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Depressing Response from Good Vibrations

April 7, 2010

Update: don’t just get mad or sad, act!

The online petition to Good Vibrations is up and running here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/feministschallengingclitoraid

so please show your support and click to sign it.

So I finally heard from Good Vibrations and its not good news.  They firmly stand behind the public humiliation of African women through Clitoraid’s Adopt a Clitoris campaign :(

I have to admit that I feel incredibly betrayed by this business that is supposed to be at the progressive edge of the feminist movement.  Most so because I believed.  I believed that there was such a thing as a sisterhood that was based on mutual respect and dignity.

Not once does their letter mention the very humiliating campaign targeting African women’s most private of parts.  And not once do they address the fact that Clitoraid is ran by a UFO cult, the Raelians.  These are strategic decisions on their part.  To sidestep the issues at the center of my critique of their approach.

The issue under debate is not whether there are cultural complexities around the practice of FGM.  Of course there are. Everyone knows it.

The issue is whether it is right for an allegedly progressive feminist organization to support a cult that is advancing the adoption of African women’s clitorises.   I articulated that quite carefully in my first letter to GV and I’m deeply disappointed that GV chose to side with the continued humiliation of African women.

But I do hope that American feminists will have the courage to critique one of their own.  Because apparently, African voices are irrelevant.

For the full and unedited text of the letter that has me so depressed read on:

Dear Wanjiru,

In response to your recent criticism we would like to clarify our role and re-state that we are honored to engage in a supportive role with women who have chosen to undergo this elective surgery. We understand that there are large cultural issues underlying the very need for this surgery and wish to reiterate that our involvement is intended to support women who wish to achieve the pleasure that is their birthright.

Good Vibrations: Who We Are

Good Vibrations, www.goodvibes.com, is the nation’s first and premier provider of sex education and sex positive products. We are a San Francisco-based multi channel retailer that women and couples have trusted for over three decades to provide a comfortable, safe environment for finding sex-positive products and educational materials to enhance their sex life.

Good Vibrations strives to be an agent for social change, through the lenses of sexuality, diversity and alternative business practices. Both within our organization, and throughout the communities we serve and in which we live, Good Vibrations is committed to fostering respect, promoting supportive communication, providing access to educational resources and strongly advocating for women in leadership roles.

We make it a priority to employ and interact with individuals and organizations according to their skills, abilities and experience. We value diversity and embrace all manifestations of gender, orientation and consensual sexual expression in the fulfillment of our sex-positive mission. We are conscious of the roles that the race, class, age and the physical and emotional abilities of our workers and our communities play in the realization of that mission.

Clitoraid

Good Vibrations has partnered with Clitoraid to donate vibrators and bath and body products to assist with the post-op physical therapy of patients who have undergone reconstructive surgery.   Betty Dodson leads the physical therapy sessions and recommended Good Vibrations as a partner since we carry vibrators that she prefers.

Our founding principle as a sex education and retail company is that pleasure is a birthright of all people. Clitoraid’s mission of “restoring a sense of pleasure and dignity” resonates with this foundation.  Despite the politics around the practice of clitoridectomy, sometimes called female circumcision, we believe that women who so desire should have access to a surgery that would give them clitoral sensation and pleasure free of charge, and that is what Clitoraid offers.

Our Research

Clitoraid was the only nonprofit organization we could find that was specifically funded for this purpose.  There are very few surgeons in the world who do this practice, and the surgeon in Colorado studied under the surgeon who pioneered the practice in France.  Newsweek did an interesting story following several patients, here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/218692 Betty Dodson’s endorsement is indeed powerful, as an important founder of the pro-sex feminist movement and the greatest champion of female orgasm ever.  http://dodsonandross.com/blogs/betty-dodson/2010/03/dr-marci-bowers-new-clitoral-reconstructive-surgery-brings-hope-140m-wome

The Women

There is clearly a very large demand for this surgery, as the wait list for the Clitoraid hospital in Burkina Faso is already up to 224, and it isn’t even completed yet.  So far, Clitoraid has funded 16 surgeries free of charge in Colorado to women from around the world, including Canada, Japan, and Korea.  This is not limited to African women.

Elective Reconstructive Surgery

At this point, the number of surgeries performed is still relatively small. However, the patients have expressed great satisfaction with the process. Even though it can take several months to fully heal, many have “reclaimed” their orgasms.  Their gratitude is largely between them and their surgeon, and the people who assisted them.  Patients typically keep the experience private so they may continue to function within their community.

Good Vibrations understands that the relationships between cultural practices, colonization, and activism are complex and we are not suggesting that Clitoraid or their work is a substitute for the important work to address the issue of female genital mutilation. We would be happy to support any organization, African or not, that supports women from all over the world getting access to surgery that connects them to their pleasure.

