Wednesday, June 11, 2008

on women's agency and hymenoplasty

So there is an upward trend in hymenoplasty (restoration of the hymen, done to restore 'virginity') among Muslim women in Europe, according to this article.

My blood really started boiling after 9 sentences, right here:
“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”
Easily end up having sex? As if it's something that just happens to you? Let's assume that if these women are having sex, it's not rape - if it is rape, let's call it that and not "ending up having sex". Please - these women are adults. They are in control of their own bodies. If they did have sex, that was in fact consensual, then it was their choice and not an accident caused by some male predator. Yes, this is sexist against men as well.

I cannot say that things improved as the article went on. The director of a soon-to-be released Italian film about hymenoplasty has this comment:

“We realized that what we thought was a sporadic practice was actually pretty common,” said Davide Sordella, the film’s director. “These women can live in Italy, adopt our mentality and wear jeans. But in the moments that matter, they don’t always have the strength to go against their culture.”

As if the reason that women continue to have hymenoplasties is because they are weak. The obvious victim-blaming ethos is upsetting. Also, the superiority attributed to Italian culture is unnecessary. Is there nothing Italian women do, that is perhaps not necessarily empowering, to make themselves more sexually attractive? This is an area in which I would like to see a more concerted effort toward intersectionality in the framing of the issue. The issue is not hymenoplasty, per se. The issue is the idea that female sexuality is constructed for the express purpose of meeting societal- primarily, but not exclusively, male - expectations. Every woman has to make her own call about which adaptations she thinks are degrading and which she chooses to undertake, and she should have the freedom to make those decisions free from the threat of punishment such as humiliation and rejection by her husband or his family. That is not the situation in which many women make the choice to have hymenoplasties. Please do not blame the women for this.

The article itself presents this viewpoint:

Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused — or even killed — by their fathers or brothers.

“Who am I to judge?” asked Dr. Marc Abecassis, who restored the Montpellier student’s hymen. “I have colleagues in the United States whose patients do this as a Valentine’s present to their husbands. What I do is different. This is not for amusement. My patients don’t have a choice if they want to find serenity — and husbands.”

It is certainly different in the severity of consequences for failing to have the surgery (or, for girls without the means to pay several thousand dollars for a cosmetic procedure, for failing to remain a virgin). But how different are these plastic surgeries? How different is restoring one's hymen from augmenting one's breasts or 'tucking' one's tummy? (I am not arguing that every woman's experience of plastic surgery is the same ... of course it isn't ... but do the procedures themselves differ intrinsically? Is there something special about the hymen? I am inclined to think that it is in some ways different because it is so private and so temporary. The surgery enables one night's performance, not a change in appearance. And that performance signifies a man's exclusive right to his wife's body. The importance placed on the virginal blood seems to me like a metaphor for a conquest. However, isn't looking thin/busty/whatever another kind of performance? Is it different just because you repeat it indefinitely?

For a broader analysis of the idea of virginity being a deal-breaker in a wedding contract, I suggest reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a beautiful short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perhaps I will blog about it in the future.


Anonymous said...

on a similar topic, muslims and hymenoplasty in turkey:

smita sharma said...

hymenoplasty is an easy procedure than can be done under local anesthetic and as a day case surgery. It takes less than two hours and the patient can return to work the next day.

Shilpa said...

Hymenoplasty is a surgical process of tightening the outer edges of the vagina by reconstructing the hymen tissue.