A march took place in London Harley street today to raise awareness of the increase in gynaecological cosmetic surgery.
In Western countries FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is associated with tribal cultures and Islamic extremism. Articles inviting us to express horror at the primitiveness of other cultures and religions proliferate in the media. This emphasis diverts attention away from the fact that FGM is also a highly prevalent cultural practice of Western countries.
The Western version of FGM is perhaps even more pernicious because it carries with it the added taint of Western cultural imperialism, and is legitimized by the medical profession and the governments run by white males, meaning politicians do not regard it as an issue worth discussing.
Labiaplasty is an operation undertaken to “tidy up” and “neaten” the look of the vulva, and is the latest example of the lengths women must go to in order to make their bodies acceptable to men.
It has its roots in porn.
In Beauty and Misogyny, Sheila Jeffreys painstakingly examines the link between pornography and beauty norms, demonstrating that just as women’s fashion orginates in porn, so does what is considered to be an acceptable body shape for women. Having long ago conquered women’s psyches when it comes to weight anxiety and worries about breast size, now the media (in cahoots with the medical industry) focuses on manufacturing hang-ups about the appearance of genitals.
“In pornography women’s labia are frequently airbrushed so that they are uniform. The women do not have obviously unequally sized labia or particularly long labia because they are tidied up in the airbrushing so that men will not be offended, and able to purchase a uniform product. But airbrushing is not enough and women in porn regularly employ labiaplasty, in which the labia are cut to shape, to create the regulation look. This pornographic practice has an impact on women outside the industry when boyfriends pressure women to look like hairless pornstars. Women, already trained in male dominant cultures to dislike their genitals, notice their genitalia more. They may worry that they are not like those on the women in porn, or their male partners may make this clear to them.” (Jeffreys, p.83)
Today, girls in their mid-teens are worried about the appearance of their genitals. The negative messages of the malestream media are compounded by the fact that most women and girls do not know what each other’s normal genitals look like. They believe the appearance of the women in porn is the norm, when in fact it is not. The medical profession is cashing in on society’s carefully cultivated disgust of the female body.
There are enormous risks and side effects to the surgery. In the UK, the procedure is available both on the NHS and by private companies, which are unregulated. On the NHS website one woman describes the “botch job” performed on her:
“…woke up in recovery room told by my gyno everything went well and to come back in 2 weeks….when i got home i was horrified to find he had done wedge method and cut my labia majora which was never discussed..the whole thing is a total mess i have flaps of skin everywhere and very poor stitching..which have all busted open today on one side…i am so gutted as this has been a problem for so long for me for many reasons…being accepted for this on nhs was a god send..i was looking forward to leading a normal life…now it is ruined…i can honestly say this is a botch job and i am devastated thought i could trust a gyno on nhs…obviously not!!!! im hoping the nhs will correct this can anybody tell me if this is now possible??????
or i am thinking of suing my gyno for this…i will never be able to be intimate again and stand to loose everything….gutted!!! “
Even those women who are happy with the appearance of their genitals are invited to consider surgery. After all, one must not forget the body’s propensity for ageing. According to labiaplasty surgeon Dr. Gary Alter:
“As we age, gravity causes all parts of our body to descend. Therefore, the pubic hair, mons and vaginal region also descend, causing an aged appearance. This area is elevated by performing the opposite of an abdominoplasty or tummy tuck; excess skin above the pubic hair is excised, raising the pubis. This procedure is often combined with abdominoplasty.” (Jeffreys, p.85)
That the medicine men have found a new way to damage healthy female bodies does not come as a surprise to radical feminists. Mutilating female genitalia is one of the the oldest and most predictable expressions of patriarchal hatred towards women, and contemporary males (for the surgeons are almost always male) are continuing this tradition by chopping up women into acceptable shapes.
This issue is often dismissed as being apolitical because Western women are said to choose to go under the knife, whereas Muslim women do not. But the “choice” argument ignores social pressure to conform and the fact that many women perceive (correctly perhaps) that if their bodies are pleasing to men it will help them survive, either by enabling them to find a male spouse, or by facilitating their entry into the sex industry (which is, by the way, very well-paid compared to the pink-collar ghetto.)
Couple this with the garden-variety disgust that women are taught to feel towards their bodies, which has a long history in Western culture, and you get a cultural backdrop whereby women are coerced into surgery in order to feel normal perhaps, or at least less of a freak. It is these pressures which drive women to “neaten themselves up”, not vanity.
Protestors at the march also dressed up in nude bodysuits decorated with lavish pubic hair as a nod to the beauty standard of hairlessness now foisted upon women.
Pubic hair on women has long been regarded as an obscenity, and in order to evade bullying and harassment women shave and wax. Any woman who believes she is doing this by choice should try not doing next time she visits the beach or pool…and see what happens when a group of boys or men spot her pubes hanging out of her swimsuit…
As the porn industry has strengthened, so have the pressures to “keep fresh” down there. “Feeling fresh” is a euphemism often used by marketeers (and women) to describe going hairless, the obvious implication being that anyone who keeps their hair are not fresh: i.e are dirty. According to one mainstrean Health and Fitness advice e-zine:
Whether or not to shave the pubic hair is a personal choice, and you shouldn’t do it if you feel uncomfortable with it. If you don’t mind the idea however, consider that once that pubic hair is gone, things like sweat and stray urine droplets won’t get trapped in the area. If you notice your vagina smells bad, it could be scents trapped in the hair and not the vagina itself. Shaving will also improve the taste of your vagina, much the same way as it improves smell.
The organizers of the march, UK Feminista, are clear and concise in their ideology:
We don’t buy the neoliberal rhetoric that insists this issue is not political because women “freely choose” to get procedures like this done. The cosmetic surgery industry ruthlessly stokes women’s appearance insecurities and mines their bodies to extract maximum profits. Accountability, monitoring, and auditing are not words this industry is used to.
We hope our Muff March will spark a wave of activism against cosmetic surgery and the porn culture which distorts our body image. For too long they’ve reaped massive rewards. It’s time to fight back.”
“Ultimately, for some people, vaginal cosmetic surgery may be a source of pleasure, just as one may take culinary pleasure from the most processed, most heavily packaged food item. Is the Muff March nothing but an analogue for those bourgeois who spend their time on Radio4 extolling the values of “real food”, the truth being that their muddied misshapen carrots bought from the farmers market at twice the market price offer nothing but a grand sense of capitalist identity while disavowing themselves from capitalist systems.
Nature will not protect anyone from anything. It ought not be the job of protest to sell one commodity over another. The real damage to genitalia is something more primary, more hidden. Bodies are born cut up, ready to be sold. Your vagina has no privilege.”