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Monday, January 24, 2011

New OISE MA thesis says western feminists opposed to female circumcision are lascivious racists

You may never have heard of Sheryl Nestel for anything she's written or said. But recently she has become infamous as the academic supervisor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the notorious Jenny Peto Hate Thesis and a similar one alleging collective Jewish guilt.

Now it appears Ms Nestel is going for the bizarro trifecta with a new Master's thesis she supervised that alleges "knowledge produced around female circumcision perpetuates discursive and material violence against Kenyan Maasai communities" and "this violence has persisted in neo/colonial eras as part of the white western feminist ‘care of self’ technique of displacing female abjection through the pleasure of whiteness."  Its author also writes, "these western feminist constructions of sexual liberation rely on depicting racialized women as primitive and degenerate."

Are you following this so far? The thesis' author is saying that focusing attention on the practice of female circumcision is a way of perpetrating violence against Maasai communities that practice it. As far as I can make out, she's proposing that attention drawn to this issue is really because a bunch of western, liberal feminists are trying to feel good about themselves by making non-whites out to be primitive barbarians.

But it gets even better. Nestel's student doesn't just say that western, liberal feminists are racists, colonialists and cultural imperialists, but they also have a prurient obsession with genitalia! Or as the author of "KNOWLEDGE IS MADE FOR CUTTING: GENEALOGIES OF RACE AND GENDER IN FEMALE CIRCUMCISION DISCOURSE"  puts it:  "It is precisely through the preoccupation with genitalia and the ‘primitive’ practice of female circumcision that the ‘sexually liberated’ western feminist comes to know herself as a ‘civilized’ and viable subject."

The practice of female circumcision is nothing like male circumcision, which merely removes the foreskin, has hygienic advantages and does not interfere with sexual pleasure. Female circumcision is a clitorectomy (i.e. the complete removal of the clitoris). It's practiced by some tribal, patriarchal cultures for the purpose of removing a female's ability to experience sexual pleasure. The rationale for this brutality is that it will supposedly make a wife more likely to remain faithful to her husband.

In contrast to the Hate Thesis, "Knowledge is Made for Cutting" (despite the ill-advised pun in the title) is actually a well-written, well-researched thesis and its author certainly appears to meet the academic qualifications for her degree. But the bizarre conclusions reached under Ms Nestel's tutelage seem indicative of the fanatical, one-sided politicization occurring at OISE.

The University of Toronto's OISE presents odd notions of "oppression" to the extent of trivializing the word. To illustrate that point, one need look no further than the case of an OISE M.Ed. who claimed that by being ignored in a hardware store, she was a victim of "sexist oppression."

For most people, few things could be more accurately described as real sexist oppression than being forced to undergo a clitorectomy. But thanks to OISE's Department of Sociology and Equity Studies, we now know better. Western feminists should refrain from objecting to female genital mutilation and torture, lest they be accused of being lascivious, racist imperialists only intent on enjoying "the pleasure of whiteness." Alternately, they should probably consider sending themselves and their children to somewhere other than OISE's Department of Sociology and Equity Studies to get an education.

UPDATE: anyone wishing to comment on male circumcision is welcome to do so by clicking THIS LINK. I will be relocating all further comments on that subject left here to it. If you want to add to the comments on the subject this post is actually about, go ahead.


Anonymous said...

Don't drag male circumcision into this!...You are clearly uneducated on the subject, and this affects the validty of your views on the primary subject!

Richard K said...

Oh, great. A visit from a "male circumcision is evil" character. The foreskin must be proud to have such passionate advocates.

Harry Abrams said...

Male circumcision medically proven to reduce HPV and HIV viruses, plus generally more hygenic as urine and bacteria less likely to accumulate.

Of course if one is opposed to cirmcucision, then don't have it done to your kids is all.

Those nuts who propose banning the practice are usual against kosher/halal as well.

Van Grungy said...

I'm against halal...

boys are considered halal sexual playthings in islam...

How do you like your halal now Harry?

Anonymous said...

Never be a good Samaritan: interfering with the practice of mugging and murder is only an expression of one's perceived western Judeo Christian moral superiority. After all in many societies such barbaric practice is an expression of direct poltical action against social inequalities.!!!!! (sarcasm off /-)

Mark said...

Female and male circumcision are more comparable than some people think. Firstly, in countries where female circumcision is done under unhygienic conditions, male circumcision is too (broken glass, no anaesthesia, etc). Many boys die each year in Africa from tribal circumcisions – 91 young men died last year in just one province of South Africa. In some countries though female circumcision only involves the removal of the clitoral hood - the anatomical equivalent of the foreskin - and is done to babies in sterile conditions, even with pain relief. Check out how it's done in Egypt, Malaysia or Brunei, for example. Circumcised women choose to have their daughters circumcised, citing how it's cleaner, good sexually, reduces secretions and smegma and is generally hygienic, and also mentioning studies showing circumcised women have lower infection rates. Basically the same reasons that people use to defend male circumcision. It's just a cultural difference.

