Betty Dodson and Audre Lorde: Can I possibly use the master’s tools to demolish her house?
So Betty Dodson, the ‘expert’ that had recommended Clitoraid with their humiliating Adopt A Clitoris campaign has written an attempted response to the critics of Clitoraid. The piece, republished on the Clitoraid website, is an interesting provocation to engage but it is so lacking in logic that I’m having a hard time even deciding whether to respond.
On one hand I’m tempted to engage her and convince her the many errors of her ways with regard to this specific issue of Female Circumcision. She obviously didn’t do her research enough to realize that I’m not African American, there is no such place as San Francisco University, and that the critique of Clitoraid is much wider than just my individual concerns as reflected by the 221 signatures to the online petition before we closed it early. Indeed many, including Dr. Petra Boynton, Dr. Elisabeth Wood, Matthew Greenall, Darklady, Kudzai Makombe and Caille Milner of the San Francisco Chronicle have all previously written criticizing Clitoraid extensively.
Sadly Ms. Dodson’s willful blindness speaks to how she goes about things and why she’s ended up in the Clitoraid mess she’s clinging to. Apparently her research method is restricted to grabbing random facts about an issue and rearranging them to suit her own fancy.
Then again i’m reminded of Audre Lorde’s wonderful piece titled The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. In it she writes that,
“Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male
ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an
old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with
the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to
educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our
existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This
is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal
This excerpt reflects exactly how I feel about Betty’s attacks on my critique of clitoraid. Audre Lorde wrote this indictment of feminism 26 years ago and it is stunning how far feminism has NOT come thanks to feminists like Ms. Dodson!
Seriously, when do we get to move on to the real and pressing issues? Why must I stop and have to explain the importance of respecting African women and our dignity to fellow feminists?
So, that is why I don’t know how to react to Betty Dodson’s statements. To engage with her ridiculousness is to divert my energies from much more important work that urgently needs to be done. But if I chose to be quiet I’m afraid I might communicate to other young brown feminists out there that feminism is still a space of hurt and humiliation for women of color where speaking out is met with personal attacks from older ‘experts’.
Then there is the disturbingly unquestioned position of authority that Betty holds on all things sexual. Reproducing patriarchal systems of hierarchical power, it seems she has reached to far high up the ladder that anyone who dares ask a question is a pariah whose sanity is to be questioned. I had never heard of her before this Clitoraid thing and so it was in naivete that I questioned her ‘expertise’ on the issue of Female Circumcision. Woe unto me for daring.
I have to admit that it is with sadness I wonder out loud if this the cutting edge of North American feminism? Is it that the sum total of feminist thought and mobilizing is about pleasure? We’ve made the entire experience of womanhood all about what is between our legs and not between our ears and in our hearts? That the respect so necessary in building the bridges of sisterhood is to be abandoned because one ‘expert’ must be venerated?
26 years after Lorde’s indictment we are still standing at the same street corner haggling over whether women of color deserve respect and have anything to contribute to feminism?!
If you were me what would you do? Would you engage with Betty or leave it at these questions?