Re: Male Virginity and Circumcision (was: Re: Origin of circumcision)

Stephanie G. Folse (
14 Nov 1995 05:08:55 GMT

Since Ms. Locascio wrote that she tried to post this and failed, I assume
that she has no objection to me posting her letter and my reply to the
newsgroup. Heck, it's arguing anthropology, so it's perfectly on-charter.

Stephanie Folse
On Mon, 13 Nov 1995, Julie Locascio wrote:

> I wanted to post this, but the way you had the address listed, it is not
> working (and my editing of the address is not working)--sorry.

I'm not sure why it wouldn't post -- I didn't change anything from other
posts I've made that other people have no trouble following up to.
Perhaps it's your reader?

> Anyway, I did have some concerns about some of the things you said.

Fair enough.

(Stephanie Folse says:)
> >Remain uninterested in sex? Try telling that one to the Masaai women who
> >remain quite interested in sex after their clitoridectomies. As Cecil
> >Adams puts it, clitoridectomy affects your ability to have an orgasm in
> >the same way that chopping off your feet affects your ability to polka,
> >but it doesn't destroy your pleasure and delight in all other aspects of
> >sex. Caresses and kisses feel just as good after as before. This is
> >another example of Western ethnocentrism, I think -- the belief that
> >orgasm is the only thing that is attractive about sex.
(Julie Locascio replies:)
> I think you're missing the point here: these women lose their clitoris before
> they ever learned what it is capable of. Yes, they presumably still enjoy
> hugs and kisses, but they have been purposefully robbed of their major sex
> stimulant so that they will be submissive wives. Nobody is saying that a
> clitoral orgasm is all-important, but it is a unique experience of which
> they have been robbed.

(Stephanie Folse rebuts:)
I believe you failed to properly read the paragraph I was responding to.
Michael Nakis said that females were circumcised precisely so that they
would lose all interest in sex. I was not arguing with the reasons why
people *say* they do this, but with the results. I pointed out that
clitoridectomy does *not* make a woman lose *all* interest. I am not
arguing that it does not render them incapable of a major sexual stimulant.
What I am arguing is that women who have been circumcised *can* enjoy sex and
often seek it out quite frequently. Among the Maasai people, the older
woman who enjoys many young warrior lovers is a common stereotype that is
based on fact. These women love sex and being circumcised does not keep
them submissive.

>From Helen Fisher's _Anatomy of Love_, p321
"Societies with few prohibitions of extramarital liaisons of any kind
and with a high degree of extramarital behavior for both sexes
include... (I'm leaving out a list of cultures here) ... the Masai
of East Africa..."

And from the same book, p 93
"Kinsey agreed, saying, 'Even in those cultures which most
rigorously attempt to control the female's extramarital coitus, it is
perfectly clear that such activity does occur, and in many
instances it occurs with great regularity.'"

As you can see, in the case of the Maasai and in others, the concept of a
sexually submissive wife who will not take lovers outside of marriage,
and the presence of female circumcision do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Culture is very complex and often cannot be explained by simple ideas
such as "female circumcision is to produce submissive wives."

You have to wonder at the circumstances of a custom that flat out
doesn't do what people says it does. There is a very good chance that
much more is at work behind it. This is a good topic for research, but
I'm already too tied up with my thesis to research it myself.

(And why am I stuck on the Maasai as an example? Because I grew up in
East Africa, in Tanzania, surrounded by them. I'm not an expert on their
culture, but I do know a lot about them.)

Anyway, especially on the Internet, you have to pay attention to what the
previous person said in order to fully understand the response. I was
not arguing that clitoridectomy wasn't harmful or awful or bad or
anything of the sort (as witnessed by my Cecil Adams quote). I was pointing
out that it does not produce the results it is supposed to produce, as well
as mentioning the Western obsession with orgasm as the ultimate purpose of
sex. If it was, women with clitoridectomies would lose interest in sex,
irregardless of whether they had experienced an orgasm or not before the
operation, and they do not.

(Stephanie Folse says:)
> >as a specific, cross-cultural term. For example: in America, two men
> >walking down the street together holding hands are considered to be
> >homosexual. In Italy, one of the very "macho" countries, young men
> >(teens, 20s) *will* walk down the street arm-in-arm as they are trolling
> >for girls, and no one thinks it says anything about their sexual orientation.
> >I will also say that the very first thing you have to do in the process
> >of scientific inquiry is: Define Your Terms. Just exactly what do you
> >define "macho" as?
(Julie Locascio replies:)
> You seem to be the one with an inability to recognize a universally accepted
> concept. Machismo is not exactly an obscure issue anymore. I mean, do
> you demand people to give you a definition of "feminism", too? Saying that
> Italian men hold hands is completely beside the point. Machismo may take
> different forms in different cultures, but it is evident nearly everywhere.

(Stephanie Folse rebuts:)
You seem to be unfamiliar with anthropology. There are very very few
"universally accepted concepts". The concept of evolution is one (among
anthropologists). The concept of adaptation is another. Machismo is
definitley not one of them. Even the very concept of "male" and "female"
is different between cultures ("Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of
India" by Serens Nanda, and "Amazons of America: Female Gender Variance"
by Walter L. Williams).

(BTW, all these articles I'm citing can be found in the book I list at
the end of this letter.)

