No, you can’t have my clitoris!!
Updates: In the face of complete silence from Good Vibrations its time to mobilize. Please join the campaign at http://bit.ly/9pdF94
Are you in North America? Call Good Vibrations and communicate your concern about their support of Clitoraid’s African women’s clitoris adoptions: Camilla Lombard, Events and Publicity Manager: (415) 974-8985 ext. 201
So I just called Good Vibrations and spoke the Events and Publicity Manager. Good Vibrations has partnered with Clitoraid whose campaign urging people to adopt an African woman’s clitoris I wrote about last week. According to the manager, Good Vibrations is not only providing boxes of vibrators, they are also encouraging both their online and in-store customers to donate to Clitoraid.
One of my students did note that, quite interestingly, Clitoraid does not seem to assign a price value to the clitoris under adoption!
Anyway, The lady at Good Vibrations was wonderfully polite and excited to share information about their support stating that Clitoraid was a natural fit for them to support the organization since Good Vibrations considers sexual pleasure a birthright. (and I wholeheartedly agree that it is!)
When I pressed further on the due diligence Good Vibrations had done for the campaign things got a little more silent. When I pointed out the ongoing outrage about Clitoraid on the webspace including Facebook and Twitter her response was a request for more scientific evidence that support of clitoraid was a bad idea. O.K. Fair enough.
So I sat and started drafting an email explaining it all. And I thought to myself, if i’m going to all this trouble writing this, why don’t I share it publicly and see what happens? My last public email to Feed My Starving Children seems to have had absolutely no impact at all anyway…
So this is what I wrote:
It was nice to speak to you this morning and I hope you will forgive me for copying other members of your organization on this email. I am doing it because I hope that the critical conversation that we’re having about good Vibrations’ support of Clitoraid and their campaign to have supporters adopt African women’s clitoris(es?) should not end with just you and I.
I’m sorry I could not immediately direct you to sources of more information about the very complicated conversation about female circumcision that exits off the top of my head. I’m afraid that sometimes after one has been steeped in certain conversations for a long time the answers are so obvious and so my response to your request for sources of information was a bit more like ‘duh, EVERYONE knows thats a loaded issue!’
That said, it does seem that you, and the hardworking people at Good Vibrations, were not aware just what a loaded issue the topic is and so I’m directing some sources your way so that you can inform yourselves. In addition to the homework allow me to bookend them with my articulation of why your support for the Clitoraid and its move to adopt a clitoris is deeply problematic from an African woman’s perspective.
1. Clitoraid is a project of the Raelian movement. A UFO religion that believes that all life on Earth was created in scientific labs by a species of extraterrestrials. Their previous venture, Clonaid was met with a kind of skepticism that Clitoraid has not. It is beyond me what led the Raelians into such a passionate ferver for African women’s clitoris but the Raelian movement’s institutional backing behind Clitoraid should have raised some serious questions at Good Vibrations.
2. Honestly, it blows my mind that, by your admission, you never bothered to consult even one African woman, or even read any of the massive amounts of literature that African women have written about the practice before wholeheartedly throwing Good Vibrations’ support behind the clitoris adoptions. There is so much information out there that not looking at it seems a willful act of ignorance. It is because I chose to believe that your blindness was not willful that I am taking the time to draft this email and engage you in conversation.
3. When I asked what kind of research you had done on Clitoraid and their campaign you indicated that your due diligence consisted only of a phonecall requesting your support from Betty Dobson. Seriously, to only rely on one American woman’s endorsement of the campaign, whether she’s the famous Betty Dobson or not, is a little too trusting. No?
It boggles the mind that the voice of one Western woman was enough to merit ignoring the voices of the many African women who have devoted their lives to writing about the topic and working to end the practice!
After our conversation this morning I took some time to research Betty Dodson and was impressed by her singular commitment to women’s pleasure. Of that I am a huge fan. When it comes to the topic of female circumcision though, I was appalled as she revealed just what we African feminists have been complaining about our Western sisters.
I was shocked to read Betty’s account of ‘her’ first circumcised African woman (her words, not mine!). At the end of the particular blog post she reveals her expolitationist orientation when she describes what happened when ‘her’ first circumcised African woman left. Carlin and I were ecstatic. Then my brilliant business partner looked at me and said, “This is an op-ed piece for the New York Times.” “I’d rather see it as an article in Vanity Fair,” I replied. At that point we grinned from ear to ear, did a high five and called it a day”.
This is the one and only ‘expert’ you consulted? Really? How come?
For years now African women have been complaining that even as we are engaged in domestic campaigns to end the practice of female circumcision within our communities, the eager participation by Westerners, particularly Western feminists, has done much more harm than good. In a nutshell, Western feminists have taken over the space, displaced African women’s voices on the issue, and have carelessly thrown about their neo-colonial weight in ways that have served only to further entrench the issue.
Unfortunately, you at Good Vibrations have unwittingly walked into that existing dynamic and, by not consulting African women who have for generations been working to end the practice, have replicated the neo-colonialist and exploitative stand so common of Westerners in this conversation. What makes me sad about it is that you, as a company, have been so progressively feminist in so many other ways! Why this blindness when it comes to your African sisters?
In an attempt to enlighten allow me to share with you some of the conversations that African women have been having, albeit apparently unheard, on the topic. The references below are just the tip of what is a massive literature, primarily by African women, critiquing the neo-colonial way that conversations about African women’s genitalia have captured the fascination of the West.
A good place to start is the book
Female Circumcision and the Politics of Knowledge: African Women in Imperialist Discourses edited by Obioma Nnaemeka
Yet another book: Female “circumcision” in Africa: culture, controversy, and change By Bettina Shell-Duncan, Ylva Hernlund. The chapter by Fuambai Ahmadu starting at Page 238 is particularly enlightening.
Further critical African women’s voices about Western discussions of the topic: can be accessed here: http://web.ccsu.edu/afstudy/upd3-2.html#Z1
I hope that my email will help you evaluate your decision to associate your company (of which I’m an avid supporter with the Raelian movement and its ‘adopt a clitoris’ campaign.