With respects,

Camilla Lombard, Events and Publicity Manager

Dr. Carol Queen, Staff Sexologist and Chief Cultural Officer

Dr. Charlie Glickman, Education Program Manager

Camilla Lombard

Events and Publicity Manager

Good Vibrations

(415) 974-8985 ext.201

camillal@goodvibes.com

www.goodvibes.com

www.GV-IXFF.org

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 6:04 PM

    so weird… i don’t even know what they are talking about…

  2. Annick permalink
    April 7, 2010 9:10 PM

    check this out – including the comment: http://boingboing.net/2006/09/27/alien-clone-sex-cult.html

  3. Allison permalink
    April 8, 2010 12:10 AM

    Good Vibes states they’re “honored to engage in a supportive role with women who have chosen to undergo this elective surgery.” But the thing is, they’re not partnering with the women themselves. They’re partnering with Clitoraid and the Raelians. If they truly care about taking up a supportive role for women undergoing the surgery, they ought to reflect on the humiliating aspect of this Adopt a Clitoris campaign and its incredibly demeaning, exploitative nature – how is that being supportive?? I’m deeply disappointed that Good Vibrations, a company I believed to be progressive, thoughtful, and well-informed, has bought into this nonsense and is perpetuating such damaging thinking.

  4. Jonna permalink
    April 8, 2010 5:49 AM

    How disappointing. I wonder what this Dr. Carol Queen’s credentials are? The “staff sexologist and chief cultural officer.” Wtf is a chief cultural officer?

    Still standing with you, Wanjiru!

  5. Chris permalink
    April 8, 2010 10:14 AM

    I have a question for you about this issue. I’ve been trying to research it online and I can’t find any information about it, and I hope you can help me find something.

    I agree that the work to end clitoridectomy needs to come from the communities and cultures involved. It never works to try to end or change a cultural practice from the outside. But what is being done for the women who have already had this done to them? Is there anyone else offering reconstructive surgeries to the women who want it? And is there any evidence that the surgeries that Clitoraid has done have actually worked as advertised, or that they haven’t worked?

    Everything I can find about the political and cultural work to shift these practices seems to focus on stopping it. Obviously, that’s essential- it’s better to keep it from happening than to try to deal with it after the fact. And I assume that this is a goal that you support, since your post yesterday refers to the fact that “[African women]… are engaged in domestic campaigns to end the practice of female circumcision within our communities…”

    But even if no more clitoridectomies took place any more, what about the impact that these practices have had? Is there anyone else who’s offering any kind of care or treatment to women who may seek it? If there was someone besides the Raelians who was offering it, or if there was an African-based organization that made these treatments available, would you object to that?

    I hope that these questions don’t come across as clueless- this is a very challenging topic and I’m trying to figure out some of the pieces of it. Thank you for your time & consideration.

  6. April 8, 2010 9:13 PM

    Fantastic question Chris. You ask: If there was someone besides the Raelians who was offering it, or if there was an African-based organization that made these treatments available, would you object to that?”

    NO! I WOULD NOT OBJECT TO OTHER ORGANIZATIONS ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF WOMEN WHO HAVE BEEN CIRCUMCISED!

    In fact, I agree that there is a need for services to such women. According to the research I’ve done, there are indeed a couple of African doctors offering surgeries to reverse the tissue damage. I have not had any contact with these doctors so I cannot endorse them. –http://fgmnetwork.org/news/show_news.php?subaction=showfull&id=1240247285&archive=&template=

    I am NOT opposed to Clitoraid because it offers reconstructive surgeries. I am opposed to it because of their demeaning campaign. And apparently the disrespect extends to the way they carry out their activities in Burkina Faso where it sounds like the Raelians have ran afoul of local authorities with their activities.

    In further research about what the Raelians are doing on the ground I have found the following links rather helpful:
    –http://le10sident.blogspirit.com/archive/2009/08/28/la-clinique-du-plaisir-qui-fait-couler-beaucoup-d-encre-et-d.html

    Their own newsletter describing their operations in Burkina Faso further confirms my suspicions. In this newsletter they brag about misrepresenting the name of the hospital they are building stating,
    “The official name of the Hospital was another ball game! The name “Pleasure Hospital” seems to have shocked some people along the administrative trail of the file. One of the women who were to sign for the Health Ministry, retained the file for several months, asserting that she would never sign as long as the word pleasure would not be removed from the official name. After many endless discussions, the women’s access to pleasure who were waiting, appeared more important to us than the name itself and the hospital thus became: The “KAMKASSO HOSPITAL” which means in the local language, the women’s house. But we will keep for our communications thename “Pleasure Hospital”, no matter how displeased that woman was that we could associate a clitoris and pleasure”.

    That is only one side of the story and it seems that the building of the hospital has raised a lot of heckles within the country.

    Doesn’t it seem like strange bedfellows for Good Vibrations? where was the due dilligence before pledging their support? Did they know, and decide to ignore, all this before they decided to support the organization or was the temptation to adopt clitorises just too much to resist?

  7. Teri Caraway permalink
    April 12, 2010 5:45 PM

    Wanjiru, keep fighting the good fight!

  8. re.sister.with.love permalink
    April 13, 2010 6:28 PM

    Thank you for bringing this to light, Wanjiru.

    A common practice among North American feminists and feminist organizations seems to be to ignore the ramifications of problematic, often racist messaging if the “cause” is good. There are many examples of this, and objections are met with “Why don’t you come up with a solution then?” “No one else is doing it, so we are supporting this flawed yet necessary campaign/ program” “the program or campaign is achieving a greater good for the greater number”. I fear that there is a similar dynamic here, with Good Vibrations’ letter talking about how there is no one else doing this work (clitoridectomy).

    It is also telling that they uncritically followed Betty Dodson’s who after all expounds a very upper-middle class, white mainstream feminism.

    Orgasms and pleasure are important. But trying to empower African women by focusing on their clitorises while dehumanizing them in other ways is not the answer.

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