looking like daddy & other mutilated boys:I'm posting the text of Ronald Goldman's (Author of The Hidden Trauma: Infant Circumcision" letter calling to account the AAP spokesman who glibly proffered the "look like Daddy" fallacy to reporters.
American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Blvd.
P.O. Box 927
Elk Grove Village, IL 60009-0927
April 7, 1997
Dear Mr. Copeland:
The following quote has been called to my attention in a newspaper
article connected with the April 2 JAMA article on circumcision:
“If Dad is circumcised and junior is not,” said Michael Copeland,
spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, the son “may have
some psychosocial issues in that he looks different from Dad.”
As a psychologist and the author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma, I
have done a thorough search of the literature to investigate this
belief. There is no published evidence whatsoever to support your statement.
This myth is the product of a psychological defense mechanism called
projection, the process of attributing feelings to others that belong to
oneself. It is the circumcised father who may have some psychosocial
issues if he looks different from his son. The fear of confronting these
issues in themselves motivates circumcised men to cling to the myth
that uncircumcised sons will have such issues. Furthermore, when the first
generation of American boys was circumcised, they looked different
from their uncircumcised fathers. This myth was not prevalent then because
uncircumcised men had no repressed feelings about how their penis
As part of the research for my book, I interviewed uncircumcised men
about their feelings. Their statements and other pertinent information
lead me to the following inferences regarding the decision to circumcise
for social or “matching” reasons:
The circumcision status of the father is not necessarily known or
important to a male child.
A circumcised boy who “matches” others may nevertheless have
negative feelings about being circumcised. These feelings can last a
It is not possible to predict prior to circumcision how a boy will feel
about it later.
Even though uncircumcised men are in the minority, there is some
indication that most uncircumcised men are happy to be that way.
An uncircumcised man who is unhappy about it can choose to be
circumcised, but this is rarely done. The estimated rate of adult circumcision
in the United States is 3 in 1000.(2)
An uncircumcised man who is unhappy about his status may feel different
after learning more about circumcision and the important functions of
The social factor is much less of an issue for boys born today because
of the lower circumcision rate (approximately 60 percent nationally,
under 40 percent in some states(3)).
These two accounts from mothers of uncircumcised sons add another
perspective to the discussion of choosing circumcision for social reasons.
“My youngest son [seven years old] is completely content at being
‘different’ from his father and [three] older brothers. When I
explained circumcision to him, his face took on a frightened expression as he
cupped his hands over his genitals and loudly declared, ‘That is
never going to happen to me!!’ “(4)
“When my eight-year-old son was five, he noticed a difference in the
appearance of the other boys’ penises. I told him that’s because
they had their foreskins cut off. He said, ‘That’s horrible.’
He’s very adamant about it.”(5)
I asked the second mother if I could talk with her son, Michael.
Because he lives in an area with a very high circumcision rate, he is the
only boy in his class who is not circumcised.
RG: How did you first learn about circumcision?
Michael: My mom told me when I was little, and she didn’t want that
to happen to me.
RG: How do you feel about her not wanting to let it happen to you?
Michael: I’m glad ‘cause it’s scary. It’s scary for a little
RG: At school, do the other kids have foreskins, or are they
Michael: They’re circumcised.
RG: How does it make you feel when you see that they’re circumcised?
Michael: Kind of sad, because they had it cut off.
RG: Do the other boys notice that you have a foreskin and they don’t?
Michael: Uh huh. And they say my penis looks weird.
RG: What do you think when they say that?
Michael: I say, “No it doesn’t. Yours looks weird.” Then I tell
them why there is still skin over mine and not over theirs.
RG: Then what do they say?
Michael: Some say they don’t believe it. Some just walk away.(6)
It appears that if an uncircumcised boy is given proper information, it
is possible to prevent a negative impact from extreme minority status
in a group of circumcised boys.
I hope you now understand that by perpetuating the “matching” myth,
you do a great disservice to the American public and undermine the
credibility of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The public is
understandably confused about circumcision. Your statement only serves to
increase the confusion. It would certainly help if the AAP issued a news
release to correct your mistake.
As you know, the AAP will be reporting on circumcision in the near
future. Many people who care deeply about circumcision are looking for the
AAP to report accurate, factual information about this complex issue.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot resist the temptation to express
your personal beliefs when you talk to the media about circumcision, then
perhaps someone else should take over this responsibility. Reporting to
the public about circumcision is too important to risk this mistake
being made again.
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.
(1) Goldman, R., Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma (Boston: Vanguard
Publications, 1997), 103–115.
(2) Wallerstein, E., Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy (New
York: Springer Publishing, 1980), 48.
(3) National Centre for Health Statistics, telephone conversation with
author 1997. Rate is for 1994.
(4) Romberg, R., “Circumcision Feedback” (letter to the editor),
Mensa Bulletin, May 1993.
(5) Huggins, R., telephone conversation with author, February 1996.
(6) Huggins, M., telephone conversation with author, February 1996.