Friday, February 15, 2013

The "Mommy Page" Wars

Lately, it seems a lot of "mommy pages" have sought to increase their viewership by bringing on the circumcision debate.

The most reliable way to start a thread that attracts 100+ comments on any parenting page, is to make infant circumcision the topic.

What are "mommy pages?"

Ostensibly they're parenting forums where moms, and sometimes dads, can come and glean, share or otherwise exchange parenting experiences and advice for the betterment of parenting, and hopefully, the betterment of the children being raised.

Or at least one would hope.

A lot of these, however, tend to be gathering places for like-minded parents who want nothing more than validation from others for what they've already decided to do with their children. Basically, they're mutual ego masturbation sessions where parents go to pat each other on the back and give each other high-fives.

"No one wants advice - only corroboration."
~John Steinbeck

They range from major mainstream online parenting forums, like CafeMom, BabyCenter, Baby Gaga, TheBump, etc., to "mommy pages" on Facebook, where they tend to have cute, but feisty little names like "kickass mommies," "uncensored mommas," or "I'm a mom, I got this."

The names try to give the impressions that they're places for parents to sound off and anything goes.

In reality, though, depending on the nature of the managers of the pages, they're places where the opinions and the nature of pages are already pretty much set, and where you've really got to walk around eggshells, so as to not upset other parents, namely the creators of said pages.

If you've got a dissenting view, you've got to be real careful to couch it, sugar coat it, and coddle others that disagree with you in attempts to get it heard. Dissenting views (or, actually, advice and experiences that upset other parents) tend to be silenced, deleted or blocked as "bashing" or "harassment."

In fact, when a lot of these "mommy pages" dare to bring on the circumcision debate, they always have to preclude, in all capital letters, with expressions such as "NO BASHING!" Or "HARRASSING COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED, AND USERS BANNED IMMEDIATELY!"

Harrassment? Or Inconvenient Truths?
It's interesting what passes for "harassment" nowadays. Yes, I'm sure internet trolls exist in the intactivism movement; they exist in every walk of life.

But, it seems, on "mommy sites," on and off Facebook, any suggestion that circumcision might be a bad idea is considered "bashing" or "harassment," and is often deleted, and the poster blocked, no matter how diplomatic and respectful the comment may actually have been. Sometimes the entire thread is removed altogether, because it's just too much for the admins to handle. Nobody wants to consider the possibility that they may have actually made a mistake.

Parents go on these forums which are obviously for the purpose of dispensing and exchanging parental advice, they post their story, asking for every one's opinions, and then cry "bashing" and "harassment" when they don't get the validation they were looking for.

What I find almost comical is the way parents get on their high horse about the matter, and retort with snappy one-liners such as "whether or not I decide to circumcise my kids is none of your business." Or "don't you tell me how to raise my kids."

Another common one is "how dare you assume I don't have the good sense to research the subject for myself!"

Even though, they ARE, for all intents and purposes, seeking advice on a parenting advice forum. Many moms and dads who utter statements as the above also had the audacity to START their own "mommy" page to dispense advice to others.

Exchange on most other aspects of parenting (breast feeding, co-sleeping, car seats, slings, etc) is allowed. But anything other than "it's your choice" and "it's harmless and beneficial" regarding circumcision is considered "bashing," "harassment," "disrespectful," and "insulting."

Quite frankly, if parents didn't want to be "harassed" regarding their son's circumcision, why even bring it up? If they're "so confident" and "so informed" on their "decisions," why seek validation on the Internet?

On a parenting forum?

On Facebook?

Where millions of viewers can see?

It's rather immature, almost mentally unstable, to be making a post asking for other people's opinions, on an open parenting forum, where millions of other moms and dads can see, and opine, and then call it "bashing" and "harassment" when you don't get the validation you were expecting. It's rather self-contradictory to be posting part of your life on the internet, seeking out others' opinions, and then turn around and say "it's none of your business; don't tell me how to raise my child."

I see a lot more "bashing" and name-calling from defensive moms and dads who circumcised their sons than from those who decided against it. Right after comments against circumcision get deleted, and people are banned, those who remain proceed to speak ill of those who disagreed with them in their absence.

