Spanking, Circumcision, Guns, and Stigmatizing Each Other into Oblivion

Earlier this week, my kids and I pulled up to an old Jeep decorated with political stickers, some of which can provide amusing reading at red lights and some that might evoke the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes when Kathy Bates repeatedly smashed into a Volkswagen after someone stole her parking spot.  “That guy voted for Obama,” my son said, reading the stickers, which included an admonition to give bicyclists room on the road, something about world peace, and a head-scratcher which read, “Bring the Whole Baby Home from the Hospital.”

“Look at that one,” my son read. “Is that a pro-life sticker?”

“It’s actually an anti-circumcision sticker,” I explained.

“Why advertise your belief about circumcision on a Jeep?” my daughter asked.

“And why would anyone be against circumcision?” my son asked. He didn’t realize that when he was born twelve years ago in Ithaca, New York, we were under great pressure not to have him circumcised. My friends were against it, my doctor was hesitant about it, and it felt really counter cultural when we went ahead with the procedure. As we drove home last night, I explained how different things were, and they were astonished at the gaping cultural divide. When I reminded them of the way things were done in Ithaca — which I wrote about in a memoir — they said, “Really? You have to be making some of this up.”

It’s almost impossible for people in rural Tennessee to understand the way people in Ithaca perceive them and their lifestyle#…#and vice versa. Today, I came across even more evidence of this chasm of understanding between the two groups of people in this country. It feels so 2000 to describe it as “red” and “blue,” doesn’t it? By now, “us” and “them” seems sufficient. Because we are so separated from each other, it’s almost impossible for us to communicate on issues of the day. For example, a Washington Post article which discusses an effort to legally ban all forms of corporal punishment perfectly demonstrates this gap. The article explains that the new paddling prohibitionists “want to tarnish spanking’s image as a normal part of American life with a sustained behavior change campaign along the lines of the ones that cut smoking rates in half and made drunken driving a national taboo.”

In other words, since the Left has so far been unable to legally prohibit spanking, they want to stigmatize it away. Note they listed spanking in a series which includes drunk driving and smoking, even though spanking children is a way to raise children into better, more responsible adults. It feels useless to go into the so-called evidence, because the “us” versus “them” dichotomy cannot be overcome with mere numbers or statistics. But, for old time’s sakes, let’s give it a whirl.

From the anti-spanking camp:

That spanking does hurt children, and not just for the five stinging minutes that follow, has become a matter of consensus among many social scientists. Most of the studies are observational (no one has dared to bring kids in for a few laboratory whacks). But hundreds of findings have suggested that spanking correlates with a range of problems. The most often cited link is between spanking and future aggressive behavior, but research has also found that spanked children are more likely to drop out of school, suffer psychological problems and abuse their own children.

Robert Larzelere, a professor of human development at Oklahoma State University, disagreed, saying it was a chicken-egg paradox. It’s not that corporal punishment led to more aggressive kids, but that aggressive kids are more likely to need discipline. “It’s like showing a link between spending the night in a hospital and poor health,” he told the Washington Post. “They’re over-interpreting the correlational evidence.”

And other studies come down firmly on the side of spanking. An article in the Wall Street Journal described research by Calvin College’s Marjorie Gunnoe who concluded adolescents who’d been spanked as young children actually had “a sunnier outlook and were better students than those who were never spanked.”

Honestly, though, it seems fruitless to dwell on any of this research at all.

My husband David heard a lecture by Ravi Zacharias, who claimed stigma always beats dogma in the battle of ideas. “In other words,” he wrote, “through stigmatization, one can defeat a set of ideas or principles without ever “winning” an argument on the merits. We’ve seen this recently on guns. When gun advocates produce evidence that responsible gun ownership is a safe, necessary method of defense, it doesn’t matter. Guns are evil, so no empirical evidence can convince people that having them is okay. On the other side, when gay-rights advocates try to produce “evidence” that same-sex parenting is the same as — or even better than — heterosexual parenting, we don’t budge. Why? Because we believe same-sex relationships are immoral just as strongly as they believe guns are immoral. The gap between us is so large, we can’t reason our way through these issues over a cup of coffee. In fact, because we’re so geographically isolated, we can’t talk about anything over coffee. Our best arguments happen right here — in the cold, harsh world of the Internet, where isolated people sit in front of laptops without having to encounter real-world versions of the people they’re fighting on screen.

