Monthly Archives: October 2010
Monday Night Football
Last winter, close to the Super Bowl, Ms. Sterger and Deadspin were discussing a possible collaboration on the proposed “Deadspin Swimsuit Project,” which turned into a conversation about the whole “athlete dong photo” phenomenon. She claimed that she’s been on the receiving end of several of those types of cell phone interactions by drunk men, some of whom were professional athletes. They later had a phone conversation about who some of the more well-known dong-shot senders were. One person, she claimed, who was very into cell phone-donging her was none other than Brett Favre. Now, at one point in his career, this news wouldn’t be too surprising. Favre’s time in Green Bay is littered with stories about his boozing and carousing. But gray-haired Favre? Oh yeah, she said. Sterger said that Favre first began to call her early in the season and leave strange, friendly messages on her voicemail. She played me one of these voicemails over the phone. It was Brett turning on the Mississippi simpleton charm on his way to practice giving Jenn a friendly good ol’ boy hello to a pretty lady. It was odd, but nothing incriminating. Then the phone calls from Brett started to turn weird.
Sterger claimed she spurned Favre’s advances because he was married, but also because she was working for the Jets at the time she didn’t think it was the best idea to start a torrid affair with the team’s highest profile player. Plus, if she went forward with how aggressive he was and how skeeved out she was to some of her superiors, she suspected she might lose her job. The interactions were flirty and strange but she didn’t think there wasn’t anything that made her too uncomfortable. But then, one night, Sterger received a picture on her phone which was so shocking that she just tossed it across the room. It was his dick. Brett Favre’s dick. And it happened multiple times. In fact, Sterger claims that, in one of the photos Favre allegedly sent her, he’s masturbating — while wearing a pair of Crocs. In another photo, Favre is holding his penis while wearing the wristwatch he wore during his first teary-eyed retirement press conference.
There is more to the story as covered by Deadspin, but I think you get the just of the details. If you would like to see the Deadspin video which has the voicemails and texts, click here (penis photos at 2:08 mark but I also put them above). If you don’t want to watch the evidence, here is a breakdown of the reasons I believe it is Farve, besides the fact that he is a slimy sonofabitch. Yes, there’s a possibility that the person communicating with Sterger was not actually Brett Favre, but rather someone trying very hard to appear to be him. But let’s look at the evidence: For an individual to put forth the effort to 1.) acquire a cellphone with a Mississippi area code where Farve lives; 2.) take some voice lessons because not only does it sound like Farve, but the person has an authentic South Mississippi accent (a true southern knows his variations in southern accents); and 3.) implicate Jets handlers and perhaps other people, all within a very short period of time and for no discernible reason other than to mess with Sterger, well, that’s some very aggressive role-playing. Sterger believed it to be him. Others believed it to be him. We’ve seen far too many supposedly family-oriented and upstanding professional athletes whose off-field behavior contradicts their well-manicured public persona. If Sterger is right, Brett Favre really is like a kid out there. He also has a rather smallish dick (technically averaged size, but considering all the stories I had heard about him flashing it around Mississippi while he was in college, you’d think it would be big enough to brag about).
If you don’t know who the hell I have been talking about in this post, here is Brett Farve:
Hyacinth: Lover of the God Apollo
Hyacinth, the young son of the King of Sparta, beautiful like the very gods of Mount Olympus, was beloved of Apollo, shooter of arrows. The god often came down to the shores of the Eurotas River, leaving his shrine in Delphi unattended, to spend time with his young friend and delight in boyish pleasures. Tired of his music and his long bow, Apollo found relief in rustic pastimes. He would take Hyacinth hunting through the woods and glades on the mountain sides, or they would practice gymnastics, a skill which Hyacinth then taught to his friends, and for which later the Spartans would become renowned. The simple life awoke Apollo’s appetites, and made the curly-haired boy seem more charming than ever. Apollo gave him all his love, forgetting he was a mere mortal.
