Sunday, August 22, 2010

Philalethes #24 - Who's to Blame II

Quote: "I find it curious that by exposing an inconsistency in feminist thinking, I’m (indirectly) accused of blaming women. I consider this an unnecessarily defensive reaction."

I hope you don’t have the impression that I was making such an accusation. My comments were directed at the remark(s) I quoted, and others similar (not by you), which demonstrate just the knee-jerk feminist reaction you discuss here.

My take on that reaction, the reflexive, sometimes almost violent refusal to acknowledge any similarity between female and male genital mutilation, is that it is a turf defence: The entire edifice of feminism is built on the definition of the female as the eternal helpless victim of male power, thus to admit that the “oppressor” (i.e. the white male) might be a “victim” in any circumstance would literally jerk the ground right out from under the feminist position. Moreover, I believe that all women know, whether they admit it to themselves or not, that infant male circumcision is an expression of Mother’s power; thus the instant refusal to even look at the issue, because to do so will necessarily lead to other thoughts they cannot bear to contemplate–including that they may be to “blame” for this egregious wrong.

In my own case, my mother has steadfastly stonewalled the subject for the last ten years. She was, has been and is in most respects a very good mother, but I suspect that as the notion of “blame” figures large in her thinking (as it does with most people, and especially, I feel, with women), her instinctive, emotional response is to refuse to deal with something that, if allowed into her consciousness, would, as she understands it, force her to feel very badly about herself.

The solution to this dilemma, as I’ve attempted to suggest, is to dump the concept of “blame,” which is useless in any case, since its only effect is to perpetuate suffering. As a Buddhist, my single aim is to decrease and if possible to prevent suffering; anything I do or say must be measured against this standard. If someone has done harm, of course that must be redressed if possible, but to add “guilt” or “blame” to the situation is a waste of energy that could be better used for the real task: to determine exactly what happened, why, how, and what best can be done to correct it.

So long as those whose power is the final authority in the situation refuse to acknowledge this fact, the cause-and-effect chain of suffering will continue. Including, I believe, in the case of infant male circumcision, many of the very same behaviours of men that women so complain about. Any badly abused animal will tend to be unreliable, treacherous, and sometimes violent; infant, pre-rational baby boys who were so savagely violated by their mothers–who in this world can we possibly trust if we cannot trust our mothers?–naturally grow into men who subconsciously fear women, and such fear can easily lead to unexpected violence–unexpected even by the perpetrator–when circumstances evoke such deeply repressed, unconscious feelings. Even at best, the encounter of the sexes will always be confusing, frustrating and sometimes frightening; the wisest preparation is to leave our children whole and support their growth into whole, internally-secure beings who can deal with challenges without losing their mental equilibrium.

Circumcision of children of either sex, like the branding of cattle or the docking and cropping of the tails and ears of dogs, is the physical manifestation of Mother’s instinctive sense of ownership: that her children are her possessions, to be modified to suit her tastes, and used to gratify her needs. After all, she made them, didn’t she? But is this the proper attitude toward children?

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Further Reading:

Philalethes #23 – Who’s to Blame?

Philalethes #21 - Circumcision