Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the Gray Borders of Female Sexual Mutilation and Porn
(Saturday 10th December, 11.30 am Harley Street, London)

The following headlines are very common regarding to news for Asian African females:
Bohra women go online to fight circumcision trauma
International NGO seeks to raise awareness on female genital Mutilation
Kenyan villagers battle police in defense of female circumcision
Villagers ignore the law and go on a girl circumcision frenzy
What Is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is a religious tradition of female genital cutting among some sects of Muslims mostly from African countries and in some very rare cases, in Asian countries. The first attempts to forbid this practice were in the 1920s and later in the 1930s by Christian missionaries in Kenya. And till then, the fight against such sexual violence against females has been originated from time to time. The practice has been condemned due to serious long-term health hazards by medical practitioners. Because the urethral opening is covered, repeated urinary tract infections are common, and stones may form in the urethra and bladder because of obstruction and infection. If the opening is very small, menstrual flow may be blocked, leading to reproductive tract infections and lowered fertility or sterility. One early study estimated that 20 to 25 percent of cases of sterility in northern Sudan can be linked to such genital cutting.( Source: A.Z. Mustafa, "Female Circumcision and Infibulation in the Sudan," Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the British Commonwealth, 73:302-306, 1966.)
Feminists see this attempt of genital cutting as a misogynist violence and have launched protests from time to time against this inhuman practice. Different agencies of United Nations (UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO) have issued a joint position paper and are increasing their efforts to eradicate FGM. WHO recently launched a 15-year strategy to accelerate these efforts.
Whilst this is a common scenario of so-called ‘undeveloped’ or ‘developing countries,’ it also exists in the so-called ‘developed’ countries.
On December 10, 2011, feminists in the United Kingdom gathered in Harley Street in London and staged a protest wearing fake "muffs" and demanding that pornography and cosmetic surgery industries "keep their mitts off our bits." They condemned the rise of female genital cosmetic surgery in Western countries. They named their protest “Muff March,” aimed at blaming the pornified culture promoted by global commercialism which drives women under the knife to get a "designer vagina."
But what is female genital cosmetic surgery anyway? It is actually cosmetic surgery to reconstruct the shape, size and design of the vagina by vaginoplasty (vaginal rejuvenation and tightening) and labia surgery by labiaplasty (labia reduction and beautification), hymenoplasty (reconstruction of the hymento return the ruptured hymen to a pre-sexual state).
Labiaplasty and vaginoplasty can be performed at the same time or in combination with other common plastic and cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty, breast enhancement or reduction, abdominoplasty, or liposculpturing. The supporters and promoters of this surgery claim it aims to recreate sexual excitement, restore self-esteem and rejuvenate the love lives of women. But does it?
The Differences Between FGM in the East and West
What is the difference between then these Eastern FMG and Western FMG?
According to WHO, female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:
Clitoridectomy - partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Excision - partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
Infibulation - narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Other - all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. (Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/index.html)
The only difference between Eastern FGM and Western FGM is that the former one is done without any anesthesia and without any expert doctor and the latter one is done with all developed medical methods in a sanitary environment. But both have no health benefits, and they harm girls and women in many ways.
In one of my earlier articles, I condemn the Eastern practice of FGM (though as a result of immigration, FGM has spread to most Western countries) as it is another attempt to control female sexuality by male-dominated societies. But one wonders if Western FGM not becoming a tool for the global commercialism? In 2009, plastic surgeons, not gynecologists, in the US earned an estimated $6.8 million (£4.4 million) from vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty while in 2008, the National Health Service in the UK carried out 1,118 labiaplasty operations, compared with 669 in 2007 and 404 in 2006. (Source: The Observer, Sunday, 27 February 2011
The Role of the Media
Even the media are used by the commercial houses to subjugate women to make them pornified so that they could be utilised for income. Channel 4, one of UK’s popular TV broadcaster, in its programme “Embarrassing Bodies,” encourages the it female viewers to soothe insecurity about common bodily issues, refers a woman to a cosmetic surgeon to have her perfectly healthy labia sliced off.(link: http://www.channel4embarrassingillnesses.com/video/embarrassing-bodies/consultation-enlarged-labia/)
Commercial cosmetics business houses try to propagate that such cosmetic FGM is safe reporting 71 percent of women having the procedures report an ‘improved sex life’ and 23 percent report they could reach orgasm more easily after obtaining such operations. But these claims are possibly advertising/marketing-based and cannot always be substantiated. Thus BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynecology has denied these claims in a report published in its 1st issue of Volume 117. Experts (L-M Liao, L. Michala, and S.M. Creighton) write:
“This review has identified almost 1,000 published cases of cosmetic labial surgery. Because the majority of such procedures are performed in the private sector, here audit and publication are not required, and because advertisement, especially via the Internet, is widespread, these figures are likely to represent the tip of the iceberg. No prospective studies were found. Follow-up was not carried out for most studies and, where available, it was of short duration with unspecified or suspect methodology. There was no attempt to compare preoperative morphological measurements with published criteria to assess the need for intervention. Surgery appeared to have been offered on demand, justified by verbal reports of physical and psychological difficulties.” ( Source : http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02426.x/pdf)
The Issue of the Rights of Women Over Their Own Bodies
One can argue it might be a question related to the bodies of women and when the feminists are arguing for women’s right over their own body, does this argument become less persuasive when women willingly accept such a practice? Of course, the central theme for women’s bodies/women’s rights implies importance to the rights to autonomy and privacy in making sexual and reproductive decisions as well as the rights to informed consent and confidentiality in relation to health services, to maternal mortality, to lack of procedures for legal abortion, to inadequate allocation of resources for family planning, to coercive population programs, of spousal consent to sterilization, and to occupational discrimination of pregnant women. We should not think that women’s rights over own bodies don’t mean the right to pornify women’s bodies or subjecting a woman to the ideal touted by the global pornography industry.
Unlike radical and social feminists of the second wave, I never think the radical and social feminists’ idea that beauty and fashion subjugate over the power of women. I differ from Naomi Wolf and Ariel Levy when they criticized fashions as a part of the ‘Raunch Culture.’ I am always arguing for the sexual rights of women. I think prohibition on sensual expression of women is also a kind of subjugation and our second-wave feminists and the patriarchal society appear to share the same position in restricting woman for their own means and ends.
But in cases of FGM, we have to remember that the redesigning of the vagina is neither a fashion nor a part of sensual expression, but leads us to a possibility of health hazards. Even its role in sexual orgasm has not been yet established. Secondly, though sexuality has a vital role for a female, can female genital cosmetic surgery prove responsible for any sort of gain in sexual life? Orgasm is completely a psychological phenomena and unless a woman doesn’t immerse in acute attraction and feeling of submission for her partner, it is hard to achieve any satisfaction. In fact, a woman, whose uterus has been removed, can also enjoy a full orgasm. So, the shape and size of any sexual organ doesn’t possess any importance for female sexuality.
But the irrefutable fact of the matter is these cosmetic procedures can make you a ‘commodity’, rather specifically your sex organ as a ‘commodity,’ and this is where pornography comes in. Being a ‘model’ of an art piece and being a ‘porn star’ are not the same. I believe being subject to every sexually explicit topic is not ‘porno,’ but when it makes a woman or parts of her a ‘product’ it’s almost always associated with male-dominant consumerism.
So, let the bodies of women be left for women, not for corporate people or commercialism. Let the bodies of women be figures on their own rather than being figures on the profit & loss ledgers of business.