or Why You Shouldn’t Try to Adopt African Women’s Genitalia!
Welcome to the Clitoraid page on Wanjiru’s blog!
Even though we were stunningly successful in convincing Good Vibrations to drop their support of Clitoraid in a short 10 days, Clitoraid is still out there raising funds through dubious adoptions of African women’s clitorises. Hence this page whose mission is to keep alive a public archive of Feminist challenges to Clitoraid. Let it never be said that African women did not complain. THIS African women certainly did complain!
This page tells my version of the story of a committed group of feminists who changed a tiny piece of the world. There is another wonderful overview of the Clitoraid/Good Vibrations saga in the SF Appeal here where, as you can see, the challenge to Clitoraid was much more just an individual one.
I decided to create a separate page chronicling the story of our collective engagement with Clitoraid because I hope that archiving a history will offer a context for the next wave of mobilization against the Raelian cult and its activities especially in Africa. This is NOT THE DEFINITIVE STORY of the challenge to Clitoraid and I welcome any contributions to create as broad and detailed a picture as possible.
While I’ve tried as best as possible to list the events chronologically, life is never as linear and tidy as we’d like it :)
- I first heard of Clitoraid on March 29th. I was actually in the midst of teaching my African Politics class when I glanced down at my computer and saw a tweet about it from Maneno. I showed the website to my class and we had a fabulous discussion of the problems with their approach.
- I posted a brief post about Clitoraid on my blog on Monday March 29th (https://savingafrica.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/adopt-an-african-womans-clitoris/) and tried not to think much about it.
- A week latter I still couldn’t get Clitoraid out of my mind but the more I read about them the more disturbed I became. On Monday April 5th I decided to make a quick call to Good Vibrations to confirm that they knew they had made a mistake in their decision to support Clitoraid and that they were re-thinking their approach. Camilla Lombard, their Events and Publicity manager confirmed that they had decided to downplay their knowledge that Clitoraid was a project of the Raelian cult and dismissed me and my concerns with demand for proof that Clitoraid was problematic. After the call at 10.46am I tweeted: called goodvibes who funded clitoraid. Responded to with requests for scientific evidence. No African women consulted. What to do now?
- It made sense to me to ask Good Vibrations to drop their support of Clitoraid because they are a San Francisco based company that I had long supported. The store and their philosophy of sexual pleasure as a birthright for all was a key element of my feminist awakening in college and frankly, I felt betrayed by their lack of sensitivity to African women in the clitoris adoptions. Further, it made sense to engage them because I too am based in San Francisco so even thought the larger conversation we were having was a global one, there was a major local element for me.
- I crafted an email to Camilla Lombard about why their support of Clitoraid was problematic. I decided to copy to everyone whose email address was available on their website because I knew it would be easy for Camilla, as an individual, to ignore my critique and never pass on the word within the organization.
- Because I have had organizations ignore my critiques sent over email I decided to post my email critique to Good Vibrations on my blog to create yet another level of public awareness.
- I took to tweeter and posted links to my blog and the letter I had just sent to Good Vibrations a few hours latter.
- I decided to use twitter because that is where I had first heard of Clitoraid and a search had revealed that a number of people were tweeting about the topic.
- I searched for Clitoraid on twitter and copied my blog post to everyone who had tweeted about Clitoraid within the past few months. Yes, it was tedious work and I made a mistake clogging up everyone who was following me on twitter then. sorry :(
- By this time Clitoraid was taking over my life and I’m sure there are a lot of things I did manually that, had I known my way around tech tools better, I should have automated.
- After continued silence from Good Vibrations I knew that they were stalling for time and there was need for more public pressure. I updated my blog with the contact information for Key people within the organization urging all my tweeps to contact them and let them know that there was growing public dissatisfaction with their support for Clitoraid and the humiliating clitoris adoptions.
- By this time I also had also connected to a sizable group of tweeps who were now very interested in the issue. The beauty of this was that they all came from diverse backgrounds including fearless experts within the field of sexuality. Key connections made over twitter included Dr. Petra Boynton, Dr. Elisabeth Wood, Matthew Greenall, blacklooks, and Maneno
among many others.
- Inspired by growing support on the night of April 6th I took to facebook and created a facebook page titled Feminists Challenging Clitoraid (FCC). http://www.facebook.com/pages/Feminists-Challenging-Clitoraid/103036729737458?v=wall
- Again I tweeted about the page and within 24 hours there were over 100 fans on the page!
- In the meanwhile I had written to the organization DoSomething.org who had also sent out a tweet to their followers urging them to support Clitoraid. After I contacted them they wrote me back acknowledging that they had not conducted the necessary due diligence before acting.