Most people aren't aware that the USA also used to practise female circumcision. Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no external clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don't even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until at least 1959. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.

One victim wrote a book about it:
Robinett, Patricia (2006). "The rape of innocence: One woman's story of female genital mutilation in the USA."

Nowadays, it's illegal even to make an incision on a girl's genitals though, even if no tissue is removed. Why don't boys get the same protection?

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally against female circumcision, and I probably spend a lot more time and money trying to stop it than most people. If people are serious about stopping female circumcision though, they also have to be against male circumcision. Even if you see a fundamental difference, the people that cut girls don't (and they get furious if you call it "mutilation"). There are intelligent, educated, articulate women who will passionately defend it, and as well as using the exact same reasons that are used to defend male circumcision in the US, they will also point to male circumcision itself (as well as labiaplasty and breast operations), as evidence of western hypocrisy regarding female circumcision. The sooner boys are protected from genital mutilation in the west, the sooner those peoples that practice FGM will interpret western objections as something more than cultural imperialism.

Rich Angell said...

I oppose circumcision, and I would never do that to my children. Unfortunately, I was never afforded a choice in the matter. Do a 'net search for foreskin restoration, and you'll realise what a colossal mistake it is to dismiss male circumcision as benign or medically or religiously legitimate.

Harry Abrams said...

@ Van Grungy:

"boys are considered halal sexual playthings in islam..."

Uh huh.

Halal is about food handling. You're probably confusing it with the word "haram" which translates roughly to our word "taboo."

And molesting children is OFFICIALLY abhorred in all major religions that I've heard of.

And of course, you could be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to make this kind assertion.

Richard K said...

In just about every Islamic culture, homosexuality is not only considered a sin, but is accorded severe penalties. So Harry is quite right in his assertion. What some people do as personal or cultural practice is not always what a religion officially dictates.

For the people who are so concerned about male circumcision, the practice, unlike that of female circumcision, is NOT meant to reduce or interfere with sexual pleasure and indeed it does not. It is not a practice designed to make its recipients subservient to another gender. Its origins are mainly based on creating a physical differentiation between members of a group so that they are irrevocably committed.

Obviously, when practiced at an older age and in unhygienic conditions, it's wrong and abusive.

But when done at infancy and under proper hygienic conditions, with appropriate medical supervision,unlike female circumcision, it HAS been proven to provide health advantages and reduce disease.

There are a number of very angry and indeed histrionic opponents to male circumcision. There are many in this movement who are clearly motivated by personal issues that would be better dealt with by a psychiatrist.

Mark said...

Male circumcision was in fact popularised as a method of reducing or interfering with sexual pleasure, and does in fact seem to do so.

It's worth remembering that no-one except for Jewish people and Muslims would even be having this discussion if it weren't for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but how that's how they thought back then, and that's how non-religious circumcision got started. If you don't believe me, then check out this link:
A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians' Own Words

Heck, they even passed laws against "self-pollution" as it was called.

People defending female circumcision also claim health advantages and disase reduction, and claim that woman who are against it either don't understand, or are unbalanced.

Mark said...

Health advantages to male circumcision? It's really easy to find circumcised male doctors who are against circumcision, but almost impossible to find any intact male doctors who weren't themselves circumcised as children:

Canadian Paediatric Society
"Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed."

"Circumcision is a 'non-therapeutic' procedure, which means it is not medically necessary."
"After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.

RACP Policy Statement on Circumcision
" In the absence of evidence of risk of substantial harm, informed parental choice should be respected. Informed parental consent should include the possibility that the ethical principle of autonomy may be better fulfilled by deferring the circumcision to adolescence with the young man consenting on his own behalf."
(almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. "Routine" circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

British Medical Association: The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors
"to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate."

The Royal Dutch Medical Association
"The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications."

But if you're circumcised, you probably don't want to know about that, or will do everything you can to suggest it's bogus. Maybe you're the one who is "motivated by personal issues that would be better dealt with by a psychiatrist".

Why don't we just let everyone decide for themselves? It's their body after all.

Glen Callender said...

"The practice of female circumcision is nothing like male circumcision..."

"Nothing like?" Both involve the painful and permanent removal of genital tissue, usually from a child who did not consent. To say the two are "nothing like" each other is deliberately disingenuous.

"...which merely removes the foreskin..."

The foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis, and it has important functions. I have one, and I would never dismiss it as "merely" my foreskin. Note that a FGM supporter could say that female circumcision "merely removes the clitoris", seeing that they dismiss the clitoris as non-essential and a potential danger to the girl, just like MGM advocates dismiss the male foreskin. A boy should have the right to dismiss his own foreskin: he probably won't if he has a chance to get to know it. After all, over 80% of the men in the world have foreskin, and they aren't complaining.

"...has hygienic advantages..."

A myth. Cleaning of the intact penis is a non-issue. That's like saying that chopping off our fingertips has hygienic advantages, because now there aren't any dirty fingernails to clean under.

"...and does not interfere with sexual pleasure."

Absolute nonsense. Removal of ~50% of the skin of the penis certainly affects pleasure. There are tens of thousands of exquisitely sensitive nerves there.

I care about this issue because I get a lot of pleasure from my foreskin, and when I enjoy my intact penis I know it's a crime to take that pleasure away from another person. If it's his/her body, it should his/her choice. Basic human rights.

Richard K said...

You've provided a very selective reading of the material you quote. From the RACP policy alone, you can look at this. It's indicitive of the rest. If circumcision were as dangerous or harmful as you say, then doctors in advanced, western countries simply would not perform it, the way they refuse to perform female circumcisions.

I'm not telling anyone male circumcision should be mandatory, but when you question the health benefits, you should read the ENTIRE documents you selectively quote, or better still, you need to find a more productive hobby.

From your RACP study:

"Circumcision is generally a safe procedure but there are risks of minor complications and
some rare but serious complications.

The most important conditions where benefits may result from circumcision are recurrent
urinary tract infections in children; and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) plus some
other sexually transmitted infections in adults from populations with a high prevalence of
these conditions; cancer of the penis in men with a history of phimosis, and cancer of the
cervix in women whose partners engage in sexual practices known to increase the risk of
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. The protection against Sexually Transmitted
Infections (STIs) and HIV is less clear-cut in Australia and New Zealand than in high
prevalence countries.

Ethical and human rights concerns have been raised regarding elective infant male
circumcision because it is recognised that the foreskin has a functional role, the operation
is non-therapeutic and the infant is unable to consent.

After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia
and New Zealand. However it is reasonable for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of
circumcision and to make the decision whether or not to circumcise their sons.

When parents request a circumcision for their child the medical attendant is obliged to
provide accurate unbiased and up to date information on the risks and benefits of the
procedure. Parental choice should be respected.

Richard K said...

It looks like someone has posted this story on a message board for The Foreskin Preservation Society or something like that.

Like I don't get enough weirdos visiting this site already..

Mark said...

So people who disagree with you about this issue are "weirdos"? That's kind of how they view people who are against female circumcision in the countries where that's common.

Looks like you're the one who's selectively quoting btw. Are you still trying to find something in the positions of the Canadian, UK, and Dutch medical organizations to back up your point of view? But I guess they're all just "very angry and indeed histrionic opponents to male circumcision", so we can ignore them right?

Some doctors in advanced, western countries do refuse to perform "routine" male circumcisions, unless it's at the request of the person being circumcised.

Drops in male circumcision since 1950:
USA: from 90% to 57% (33% according to a study last year from the CDC)
Canada: from 48% to 17%
UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1% among non-Muslims)
Australia: 90% to 12.6% ("routine" circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states except one, so the rate will now be a lot lower)
New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
South America and Europe: never above 5%

Richard K said...

No, not all the people who disagree with me about male circumcision are weirdos.

I was referring to people who make their foreskin obsession their life's work.

George said...

Male genital mutilation, euphemistically termed "circumcision", in fact varies greatly and has many things in common with female genital mutilation. It can result in variations of dermal reduction up to total ablation of the glans or penis, and on to infection and death even when performed in hospital environments. You haven't researched the facts.

The penile prepuce is the most highly erotogenic part of the penis, and is developed from the clitoral prepuce in the embryonic stage of existence. To say that it is "merely the foreskin" is to somehow disregard penile dermal tissue's value as a protective organ for the glans. You fail to see that males have the same rights as do females to their bodily integrity and self determination.

Eighty five percent of males internationally are intact and living proof that "circumcision" is a lie. Placing a girl in a category of the sexually subjugated is the same when done to a boy regardless of the outcome of either mutilative procedure. This article is erroneous, hypocritical, and sexist because it doesn't acknowledge this fact.

Richard K said...

Seriously, you dickheads need to find something to do with your lives beside obsess over foreskins.

Whatever your problems in life are that you folks are blaming on not having a foreskin, let me assure you, it's much more serious than that and it probably has nothing to do with your genitalia.

Mark said...

Do you dismiss cut women in the same way? Plenty of people do in the countries where female cutting is common.