The Washington Post gave Adam Zolotor, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina, the last word on spanking. Observe his use of “stigma,” when he concluded, “Most reasonable people don’t want to resolve a problem by striking someone.”

It reminded me of a moment in Philadelphia at Three Bears Park. The kids were playing after school on an autumn day, and the moms were chatting on the benches. Conversation came around to politics, and everyone began to bash conservatives. When I finally came “out of the closet” and admitted I was a Republican, they were shocked. “But you seemed so#…#reasonable,” one mother said in disbelief.

Of course, “reasonable people” do spank their children, which I’ve already written about on the Corner. In fact, my 2011 post, called “I Spank My Kids, Come and Get Me Judge Longoria,” caused quite a stir. However, things feel different to me now in 2013, after losing the White House twice with no real Republican leadership rising to meet the challenge. Instead of feeling feisty, I feel sad and resigned about the canyon of misunderstanding between the two groups. Oh, I’ll still spank my kids. And I’ll take them to church, teach them catechisms, take my son to trap practice, play dolls with my kindergartner, help my teenager create her farm-fresh egg business, and love them every day.

But instead of simply teaching them arguments about our lives and political choices, I’m also preparing them to face cultural scorn. Whether the condescension comes on the back of an old worn-out Jeep, the latest sitcom, or from the lips of their future college professors, it’s going to keep coming at them from all directions. In fact, after seven years of trying to use logic, reason, and facts to get a Republican into the White House, I realize now that — at least in part — we were simply “stigmatized” out of the Oval Office.

So now, in defeat, how do we view this cultural dynamic of stigmatization? Ideally, we’re raising children who can deal with the condescension with logic, inner toughness, and good cheer.

And maybe — just maybe — I’ll get there too.

This article first appeared at National Review Online.

About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Jackieno

    “And why would anyone be against circumcision?”
    The parts of that are cut off are some of the most highly innervated parts of the human. The lips, nipples and fingertips have similar touch sense. To take this away from another person without their consent is heinous. To do this to a newborn baby is creepy, child abuse and a human rights VIOLATION.

    • http://none Rick

      So true, a shame what a lot of Americans do not know about the Male body, or choose to ignore. Infants and children should be protected by law.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Hi Nancy. As a mother who circumcised (well, actually, we paid to have someone else do it, but you know what I mean) and who spanked, I understand that sometimes we have to act on our faith and best judgement and against what the popular culture dictates. But help me see the scorn in the Jeep’s bumper stickers. I don’t feel scorned by a bumper sticker that wants me to take home the “whole” baby. The driver is critiquing my choice with passion; but I’m a big girl, and I like living in a country where people are free to argue their positions. Furthermore, I understand the argument, and I’m sympathetic to the driver’s impulse to protect babies. I happen to disagree with his or her conclusions, but I don’t feel scorn. If I chose to, I can almost always find a way to understand people’s whose positions are different from mine.

    I’m not saying that I never experience scorn. Perhaps more than most, I experience it from both sides. I’m simply saying that more often than people want to admit, we are not being scorned but disagreed with.

  • John

    It’s easy to simply claim that you are being stigmatized. In reality, you are simply upset with the fact that other people are disagreeing with you and you refuse to recognize that you are wrong. And no, you were not going counter-culture when circumcising your son, you were actually BULLIED by your family culture to do it! Now, you are trying to find reasons why it was a good decision, but you are not willing to face the truth that you had no good reasons for doing it.