Once, in the heat of a summer afternoon, the lovers stripped naked, sleeked themselves with olive oil, and tried their hand at discus throw, each vying to outdo the other. The bronze discus flew higher and higher. Finally, the powerful god gathered all his strength, and spun and wheeled and let fly the shiny disk which rose swift as a bird, cutting the clouds in two. Then, glittering like a star, it began to tumble down.
Hyacinth ran to meet it. He was hurrying to take his turn, to prove to Apollo that he, though young, was no less able than the god at this sport. The discus landed, but having fallen from such a great height it bounced and violently struck Hyacinth in the head. He let out a groan and crumpled to the ground. The blood spurted thickly from his wound, coloring crimson the black hair of the handsome youth.
Horrified, Apollo raced over. He bent over his friend, raised him up, rested the boy’s head on his knees, trying desperately to staunch the blood flowing from the wound. But it was all in vain. Hyacinth grew paler and paler. His eyes, always so clear, lost their gleam and his head rolled to one side, just like a flower of the field wilting under the pitiless rays of the noonday sun. Heartbroken, Apollo cried out: “Death has taken you in his claws, beloved friend! Woe, for by my own hand you have died. And yet its crime was meeting yours at play. Was that a crime? Or was my love to blame – the guilt that follows love that loves too much? Oh, if only I could pay for my deed by joining you in your journey to the cheerless realms of the dead. Oh, why am I cursed to live forever? Why can’t I follow you?”
Apollo held his dying friend close to his breast, and his tears fell in a stream onto the boy’s bloody hair. Hyacinth died, and his soul flew to the kingdom of Hades. The god bent close to the dead boy’s ear, and softly whispered: “In my heart you will live forever, beautiful Hyacinth. May your memory live always among men as well.” And lo, at a word from Apollo, a fragrant red flower rose from Hyacinth’s blood. We call it hyacinth, and on its petals you can still read the letters “Ay,” the sigh of pain that rose from Apollo’s breast.
And the memory of Hyacinth lived on among the gentlemen of Sparta, who gave honors to their son, and celebrated him for three days in mid-summer at the Hyakinthaea festival. The first day they would mourn his death, and the last two they would celebrate his resurrection.
National Coming Out Day
National Coming Out Day is an international event which gives gay, lesbian and bisexual people the opportunity to “come out” to others about their sexuality. It also provides a means of increasing the visibility of gay people. In the United States, the day is facilitated by the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project (NCOP).
The first National Coming Out Day was held on October 11, 1988. This date was chosen for the annual event in commemoration of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It also marks the anniversary of the first visit of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Washington, D. C.
Many communities and college campuses sponsor activities such as dances, film festivals, workshops, literature booths, and rallies on National Coming Out Day.
PsychologyDegree.com recently posted a list of the “50 Brave Blog Posts About Coming Out.” My friend Bobby’s (My Big Fat Greek Gay Blog) coming out story made the list. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of the post:
One of the most important, impactful moments of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, pansexual or queer individual’s life is finally breaking free from the socially-constructed closet and accepting that particular facet. The decision to come out comes fraught with a maelstrom of psychological, social, filial, emotional, mental and physical stresses – and due to the GLBTQ community’s status as marginalize minorities, they also have to fear discrimination, intolerance and (saddest of all) violence. Not to mention criminalization, occasionally punishable by death, in some nations. Because of this, it takes an impressive amount of personal integrity and strength to slough off society’s heteronormative expectations and be true to one’s own self. These incredibly brave blog posts represent a broad spectrum – though most of them sport positive and hopeful tones – of people coming forth to proudly accept their sexuality and asking loved ones for their support.
50 Brave Blog Posts About Coming Out
Click on the link above to visit the site and find all the links to these 50 blog posts.
As some of you know, I have talked some about my coming out experiences on this blog. If you want to read these posts, please click Coming Out. The last two posts in this category are not my personal stories, but the rest of them are. Here are links to the individual posts:
National Coming Out Day is merely a day of encouragement. I would not suggest to anyone that they come out before they are ready. Always know that there is support out there and come out when you are ready.
