Do You Feel Mutilated?

Sudden activity on an old front in the worldwide circumcision wars: Africa. While two legislators in California announced efforts to ban the San Francisco circumcision-ban ballot measure, The Atlantic reported on a Zimbabwean campaign to encourage grown men and boys to get circumcised.

The point of the Zimbabwean effort is to slow the spread of HIV. As Gordon Haber mentioned in his recent essay here at KtB, three African studies found that circumcision reduced male-to-female transmission of the disease by up to 60 percent. One study was “so convincing that it was stopped after 18 months, because preventing the uncircumcised control group from getting the procedure would have been unethical,” The Atlantic said in an article about a similar measure in Swaziland. About one in seven Zimbabweans have HIV. Financial supporters of the campaign include Bill Gates and a US government program initiated by George Bush.

Strangely, the Atlantic story focused on Zimbabwe’s biggest reggae star, Winky D, who has recorded two songs in support of the campaign. Circumcision is “one of the coolest moves you will ever make,” Winky D told a Harare radio station. “I should know, I made that move. Takaipa! Takaipa!” he said, bup-bupping the refrain from his biggest hit.

Yesterday also marked the release of Foreskin Man #3, the third installment of the comic book series by Matthew Hess, one of the main “inactivists” behind the San Francisco measure. Therein the superhero meets his counterpart, Vulva Girl, a busty Kenyan babe with big hair. She and Foreskin Man travel to Africa to battle a tribe of genital mutilators. The Anti-Defamation League has listed Foreskin Man #2 as Exhibit A in a joint lawsuit they filed last week to pull the measure from the ballot.

Though the two stories differ in an essential aspect—the San Francisco campaign is concerned with the rights of babies and the Zimbabwean campaign with saving cognizant volunteers from disease—the same old argument broke out in the comments section under the Winky D article. One detractor disputed the results of the study in a lengthy essay, then called circumcision a destruction of nature. One called it neo-colonialism. One apparent supporter said simply “I don’t feel ‘mutilated.’”

To second Haber, it’s a faith-based conflict. It’s a conflict about what faith to foist on children—faith in the inviolability of foreskin, or faith in the covenant with God? “No mother doubts that in her child she has borne a piece of property,” wrote Nietzsche, “no father disputes his right to subject it to his concepts and values.”

Also, KtB is seeing a Matisyahu/Winky D collaboration.

Nathaniel Page is a writer who lives in Brooklyn.