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No, you can’t have my clitoris!!

April 5, 2010

Updates:  In the face of complete silence from Good Vibrations its time to mobilize.  Please join the campaign at

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:

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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2010 9:03 AM

    I’m not sure the questions posed on “Central to this blog” are soliloques but allow me to answer them. I love pro-Africa blogs.

    CAN the continent be saved? – Yes it can. Definitely
    Who is the ‘WE’ that is doing the saving? – Owner of the continent. Africans.
    What would a ‘SAVEd’ Africa look like? – It would be close to our wishes. A developed continent, not less or developing.
    When will we know when we’ve accomplished the saving? – When the least of us in monetary terms, worries of being unable to but a bigger TV rather than buying the first TV.
    Which particular AFRICA(ns) are we saving? – In particular, the poor. Poor both in material and mental propotions.

    • April 7, 2010 12:00 AM

      Katch@ I dont understand the question “Can Africa be Saved” Saved from what? Apart from being such a huge sweeping question, it is one that could be applied anywhere ie with that logic the world needs saving. More appropriate questions are what is the nature of the problems facing African countries – [start to look at the continent as a culturally politically socially diverse – I mean what is “African”?] And how do we begin to address these from a grassroots bottom up development and political model. “Saving” also has religious connotations whereas we need to put religion aside because then people begin to rely on prayer and God to do the “saving” rather than looking for more secular solutions. Finally if we are to follow this “saving” model I would have thought access to education for all particularly in rural areas and young girls and the same goes for health would be better measures than buying a bigger TV!

      • April 7, 2010 3:23 AM

        Hello @Sokari, I do agree that “save” can be such an ambigous word as shown by your comment, which sounds as one from an Afro-phile [I do read your blog]. It sometime conjures connotation of a big brother redeeming a miserable and helpless black man/woman. However, in this case I took it to mean “Can Africa Improve, Can Africa be made better than it is.

        Health and education are indeed priorities. But for one to think of buying a TV he/she must have taken care of priorities. I didn’t mean to show a sick person heading for a mall instead of a hostipal. No, he/she will be able to afford proper health care already. That’s a better Africa.

        This is a healthy exchange and thanks.

  2. April 6, 2010 1:53 PM

    Wow, thanks for posting this. I just retweeted it. #1, that organization looks really scary — what’s with the combo swastika/star-of-david logo? #2, you nailed it with your analysis, and thanks for taking Good Vibrations to task. They messed up on this one and I hope they have the sense to sever the partnership and say sorry.

  3. April 6, 2010 11:41 PM

    Myself and others heard about clitoraid a few weeks ago via twitter. As a sex positive educator and long time campaigner against FGM I was initially excited to see an initiative that seemed pleasure focused.

    However, on reading about the programme I was anxious about the Raelians and their role within this venture. I was also unsure how the local community had been involved and it seemed to me to be a well meaning Westernised model of ‘pleasure’ being taken to a community without wider social/cultural discussions of what is a highly complex issue.

    I emailed clitoraid’s various contacts to ask for evidence of their practice, what community involvement they had sought, the evidence for efficacy of their procedures and specific information about what evidence and public consultation they had used to inform this approach was the correct one.

    To date I have heard nothing back. I will continue to send reminder emails. It worries me when organisations offering health interventions ask for money/support but do not reply to basic requests for information on their activities.

    I have also spoken with many sex positive practitioners, most of whom are anxious about the messages raised by the Raelians regarding making the body back to a ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ state. Alongside added concerns about imposing interventions onto communities.

    However the requests to join and donate seem to continue across twitter and other sources, with many sex positive educators and others supporting it without question.

    This worries me. If we’re encouraging responses to FGM they need to be carefully thought out and reflected upon. Just because something claims to restore pleasure doesn’t mean you cannot question it.

    It is particularly concerning that Good Vibrations response has been “a request for more scientific evidence that support of clitoraid was a bad idea”. No. If you’re doing any work in different country settings you should have the evidence from looking at the research, public consultation, and your own investigations to tell you that you’re doing the right thing. Not going ahead with an activity without checking and reflecting first, then asking people to prove you are on the wrong track. That level of lack of awareness/reflection is extremely worrying.

    • ibster permalink
      April 7, 2010 11:55 PM

      Sponsor an African woman’s clitoris, cut of the tip of an African man’s penis – focus our reductionist “development” efforts on continuing to obsess about and exoticise black bodies and black sexuality.

      How could you be “initially excited” about this intervention? It’s called “Clitoraid”? That in and of itself is indicative of how this is a shallow exercise in promoting ideas about white European cultural supremacy. Ugh.

  4. April 7, 2010 9:37 AM

    I never heard of Raelians before. In wikipedia (crap source I know) it says they *like* controversy. It’s all so weird.

    “Susan J. Palmer, a sociologist from Canada, has studied the movement since 1987[80] and says the movement intentionally stirs a moderate level of controversy to maintain membership. For example, Rael and the group attempt to tie their views with topical matters, ranging from Tiger Woods’ promiscuity to strained relations in the Middle East, in regular online postings[81] and press releases.[82]”

  5. April 11, 2010 8:49 PM

    Dear Wanjiru-
    Thank you for this excellent post. I have written several women who might know Betty Dodson and Good Vibration folks personally and hope that one of them will call them. I believe that they will dissociate themselves from the Raelians, once they learn more. This Clitoraid campaign is one of the more bizarre things I have seen in a long while….

  6. A Reader permalink
    April 12, 2010 7:52 PM

    Are you nuts? You’re attacking Carol Queen and Betty Dodson two women who’ve done more for women’s sexual health and freedom than pretty much anybody because they are donating to a good cause that happens to be run by a wacked out religion (still who’s to say that the Raelians are more or less wacked out that the ritual cannibal jewish zombie worshipers).

    The basic idea, reconstructive surgery and sexual health counseling is sound. The execution may be off, so why not see if you can be constructive and help them do it better? Attacks like this and the ones you have spawned just make corporations shy away form all charitable giving. Thanks. You’re really helping the rest of us in the non profit world.

  7. April 12, 2010 9:23 PM

    @ anonymous reader: oh CRAP! nobody told me there were women who were infallible and who could not be critiqued for screwing up!

    Question to you: whose sexual health and whose freedom? When they cling to supporting an organization so dubious that five minutes on Google would warn you off?

    I hang on to the claim that African women’s dignity, sexual health, and freedom are just as important as the women whose Betty and Carol’s have been fighting for.

    FREEDOM FOR ALL! INCLUDING AFRICAN WOMEN!! Is my slogan. And shame on Betty and Carol for throwing African women under the bus in the shameless search for notoriety and profits.

    A simple apology, retraction, and public support of African women’s efforts at eradicating FGM and dealing with its effects on African women’s bodies is all i’m asking for. Surely even these two ‘infallible’ women are capable of recognizing when they’re on the wrong side of right.

    oh yeah, and nice move with the anonymity. Hasn’t been a feature of my blog but I hope that my publishing your comment on my blog will serve as a good example to Good Vibrations who have deleted any critiques I’ve made on their blog. So much for democracy too…

  8. April 12, 2010 9:24 PM

    @ anon reader: oh yeah, I was trying to be constructive. I called, sent an email, and they dug their heels in. Hence taking my concerns public.

    As for your anti-Semitic comment. WTF?

    • sarah permalink
      April 18, 2010 7:47 AM

      To be fair, It wasn’t an anti semitic comment. It was an anti-Catholic comment.


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