Category Archives: Misogyny

Trouble in the Sisterhood

Two articles that were published over the last few days, and the reactions that followed in their wake, are proof of backlash against the progress made by the women’s liberation movement. Whereas one was an open letter calling out the no-platforming at universities in England of some feminists because of their “unpopular” opinions, the other, related to the first, highlighted the ongoing erasure of references to women at women’s colleges in America.

Anyone who was shocked by the anger directed at the signatories of the letter has not been following the on/offline application of nearly every weapon in the master’s toolbox to silence women into submitting to male interests. This really wasn’t news – but of course it was shameful; the offense taken and ageism that ensued stuck to the book.

The other story captured another shade of arrogance and male entitlement. Apparently, at one of the women’s colleges, the word sisterhood has been replaced by siblinghood because the former is “exclusionary” language. There even is (or was) a petition to the school’s administrators to cease referring to it as a women’s college… because that is not “gender inclusive language.” Colleges, established through vision and hard-won battles fought by women for women, are now in the bulls-eye of patriarchal backlash.

It is bad enough that there’s even need for feminism, but now women are… totally non-existent? Let’s brace ourselves for more petitions to erase all symbols of female progress, visibility and loving in society. All this while we are singing kumbaya #HeforShe. Unbelievable! How is this supposed to bring about liberation?

Feminists know well that female socialization makes women an easy target for those who have been trained to take by bullying: “Colonize. The world is your oyster Mr. White Male.” Personally, I endeavor to make some small but conscious efforts everyday to resist gendered socialization that thrives on division among women. I don’t think any feminist enjoys arguing against another. Debate, yes. Empathy for women, even those who seem to put all their energy into the thankless task of keeping females at the bottom of society, is sisterhood.

I struggle when it comes to criticizing women, as not only do those who are anti-feminism thrive on that kind of drama, but in my opinion, it often veers into its own strain of victim-blaming. It points to evidence of a mind that chooses not to remember that all women, regardless of any societal privileges they may enjoy, still face some level of sexist oppression. Some of us, to save ourselves, endeavor to throw this burden that we are born into under the bus, in the hope that doing so will keep us safe and fed in a male-dominated world. It is survival101.

But the stuff that is going on at the moment, not just in the U.K or U.S.A, makes me angry.

When female politicians join their male counterparts in making misogynistic statements, which happens more often than not, I despair because if girls/women are sold out by even those who should at least have a modicum of care for their predicament, then there are tougher times ahead. When laws that stump upon  women ever more ruthlessly are passed while our sisters watch on voting ‘aye!’, it is beyond heartbreaking. Yet I know that just having them in those chambers in the first place is a victory.

And so I’m tempted to let it go when the words spoken by daughters of the struggles that preceded us, those who have been raised because of their own hard-work and the sweat and tears of our foremothers; women who have the platform to appeal on behalf of the most downtrodden seem especially vested in massaging the male ego. Time and time again. I negotiate it mentally: ignore it, let it pass, my voice won’t make a difference.

Yet I won’t and this is why.

I will not count myself in the wave of the global feminist movement that cheered on while the battles fought and won by our fore-sisters were erased for “inclusion.” Inclusion into what? A class where the status of females is pushed even further below – meantime race and class continue pushing some further down? A class where women are expected to give and give, and even their giving is spat at because “women have enjoyed very privileged lives, it’s now our turn.” Because male violence against women is no longer an everyday issue, and all other systems of sexist oppression have been vanquished?

Inclusion into a feminism in which feminists cannot speak about the misogynistic burden that certain trans ideology selectively places on women? For goddess sake, we live in a time when feminists can hardly discuss FGM without being “called out” because they are excluding males. Inclusion into a non-existent class?

The historical exclusion of black women, lesbians, and other female minorities from mainstream (white) feminism in the west is no excuse to throw away a rich heritage of gains contributed to by women of all shades; a heritage that continues to empower girls/women world-over to this day. Wake up sisters. Surely, this spineless, one-dimensional, whatever-[insert preferred pronoun]-says feminism can’t be what was fought for by those who came before us. Inclusion that demands no-platforming and erasure of women is not feminist.

Well-played to all the feminists who are sitting by playing justice chief; throwing stones with the oppressor and attempting to silence their sisters while this bullshit is underway.

In the meantime, we third world feminists best await the arrival of the latest “gender inclusionary language” manual draped in donor funding coming to an NGO near you. We are in this together.

 

 

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As it is, Genitals matter

In patriarchal heaven, a special award for total disregard and hatred of females is reserved for people who blather on about how genitals don’t matter and male circumcision is just as bad as female genital mutilation. You are more likely to encounter such drivel from those who are furthest removed from communities which enforce atrocious cultural practices like FGM. But while the temptation is to blank out their appropriative erasure of women’s struggles, there will be no silence in the face of this covert wave of misogynistic violence.

Perhaps in an ideal world, genitals would have as much importance as arms, or ears; vital but not weaponized as they are in sexist, male-centred, capitalist society. But wishing something were different doesn’t make it so. Here and now, genitals matter. And it is essential that those at the receiving end of oppression on the basis of the type they were born with understand exactly why and how this oppression is actualized. For us, this is a starting point toward liberation.

Undeniably, consent is a major issue in both female and male genital cutting. Consent  is compromised, often nonexistent, not only in the circumcision of male and female babies/children, but in cultures which provide no other option for their members except to endure it. And while tribal and religious women/men may proclaim agency and pride in having undergone the ritual, the fact that doing otherwise would have led to grave repercussions undermines the context of choice.

