Interviews and Comments

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please E-mail Dr. Julia Keefer and we will post and/or reply to your mail.

Photo Credit: Albert Lung

Albert Lung, WWII Spring 1996 student, reacts to site:
"Your web site is indeed very impressive. Although I did not have time to browse through each page, I've seen enough to realize how much work has gone into it, especially the iridescent blue h air which transforms you from an aerobic professor to a femme fatale Dick Morris can only dream about....The concept of integrating these seemingly disparate elements of humanity--body, image, literature, movement, science, physical therapy, choreography etc. into a unified discourse is a tribute to the homo-spatial madness, as well as an ingenious way to stir the interdisciplinary curiosity of your students."

Click on the Body's Image for Lung's analysis of the striptease.

"Always be ready to interview!" Student Justine Donato (Fall, 1996) was struggling with her research comparing the views of American and French feminists on reproductive ownership of the body when she sat down on a plane beside Gloria Steinem. Ms. Steinem was kind enough to spend the flight writing down her ideas on the subject: 'I found that on the issue of abortion especially, U.S. and French feminists shared an understanding of the desire to control reproduction as the basis of patriarchy. ...This is necessary to determine ownership of children through paternity, to influence how many workers or soldiers the state needs and to maintain a racist caste system, or (in the case of France) a class system. That's why safe and legal abortion- and all the other issues of reproductive freedom- were radical and resisted by patriarchies of all varieties.... The biggest difference I found between U.S. and French feminists was the existence of an autonomous feminist movement in the U.S., while in France most groups had ties to pre-existing political/intellectual movements, and were thus far more fractured into different groups. It seemed to be no accident that Choisir was the one force that brought them together in the 1960s and 1970s. They also seemed much more class divided. For example, their focus on the minutia of language and philosophy gained them a serious status among male intellectuals that U.S. feminists were often denied, but it also shut out most women and made feminism seem rarified, not about real life. On the other hand, French prostitutes were organizing and occupying churches even before prostitutes were organizing here.

Another difference: social policy in France is made centrally and thus more responsive to pressure and universal reforms. Here, social policy often has to be made fifty times over. There, feminists were more likely to become part of the government, at least in center-to-left regimes. Here, that is more rare-- which both strengthens us as a movement on the outside, and slows change from within. I also think the wide-spread consciousness- raising or rap groups made a big difference here. It helped us to evolve a politics based on our own experience, rather than trying to fit into political/philosophical schools that were patriarchal in varying degrees.

I remember that Simone de Beauvoir said she really wasn't yet a feminist when she wrote The Second Sex because she was still assuming the primacy of class, but Choisir and the reproductive issues changed that. The only time I made her laugh was quoting a friend who said, "I've been married to one Marxist and one fascist-- and neither one took the garbage out." She said something like, "Yes, what we have to do goes deeper than political labels." '"

Always be ready to interview! Student Kerry Bastan was doing research on female circumcision when she found out that a fifteen year old girl in her building had had her clitoris removed by a doctor in the United States. The following are excerpts from the interview: Q: What do you remember most?
A: "Wider. Wider. I said, Open wider. You keep trying to put your legs together, it's not gonna work that way." That's what I remember most. Kind of strange, it does make sense, after all. I still hear those words "open wider" screaming in my ears three years later.
When I was 12, my father told my aunt that I had to have a female genital cutting-- it was tradition: all his daughers had one, and so would I. I sort of remember my aunt and uncle arguing about it, and I know there was talk about me going back to Pakistan to have it done there. That way, it would be more traditional, and I would get a ceremony. I remember I got excited about having a ceremony, like a wedding here, and of wearing beautiful clothes and beautiful jewelry, like my cousins did at their ceremony. My father did send me a set of beautiful, real gold necklaces because I am a woman now and can wear those gold necklaces. It was the most expensive present he ever bought me, he said, and I should only wear them on special occasions, like going to temple. [She is a Muslim.]
But no one ever told me what a female genital cutting really was. I think they thought I was too young to understand. They did tell me that I was getting too old to be uncut, and I needed to be cleaned in order to be a real woman, like them. I still didn't understand what was happening when I went in for the female genital cutting. Clitoris? What the heck is clitoris?I guess I did equate it with having my tonsils taken out. I knew I wasn't going to the doctors that day because something was wrong withme, but I thought the doctor had to change something in me to be a woman.
Then the knife pierced my vagina. At first a slight poke, and then, suddenly, it felt like an arrow ripping right through my body. I didn't know what the doctor was doing, but I know I was scared, real scared. My grandmother was there, holding one of my kicking legs down, and my aunt was keeping the other one down. I wanted to die. As a small stream of blood trickled down my leg, I knew the circumcision had been down. And, then, just like that-- one, two, three, the doctor pulled out this little, sort of round, oval-shaped piece of flesh. It reminded me of a soft acorn, one of those old brown ones that had been lying under a tree for too long, squished flat, the result of too many people stepping on it. I think this round piece of flesh was red underneath, or maybe it was the blood covering it. I didn't know what it was. I vaguely remember wondering if I did something wrong and I was being punished; I could not imagine anything bad enough to deserve such a punishment. Like a basketball player slam dunking a ball, the doctor then threw my piece of flesh in the garbage and said: "Well, it's done. You did very well," and vanished behind a stone-like door.
It was then that I noticed there was much more blood sweeping down my thighs, different from my normal menstrual blood. I kept wanting to wake up from this nightmare, you know, the kind that you can't wake up from. The blood kept gliding down my legs while my grandmother was mumbling something about keeping our tradition, and comparing this organ removal to a tonsilectomy. I looked up and saw the knife-like apparatus the doctor used sitting in a container-- there was still some flesh on the knife. I don't remember anymore, I had fainted. Since the cutting, my proud walk has become a shuffle; it takes me a quarter of an hour to pee; my periods last ten days and I have cramps half the month. But the scars run much deeper than what the knife cut.
Q:Do you have sensual or sexual feelings?
A: I don't know if I do. Most of my clitoris was removed, but the doctor told me I might have sexual tendencies at times. I don't know. I don't feel anything. My friends have sex, and they say they like it. I don't believe them. I like to kiss guys... but no, I don't feel sexual, like they do in the movies.

In her research, Kerry discovered that these mutilations are very exciting to many men, particularly in Africa: "Man is jealous of woman's [clitoral] pleasure because she does not require him to achieve it. When her outer sex is cut off, and she's left with only the smallest, inelastic opening through which to receive him, he can believe that it is only his penis that can reach her inner parts and give her what she craves. But it is only his lust for conquest that makes the effort worthwhile. To further please the man, after giving birth, women voluntarily go back to the excisor to be resewn, tighter than before. A proper woman must be cut and sewn to fit only her husband, whose pleasure depends on a very small opening. Men like it tight and fighting."

For more information on Kerry's research, click here.

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