On a side note, I'd like to touch on defensive remarks to the effect of "how dare you think I'm not smart enough to do my own research!" It is impolite to insinuate that a parent is not so bright as to inform themselves on an issue that affects their children. The fact of the matter is, though, that one is not automatically smart and enlightened in child-rearing by mere virtue of being a parent. No parent knows it all. If this were true, then there wouldn't be a need for parenting forums and mommy pages. 

The fact of the matter is, however, that no respected medical organization endorses male infant circumcision. The AAP tried to in their last statement, but stopped short. All medical organizations in the West state that the current body of evidence is insufficient to recommend the circumcision of infants. It is fallacious to expect lay parents to examine the same body of evidence, and come up with a more reasonable conclusion than that of entire organizations of medical professionals. It is not possible, then, that parents who chose to allow their children to be circumcised "did their research."

It is medically fraudulent that parents are being allowed to make a "choice" that is inconsistent with the conclusions of entire organizations of medical professionals, that doctors pretend that they can comply with such a "choice," and that public coffers are expected to reimburse them.

A Disservice to Parents and Their Children
Why do page admins delete "bashing" and "harassment" on their pages and forums? (In other words, factual information that may make other parents uncomfortable?) My theory is that, a lot of them are more interested in being the center of an online parenting forum than they are about dispensing factually accurate information. They aim to people please and earn and keep "likes" on their pages.

Deleting posts that upset parents who have made the irreversible decision to circumcise their sons makes you look like a hero.

What good is a parenting or "mommy" forum, where basically, instead of advice or exchange of accurate information, its people giving each other validation and reassurance?

The problem with only allowing "supportive," feel-good posts that pander to circumcising parents, and deleting factual information as "bashing," "harassment" and whatnot, is that a lot of misinformation is circulated.

Myths are spread, and children suffer as a result.

Stifling the circumcision debate may keep parents from getting upset and boost online egos, but it doesn't help anybody.

For example, it is accepted medical knowledge that you don't forcibly retract a child's foreskin "for cleaning." Research shows that the foreskin often remains non-retractable until, and even after the onset of puberty. These actions actually hurt your child and put him at risk for infection.

And yet "mommy sites" will often delete this very important information as "bashing" and "harassment," however respectfully presented, and will allow misinformative posts that "warn" parents who do not circumcise their children that they will have to forcibly retract their children to "clean."

As more and more parents are choosing to keep their children's genitals intact, the proper care of normal genitals is important information that parents need to be made aware of, if they don't want to inadvertently hurt their child.

Deleting factual information as "bashing" and "harassment," and blocking the users which disseminate it might spare parents who circumcised their children anxiety, but it doesn't help parents who are seeking to make an informed choice, or their children, totally defeating the purpose of a parenting website.

A Sign of Progress
It's rather self-serving the way "mommy site" admins want to take advantage of the circumcision debate to boost their viewership and "likes" on Facebook, but don't want to actually allow true debate, accusing users that make good points of "bashing" and "harassment," however polite they were, for the sake of popularity.

This seems to be working in favor of intactivism, though.

It used to be the case (and in many cases still is the case) that the circumcision conversation was strictly off limits, and people wanted the conversation to end full stop.

That "mommy sites" now want to host the circumcision debate as an attention booster, even with heavy editing and accusations of "bashing" and "harassment" is truly a sign of the times.

Moms and dads are being forced to come to the table talk about, and consider an issue they once hoped would be a bygone parenting "decision," like deciding what brand of diapers or wet tissues to use.

People are talking, which means circumcision is no longer this taboo "non-issue" you can slide underneath the carpet and pretend never existed.

Some mommy sites actually aren't that bad, and allow links and posts that polite and informative. On the whole though, there's a lot of sugar-coating and coddling of circumcising parents going on.

You can ban people and delete comments you don't agree with, but the circumcision debate is here and it's not going to go away.

"Do nothing secretly; for Time sees and hears all things, and discloses all."

Moral of the story:

"When you ask for advice on the Internet, don't call it "bashing" because it's not what you want to hear."

"If you didn't want it, then you shouldn't have brought it."

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  1. Excellent column Joseph. You've accurately described this phenomenon of how the circumcision "mommy page" wars are waged.