    I also find Tara Edelschick’s comment very interesting. So, you ARE able to be sympathetic with people who want to protect children but you fail to explain why you opted for circumcision for your sons. Just be honest to yourself. You simple don’t know why you did it.

    Encouraging other parents to not circumcise is NOT a belief. It is information that this is a barbaric procedure and there are no excuses for performing it.

  • Hugh7

    ‘“And why would anyone be against circumcision?” my [12-year-old] son asked. ‘
    Well, author and composer Paul Bowles had it nailed at the same age.
    “One evening [c.1924] at dinner while several guests were present, Bowles asked his mother what the word circumcision meant. He said he had heard a girl whispering that she could not come to her friend’s party because she was “going to a circumcision.”

    Bowles’s …mother summoned Bowles to the kitchen … “You want to know about cir­cumcision?” she asked. Then she explained that “sometimes when a baby boy is born, they take the little penis and cut a piece off the end of it.”

    “What for?” cried Bowles, wondering vaguely who they could be.

    “Some people think it’s cleaner.”

    Unable to imagine how “civilized people could agree to practice such a barbarous act on helpless babies,” Bowles conducted his own investigation with a needle. “The pain was not so intense as I expected, but I never experimented in such fashion again.”

    Paul Bowles, a life, by Virginia Spencer Carr, p 34
    But then, he hadn’t been circumcised.

  • James K.

    Wait, circumcision is conservative now? Must everything become part of identity politics? Circumcise, don’t circumcise, I don’t care, but don’t make a relatively recent and geographically limited development (unheard of among Western Christians before the twentieth century and never really accepted by most countries other than the U.S.) into a conservative litmus test.

  • Elizabeth

    It is interesting you talk about the left trying to create a stigma on spanking which I haven’t really noticed. Actually think this is the first time I have heard it come up in years, but that is beside the point. You yourself are creating a stigma of your own by generalizing that the left is creating a stigma on spanking along with the snarky gun control comment. I think you would be surprised at the fact many on the left either don’t care one way or another or are in favor of spanking. I grew up in a house where we could get spankings, but often mom was pretty good about not having to since she had other more devious ways to correct our behavior.

    The first time I threw a tantrum in public she didn’t spank me, but she did leave her grocery cart put me in the car took me home sent me to my room and waited till dad got home to go back and do her shopping. Her attitude was if we couldn’t behave in public then we could just stay home. She always said spanking is the weak parent’s solution, and I tend to agree with her. I think behavioral problems now days have little to do with whether a kid is spanked or not, it is more a fact that so many parents now days don’t want to be parents. They put their kids in front of TVs and computers to babysit and teach them and then are surprised when a child has no respect for them or the rules.
    I am not sure whether I would spank my kids or not. I probably won’t but that is due to the fact that I happen to love being spanked and is a bit of a sexual thing for me. So spanking my kids would be a bit unnerving if not flat out icky. Not to mention I have a nasty temper and I think too often parents spank out of anger rather than as an attempt to correct bad behavior. So I might not spank but I would have similar rules to the ones I had growing up
    As to your other comment on circumcision I won’t be doing it, and that is mainly because of my current partner. He is adamant on the subject, but that is because his circumcision was seriously botched. To the point he has a pretty nasty scar and little feeling in that area because of it. So I can see why he doesn’t want his children to have one. To be honest I am not very familiar with circumcision being a woman and when I have thought about it I have always seen it as either a religious obligation or an aesthetic one. Never been real clear on why one was necessary in the first place, but to each their own.
    On a final note about having lost the Whitehouse twice it had more to do with the fact that you lost moderates like me. Till you can get the far right fringe under control you will lose more and more voters like me. I grew up in a staunch conservative Republican home, but I left the party because of how militant and nasty the right had become. The Republican party has skewed so far right that some of us find ourselves in the Democrat camp. I even remarked to a friend that is was funny that back home in the states I was considered a Liberal, but in the UK I was a conservative.