- As more people joined the challenge to Good Vibrations and their support to Clitoraid it became clear that there was a need to articulate the message more clearly. Edits to the Facebook page and an update on my blog articulated the position that we stood in solidarity with women who had endured circumcision and our problem was with a cult raising funds for dubious surgeries through an incredibly humiliating campaign.
- On April 7th I heard from Good Vibrations who stood firmly behind their support of Clitoraid. Through their email it was clear that they felt very protective of their relationship with Betty Dodson the ‘expert‘ who had recommended that they fund Clitoraid. Betty’s account of ‘her’ first circumcised African woman had so infuriated me in its exploitation of African women for financial profit and self-aggrandizing publicity.
- In response to what felt like a slap in the face from Good Vibration’s I decided to start an online petition to further magnify the growing public voices of those who thought the should not support the Raelian cult and Clitoraid.
- I had never started a petition before and it took me hours of searching online to discover The Petition Site which made it incredibly easy to set up an online petition for free!
- On April 8th the online petition went live and thanks to a committed group of supporters primarily on twitter and Facebook gain within 24 hours there were over 100 signatures from around the world. Again the power of social media was apparent as people were signing the online petition from as far as Indonesia, Brazil, India and New Zealand. I was amazed and overwhelmed by the response!
- I also sent emails to as many of my friends and colleagues around the world and particularly in Africa. Soon the Clitoraid campaign was picked up by Pan-African progressive powerhouse Pambazuka, and on various other listserves. I started receiving emails from around the world.
- While I reached out to contacts within the African Feminist sphere my new friends from within the field of sexuality studies including Dr. Petra Boynton, Dr. Elisabeth Wood, Matthew Greenall were also articulating their critiques of Clitoraid from their disciplinary perspectives. (I hope that they too will write a detailed history of their engagement with Clitoraid which I will certainly add to this page)
- Apparently Good Vibrations were also overwhelmed by the response since their contact information was now available via twitter, on the Facebook site, and on the petition.
- On April 11th Carol Queen, the “Staff Sexologist and Cultural Officer” at Good Vibrations wrote to me irritated by my mobilizing and attempting to wiggle out of their relationship to Clitoraid. I wrote back pointing out specific press releases they had made celebrating their relationship to Clitoraid and the inconsistencies in her email. Good Vibrations had consistently and publicly expressed their support for Clitoriad!
- I remained irritated by the fact that for Good Vibrations as a business, a partnership with Clitoraid despite their cult background and the humiliating clitoris adoptions was primarily about making money even at the expense of African women’s dignity.
- On April 12th Jackie Strano, the Chief Operating Officer of Good Vibrations wrote to offer me a meeting over lunch to “discuss all these points in person”. I turned down the offer because I felt strongly that to go to lunch with her was to turn what was a collective critique into a conversation between two individuals. I suspect that Jackie’s actions were further motivated by the fact that the media was now getting interested in the story.
- Kudzai Makobme blogged about the Clitoraid saga on the IPS website drawing international attention to the ongoing efforts.
- Through twitter I had connected with Minal Hajratwala who had apparently heard of the Clitoraid saga from someone at the Global Fund for Women.
- Minal, a writer, posted a link to my blog on her own facebook page and the link caught the attention of fellow writer Caille Milner of the San Francisco Chronicle who was immediately interested.
- Minal connected Caille and me over email and arranged a phone interview.
- Caille Milner also interviewed Donna Newman, Clitoraid’s public relations rep who apparently did not know when Clitoraid was launched nor whether it was working with any African women’s organizations on the ground in Burkina Faso
- It was after publication of this article on April 14th that Good Vibrations began to change their tune. On the same day that the article was published Jackie Strano, GV’s Chief Operating Officer wrote me promising to end their support of Clitoraid.
- It was important to me at this point to make sure that the promises were not just communication from one individual to another but rather that they carried requisite institutional weight. I let her know that there was need for a public retraction which came the next day in the form of an article by the San Francisco Chronicle confirming that Good Vibrations had officially dropped their support of Clitoraid. GV also managed to get their name taken off the Clitoraid website as a list of supporters.
- With these public statements of withdrawal of support it was safe to end the online petition and I felt comfortable updating my blog with the good news.
- Independently, a writer at SF Appeal picked up the story and published a wonderful overview of the Clitoraid/Good Vibrations Saga rightly pointing out that Good Vibrations only let their customers know that they were pulling out of Clitoraid via a measly article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
- The Inter Press Service also contacted me wanting to do an interview about my work with Clitoraid. The the Clitoraid story is towards the end of this podcast here.
- It also appears that in the Spring 2010 issue of Creative Nonfiction had a discussion with the ‘prophet ‘ Rael who apparently admits that their previous venture, Clonaid, which was shut down due to public outcry was a publicity stunt. Is that all Clitoraid is as well?