From the corner of my eye I saw the stylish young mother walking toward us demonstrators dressed in white coveralls with the crotch painted red. With her toddler in tow, I was certain she was going to castigate us for demonstrating against routine infant circumcision in the presence of school children on the west steps of the California State Capitol. As my body tensed in anticipation of her first words, my angst melted away.
“Hi Guys, thanks for organizing the demonstration”, she said. My other gray haired, middle aged demonstrating activists looked at one another briefly in disbelief, then joy, as we realized she was with us and not against us. But she would not be the only mother in attendance. Two other moms, with their cherubic children, also joined our demonstration that foggy Thursday morning in downtown Sacramento.
“Surely, these young mothers could have found something more entertaining for their toddlers to do than holding signs against circumcising baby boys”, I thought. Then, Janelle, the mother that had made me apprehensive about her motives, lifted up her young son and proudly proclaimed, “Look, I even painted his sweats red to match your outfits.” “Wow”, I thought to myself, this woman is ten steps ahead of me.
The Blood Stained Men, a loose assembly of men and women who don the white coveralls, have the
crotch painted red to symbolize the violence and blood associated with infant circumcision. The “blood” stained coveralls are merely a prop to draw the attention of people walking by in order to engage in a discussion about circumcision. Janelle, with her Louis Viton bag slung over her shoulder, had taken the red stain to the next level.
It never occurred to me that the red paint on the diaper bulge of Janelle’s son’s sweat pants meant that he was circumcised. She had elevated the red “blood” stain into a badge or symbol against circumcision. Any of us could also incorporate this symbol into our clothing to make the statement that routine infant circumcision is wrong. She was so passionate against circumcision she twisted into an extra set of the white coveralls with the red crotch and stood on the street corner with us.
One of the other moms in attendance had made her own signs and both her and her young son wore t-shirts advocating to keep baby boys intact. As a full fledge participant in my first political demonstration, I felt fairly blessed to be in the company of such enlighten and passionate people. After a couple of hours of walking and talking in the cold, the incredibly well behaved youngsters were starting to show signs of, “Mom, I need a nap or a treat”. We said our good-byes, hugged and promised to stay in touch through the medium that brought us all there: Facebook.
It wasn’t too long after we all left that photos of the demonstration started popping up on Facebook. Janelle posted a great photo of her son with anti-circumcision red painted pants. Everyone at the demonstration knew exactly what the message and intent of the photo. Here was a proud mother, who was courageous enough to stand up to cultural norms and actively decline having her son circumcised. Her son’s pants symbolized as much about her triumph as it was about her intact son. By coming out to the demonstration and posting the photo she was proclaiming her opposition to routine infant circumcision. She was bold and brave.
Unfortunately, some of the followers of the Facebook page about the demonstration, and fellow intactivist themselves, didn’t see Janelle’s picture of her son in the same light as the participants did. Almost immediately there were comments ridiculing her for spray painting her son’s crotch red. They felt she was using her son as an non-consenting prop. There were remarks about how this might affect the child’s self-esteem in later years. Collectively, they were calling into question Janelle’s fitness as a mother.
Janelle responded very politely thanking them for their concern and their perspective about her actions. I was pretty proud of the way she handle her responses in the face of the long diatribes some of the folks had posted. My sense was that these people advocating that they would never use their children or other’s children with adult symbols against circumcision were typical limousine liberals. They were in fear that one mother’s misinterpreted proclamations to inform other mothers would some how paint them and the movement as extremists or nut cases.
Within the 80 plus comments the photo received, I mentioned that maybe we need a retreat to build consensus around appropriate symbols to be worn by adults and children in attendance at demonstrations. I am fairly certain that I voiced my support for Janelle’s political statement on her son’s pants. If I didn’t, I should have because the whole post and Janelle vanished from Facebook two days after the original posting.
My nature is to respect people’s privacy. Consequently, I won’t try and contact Janelle to see what caused her to remove her profile from Facebook. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have total strangers, folks you have a shared conviction with, question your decisions as a mother. Even worst would be if she received private message from Facebook users that made her feel unsafe.
Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I can attest to the fact that I met an extremely strong woman who was a fabulous mother to her son. I would like to extend my sincerest apologies to Janelle if folks in the Facebook community drove her from what is an otherwise super social media application. May we should all be more sensitive in our comments on Facebook and take into consideration that we don’t know all the facts?