What a week! As expected, there's been many comments from different audiences concerning the video introduction of the magazine that was posted on facebook. Since many people prefer responding on facebook or other social media rather than directly to the blog postings - I have copied some of those commentaries as well as my responses to them on the original blog post (March 18th). For today's blog I decided to highlight one poignant and sobering critique made by the administrator of Sierra Leone Gender Watch - a closed facebook discussion group - and my answer to this woman's concern:
Admin Comment: "On Saturday I was talking to women who had been circumcised and they strongly felt that they had been mutilated. The stories they told were blood curdling. They talk about drunken soweis and not having a choice and the impact it had on their lives. They categorically say there is NO benefit. They feel your campaign is dismissive of their experience and ignores their voice. What I found disturbing were the stories of adult women over 25 being pressured or even forced to have it done when they didn't want to. It is not just children who are forced. Freedom to choose is a farce if the reality is people are going to pressurised to do it. There is something very wrong with that. In the article Radiance from the waters, the writer speaks of mende women being beautiful because they have been circumcised. It seems the same psychological brainwashing that the shabaka women are accusing the west of, is what they have been doing for years and have no qualms continuing to do so. making the uncircumcised feel ugly and inferior and is not making them chose. The aesthetic beauty of it has also been strongly challenged by those who developed keloids after the operation. Women talk of the embarrassment of having to explain the disformity to sexual partners and that is what they consider it.
I think both sides of the debate have to listen to each other instead of digging their heels in. I think we do ourselves an injustice by not acknowledging the other side."
My Response: "Thanks for your comments. I think you're absolutely right that there needs to be open conversation about divergent experiences and that is what the magazine and the AWA-FC campaign are all about. I have been approached by several women who are opposed to the practice but commend both the magazine and the video for pointing out the hypocrisy that underlies current global anti-FGM discourses. And so your criticism is well taken. In the second part of my interview with Dennis Kabatto which is published in this maiden issue I directly discuss the question of FGM victims and their right to use that terminology in reference to themselves as well as the importance of their powerful voices that need to be heard by ardent supporters of the practice. At the same time the dominant and very oppressive discourse in western countries over the last forty years has been one about "mutilation" and generalizing this experience to all circumcised women. Most of us are quite pleased with our bodies and support this aspect of our culture. We also recognize that our genital aesthetics are being replicated in various so-called female genital cosmetic surgeries that are becoming popular in the west. The generalized use of the term FGM has created a lot of psychological damage in young immigrant girls and women who are bombarded with these demeaning and dehumanizing images on a daily basis. The campaign is largely directed at reminding these young women that they are beautiful and that use of the term FGM to define only African or Asian girls is racist. If in celebrating our beauty and cultural pride, we unintentionally diminished the experiences of women who feel mutilated, then we must be more sensitive in future campaigns. This is a beginning and we are bound to make mistakes and step on toes given the politicized nature of this issue. The spring issue of the magazine is specifically devoted to highlighting the legitimate claims and experiences of women who do feel victimized. Perhaps you could put me in touch with some of these women you refer to and I will be happy to talk with them and feature their stories. Several women who are part of AWA-FC are uncircumcised or circumcised but do not support the practice and we are working together to devise ways we can all move forward as African sisters in a spirit of healing and mutual respect. Thanks again"