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.


Unknown said...

Well Done Dr.Sarojini! The blog is highly informative. I fully support your views.

Jack Durish said...

This is one of those subjects that I have to walk away from after reading it to gain a little perspective. My initial reaction – identical to my wife's – probably wouldn't translate well... Ewwww! However, after some reflection, I believe that there is a difference between Female Genital Mutilation as practiced by Muslims and cosmetic surgery on the female organs, and that difference is “choice.”
All cosmetic surgery is elective. Even reconstructive surgery to correct grossly abnormal appearances due to birth defect or accident, is still performed at the choice of the patient or their adult representative, with the advice and consent of competent medical practitioners. Some will argue that the choice is almost always made under heavy cultural pressures just as religious-inspired FGM, and they would be correct. We are all imbued with cultural standards of what is attractive and what is not. However, it is still a choice most often made by the patient herself.
Almost everyone wants to be attractive and almost everyone focuses on whatever defect the perceive in themselves. No where is that more evident than in western cultures where the culture of fame has provided women with impossible standards to live up to. Some few, like my wife, resisted those pressures successfully. Often compared as a young woman to Shirley McClain, she had some friends and family who attempted to persuade her to have her nose fixed. She resisted and I'm glad she did. The first time I met her she was bundled up against the cold and I had little to appraise other than her eyes, nose, and mouth. I found them irresistible. Others urged her to have breast enhancements. Well, having two children provided all the beast enhancements she needed. The bottom line is that my wife exercised her freedom of choice well.
Ultimately, that is the most important aspect of freedom – we must all be responsible for the choices we make. Unfortunately, there are certain cultures and religions that do not trust people to make good choices. They proscribe everything. Western cultures limit the exercise of their power to coerce their citizens to the absolute necessities – murder, rape, mayhem, robbery, burglary, etc – and trust in the inherent goodness of people to make good choices for themselves.

Saravanan Balakrishnan said...

Clitoridectomy is aimed at reducing a woman's ability to enjoy sex. Labiaplasty is aimed at increasing a woman's ability to attract partners and enjoy sex (at least in her perception).

Equating them looks like an unfortunate act of desperation.

vinay said...

I agree with you body of women should

be left on her independent decision.

Kalimullah said...

This Blog is self explanatory, circumcision for male is mandatory in Islam and practice almost 100% in Muslim community, but female circumcision is nothing to do with Islam may be with any religion. People of our region are unaware of this cruel practice. It is ancient tribal ritual found in mummies also and still practices in some African countries regardless of religion.
Female genital cosmetic surgery is popular in Europe not in poor countries as it requires money. Here people are unaware of this term at all, but the victim is again women, the weaker part of the society, which also proves that western women are like Asian women want to amuse men. Why male sexual organ don’t required cosmetic surgery. Simply weaker person have to amuse the stronger person. Female circumcision, Female genital cosmetic surgery, and also chastity belt are all for women the weaker part of society .But as you correctly mentioned Female genital cosmetic don’t help in orgasm and that Female genital mutilation don’t suppress the women sex feeling. Organism and sexual feeling are in mind not in body, it also require mental attraction and adjustment.
You have written in last part of your blog “But in cases of FGM, we have to remember that the redesigning of the vagina is neither... ………………………………………………………………………………………..…
…………………………………………………………… 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”. I 100% agree with you.
In our region cosmetic surgery and weight reducing is popular among upper class, ironically it never help in beatification, because it cannot change the thoughts which makes human beautiful.
If scientist or surgeon invents something that by birth or just after birth women arms become equal in power to male arms, than I am sure it will revolutionaries the world.

Cara Cruickshank said...

In my experience, all prominent religions, including Christianity, marginalize women. I think it's worth examining why God had traditionally been depicted as male (in the last 5,000 years...since the dawning of patriarchy). To be fair, why is it still taboo to imagine God as a woman and how we can bring more female images of God to the forefront?
Christianity (along with other religions) has provided women with 3 life role options: the obedient wife, the virgin nun, or the whore...all of which require that we define ourselves according to our relationships with men. This is very dangerous to the psyche and well-being of us all. Perhaps it would be healthier for us all to learn to define ourselves according to our own divine natures and our relationships with the natural environment, which is literally what has birthed us all...?
While I feel that many women do want to be treasured by a good man (or woman), we equally want to be respected, have a balanced role in leadership and the freedom to worship a God(ess), in the image of ourselves...

Victor Tovar said...

My Divine Goddess has protected me, my Divine Goddess has guide me... and she has placed her blessing in me through the reflection of love... we are both divine beings and we are one, we are the light of the universe and the union of the Soul.
My Divine Goddess has warmed my heart and provided peace in my long years of solitude and separation of the shadows others place in society to make us blind...