A number of histories of circumcision have recently been written and in them the case of A. E. Housman, along with a number of others, has acquired a certain prominence. This article reconsiders the existing evidence regarding Housman's circumcision and the various interpretations of it in the secondary literature before going on to examine a number of overlooked sources. While this writing around Housman's circumcision is not without positive results, it will be suggested via a consideration of Jacques Derrida's testimony regarding his own circumcision that the historian of sexuality needs also to contend with an inherent negativity and loss. The testimony provided by a recently uncovered poem on circumcision will prompt the suggestion that we should be wary of overemphasizing the individual example. In conclusion, the article argues that the problematic of Housman's particular case has pertinence because in regard to individual experience we can only ever write around the history of circumcision.
A History around Housman's Circumcision
The Normal Foreskin
Puberty, Adolescence, and Growing Up
Jonathan A. Allan
Warning: This article includes images of the circumcised and intact penis taken from puberty books. The Circumcision Debate Debates and questions over circumcision are not new, and in many ways the debate seems far from over. Circumcision
The Penis-Care Information Gap
Preventing Improper Care of Intact Boys
A penis-care information gap exists in North America where most physicians and parents do not know how to care for an intact boy’s penis, especially his foreskin. They lack basic knowledge and personal experience, which would allow them to advise or provide proper care for boys. Unless this gap is filled with reliable information, many boys are at risk for penile problems and perhaps even circumcision—something that the parents and the boy would like to avoid. The causes and problems resulting from this clear case of remediable medical ignorance are discussed, and solutions offered.
An Estimate of U.S. Circumcision-Related Infant Deaths
Baby boys can and do succumb as a result of having their foreskin removed. Circumcision-related mortality rates are not known with certainty; this study estimates the scale of this problem. This study finds that approximately 117 neonatal circumcision-related deaths (9.01/100,000) occur annually in the United States, about 1.3% of male neonatal deaths from all causes. Because infant circumcision is elective, all of these deaths are avoidable. This study also identifies reasons why accurate data on these deaths are not available, some of the obstacles to preventing these deaths, and some solutions to overcome them.
Erasing the Foreskin
The “Excess Skin” Myth, Male Genital Mutilation, and Foreskin Trafficking in the United States
Despite growing criticism from human rights scholars and international medical experts, non-therapeutic penile circumcision of newborns in the United States continues to be widely accepted among American healthcare practitioners. While a wealth of literature exists on the topic, it can leave out cultural depictions of the foreskin as aesthetically displeasing, unhygienic, or as extra skin, presumptions that normalize its physical and psychological erasure. Highlighting how a cultural attitude treats a healthy body part as worthy only of excision, I show how this vilification rationalizes the wide-scale performance of a practice that in any other context is seen as grossly unethical: the painful and unnecessary modification of the sexual anatomy of a non-consenting person. I also discuss how this rationalization enables profit-driven trafficking in infant sexual tissue.
Community-based Approaches to Reforming Female Genital Operations in Africa
A Case Study from the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia
Aneesa Kassam and Alemayehu Diro Lalise
In the past, numerous attempts by colonial governments and international agencies to abolish the practice of female genital cutting in Africa failed to make any significant impact on behaviour. In this article, we describe how, since 1996, an indigenous NGO has been attempting to reform the practice in the rural communities of Oromia (Ethiopia). We show that it has brought about enduring change by creating awareness about the health consequences of the practice, facilitating collective debate on the topic using participatory methods, and involving local elders in the decision to abandon it. We compare this approach to other successful African initiatives undertaken during the same period based on similar strategies. We argue that these programmes have been able to amend the practice by empowering the communities to direct their own process of change, based on their own traditions. We caution, however, that such interventions should not be made without a full understanding of the cultural meaning(s) of the practice, which should be seen in a holistic manner.
Digitizing the Western Gaze
The End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign
, alternatively known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, as “the total cutting off of the clitoris and labia to make sexual intercourse painful and to control women’s sexuality,” and cites 6,000 girls affected each day. Though it is clear from the
The Challenges of Same-Sex Parenthood
In Israel, personal status is regulated through religious law. This gives Orthodox rabbis the state-sanctioned power to define who is Jewish and to enable and recognize marriage. The impediments that religious law poses to same-sex couples and their children are serious: same-sex couples are excluded from marriage, and their children's religious status is at risk. In this article, I contrast these rabbinic exclusions with the ways that same-sex couples, both religious and non-religious, use Jewish traditions to establish social legitimacy and belonging for themselves and their children. Based on ethnographic findings, the article suggests that the Jewish ritual of circumcision for boys and childbirth celebrations for girls are moments in which relationships are reaffirmed. Even more so, the social networks displayed at these events and the participation of religious specialists (mohalim) performing the circumcision carry a clear message: these families are authentically a part of the Jewish-Israeli collective despite rabbinic opposition.
Ties of Blood
Father sprouted from that shoot of David which circumambulated Jerusalem's stones after the Dispersion which recognised Yahweh in all His other names which decked in Ottoman turbans helped raise the Levant as an ark for all races all cultures which shook hands with shepherds and artisans sipped tea with poets musicians and courtesans dressed janissaries and equerries waged war and peace on backgammon boards graced weddings circumcisions christenings funerals everywhere between Damascus and Sarajevo Algiers and Batumi
Marc Saperstein, Frank Dabba Smith, Susan Cohen, and Howard Cooper
Robin Judd, Contested Rituals: Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and Jewish Political Life in Germany, 1843–1933, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), £24.95, 283 pp., ISBN 978-0-8014-4545-3. Review by Marc Saperstein
Bernard Kops, Bernard Kops’ East End, By the Waters of Whitechapel (Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, 2006), £9.99, 238 pp., ISBN 978-1-905512-11-9.
Philip Davis, Bernard Malamud, A Writer’s Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), £18.99, 377 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-927009-5. Reviews by Frank Dabba Smith
Edie Friedman and Reva Klein, Reluctant Refuge. The Story of Asylum in Britain, foreword by Maeve Sherlock, British Library, London, 2008, 153 pp., ISBN 978-0-7123-0887-8 Review by Susan Cohen
Karen E. Starr, Repair of the Soul: Metaphors of Transformation in Jewish Mysticism and Psychoanalysis, New York/London, Routledge, 2008, 134 pp., ISBN 978-0-88163-487-7 Review by Howard Cooper