Sometimes that decision is not made by us, but for us. I hope that none of you face the problems of being outed. I hope it comes naturally when you are most comfortable with it. Best of luck to all of you, whether you are fully in the closet, partially in the closet, or completely out of the closet. Coming out is never a one time thing and it is a continuing process.
Equal Rights Amendment
THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
In all likelihood, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is dead and will never be ratified to become the 28th Amendment. However, I think there should be a Federal Amendment that would extend the ERA to include barring discrimination because of sexual orientation or identity.
THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. All laws infringing on the rights of individuals because of sex, sexual identity, or sexual orientation shall become null and void immediately upon passage of this amendment.
I think it should also be proposed that a possible Section 4 might be added that would define sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Section 4. Definitions of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Section 4.1. Sex shall be defined as a man or a woman.
Section 4.2. Gender identity shall be defined as the gender, male or female, with which a person identifies with not their biological secondary sexual characteristics. The gender identities one may identify as include male, female, both, somewhere in between (“third gender”), or neither.
Section 4.3. Sexual orientation describes a pattern of emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to men, women, both genders, neither gender, or another gender. Sexual orientation is enduring and also refers to a person’s sense of “personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them.” This definition would also recognize that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice.
Though some might believe this fourth section is too strict or defined. However, whenever the debate over gay marriage is brought up, the ideas of polygamy, bigamy, and bestiality are always raised in the debate by crackpots. I think these definitions would clear up any debate about the meaning of the terms. It would also not allow for a great deal of interpretation of the meaning of the amendment by the Supreme Court or the state ratifying legislatures.
If this amendment were to be proposed and ratified, the debates over GLBT rights would effectively be ended. Gay marriage would be forced to be recognized. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would no longer be able to exist. School bullying would be against federal laws. Teachers could not be fired because of their sexual orientation. We would have definitive protection once and for all. I realize this is a dream, but I think it is a great idea. What do you think? Should we all push to have this amendment proposed, passed by Congress, and ratified by the states?
Here is the history behind the original Equal Rights Amendment:
The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment
by Roberta W. Francis,
Chair, ERA Task Force
National Council of Women’s Organizations
As supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment between 1972 and 1982 lobbied, marched, rallied, petitioned, picketed, went on hunger strikes, and committed acts of civil disobedience, it is probable that many of them were not aware of their place in the long historical continuum of women’s struggle for constitutional equality in the United States. From the very beginning, the inequality of men and women under the Constitution has been an issue for advocacy.
In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, “In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”1 John Adams replied, “I cannot but laugh. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems.”2
The new Constitution’s promised rights were fully enjoyed only by certain white males. Women were treated according to social tradition and English common law and were denied most legal rights. In general they could not vote, own property, keep their own wages, or even have custody of their children.
19th-Century Women’s Rights Struggles
The first visible public demand for equality came in 1848, at the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, who had met as abolitionists working against slavery, convened a two-day meeting of 300 women and men to call for justice for women in a society where they were systematically barred from the rights and privileges of citizens. A Declaration of Sentiments and eleven other resolutions were adopted with ease, but the proposal for woman suffrage was passed only after impassioned speeches by Stanton and former slave Frederick Douglass, who called the vote the right by which all others could be secured. However, the country was far from ready to take the issue of women’s rights seriously, and the call for justice was the object of much ridicule.
After the Civil War, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth fought in vain to have women included in new constitutional amendments giving rights to former slaves. The 14th Amendment defined citizens as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and guaranteed equal protection of the laws – but in referring to the electorate, it introduced the word “male” into the Constitution for the first time. The 15th Amendment declared that “the right of citizens . . . to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” – but women of all races were still denied the ballot.
To Susan B. Anthony, the rejection of women’s claim to the vote was unacceptable. In 1872, she went to the polls in Rochester, NY, and cast a ballot in the presidential election, citing her citizenship under the 14th Amendment. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100, which she refused to pay. In 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett said that while women may be citizens, all citizens were not necessarily voters, and states were not required to allow women to vote.
Until the end of their long lives, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned for a constitutional amendment affirming that women had the right to vote, but they died in the first decade of the 20th century without ever casting a legal ballot.
