Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If "women's matters" make you go queasy, look away now

I had the dog "done" on Saturday - my beautiful dog girl, the wonder Ms Dogot. Watching her convalesce with a cone on her head and an overhanging bewildered depression has not left me feeling all that well disposed towards man as a species, with our weird way of feeling entitled to decide such matters for members of other species, and, in particular, towards myself.

This state of affairs has led me to take a trip down Imaginy Lane and think about how it would be if it was me instead of her. This is what I see: myself, tricked, utilising my love and trust, into an involuntary hysterectomy, now with a great big long wound down my lower tummy. So I wouldn't fiddle with the stitches, I'd have to wear a cone, too, but obviously, since I'm more likely to use my hands for this, my cone would have to be much bigger, at least past my elbows so I can't bend my arms to scratch where it itches. But for a cone to disable my arms, it would have to be attached not round my neck, like hers, but under my arms, across my breasts (squashed ridiculously, laughably, either inside the cone or just below it). I'd have to wear a harness, too, for the cone to be attached onto, and obviously both would be fixed at the back so I couldn't unfasten them.

The more I think of this, the more it sounds like a butoh performance.

From these thoughts, my mind now makes an associative leap into a documentary I watched the other day - since Ms Dogot's operation, I've been watching more telly than I've watched in the previous eight years put together, as I spend my spare time mostly lying on the floor with her and this seems to invite television. So, one of the things I've watched to lift my spirits was a documentary I'd recorded a few days before on female genital mutilation in West Africa. A jolly old topic, no? So they interviewed various people, and then got to interviewing a - mutilator? A woman of unguessable age, anything between thirty and seventy, I'd say, she's first asked to display her instruments. She brings out a razor blade. She explains her trade.
You snap it in half, lengthwise, to make it more accurate. Then you remove the sharper corners to make the operation easier.
The viewer - me - yelps. Her fingers are chubby and work the blade expertly.
Women in my mother's family have always been circumcisors. My mother was one, my grandmother was one, and so I became one, too. I was my mother's assistant. People pay money for this, so I did it.
Yes yes yes. I'm finding it very easy to think about hating this woman.
Then when I was married off, at eight, I continued to do it in my new tribe.

Oh. Oh. Oh God. I, um, see, I think, or rather, I don't see, I can't.

Anyway, as documentaries on this unspeakability go, it was rather an optimistic one, focusing on the work of Tostan, a grass-roots organisation working towards changing attitudes and practices. I don't generally go for charities in a big way - forgive me for this, but I worry about bureaucrats in Europe lining their pockets with money intended to go to the starving or whatever (although weirdly, Red Cross I find more trustworthy than the others, for no proper reason except maybe the documentary on Rwanda I watched on youtube where the Red Cross guy spoke very highly about his organisation, how they never left him alone when the UN turned their backs blatantly on their guy, with, shall we say, unfortunate results). But this particular charity - the name means "Breakthrough" in wuluf - might be one which I might support.


Reading the Signs said...

My best regards and a kiss to the lovely Ms Dogot, hope she heals well and quickly.

I increasingly have the sense that animals know (somewhere in their being) when things are done with their best interests at heart.

nmj said...

Anna, This is fucking awful, the genital mutilation, but your leaps of thought are quite wonderful and I have to say I smiled at your imagining yourself to be in Ms Dogot's shoes, painful as those shoes - cones, harnesses - might be. Hoping she recovers well and stops feeling bewildered.

word ver: plate.


Miranda said...

This is sad...

Zhoen said...

That women have to be changed in order to be acceptable is a potent symptom of an unjust society.

But, were I an animal, I would much prefer to be neutered, if not the process of being collared and healing.

Anna MR said...

Dearest Signs, Ms Dogot sends her thanks and one of her very special nose-lickings. She has made a remarkable recovery, it has to be said, although weirdly, and for several days, she was definitely down in the dumps of depression whilst indoors at home (even without the cone, which I couldn't bear to make her wear while I was around to keep an eye on her) and all her merry skippy silly self when outdoors. This must all be to do with the fact that she has A Past, which we know very little of, and which maybe sends her flashbacks and self-doubt (how I empathise with her). Anyway, tomorrow is the big day, the stitches are coming off, and there'll be no stopping us.

I plan to spoil her rotten and take her for ridiculously long walks, maybe on the sea ice where she can run free for miles. Doesn't that, by the way, sound exotic and arctic and wonderful? And Signs, what's more, it is. For we are finally having a Proper Winter again, the sea is frozen, and all things are (momentarily) well with the world and its climate. Around here, anyway, and as we are the climate lab of the world, it could well be so globally too (I exaggerate about my location wildly, of course, as all those who live in the real Arctic would angrily testify, if they ever happenstanced onto these pages, but I'm being daring and hoping they'll never find me and challenge me about the actual location of the Arctic Circle and so on).

I wish I could share your sense of animals knowing we hurt them in their best interests. It feels like it could well be true, and I'm not saying you're wrong, no way - but I fear that they allow us to hurt them (in their best interests) because they love us. And that's a little bit more than a little bit wounding, you know? The responsiblity of being loved that much is terrifying, and the being their Divine Being.

The best of everything to you, in any and all cases, Signs, and thank you and mwah and more. Be seeing you, sees (for you're in many other places here, as you know and I know, and I intend most certainly to get back to you everywhere, in the fullness of time).

Anna MR said...

Sweet pea, I'm glad you liked the leaps of thought and that my imagined harness-cone look made you smile. I really felt that the image was butoh-esque - disfigured, grotesque, gruesome, crippled, interesting, and with all these things combined, sort of, well, beautiful in an ugly way, because it seems to say something. (I would really need my friend and personal butoh guru expert Happeningfish to come by and give her opinion. Fish? Whaddaya say?) Anyway, I can't remember whether I've blethered on about butoh to you before, NMJ, and if you're feeling a bit vague about it, I've left you a sample butoh video under my name.