    Consider these young mothers, pressured into cutting their children by all the people around them, and the only defence they have for this is the pro-circumcision propaganda they accepted.

    The question will also be raised by many of their sons, who growing up with access to factual information about this issue will no doubt have their own feelings about what was done to their bodies, without consent.

    This movement for human rights to genital autonomy must certainly acknowledge your very significant contributions, your unrelenting look at this from many angles. Thank you!

  2. An up-to-date analysis of what's happening on Facebook... intactivist Moms mainly are doing the heavy lifting and deserve the credit for finding the discussions and going nose-to-nose with the bullies who run the mommy pages.

    1. So true. Brava to the mommas out there fighting the good fight. Sometimes it seems that the pro-cutting masses use these controversies to gain exposure for themselves. Post one thing that will rile up the troops and all of a sudden you have THOUSANDS over at your page/blog... One particular single dad laughing has done it a few times... and guess what, it works!

  3. It makes me sad, angry, and terrified that the women who run these pages share my title: mother. Thank you for reminding me that the issue is being talked about at least.

  4. I agree that these mommy wars have a strong component of control, power and personal validation. But I also thing that this phenomenon occurs on both sides, as these virtual battles seem to degenerate sometimes into name calling and an unfortunate attempt to submit the other to surrender.

    While I have seen the intactivist message start kindly most of the times, this kindness ends up yielding to personal attacks, attempts at guilt tripping and other techniques that make us look bad. Thus, what we call "pro-cutting" mommies expect to find bullying, fear-mongering, hysteric intactivists. Can we look at the mirror and recognize that in ourselves?

    Before I ruffle more feathers, let me explain this: we know that infant circumcision is painful, risky, potentially dangerous, we know that it can have complications, that it can cause death, we know that it has an effect on sexuality even if American doctors refuse to see it, we know that it is ethically and morally wrong and a violation of human rights.

    Those on the other side, they don't know it. And some times they have a vested interest in not knowing.

    For one, there are many circumcised men who are not aware of any negative effect. Of course, in lack of a major complication, the only way to understand the effects would be by a thorough comparison of their sexual experience with an uncircumcised male, at a level that we normally don't share with others. So of course these males are "circumcised and fine", and they are likely to not want to know the difference. Who would want to know the difference when there's almost nothing that they can do about it? When it means receiving a major blow to their confidence?

    There are many parents who had their sons circumcised and didn't have to deal with major complications. Sure, they had to deal with a fuzzy baby afterwards and with the aftercare, but they don't realize that said aftercare and fuzziness is more complicated that what they believe to be a nightmare: caring for an intact penis, washing underneath that "bacteria trap", having to keep it "superclean" and to verify that their growing children continue to do so. It's a wonder that our manufacturers have not invented some rotary wire brush to polish the inside of intact foreskins given what a nightmare everyone seems to think this is.

    And everyone knows "that guy" who didn't have it done and had to do it later due to the recurrent infections, and everyone has heard those old wives tales, the same tales that the AAP keeps perpetuating through their horribly written and researched Policy Statement, which is the first thing that most people find when they do their research by typing "benefits of circumcision" on a search engine, just to find that "the benefits outweigh the risk", the same article parroted in all mainstream media on August 27th of last year.

    Add the social and family pressure, "you gotta do it", the health professionals pressure (especially nurses from what I hear), the weight of a "tradition" and you have the landscape that first time naive and nervous parents have to face when they face this "decision".

    *** continues ***

  5. And suddently they find themselves stormed by this strange gang of people trying to instill them fear and to submit them into surrender... see? Before they have the time to look at the first link that an intactivist posted, there are already 100+ messages of intactivists that won't stop at anything until these new parents have a sudden epiphany and announce loudly that they have changed their minds. But most of the times this doesn't happen.

    Denial is the first step. "If it was wrong why would doctors recommend it", nevermind that the AAP really doesn't recommend it, they seem like they do. "But it's done for hygiene because otherwise you have to pull it back all the time to wash it" that's what they hear all the time, EVEN from health professionals who unlike what one would expect, don't really know better. And of course they haven't seen anyone with a major complication (or they are not aware of it), so everything that we tell them seems to be just fear mongering.

