Travis Wisdom: Bridging Feminism and Intactivism

Travis Wisdom, a student of Women's Studies, discusses Feminism as a foundation for Intactivism.

He recently organized a daylong conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to discuss male circumcision and the issues surrounding identity and body owner­ship: Cutting Culture:

  1. Circumcision, An Overview

  2. Tuskegee Redux? Legal and Ethical Problems of the Ramp Up to Male Circumcision in Africa

  3. The Medical Ethics of Male Circumcision

  4. The Impact of Male Circumcision

(slightly modified)

I remember in one of my Women's Studies courses, we were talking about what makes a [person] a feminist, and one woman said that as long as you have experienced oppression and you have an understanding (or a consciousness) of justice and injustice, then you can become a feminist through that lens.

I disagree.

I think it's more than that: What makes a [person] a feminist [or] an intactivist is taking your consciousness and applying it with an activist component—part of this work is being an activist (in terms of my Intactivism, I'm rather new; I've only been doing this for about 2 years, but I've done a considerable amount in those 2 years). There's a point when you have this experience and you need to survive it for your own psychological health, but part of that for me is utilizing it in a form of activism to help other people, because my experiences are not unique to me. So, in terms of Intactivism, it's been important through the last 2 years to read as much medical literature as possible and to really engage in an Intactivist method of work.

For my undergraduate degree, I am pursuing a bachelors in Women's Studies, and I came to Women's Studies through my experiences with Rape Crisis Center, which is grounded in my sexual assaults. Before I got to Women's Studies as a discipline, I [had become] very interested in Feminism and feminist theory: In high school, I needed something that would offer me a way to really articulate what was going on; it was one thing to survive the experiences—to transition from a victim to a survivor—but I needed something that would articulate what was exactly going on here, looking at it from a larger framework.

I remember reading Bell Hooks. In one of her novels (I believe [it is] Teaching to Transgress), she talks about [how] she came to Feminism in need; she came to theory in need, in that theory is a way to understand the world within and around us, and I really like that [notion]—that Feminism as a movement, but also as [a set of] theories, [is] there to [help us] understand our experiences—to articulate them—in the process of trying to better our living conditions.

I often refer to myself as a feminist intactivist; I do not remove Feminism from Intactivism, because it's the groundwork [on] which everything else is situated. So, my Intactivism is grounded in Feminism and feminist theory, with an importance of social justice—a consciousness of these issues.

Most of what I do is in that realm—in that discipline—[and] also [in] sociology. I don't do a lot of demonstrations; I don't feel comfortable doing demonstrations, although I don't trivialize them (they are important). I tend to kind of stay in the academic sector, although lately I've been getting into Facebook. I always [scoffed] at Facebook, thinking: “Oh, that's a waste of time!” But, that has actually been a godsend for Feminism; I've been connected to so many people across the world via Facebook.

I just finished presenting in Lisbon, Portugal, about the history of the Intactivist movement (a little survey about it); some of the people who are in Europe knew about my speech and [were] able to discuss that—it was a nice way of connecting with people (good networking).

Today, in fact, I finished presenting at the Medicalization of Sex conference at Simon Frazer University in Vancouver, Canada; there were several people who were engaged in the presentation, and they wanted the information—they were really interested. If you are a marginalized group within the marginalized, it becomes exceedingly difficult to try to show or gain visibility in your own movement.

I never thought that it was weird to be a man and be a feministeveryone around me did, but I always thought that Feminism challenges the dualism of gender; it challenges gender binaries and these rigid roles between males and females—or even the categories themselves of male and female. So, I never thought it would be problematic to be a male feminist. In the [1960's], one of the limitations was [that] the idea of a man being a Feminist was just unheard of! It just didn't make sense to a lot of women: “How could a man be a feminist?” We [in] the [Feminism movement] have really grown [away] from that. In the Feminist Majority Foundation or the National Organization for Women, you have these feminist allies who are men, and you have men who identify as feminists, so I think we've really grown [away] from that limitation.

In terms of male circumcision, obviously in Feminism, we talk about female circumcision—it's violence against women, and it's a reproductive rights issue. Male circumcision is no different; we, as feminists, are concerned with inflicting some kind of gendered violence—or violence in general—against someone without consent. It doesn't matter [if the victim] is male or female; both of these surgeries are being inflicted upon children who cannot consent, a majority of them are medically unnecessary, and they have a litany of problems associated, and ethical dilemmas, of course. So, I think that a current limitation of Feminism is that it does not incorporate male circumcision or the concept of genital autonomy as an inalienable right across the gender continuum; [Feminism currently] only focuses on genital autonomy as it relates to females.

At times, I will feel a bit betrayed, but that doesn't mean I'm going to give up on Feminism, [which] is very important to me in my life and my experiences and also for a lot of other people; it's a movement that ends sexism and sexist exploitation wherever it manifests—and I use that definition by Bell Hooks, and I like [her] definition because it names the problem [as] sexism: The problem is sexism, rather, not men; it doesn't matter who is perpetuating sexism—regardless of [whether it's a] male, female, or intersexed person.

So, I think that one of the limitations currently is that genital autonomy is not conceptualized as an issue that is relevant to males or the intersexed, [and] I think that my contribution to both Feminism and the Intactivist movement is to do what I can to bridge the movements, which is very difficult, and I have certainly made people uncomfortable in the process. Most of the time, people are very receptive to what I have to offer; because they know how important Feminism is [to me], I don't have to argue that I'm a Feminist—they don't think I'm disguising as one just to promote Intactivism.

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