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:
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 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 feminist—everyone 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.