And yes, thank you, Ms Dogot is sleeping at the foot of my bed as I type this, and doing very well, cone and all. Last coney night tonight. She doesn't know this, of course, although I have told her, so maybe she does.


Anna MR said...

Sweet Miranda, hei. Funnily enough, I'm really pleased that you find this sad, just as I'm really pleased that NMJ up there found it funny. I find it a good and lovely thing to have aroused completely different responses. What did you find sad, in particular? I'm asking because I think my personal feeling about the mood of the post was that it was quite sad, too, although I wasn't actually sad when writing it. Obviously, we're all going to find the genital mutilation terrible (go on, anyone, I defy you to oppose me), but for me, maybe, the saddest thing both in the post and in the documentary I saw were the words "at eight". That just opens up chasms of sadness, and stories which we don't hear, don't want to hear, oh dear oh dear oh dear.

But still, look, lovely to see you and thank you for the song. As always, you've just introduced me to something I've never heard of, and as always, it's an enjoyable something.

Anna MR said...

Zhoen, hei, good to see you. Yes, cutting into the bodies of children, in order to make them accepted members of their society, is unjust, and while the operation itself is less drastic, I'd include in the same definition the routine circumcision, for non-medical reasons, of boy children. I know, of course, that this is widely practiced in the "Western" world, and hence it has more support here too, but I think it's still a case of doing something irreversible to the body of another person, and to make matters worse, choose to do it when that person is so young they can't resist or give their consent. (Actually, years ago, I heard of an American group for circumcised men. They were angry, they were serious, but their motto was "I was born with one, I'll die with one", which has stayed with me for decades. They were using various stretching techniques and the like to return to their pre-operative male state.)

And yes, I agree with the sentiment of your comment, of course, that animals should be neutered if there are no plans to allow for them to breed. But. Oh Zhoen, now there's a but - you say "were I an animal", and I start to have a quiver and a problem. For what is it that separates us from animals? Is it really, essentially, anything? Aren't we, in fact, animals? Yes okay, so we have thumbs and (probably) higher levels of communicative skills (at least verbal) than other animals, but is this enough? Does it actually give us the right to lord it over animals? We are cognitive and self-aware but, I challenge anyone with access to a househod pet to observe it very closely for a few days, and then come back and prove it to me that animals aren't self-aware or cognitive. So okay, most of them couldn't attend Oxbridge or play the cello, but then neither could a fair percentage of humans. I would say dogs (okay, my dog) have the internal, psychological life of a pre-speech toddler - and I have just said (as, right enough, have you) I don't believe we have the right to decide over someone else's body like that.

God, I wanted to say what I thought of the issue, here, Zhoen, but it's suddenly later and later and I'm nodding off, here, shamefully. Do please feel very welcome to come back and elaborate on the topic here. It's always good to see you.

Miranda said...

Oh I agree the image of the cone was comical, but the rest was definitely sad. And yes, it was at eight.

But you've done this for your dog because it's the right thing to do, in the scheme of things.

nmj said...

If you want more misery in Africa, watch the film 'Shooting Dogs' (set in Rwanda, 1994), I saw it last night, terrifying beyond words what people can do to each other. Terrifying what the west ignored. I prefer this film to 'Hotel Rwanda', which I also saw recently. 'Dogs' is more honest about the machetes, though it is from the point of view of westerners... But both are very fine films.

Well, that was a cheery comment!

(Ha, this is me trying to stay away from sad things after almost making myself ill over Gaza coverage.) x

Anna MR said...

Hei Miranda - you had me googling again, you encyclopedic music mistress, you. Interesting and good stuff. And yes, I know I've done the right thing for my dog - I've known it all along, really, but it's easier to feel it, too, now that she's fully recovered and coneless and stitchless and happy. Apart from worrying over whether she'd recover okay physically, I was worried she'd lose her frisky zest for life, but of course they don't - "we're not giving her a lobotomy, you know", as my vet said to me before the operation. Or should I say her vet? I think I suffer from blurred borders when it comes to my dog and myself.

Anna MR said...

Hei, Cheerful of Gaza, thanks for the tip, I'll keep an eye out for the film. I didn't see Hotel Rwanda, either, or haven't, yet, anyway. I find the idea of these films a little strange, I must confess (not necessarily these in particular, right, I mean films depicting horrors which have actually happened) - I keep imagining them shooting the scenes, you know, " - action", and then people pretending to hack to bits other people, who are pretending to die painfully . "Cut! No no no," the director says (he's a real princess and difficult to please), "I want to see more demented rage, act, act, for fuck's sakes," and one of the actors with the machetes asks "What's my motivation?", and and. But of course it's nonsense of me to feel this way about Rwanda films, because naturally I've seen a fair few Holocaust films, for instance, which is much the same set-up. Mind you, I have read somewhere that the numerous Holocaust/Shoah films have caused (young?) viewers to develop an attitude of "oh, it couldn't have been that bad, the camp victims don't look too terrible", because it's simply impossible to get actors emaciated enough. And having said that, I did watch and enjoy (if that's the right word in these circumstances) - on youtube, as well, which means, as you know, watching things in ten-minute segments - a (British) TV series about the war in Bosnia, as recommended by the dear Englishman. It was called "Warriors", if I remember rightly, and I believe I do - in case you need some cheery watching at some point. No, seriously, it was very good indeed.


Merkin said...

If I ever see a wummin with a big cone enveloping her I will think of you.

Anna MR said...

I'll be holding you to that promise, Merkin.