A little bit below the belt


HERALD letter writer Peter Rowney cut to the eye-watering chase recently with a piece about circumcision, headed “Circumcision seen differently”.

Seems it sure is Pete.

Why, he asked, is it legal to circumcise males in Australia, but illegal to circumcise females.

Isn’t it genital mutilation regardless of gender? And shouldn’t it be illegal for all?

This perplexed me, as such things do if you think about them too much. So I tried thinking about something else.

Australia Day.

We’ll celebrate that with gusto this weekend. And that’ll be great.

But how come all summer I’ve had to put up with those TV ads telling me the ultimate expression of Australian-ness is to run around London with a green and gold KFC box jammed on my head; tweeting photos back Down Under to mates on the beach tucking into more American fried chicken; all to the tune of the Sex Pistols anthem God Save The Queen, with the lyrics replaced by “Waltzing Matilda”.

Come on Aussie, that could only make sense to an ad executive. Or Colonel Sanders. Banjo Paterson would have struggled.

It got me thinking, though, maybe that’s how I’m supposed to rationalise male circumcision too? It doesn’t make sense, but plenty of people are on board.

According to circinfo.org (Circumcision Information Australia), the current number of circumcised Aussie males runs easily into the tens of thousands.

The actual “rate” depends on how you interpret “incidence” verses “prevalence” over “ouch-iness”.

Statistically it seems the practice may be on the wane, which is maybe not surprising given it’s hardly the kind of procedure you’d rush into if you had a say.

Apparently that’s why some religious advocates play down the choice aspect. It’s less stressful on parents if they don’t think they have one.

Not that most participants can remember the original procedure.

In fact, I’d market that as a circumcision plus, along with the idea that you don’t miss what you never had. Weird, I know.

In contrast I recall vividly (TMI warning here) the day I got tangled up in my zipper as a wee lad, and how Mrs Mills promptly responded … with scissors. A Something About Mary moment.

As one Herald reader declared in response to Peter’s letter: “The amputation of genital parts should never be forced on an individual, certainly not on a child.”

But Mrs Mills’ didn’t amputate me, nor force me into it. If anything, the situation was forced on her. She had reluctant/horrified consent in what was an urgent situation – a little snip being considered preferable to a looming organ grind.

But that was an accident. Circumcision is done on purpose. By medical people. In hospitals. As it should be, according to some Herald readers.

Male circumcision, they say, is a clinical medical procedure endorsed by the World Health Organisation, totally unlike being liberated from your Levis by Mrs Mills in the backyard.

It helps prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), eliminates the risk of penile cancer and reduces the chances of transmitting STDs.

Pretty much the standard reasons offered up by most parents when queried why they subject their kids to it.

That and how they wanted their boy to look like dad (minus the paunch maybe).

To the tricky question of child consent, one reader asked: “Would you object to trimming an infant’s hair because they can’t give informed consent?”

Checkmate, I thought. Until I looked back at some of the bowl haircuts I got as a kid.

Someone should have objected to those.

Other readers pointed out that girls get UTIs too, but society doesn’t routinely remove their clitoral hood at birth; antibiotics are used instead.

This was a revelation: we could have used tablets instead of a scalpel?

Someone else asked: Would you remove a pre-pubescent organ to avoid the chance of getting cancer later in life?

Maybe, depending on the situation, but according to some experts, penile cancer is on the run these days. And if it was truly the reason we circumcise, you’d remove the entire penis. But who would want that? Apart from, say, Lorena Bobbitt.

Some argued there are no nerves in hair, thus there is no pain when you cut it, and therefore the question of consent is nullified.

But I say this after my run-in with Mrs Mills, there may not be nerves in hair, but there certainly are nerves below the belt. Maaaany nerves. (Someone call the trauma nurse, he’s fainted again.)

Anyhow, those bowl haircuts were obviously painful on a fashion level.

And someone should have been nervous about looking like Simple Jack.

Ultimately, critics of circumcision point out that, unlike the male and female prepuce, hair grows back. Until middle age, of course, when for many men, shaved heads start to resemble pruned privates.

A sensitive issue to be sure. Particularly if you suggest that to the wrong guy.

In the end it’s about funny choices, like Australian-ness and those KFC ads. If you think about them, as Peter Rowney points out, you see it differently.


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