Monday, October 18, 2010

A note on intactivism

I'm still here, guys, I promise! It's been almost 2 weeks since my last post, I know. I happened to go away to a BlogHer Food conference and was caught up in first the preparation, then the event, then the aftermath. You know how these things go. I'll be back in the swing of it all soon.

But one thing I wanted to touch on briefly: I was literally on my way out of town as a pretty major scandal hit the birth & parenting blogosphere, regarding circumcision. I watched this unfold in various airports via my phone's limited internet capabilities. I did comment on both Facebook and on a few blogs where it was being discussed, but under the circumstances, didn't have anything I felt was cohesive enough for a full blog post of my own. (In brief, a baby whose health was already jeopardized by a heart condition was circumcised and subsequently died of heart failure which may or may not have been exacerbated by the blood loss which resulted from the circumcision. Some intactivists then took it upon themselves to brutally attack the family on their own blog, as well as other blogs, for making this decision. Don't try looking for the most vicious comments now, as they've been censored pretty much everywhere they appeared, but trust me - I saw them, and so did others, including the family. See the link above for more detail.)

Now it seems the furor has mostly dissipated, so I'm almost reluctant to bring it up again and risk stirring the pot. But it was a pretty remarkable situation, and I do want to address it here.

I write about topics that ARE somewhat controversial, but I have yet to really take an official stand on what I see as the three Big Ones: Vaccination, Unassisted Birth, and Circumcision. I'm still not going to get into the first two, but it will probably not surprise anyone to learn that I am generally opposed to circumcision. I tread quite lightly about it when it comes to friends and clients, particularly when there are religious convictions involved, but yes, this is my position.

But do I consider myself an "intactivist"? Until the episode of this past week, I would have said yes. Now, I'm not so sure. Is it a matter of semantics, to say that I'm anti-circumcision but not an intactivist? Probably. Is it also, then, unfair to lump all intactivists together, since it was the vocal, hateful FEW zealots that got all the attention and most hurt the grieving family, and not the majority of intactivists who would never be so disrespectful? Also quite probably. But I found the actions of some intactivists, however few, so utterly abhorrent that I'm reluctant to ever ally myself with such people ever again.

I may change my mind, but this is how I feel at the moment. VBACtivist, lactivist, even a snacktivist, but not an intactivist.

Check out this well-written intactivist's response to the situation.


  1. Hmmmm...very interesting! I am still an intactivist, despite the horrible few who have little time than to torture a grieving family. But, what I am above all else is a respectivist and a compassionist.

    I am against circumcision, but I am not against anyone else's choice to circumcize. I am against vaccinations, but I am not against anyone else's choice to vaccinate. I am against "unnatural" birth, but I am not against a woman's right to choose which birth is best for her, and I am against formula feeding, but not against anyone's choice to do so.

    I guess in short, I am a respectful, compassionate intactivist, lactivist, natural birth advocate. That, alone, makes me different from the people who call themselves any kind of -ivist, but at the detriment of those who do not agree with them.

    I have to say that I believe that you, too, are a respectful, compassionate -ivist. So I do not think you have anything to worry about. :)

  2. I too would still call myself an intactivist, in that I am someone who thinks the general practice of removing the foreskin is not a good idea. Even is religious situations I think there is a way to 'get around' it. See the film 'The Cut'. It is very interesting. I don't think harrasing anybody is the way to get anyone to 'do' anything. There are extremist in ANY group, even if we agree on one thing.

  3. Anne.... Good post. I think it is one thing to educate and inform, but another thing all together to slam families for their decisions. Especially this poor family that lost a baby. Many families do not make educated decisions, but others do. I have a family I am working with that has Muslim heritage. Of course I am going to respect their child will be circumcised as it is part of their culture. I also had a Jewish family that decided to go against their culture and not circumcise. Which decision was correct? Both. They made informed decisions knowing full well the risks and drawbacks of their choices.

  4. I absolutely call myself an intactivist. I oppose circumcision in all forms, religious or not (baby girls are protected from religious circumcision, which can be as little as a pin prick - boys should be afforded the same protection.)I petition and write letters to legislators to get public funding for circumcision stopped, and write health insurance companies as well.

    Some people in every group are jerks. While this is true, I stand by my feeling that removing any healthy, normal, functioning part of someone's sexual organs without their consent is 100% absolutely unethical and wrong, and yes, abusive. I would never lash out at a family that's suffered such a loss, ever, but I have a hard time reconciling anyone's decision to circumsize when plenty of information about it is literally at their fingertips. Expectant parents spend more time researching strollers than circumcision, and it absolutely makes me sick. And the thought that the vast majority of these babies go through this procedure with little to no painkillers?? Absolutely inexcusable.

    So yes, what those few people did was disgusting, but the entire practice of circumcision is disgusting.