Victory for Woman Suffrage
The new century saw a profound change in the lives of women, as they joined the workforce in increasing numbers, led the movement for progressive social reform, and finally generated enough mass power to win the vote. Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association were a mainstream lobbying force of millions at every level of government. Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party were a small, radical group that not only lobbied but conducted marches, political boycotts, picketing of the White House, and civil disobedience. As a result, they were attacked, arrested, imprisoned, and force-fed. But the country’s conscience was stirred, and support for woman suffrage grew.
The 19th Amendment affirming women’s right to vote steamrolled out of Congress in 1919, getting more than half the ratifications it needed in the first year. Then it ran into stiff opposition from states’-rights advocates, the liquor lobby, business interests against higher wages for women, and a number of women themselves, who believed claims that the amendment would threaten the family and require more of them than they felt their sex was capable of.
As the amendment approached the necessary ratification by three-quarters of the states, the threat of rescission surfaced. Finally the battle narrowed down to a six-week seesaw struggle in Tennessee. The fate of the 19th Amendment was decided by a single vote, that of 24-year-old legislator Harry Burn, who switched from “no” to “yes” in response to a letter from his mother saying, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!” The Secretary of State in Washington, DC issued the 19th Amendment’s proclamation immediately, before breakfast on August 26, 1920, in order to head off any final obstructionism.3
Thus mainstream and militant suffragists together finally won the first, and still the only, specific written guarantee of women’s equal rights in the Constitution – the 19th Amendment, which declared, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It had been 72 years from Seneca Falls to victory, and ironically, the most controversial resolution had been written into law first. But many laws and practices in the workplace and in society still perpetuated men’s status as privileged and women’s status as second-class citizens.
The Equal Rights Amendment
Freedom from legal sex discrimination, Alice Paul believed, required an Equal Rights Amendment that affirmed the equal application of the Constitution to all citizens. In 1923, in Seneca Falls for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention, she introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” which read: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The amendment was introduced in every session of Congress until it passed in reworded form in 1972.
Although the National Woman’s Party and professional women such as Amelia Earhart supported the amendment, reformers who had worked for protective labor laws that treated women differently from men were afraid that the ERA would wipe out the progress they had made.
In the early 1940s, the Republican Party and then the Democratic Party added support of the Equal Rights Amendment to their platforms. Alice Paul rewrote the ERA in 1943 to what is now called the “Alice Paul Amendment,” reflecting the 15th and the 19th Amendments: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” But the labor movement was still committed to protective workplace laws, and social conservatives considered equal rights for women a threat to the existing power structure.
In the 1960s, over a century after the fight to end slavery fostered the first wave of the women’s rights movement, the civil rights battles of the time provided an impetus for the second wave. Women organized to demand their birthright as citizens and persons, and the Equal Rights Amendment rather than the right to vote became the central symbol of the struggle.
Finally, organized labor and an increasingly large number of mainstream groups joined the call for the ERA, and politicians reacted to the power of organized women’s voices in a way they had not done since the battle for the vote.
The Equal Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. But as it had done for every amendment since the 18th (Prohibition), with the exception of the 19th Amendment, Congress placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. This time limit was placed not in the words of the ERA itself, but in the proposing clause.
Like the 19th Amendment before it, the ERA barreled out of Congress, getting 22 of the necessary 38 state ratifications in the first year. But the pace slowed as opposition began to organize – only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976.
Arguments by ERA opponents such as Phyllis Schlafly, right-wing leader of the Eagle Forum/STOP ERA, played on the same fears that had generated female opposition to woman suffrage. Anti-ERA organizers claimed that the ERA would deny woman’s right to be supported by her husband, privacy rights would be overturned, women would be sent into combat, and abortion rights and homosexual marriages would be upheld. Opponents surfaced from other traditional sectors as well. States’-rights advocates said the ERA was a federal power grab, and business interests such as the insurance industry opposed a measure they believed would cost them money. Opposition to the ERA was also organized by fundamentalist religious groups.