The absence of consent is one of the main arguments against male circumcision. But critique and comparisons between genital cutting of males vis-a-vis that of females must go further, beginning with acknowledging the fact that FGM and male circumcision, both of which center the penis (i.e ‘manhood’), are just two of several gender rituals which pay homage to and reify the belief in the superiority of maleness – even as their enforcement hurts boys/men too. This universal culture of phallocentric worship, and in turn, male domination and female oppression, is at the root of most, if not all, practices of genital cutting.

Consider Uganda where male circumcision is popularly practiced by the BaMasaba (or Bagisu) tribe. The upbeat imbalu festivities, held in the month of August in every even-numbered year, are recognized in our mainstream culture. During each season, teenage boys are initiated into manhood by the cutting off of the foreskin. This marks one as a man; giving boys unfettered access to the spoils of male privilege.

Of such importance is imbalu that adult males who aren’t circumcised are referred to derogatorily as boys. Wives are urged to report uncircumcised husbands. Males who escape from their villages/families in fear or defiance are hunted down and forced to undergo cutting. It is said that if a Mugisu man dies uncircumcised, his corpse ‘faces the knife’ before burial.

Male circumcision is also practiced within Uganda’s muslim community, in the belief that circumcised men are ‘cleaner’ than their uncircumcised counterparts. But the practice goes beyond Bagisu and Muslims. With the dawn of the new millenium, we have seen an increase in cases of child sacrifice, attributed to witch-doctors demanding offerings of human heads, blood, and genitals from wealth-seeking and/or wealth-protecting clients. The ideal ritual is said to be infants (preferably male, as indicated by a 2008 Uganda Police Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety report showing that of 25 cases of ritual murder of children, 6 victims were female and 19 of them male), specifically without any cuts on their bodies. Blemishes have been given as a reason as to why some children, supposedly kidnapped for sacrifice, have been dumped off by the perpetrators. Thus, as protection, many Ugandans now rush to circumcise their sons weeks after birth.

Some Ugandan men also opt for circumcision on the basis of the W.H.O finding that circumcised men have less chance of contracting HIV. In a country where despite massive efforts to drive awareness, infection rates are still high, this is not surprising.

Still within these borders, we have the Pokot, Sabiny, Kadama and Tepeth in and around the district of Kapchorwa – the only known indigenous Ugandan tribes which practice FGM. The procedure varies across cultures; here, it mainly constitutes clitoridectomy, that is, cutting off the clitoris. In some cases with partial cutting of the inner labia. While in others, infibulation whereby both labia are cut off and the resulting wound is sewn up, leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual blood. Upon marriage, this hole is raptured open by a penis, usually with the help of a knife. More cutting is often required to widen the opening during childbirth.

In excising the clitoris, female capacity for sexual pleasure, and thereby likelihood of sexual misconduct are curbed. This ‘purification’ ensures that men have control over the sexuality of ‘their’ girls/women, some of them pre-teen by the time of cutting. Whatever their age, girls with mutilated genitals are considered ripe for marriage, and are regarded highly in the community unlike their ‘incomplete’ counterparts.

Genital cutting poses a high risk of transmitting infections, including HIV, due to the sharing of instruments. But while this issue has been openly addressed by tribal and medical practitioners of male circumcision, this isn’t the case for FGM. Moreover, in Uganda at least, female genital mutilation is carried out underground, and not by medical professionals in specialized establishments. Therefore, naive equivalence simply works to sanitize the realities of an absolute tragedy, and accrue to it the surgical advantages in male circumcision.

But this is a fraction of what girls/women who undergo FGM face: excruciating pain from the moment of cutting (without anaesthesia, unlike in the modern practice of male circumcision), and a lifetime of painful urination, on/off urinary tract infections, inflammation of the bladder due to urine retention, painful menstruation due to blood retention in the uterus, severe pain during sexual intercourse, prolonged labour due to loss of elasticity of the vaginal canal, fistula due to rapturing of the vagina and/or uterus during childbirth, and even death. Incomparable to the healing process of circumcised males which generally takes couple of weeks, using local herbs and/or western medicine to numb the pain, hasten the process, and ward off infections.

This is why women world over continue fighting to end this inhumane, barbaric practice. We also recognize that the ultimate beneficiary of all genital cutting, particularly that which is culturally-mandated, is the class of men.

When male children are promoted into manhood through circumcision, continuing male subjugation of girls/women in the footsteps of their forefathers, it is men who benefit and women who pay the price.

When male children are valued over female children, so much so that they are prime offering for sacrifice – as done by biblical patriarchs – it is boys who pay  the price and men who benefit from it.

As they do when circumcised to reduce their chance of being infected with HIV, even as male violence places women at higher risk of infection, with females aged 15-24  (who, according to UNAIDS, account for 75% of infections in sub-Saharan Africa) three times more likely to be infected than boys/men of the same age.

Importantly, men enjoy benefits (real or imagined), whereas women lose whichever way you look at it, in the practice of female genital cutting. And yet even in this day, the subordination, dehumanization, and destruction of femaleness itself in FGM culture is continually defanged in relativism and equality rhetoric.

Enough with those spewing ‘genitals don’t matter’ and ‘just as bad as…’ foolishness while the genitals of our sisters across the globe are cut and diced to the whims and for the ego of men.

The oppression of female persons, girls and women, will not be queered out of existence by the language policing (clitoral amputation?!?) and derailing tactics of conservative idealists and men’s rights activists cloaked in liberalism. We must remain vigilant.