Perspectives On Violence: Jeannine Parvati Baker, M.A.
Where Sex and Violence First Meet
Flowers In the Rain
Cold, wet, and tired from the long morning rally, my eight year-old asks again why we are here. We are standing with about fifty other 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 industrial section of Seattle in November. We are all here for one purpose: to report about and demonstrate against the manufacturers of the plastic Y-shaped cradle boards used to hold infants immobile during circumcision.
The members of NOHARMM (National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males) and NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision information Resource Centers, especially the local chapter in Seattle) called the action. We gathered toget her on Veteran's Day to hold a peaceful demonstration at the only place the boards are manufactured in the US. It was aired on three TV news stations several times the same evening, showing us filling a Circumstraint board with flowers.
Previously there had been talk of doing a guerrilla theater to get the media and manufacturer's attention. The fantasy scripts ranged from building an adult Circumstraint and staging a mock circumcision of a man, to strapping a dog on the board and circumcising the animal in public. The reasoning behind the dog circumcision was that there would surely be an outcry among animal-rights activists if that were done, which would highlight in some minds the insanity of our doing this, unabashedly, to humans as a matter of routine. These gruesome fantasies eventually yielded to the idea of placing cut flowers in a Circumstraint in front of the manufacturing offices.
I felt compelled by conscience to attend the demonstration, yet, up until this decision, was uneasy about to what. degree, if any, I could participate in an expression of violence. That we chose to prayerfully and respectfully to place flowers was an action that I as a mother and midwife, could wholeheartedly embrace. Taking the idea one step further, as a midwife it was my practice to advise postpar tum visitors to bring potted plants rather than cut flowers. Flowers, separated from their matrix, the earth, fade and die while a live plant, like a newborn, is still growing. Surrounded by growing plants reminds the mother that the baby grows best in her arms, close to the heart. A mother is a baby's earth. This is why we need more mothers working with the political organizations to end genital mutilation - to bring the bigger picture, the connection with our Source, to give a voice to the Earth.
My Sacred Obligation
For over a generation I have been devotedly writing and speaking against circumcision. My awakening came in the 1960s when I was training to be a primal therapist. During one session, I assisted an adult to relive his own circumcision as an infant. Since then, though my mother's religion commands circumcision, I felt I had to honor my sacred obligation and protect my babies from harm. My sons are all intact and so will be my grandchildren.
I used to say that, by nature, I wasn't very political. Of course not, for I was raised female and became a mother in a patristic culture. We were not encouraged to 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 definition is "practical wisdom." Who else but mothers have been practicing wisdom day and 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 have an obvious, vested interest (call it cellular or genetic) in sustaining the life that we have brought forth, in ensuring that the Earth is also intact to 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, in warring cultures, does genital mutilation of the young occur, I saw a way I could be a peacemaker - by fulfilling my central responsibility as mother. By raising peaceful sons, mothers could stop the destruction of our Earth. If mothers protected their boys from the unconscious initiation into the military cult, we would create a sustainable future.
As the Cheyenne Indians say, a nation can fall only when the hearts of the mothers are to the ground. The big problem with circumcision is mothers intuitively know it is wrong, yet they deny this natural impulse to protect their babies. This denial creates a lack of trust in a mother's own capacity to protect him from the knife (sword). She will distrust her own ability to raise her son, enrolling the "expert" or "authority," even to the extent of literally cutting off parts of his body so that he will fit on the Procrustean bed of the mythical "normal man," a warrior. When we abdicate this power to 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 can to end circumcision. My daughter and I traveled from our cozy, book-lined home to rainy Seattle to be counted among those who invite the perpetrators of violence against babies via circumcision to conscience. This was in my mind with each flower I laid on the Circumstraint board on Veteran's Day. It has been a long war "the tradition of the fathers" has waged to do violence to children, to do violence to their mothers and the men these circumcised men become. It is time to say the war is over by empowering mothers to "just say no to circumcision."
After a generation's work to stop circumcision, it is heartening to witness the involvement of the men's rights community; men are giving voice to their experience of the damage done to them without their consent. For several years, at the International Symposia on Circumcision, I have presented a Healing Ceremony for those involved in ending genital mutilation. Seated in a circle, circumcisers, as well as their victims, share their stories. This "word medicine" is a deep healing balm on every soul. As men recognize what has been done to them and the mask of denial slips down, a potent force for healing and protecting the sons of the future emerges. Unmasked, the real men are now present and can effectively awaken their brothers to the horror of infant-male genital mutilation.