Pro-ERA advocacy was led by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and ERAmerica, a coalition of nearly 80 other mainstream organizations. However, in 1977, Indiana became the 35th and so far the last state to ratify the ERA. That year also marked the death of Alice Paul, who, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony before her, never saw the Constitution amended to include the equality of rights she had worked for all her life.
Hopes for victory continued to dim as other states postponed consideration or defeated ratification bills. Illinois changed its rules to require a three-fifths majority to ratify an amendment, thereby ensuring that their repeated simple majority votes in favor of the ERA did not count. Other states proposed or passed rescission bills, despite legal precedent that states do not have the power to retract a ratification.
As the 1979 deadline approached, some pro-ERA groups, like the League of Women Voters, wanted to retain the eleventh-hour pressure as a political strategy. But many ERA advocates appealed to Congress for an indefinite extension of the time limit, and in July 1978, NOW coordinated a successful march of 100,000 supporters in Washington, DC. Bowing to public pressure, Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982.
The political tide continued to turn more conservative. In 1980 the Republican Party removed ERA support from its platform, and Ronald Reagan was elected president. Although pro-ERA activities increased with massive lobbying, petitioning, countdown rallies, walkathons, fundraisers, and even the radical suffragist tactics of hunger strikes, White House picketing, and civil disobedience, ERA did not succeed in getting three more state ratifications before the deadline. The country was still unwilling to guarantee women constitutional rights equal to those of men.
The Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in Congress on July 14, 1982 and has been before every session of Congress since that time. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008), it has been introduced as S.J.Res. 10 (lead sponsor: Sen. Edward Kennedy, MA) and H.J.Res. 40 (lead sponsor: Rep. Carolyn Maloney, NY). These bills impose no deadline on the ERA ratification process. Success in putting the ERA into the Constitution via this process would require passage by a two-thirds in each house of Congress and ratification by 38 states.
An alternative strategy for ERA ratification has arisen from the “Madison Amendment,” concerning changes in Congressional pay, which was passed by Congress in 1789 and finally ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The acceptance of an amendment after a 203-year ratification period has led some ERA supporters to propose that Congress has the power to maintain the legal viability of the ERA’s existing 35 state ratifications. The legal analysis for this strategy is outlined in “The Equal Rights Amendment: Why the ERA Remains Legally Viable and Properly Before the States,” an article by Allison Held, Sheryl Herndon, and Danielle Stager in the Spring 1997 issue of William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law.
Under this rationale, it is likely that Congress could choose to legislatively adjust or repeal the existing time limit constraint on the ERA, determine whether or not state ratifications after the expiration of a time limit in a proposing clause are valid, and promulgate the ERA after the 38th state ratifies.
The Congressional Research Service analyzed this legal argument in 19964 and concluded that acceptance of the Madison Amendment does have implications for the premise that approval of the ERA by three more states could allow Congress to declare ratification accomplished. As of 2007, ratification bills testing this three-state strategy have been introduced in one or more legislative sessions in eight states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia), and supporters are seeking to move such bills in all 15 of the unratified states.5
In her remarks as she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in Seneca Falls in 1923, Alice Paul sounded a call that has great poignancy and significance over 80 years later: “If we keep on this way they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Convention without being much further advanced in equal rights than we are. . . . If we had not concentrated on the Federal Amendment we should be working today for suffrage. . . . We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”
1 Letter, March 31, 1776 (in Alice S. Rossi, The Feminist Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir, New York: Columbia University Press, 1973).
2 Letter, April 14, 1776 (ibid.)
3 Carol Lynn Yellin, “Countdown in Tennessee, 1920,” American Heritage (December 1978).
4 David C. Huckabee, “Equal Rights Amendment: Ratification Issues,” Memorandum, March 18, 1996 (Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, DC).
5Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Routine Secular Circumcision: The CASE of the USA
The United States is unique among Western countries in its practice of routine circumcision. From 1.2 to 1.8 million little Americans are circumcised annually, representing from 60% to 90% of newborn boys. The routine, almost compulsory character of this mass circumcision raises multiple questions concerning public health and medical practice. Having originated in particular historical circumstances, this procedure has for decades been the subject of studies aimed at making precise measurements of actual medical benefits, calculating cost/benefit ratios, and attempting to understand the sociocultural implications and ethical issues.
The history of circumcision in the United States can be divided into three periods:
1870-1949: Circumcision as punishment
Routine circumcision was introduced to the United States in stages beginning in the 1870s for one basic purpose: to deprive the male of a prepuce considered essential for masturbation, a practice thought to be the cause of multiple physical and mental pathologies. From Europe, where masturbation was seen as an indication for circumcision, the fear of masturbation spread to North America, where emphasis was placed on its psychological effects.
Routine circumcision made its initial appearance in the United States on February 9, 1870. Lewis Sayre, first professor of orthopedic surgery in the United States, president of the American Medical Association and founder of J.A.M.A., noticed that a 5-year-old boy with multiple tendon contracture of unknown etiology suffered from very painful phimosis and priapism, which Sayre attributed to excessive masturbation. Believing that masturbation could create a “source of irritation” responsible for tendon pathology, Sayre recommended circumcision. According to Sayre, circumcision caused the tendon contracture to disappear within a few weeks, allowing the boy to resume walking.
Sayre’s position at a university gave his first publication an important audience. Sayre led his audience to believe that a simple intervention could cure myriad puzzling diseases thought to be incurable. He encouraged doctors to examine the prepuce every time they encountered unfamiliar pathology. He added a great number of illnesses to the list of indications for circumcision, to the point where many of Sayre’s disciples quite naturally proposed changing over from therapeutic circumcision to preventive circumcision. So great, they said, were the benefits and so innocuous was the operation. Circumcision became progressively established as a simple health precaution, a kind of surgical vaccination.
A few years later, Remondino enumerated the disorders caused by masturbation (alcoholism, epilepsy, asthma, enuresis, kidney disease, gout, prolapse of the rectum, hernia, cancer, syphilis…), reinforcing the prophylactic benefits of circumcision and contributing greatly to making the procedure acceptable in the eyes of the public. Remondino suggested that insurance companies should treat the foreskin as a special risk factor for men, a suggestion that could only provide additional impetus for circumcision. Some doctors applied themselves to perfecting and simplifying circumcision techniques: in 1910 Kistler invented a device that allowed adults to perform self-circumcision.
In a climate so favorable to preventive circumcision, few publications condemned circumcision as a barbaric practice or advised doctors to stop doing mutilations which lacked a scientific basis.
In fact the practice of circumcision grew, especially as the field of general anesthesia progressed rapidly and the rise in the number of surgeons and hospitals (a 20-fold increase in the last third of the 19th century) motivated surgeons to seek new opportunities for profit. Thus after the First World War neonatal circumcision became almost routine, to the point that in 1929, an editorial in J.A.M.A. called for the circumcision of all newborns, with or without the consent of parents.
The period of evaluation
Right into the 1940s, the usefulness of circumcision was taken for granted in the medical birthing culture. Parental approval was almost never requested and the proportion of little Americans circumcised was about 90%–that is, nearly all of them–a situation which explains the first assessment studies.
It was Gairdner’s work that first brought the value of routine infant circumcision into doubt. Drawing up the inventory of indications, which had changed little since the days of Sayre, Gairdner noted that in the West, circumcision was routine only in English-speaking nations and that circumcision was more common in boys from the upper classes.
In 1969, Bolande compared circumcision to tonsillectomy, describing both as ritualistic surgeries having no sound scientific basis. He demanded credible scientific evidence showing that circumcision was useful. In the absence of such evidence, he considered circumcision contrary to the most basic principles of medical ethics, principles also highlighted by Price.
