Men, Women, Breasts and Circumcision…

Very much delighted to see that blogger has chosen the feminist media watch collaborative weblog as their log of the week. I’m relatively well informed in feminist theory as many of the issues in queer theory are derived from previous work in feminism, and there are many cross-roads and common interests between the two academic branches. However, no longer being in an academic environment, it is increasingly difficult to keep up with the issues. A couple of the debates really interested me:

  • The Involvement of Men in the Women’s Movement
    “I was speculating that perhaps men become involved in the feminist movement to water it down and make sure it never becomes an actual threat. A funny example of this is how at the Ms. magazine forum there was actually this self-proclaimed feminist guy who got offended at a woman claiming that men are privileged. She then pretty much conceded and appologised. That, I believe, is a concrete example of how men in the women’s movement can make women soften their voices and alter their stances for fear of being berated or disliked or whatever.”
    I read this post with considerable interest. As ever with political or social minority issues, there is an issue as to who can speak in feminism. The ability to articulate and argue and the right to do so are not givens, but areas of considerable complexity and dissent. And not necessarily in the most obvious ways either. One formulation of the development of feminism takes things through liberal feminism (equal economic and political rights on male terms), radical and/or separatist feminism (an ostensible rejection of patriachy combined with either attempts to dismantle/rebuild it or form an alternative on the model of possible matriarchal antecedents), through to French Feminist Post-Structuralist feminism, where women are conceived as trapped within a linguistic system that is phallogocentric, and which eventually leads to a collapse of the very categories of male and female.
    So while some have argued that only women should be able to speak because of social chauvinism, others have argued that it is impossible for women to even speak without recapitulating their own subordination. It’s difficult to say whether in the present example it is correct or incorrect to argue from the specific man to the generic male, nor whether it is truly possible for a man to be a feminist in any but the most basic and liberal senses of the word. That’s one of the reasons I am more comfortable with the idea of “queer”, where all the categories are undermined and what is left put up for grabs. Because you can be queer if you are male, female, heterosexual or homosexual – the only precondition being that you are suspicious of the categories you operate within.
  • Plastic Surgery
    I would have to be stupid to even consider denying that the prevalence of cosmetic surgery is symptomic of something dubious in our culture. And I would have to be even more stupid to say that women were not bearing the brunt of it. But having said that, I think we have to ask ourselves what is the most performed piece of cosmetic surgery performed in the US today. And the answer? Circumcision. I was watching “Sex and the City” on TV the other night, and the whole thrust of the episode was about an un-circumcised man being discussed by the regular female cast. Most of them agreed that uncircumcised penises were slightly gross. Only one disagreed. She said that uncircumcised men were particular fun. And the reason? “Because they try harder”. I was watching it with a couple of friends and we all kind of stared at the screen in mute astonishment. In the UK pretty much only Jewish men are circumcised – it’s just not considered an issue for everyone else.
    I’m not saying that this is an example of clear double standards – people clearly feel they have justification for the circumcision of their children and there are a lots of issues surrounding it, but imagine a scene with a bunch of men talking about breasts in a culture where boob-jobs were more natural than nature itself (say Los Angeles), where they all talk about how “natural breasts” are offensive and unnattractive (until one helpful soul points out that women with them at least try harder in bed). How does that strike you? It sounds appalling to me.
    Of course there are other interpretations that one might give: circumcision has often been used as a tribal intiation ritual to mark the procession into adulthood, and the arguments that the foreskin is unhygenic still hold some water in some places. Still – it is pretty much the only piece of surgery done as a matter of course in the US which actually changes the functioning of the body.