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Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

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



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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.



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