The potential benefits of routine infant circumcision were evaluated in practice guidelines published on several occasions by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The indications assessed by these bodies were prevention of phimosis, facilitation of hygiene, prevention of penile cancer, prevention of cervical cancer (at times considered more frequent in partners of non-circumcised males), and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. Studies showed that:
• usually phimosis in the newborn is physiologically normal and is not an indication for newborn circumcision;
• circumcision could facilitate glans hygiene in conditions of social disadvantage;
• penile cancer can be prevented as effectively by proper hygiene as by circumcision, a procedure whose protective biological mechanism is moreover poorly understood;
• absence of circumcision is not by itself a determining factor in the occurrence of cervical cancer.
With regard to the prevention of urinary tract infections in children, the purely retrospective nature of the studies and the limiting of subjects to children treated in hospital did not warrant recommending routine circumcision for this indication.
The question of preventing sexually transmitted infections (STI) was also the subject of numerous studies, notably because of the implications for AIDS prevention. A study of 300 heterosexual men by Donovan, Bassett and Bodsworth found that circumcision offered no protection against genital herpes, genital warts or non-gonococcal urethritis. Elsewhere, studies conducted in Africa seemed to indicate that heterosexually transmitted HIV was more common in men who had not been circumcised.
In point of fact, most authors note the multiple methodological flaws in the largely retrospective studies, especially the assumption that circumcision is risk-free. The studies depend heavily on the socio-economic status of parents, suggesting that the sexual behavior of circumcised and non-circumcised men may not be the same. This hypothesis was confirmed by Laumann. Due to the bias inherent in these studies, the results in most cases are difficult or impossible to interpret.
These evaluative studies concluded that there was no absolute indication for routine infant circumcision, bringing into question the justification for a practice affecting nearly all male newborns. Moreover practice guidelines emphasized the need to give parents clear information on the risks of circumcision and non-circumcision, to substitute good hygiene for routine circumcision, and to avoid considering newborn circumcision as a defining element in the overall quality of health.
Notwithstanding these recommendations, the practice of routine circumcision scarcely changed and the frequency of circumcision in the USA today remains the highest in the industrialized world. More than 80% of boys are circumcised at birth  while–for reasons that are not well understood–routine circumcision in economically comparable Anglophone societies (Great Britain, English-speaking Canada, Australia) is either quite uncommon or virtually nonexistent. Against the backdrop of a medical consensus that seems to carry little weight, recent articles underscore the importance of social factors in US circumcision practices and provide some insight into the persistence of this practice.
Circumcision in the USA: A social marker
Circumcised men are more likely to be white and socio-economically advantaged. Among blacks, circumcision is half as common. The study conducted by Laumann on a representative sample of about 1500 Americans aged 18 to 59 found that the circumcision rate is higher among whites than among blacks or Hispanics, a finding that was confirmed by Wilkes and Blum. Of the reasons given by parents to justify a request for circumcision, most are social in character, the parents effectively not wanting their sons to have a physical difference that would set them apart from most Americans and hinder their social integration. Moreover the decision to circumcise or not circumcise a newborn is strongly correlated with the circumcision status of the father, illustrating the attraction of circumcision as a physical mark of social identity.
The circumcision decision also depends to a significant extent on the social status of the mother. The circumcision rate was 2.5 times higher in boys whose mother had a university education. Finally, in contrast to the situation in Europe, circumcision in the United States is not generally correlated with the practice of a religion. Thus circumcision reflects social rather than religious differences. The request for circumcision on the part of parents seems to reflect a desire for membership in an elite, and parents belonging to less favored classes are not as strongly committed to circumcision.
Besides behaviors linked to the social profiles of parents, the role of circumcising physicians should not be overlooked. Circumcisions are less frequent in public hospitals where physicians are on salary.
Finally, it should be noted that different studies seem to show that masturbation, whose role in introducing routine circumcision to the USA has been previously mentioned, actually appears to be more common in individuals who have been circumcised.
The history of ritual circumcision shows the complexity and intricacy of the meanings attached to this practice. It also illustrates the social importance accorded to circumcision by all the societies that practice it. Finally, it offers physicians abundant raw material for reflection on the history of ideas in medicine and the cultural meanings of certain medical practices; it draws attention to the difficulties inherent in, and the necessity for, proper evaluation of medical practices that have become routine.