How do you define "machismo"? By my definition, which I believe is
widely accepted in the anthropological community as well as in Webster's
dictionary, "manhood" and "machismo" are two distinctly different, but
related, terms, which you seem to be confusing. All cultures seem to
have a rite of passage to turn boys into men (from "The Manhood Puzzle"
by David Gilmore), and manhood is the concept of a quality that is
achieved by successfully undergoing a ritual to separate boys from men,
and a certain set of behaviors that differentiate this quality from the
quality of "womanhood" or "childhood." Machismo is a certain subset of
those behaviors that define manhood that include an exaggerated,
aggressively virile, demeanor. Machismo is all about manhood, but
manhood is not all about machismo. All cultures have "manhood," but not
all have "machismo." Cultures with machismo tend to be cultures that
have great stratification between genders, where the males dominate the
females economically, politically, and socially. More egalitarian
cultures (i.e. hunting and gathering cultures) do not tend to display the
set of behaviors that constitute "machismo," although they all display
attributes that correspond with "manhood."

(But wait! You mean to say that *your* definition of these concepts
differs from *my* definition? Exactly my point. Mr. Nakis needed to
define exactly what he meant by "machismo" before he could argue using it.)

The Italian example was to show Michael Nakis that what he thinks of as
"macho" and what someone else thinks of as "macho" are *not* the same.
In his argument, male circumcision was instituted in order to preserve a
"macho" image. The problem with this is that the definition of "macho"
varies greatly from culture to culture. And that is just considering the
cultures that have an instituion of machismo, which is something that is
most definitely *not* present in all cultures.

And I *do* demand a definition of "feminism" when someone talks about it.
Ask five different women what the definition of "feminism" is and you will
get five different answers. Try it out. My definition of feminism means
not being judged or defined on the basis of my gender, whether
professionally or personally. My roommate six years ago had a definition of
feminism that included the concept that females were innately superior to
males. Rush Limbaugh's definition of feminism includes the idea that
feminist women are trying to usurp the masculine, "natural," position. You
must find out exactly what a person means when he or she says "feminism"
before you can understand his or her argument and agree or disagree with it.

(Stephanie Folse says:)
> >I will also say that male superiority is not the norm in all cultures.
> >Hunter-gatherer groups (the groups that circumcision arose in, BTW), are
> >basically egalitarian. there are a few exceptions, most notably the
> >Inuit, who are male-dominated, but these groups live in extreme
> >environmental conditions. In areas where both the hunter-men and
> >gatherer-women can contribute equally to the food supply, they are
> >equal. The Inuit live almost entirely on meat hunted by the men and are
> >correspondingly male-dominated. Males dominate as societies
> >move to agriculture and more complex societies. Stereotypical "macho"
> >occurs in male-dominated societies.
(Julie Locascio replies:)
> I think YOU need to define "dominate"! You could just as easily point out
> that in Africa, women cultivate the majority of food, but men completely
> dominate the social and political power circles. In some urbanized areas
> of Latin America, it is easier for women to find work than for men--but
> men still exert as much "dominance" as they can.

(Stephanie Folse rebuts:)
Don't talk about "universally accepted concepts" and then ask me
for a definition of dominance. You have just shot your mount out from
under you that way. Pick one or the other position to fight from.

You are right in that I failed to include my definition of "dominance".
Here it is. My definition of gender dominance corresponds with Ernestine
Friedl's as quoted in "Society and Sex Roles" in _Anthropology 94/95_ ,
one of the texts I used when TA'ing Intro to Anthro last year. On p. 128:

"In any society, status goes to those who control the distribution
of valued goods and services outside the family. Equality arises when
both sexes work side by side in food production ... and the products
are simply distributed among the workers. In such circumstances, no
person or sex has greater access to valued items than do others."

Yes, in some cultures it may be easier for women to find work than men.
However, their contributions are not equally valued. In modern Western
technological society, women contribute a great deal to food production
(i.e., the preparation, which is an integral part of food production),
but this contribution is not valued. As more women go to work and earn
higher wages, they contribute more and more to the economic aspect of
food production, and their status is starting to rise correspondingly.

If you re-read the paragraph you responded to, you will realize that I was
referring to solely hunting and gathering societies as relatively egalitarian.
The examples you bring up are agricultural societies. Agricultural societies
are not egalitarian. Societies display egalitarian roles when males and
females contribute roughly equal amounts to the society, and their
contributions are equally valued, and this is not the case in agricultural
societies. This had to do with the concept of "machismo", and I pointed
out that ideals of machismo do not exist in cultures that are
more-or-less egalitarian.

By your statement that men dominate wherever they can, I see that you are
not familiar with current anthropological literature on the subject of
gender roles. Let me recommend a book for you:

_Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective_. edited by Caroline B. Brettell
and Carolyn F. Sargent. This is an anthology of articles that examine
the concepts of gender, gender dominance and gender-based behaviors in
many different cultures. It will give you a good basic overview of
current thinking and research in this area.

Stephanie Folse

<*> || <*>
+ Museum Studies grad student|| "Will you cut that out? +
+ Department of Anthropology || Everybody knows Isz don't have eyeballs." +
<*> University of Denver ||====>I claim this .sig for Queen Elizabeth<*>

<*> || <*>
+ Museum Studies grad student|| "Will you cut that out? +
+ Department of Anthropology || Everybody knows Isz don't have eyeballs." +
<*> University of Denver ||====>I claim this .sig for Queen Elizabeth<*>