings. A baby who has been circumcised shuts downhis capacity to feel, as life, obviously, is just too painfully mutilating.All of the immense reservoirs of psychic energy used to repress trauma could,rather, be channeled for sensitive creative works. There is another psychological benefit to keeping our sons intact. The workof Dr. Rima Laibow (1991) concludes that a man carries unconscious rage againsthis own mother for betrayal, abandonment, and the assault itself. In otherwords, the unconscious mind of the son blames his mother for his circumcision,not "the tradition," the circumcisor, or the father who wanted the son tolook like himself--only the mother. It's just like some bad Jewish-motherjoke. I know of many courageous parents who, once informed, not only changed theirminds about circumcision, but also became active in helping babies stay whole.Sometimes this means going against "tradition" ... and the family's attachmentto tradition can be tenacious. However, we must choose only those ritualsfrom our rich traditions which are best-for-life. We are free to co-createa new way to show the world what our love looks like by bringing forth wholechildren. (This article is posted here with the author's expresspermission.)
Often I wonder about destiny, and how, on that particular day in the psychologylab almost thirty years ago, I realized that circumcision is devastatingto the soul. If I hadn't seen a grown man reduced to the infantile rage andpain (to an unfathomable degree), would I have considered circumcising myboys? Having experienced first-hand in primal therapy that the traumaticpain of circumcision is imprinted and can be conscientiously recovered, Iknew that I would not inflict such pain upon my own flesh and blood. "Fleshand blood" is not mere hyperbole: The baby and mother are still one in theearly postpartum. What hurts one, harms the other.
This is true for other mothers as well: What we do to one, we do to another.I asked each mother I attended as a midwife about circumcision. If the parentsinsisted upon it, then they would have to find another midwife. I couldn'tlet myself bond to their baby at birth and not be able to protect the newone. This declaration has saved many a foreskin.
The benefit of "saving foreskins" is the creation of a more peaceful society.There are male pheromones [sic] which signal to other males their relation.Without the foreskin that produces these scent molecular messengers, menare more anxious and quicker to assert dominance upon one another. Keepingsons intact brings a greater likelihood for cooperative rather than competitivebehaviors with their fathers, brothers, and all men.
Where Sex and Violence First Meet
Indeed for a newborn, his world is mother. If she cannot protect him fromviolation at the beginning, a baby loses trust. And isn't lack of trust anissue in relationships between the genders nowadays? Can circumcision bea symptom of profound resentment between the genders? Can sexuality be healedon a very deep, unconscious level during the perinatal period?
A connection exists between crimes of sexual violence, rape for example,and circumcision. The first heterosexual encounter--with a female nurse preppingthe infant male--as well as betrayal by the mother, is revenged in sexualassaults against women. As Marilyn Milos, Founder and Director of NOCIRCsays, "Circumcision is where sex and violence meet for the first time."
May Our Earth Become the Garden
By our participation, our marching through Seattle to make a point, my daughterand I were demonstrating more than our desperation that circumcision is stillhappening. (Believe me, it is a sign of desperation that I'd be motivatedto travel from my warm arm in this harvest season). We were also demonstratingthat we have trust--trust in people to remember how to be kind to one another,especially to babies.
With every flower I placed on the circumcstraint board, I thought to myself(then sent through my eyes to one of the workers gathered at the big frontoffice windows), "May you remember to be kind to babies; may you stopcircumcision."
In closing, my prayer today is for the circumstraint board to go the wayof the cradle board. We have been taught that "the hand that rocks the cradlerules the world." But, if we truly want to cease "ruling" i.e. dominatingone another, we must keep our babies safe in mother's arms. Let the circumstraintboards become archaic tools, postindustrial museum pieces depicting torturedevices of a less-enlightened time. Or better yet, let them become planters.May our Earth become the Garden again.
Laibow, Rima. (1991). Paper, based on her clinical experience, presented at the Second international Symposia on Circumcision. San Francisco, CA.
JEANNINE PARVATI BAKER completed the Master's program in psychology at Sonoma State University and is the founder of Hygieia College, devoted to healing the Earth by healing birth. She is the author of the books: Prenatal Yoga and Natural Birth; Hygieia: A Woman's Herbal; and Conscious Conception. She is listed in Who's Who of U.S. Writers, Editors, and Poets, who nominated her for the Woman of the Year Award `93 for contributions to Medicine. She is in private practice in central Utah, where she homeschools her family. She may be contacted at P. O. Box 111, Junction, UT 84740, or via e-mail c/o FREESTONE@SISNA.COM
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PRIMAL SPIRIT, Winter/Spring 1997
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There is another psychological benefit to keeping our sons intact. The workof Dr. Rima Laibow (1991) concludes that a man carries unconscious rage againsthis own mother for betrayal, abandonment, and the assault itself. In otherwords, the unconscious mind of the son blames his mother for his circumcision,not "the tradition," the circumcisor, or the father who wanted the son tolook like himself--only the mother. It's just like some bad Jewish-motherjoke.
I know of many courageous parents who, once informed, not only changed theirminds about circumcision, but also became active in helping babies stay whole.Sometimes this means going against "tradition" ... and the family's attachmentto tradition can be tenacious. However, we must choose only those ritualsfrom our rich traditions which are best-for-life. We are free to co-createa new way to show the world what our love looks like by bringing forth wholechildren.
(This article is posted here with the author's expresspermission.)