You seem fairly "obsessed" by convincing us that we're wrong. You seem to have given up debating the issues, and started with ad hominem attacks to the extent of insulting us with profanities, so why do you think we're the ones with problems and not you?

I happen to be intact btw. If I wanted to get circumcised, it would be easy enough to get it done. Like about 99% of intact men though, I prefer it that way. You can't become intact though. You obviously don't want to be, and that's cool, but why shouldn't other people have the choice to decide for themselves?

If our son wants to be circumcised when he's 18 (16 if he knows what he's doing), I'll pay for it and help him find a good surgeon, and decide what kind of circumcision he wants (there are different types). Until he's old enough to decide for himself though, he stays intact. His body - his decision. If he wants to be circumcised later, it's easy to fix - safer, less painful, and better cosmetic results. If we'd had him circumcised, and he wanted to be intact, it's a problem.

Gerald said...

Richard, do yourself a favour and understand that you were a part of the repetitive cycle of sexual abuse that "circumcision" is. It isn't your fault, and no one is telling you not to like your penis as is. However, you should at least understand what it is that you lost via a sexist society where misandry passes virtually unnoticed.

People who have or don't have their entire penile skin system are only obsessed in your eyes because you are in denial about your own subverted pain, and we do feel your pain. We are simply defending the rights of the one's who can't yet speak to make their own decisions, as you should have had. If you had an unedited penis, you might understand. Its not too late to change your perspective and help to prevent children from falling victim to the cycle of abuse that "circumcision" is. All you have to do is open your mind.

Richard K said...

Gerald, I'm glad you feel my pain. Do you feel the headache you're giving me too?

Anonymous said...

This is all about women and female circumcision. Why are none commenting?
Removing the male foreskin leaves the penis able to accomplish its original functions: urination, pleasure and procreation. A procedure comparable to 'Female Mutilation' would remove the end third or more, leaving the member suitable only as a conduit for liquid waste. It would be helpful if writers would be clear whether they are referring to female circumcision or mutilation, they are vastly different procedures.
As for racist angle, non-white cultures have traditions from non-interference with nature to full mutilation. There is no way this is a "White vs Them" issue.
But the biggest disappointment for me is that this woman is being supported by public funds.

Gerald said...

Sorry Richard, but the headache is not my fault. Blaming the messenger is a common reaction. But the truth remains whether you, I, or anyone likes it or not. Ten out of ten babies oppose "circumcision", shouldn't you?

Richard K said...

10 out of 10 babies oppose bedtime too.

Anyway, for all of you who want to have your say on the male circumcision issue, I've created this post just for you:


Hugh7 said...

If it were only post-modernists like Sheryl Nestel's student (and presumably Nestel herself) who trivialise genital cutting, turning it from an ethical issue into a "discourse", we wouldn't have too much to worry about. Unfortunately, victims of it like African Women are Free to Choose also defend it by ignoring its ethical and human rights implications.

Genital cutting will never be eradicated while we genderize it, as Richard gratuitously does here. Severity and hygiene, pain and damage are all variable for both genders. FGC isn't always a complete clitoridectomy by any means and MGC may very well interfere with sexual pleasure. (And it is meaningless to add "if not done properly" - there is no dotted line.) The reasons for doing GC are equally varied and irrational for both sexes, male: and female The common factor is that all genital cutting of non-consenting people is an ethical outrage. It violates human rights, which are independent of culture.

Richard K said...

Gerald, I've placed your most recent comment in the post listed above, because that's the appropriate one for discussing that issue.

Unknown said...

Circoncision-Excision; homme-Femme sont a rejeter tout deux, seul Excision féminine est une grosse mutilations ni l'un ni l'autre sont acceptables au recommandables sur des enfants au adultes, pour l'excision seul des régions du monde au la civilisations a un retard de plusieurs décennie ne place pas encore les responsable d'office en prison, cette mutilation coute très chère a la société et a la personne elle même, sauf les cas au cela n'était que superficielle avec le résultat pourtant identique

Kursk said...

Harry, If you had been to the places I have been in a long military career, you would get the idea that not only is man-boy/girl love condoned by the religious authorities, it is actively encouraged as a way to emulate the founder of the Islamic religion, Muhammad.

Remember the phrase: 'Girls are for babies, boys are for pleasure..' It is actively bandied about in all Islamic societies.

So called Muslim 'moderates' condemn the practice, but since this soul destroying activity is so commonplace in their countries, one can only assume that their words are meaningless sops, meant to appease outsiders.

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Richard K said...

Love the link!

Richard K said...

Actually, I thought that link was a joke. Ms Peto would have submitted something better if she'd used it.

But I keep getting spammed by comments linking to it, so I'm not going to publish any more with that link, which evidently is a real PhD thesis writing service, or as they call it in academic circles, plagiarism.