In the last two weeks I’ve been called self-satisfied, low-class, controlling, shallow, sexist, smug, priggish, crazed, repulsive, creepy, trashy, frivolous, provincial, disgusting, and just plain horrible. My crime? I pierced my six-month-old daughter’s ears at the request of my Nicaraguan husband, an experience I wrote about for the New York Times’ “Townies” column.
It was fun to write the essay. But more than that, it was a real eye-opener to read the 181 comments that have been posted since the piece went up on March 15. I learned so many things from the people who wrote in — for example, that keloid scars may be less likely to form on baby skin than on adult ears during piercing. Also, that the gold you can buy in the U.S. is junk compared to the good 22 karat stuff that is the norm in India.
But the most surprising thing I realized was how apparently trivial things function as cultural flashpoints, bringing up race and class prejudices that most of us are, perhaps, likely to keep buried when discussing more obvious hot-button issues.
Before moving to Miami Beach almost two years ago, I lived in New York, where fashion scrutiny and over thinking everything are as commonplace as earrings on baby girls are in Miami. So I expected that, upon learning that I’d taken my daughter to the pediatrician to get her ears pierced, a few holier-than-thou types would be outraged. I anticipated the “It’s her body, wait until she asks for earrings before slapping them on her” argument — it was one I’d made myself before deciding that it just wasn’t a big deal, given that if Amala grows up and doesn’t want earrings, she can let the holes close up. If anyone ever noticed the two little scars that resulted, she could explain that she was Greekaraguan, and that in Nicaragua, they pierce baby girl’s ears. It would be a reminder of her heritage, I thought, one she could flaunt or ignore.
I even anticipated the melodramatic comparisons with female genital mutilation, the old “lots of atrocities are cultural norms” argument. But if a person can’t see the difference between permanent alteration of an infant’s genitals, which can result in lifelong pain, and pierced ears, which most women voluntarily undergo at some point, then clearly I was not going to change his or her mind. (Oddly enough, only one comment mentioned circumcision of boys as a parallel to pierced ears of girls. I guess that’s because circumcision — which I don’t have an opinion on yet — is our own cultural norm in the U.S.)
What shocked, and ultimately amused me was the reaction of multiple readers who saw earrings as an issue of class, not of culture.
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