    And then they become defensive. It just makes sense: the harder you are attacked, the harder you defend yourself, in every aspect of life, isn't it so?

    And of course there are many intactivists in this battle that have deep regret or who have been personally impacted by their own circumcisions and carry a lot of anger, and this becomes apparent after an exchange of words. And there's also the tagging of more intactivists to the battle, so you have 20 or more intactivists trying to convince one or two people with a non-stop repeating of messages.

    I really wonder if people would be more likely to listen if we just gave our message, respectfully, free of emotions, and left. If they asked questions, we would be there to answer them, but if they don't ask anything then we just give them the space to process, to research some more, to see the links that we offered.

    There was this recent case this last week of a mom about to circumcise her baby and stressed, almost crying about it. Most everybody was nice expressing their disagreement, with the possible exception of that one person who said that her son would resent being mutilated like he resented being mutilated by his parents.

    Yes, that may well be the case. But is that the way to address a person who you don't know, a person who is trying to do the best they can, and a person who is going to come back home, to deal with what they have done with their lives, and find that this action that they were nervous about has elicited such negative message? Is it any wonder that the next status that we see from this person said that if "anyone thought that circumcising her baby made her a bad mom they could kiss her ass".

    Did we achieve anything other than looking bad?

    *** continues ***

  6. We've been accused of fear mongering. Have you seen an intactivist tell a mom: "I hope your son survives" or "your son may die"? I've seen it.

    We've been accused of guilt-tripping. Have you seen anyone say "your son will resent you" - I've seen it.

    We've been accused of using threatening language. Have you seen anyone say "how would you like to be strapped to a board and have your labia cut off"? - I've seen it.

    Are those things false? No. But is that the way to deliver our message? Or are we just becoming too loud, expecting immediate submission, and getting angered when we don't see that happening?

    Can't we just stop for a second and see what we look like for someone outside?

    One thing is for sure, we've lost people from our ranks because they don't want to be seen in that same light.

    Are we becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of "bashing" and "harassment"? We need to look deep into ourselves and see if we can fine tune our message. And maybe save our anger for those who really deserve it, those who are promoting the benefit of routine unneeded surgery of non-consenting babies.

    *** Done ***

    1. All excellent points, dreamer.

      I hope others will see these comments.


    2. Can you prove that these tactics are not useful in the long-run? Vicious and sustained ridicule can be a powerful force for change; one must remember that there is a wider audience beyond the subject of such an attack.

    3. Well stated.

      I posted this on the thread where I found your blog link, Joseph (and I wonder how much traffic YOU will get based on posting it on one of these 'mommy pages' - although this one deleted NO comments - and sure enough there was a lot of terrible language on both sides that never got deleted here: --

      I think much of the problem here, with this topic, with this discussion, is that the choice for many parents - is to listen to this group above ^ or to listen to doctors. Outside the AP or Intactivist community (at least where I live) these arguments, facts, articles, are not widely circulated. In many cases, for many things, parents (with their child's best interest at heart) listen to pediatricians for everything. Culturally we believe, trust, value doctors. It is hard to understand (again outside the AP/Intactivist community) why we might trust for some things and not others. When the AAP says we should breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and for at least a year, we value that opinion. When they say circumcision is ok, we don't. This is hard to understand. If you go looking for information, to understand more about it, and you are first met with language such as this, insults, accusations of abuse and human rights violations... how likely are you to trust those giving the information? More or less likely than you are to trust the doctors?

      I just think that MORE people would be open to learning more (and overturning what a doctor has told them to do) if they were spoken to kindly. If their views and concerns were accepted, their questions answered (not their answers questioned). I am not saying everyone will believe, have their minds changed, not follow what a doctor tells them to do, I am just saying people are more likely to be open to change if they are not being insulted throughout the process.

  7. Help make them see that the fourteenth amendment should apply to everyone!! Equal protection under our laws!! Women have the right to remain intact! Let's extend that right to males as well!!
    Please take the time to sign this petition and share with your friends!! Only 150 signatures are needed to make this publicly searchable on!! If we reach 100k signatures by April 5 the white house will have to address this issue!! Thank You