At the strategy meeting in Seattle, attention was given to the words we use in this movement. The term mutilation came up as a red flag which is too startling and offensive. However, again the dictionary tells it like it is: A mutilation is to cut off or damage a body part, or remove an essential part. This is precisely what circumcision does, as the foreskin is the most highly innervated tissue, with specialized secretions which are irreplaceable.
Mutilating the Gods of the Interior
The etymology of the word penis includes an early meaning from Roman times - the penates are Gods of the Interior, the Inner Household Gods. By mutilating the "Gods of the Interior" we are disabling our sons from being in touch with their innermost feelings. A baby who has been circumcised shuts down his capacity to feel, as life, obviously, is just too painfully mutilating. All the immense reservoirs of psychic energy used to repress trauma could, rather, be channeled for sensitive, creative works.
Often I wonder about destiny, and how, on that particular day in the psychology lab almost thirty years ago, I realized that circumcision is devastating to the soul. If I hadn't ever seen a grown man reduced to the infantile rage and pain (to an unfathomable degree), would I have considered circumcising my boys? Having experienced first-hand in primal therapy that the traumatic pain of circumcision is imprinted and can be consciously recovered, I knew that I would not inflict such pain upon my own flesh and blood. "Flesh and blood" is not mere hyperbole: The baby and mother are still one in the early postpartum. What hurts one, harms the other.
This is true for all mothers as well: What we do to one, we do to another. I asked each mother I attended as midwife about circumcision. If the parents insisted on it, then they would have to find another midwife. I couldn't let myself bond to their ba by at birth and not be able to protect the new one. This declaration saved many a foreskin.
The benefit of "saving foreskins" is the creation of a more peaceful society. There are male pheromones which signal to other males their relation. Without the foreskin that produces these scent molecular messengers, men are more anxious and quicker to assert dominance upon one another. Keeping our sons intact brings a greater likelihood for cooperative rather than competitive behaviors with their fathers, brothers, and all men.
Where Sex and Violence First Meet
There is another psychological benefit to keeping our sons intact. Psychiatrist Rima Laibow finds that men carry an unconscious rage against their mothers for betrayal, abandonment, and the assault of circumcision. In other words, the unconscious mind of the son blames his mother for his circumcision, not "the tradition," the circumciser, or the father who wanted his son to look like himself - only the mother. It's just like some bad Jewish-mother joke.
Indeed, for a newborn, his world is mother. If she cannot protect him from violation at the beginning, a baby loses trust. And isn't lack of trust an issue in relationships between the genders nowadays? Can circumcision be a symptom of profound resentment between the genders? Can sexuality be healed on a very deep, unconscious level during the perinatal period?
A connection exists between crimes of sexual violence, rape and circumcision. The first heterosexual encounter is when a female nurse preps the infant penis with antiseptic, often creating an erection, followed by painful cutting! This and the betrayal by the mother, is revenged in sexual assaults against women. As Marilyn Milos, Founder and director of NOCIRC says, "Circumcision is where sex and violence meet for the first time."
May Our Earth Become the Garden
I know of many courageous parents who, once informed, not only changed their minds about circumcision, but also became active in helping babies stay whole. Sometimes this means going against "tradition." And a family's attachment to tradition can be tenacious. However, we must choose only those rituals from our rich traditions which are best-for-life. We are free to co-create a new way to show the world what our love looks like by bringing forth whole children.
By our participation, our marching through Seattle to make a point, my daughter and I were demonstrating more than our desperation that circumcision is still happening! (Believe me, it is a sign of desperation that I'd be motivated to travel from my warm home in this harvest season). We were also demonstrating that 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 Circumstraint I thought to myself (then sent through my eyes to one of the workers gathered at the big front office windows), "May you remember to be kind to babies; may you stop circumcision."
In closing, my prayer today is for the Circumstraint board to go the way of the cradle board. We have been taught that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." But, if we truly want to cease "ruling," i.e., dominating one another, we must keep our babies safe in mothers' arms. Let the Circumstraints become archaic tools, post-industrial museum pieces depicting torture in a less enlightened time. Or, better yet, let them become planters.
May our Earth become the Garden again!
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