Jul 12 2005

Patriarchy: Kickin’ It Old Skool In Dijibouti, UK


The real story: Marilyn’s little-known plastic surgery transformed her from platinum yawn to redheadariffic, but Kennedy’s Secret Centerfold Agency had her executed for crimes against male incontinence.

Part of our continuing series on the breathtaking similarities between Third World “barbarism” and First World “sophistication”

Mail & Guardian, South Africa: Activists in Dijibouti have convinced Muslim imams that cutting off the labia and clitorises of toddlers, then sewin’em up like roast turkeys, is not necessarily indicated by the Koran. In a move unprecedented in the zillion-year history of female circumcision in Dijibouti, imams decided they’ll give in on the labia thing, but they’re standing firm on lopping off all the clitorises in the land. Why? Everyone knows that women who aren’t lovingly mutilated as children by their mothers and grandmothers “get loose and become prostitutes.”

Here is what those lucky circumcised girls can look forward to:

“Sometimes girls take half an hour to urinate. The urethra is closed up during infibulation, forcing urine inside the vagina, before it finds its way out through the tiny hole left after circumcision.

Today, we had a patient who could not pee anymore. When we opened her up, we found lots of blood. The woman must have had menstruation for a year, but it could not get out.”

Although female genital mutilation has been illegal in Dijibouti since 1994, social pressure keeps’em comin back for more! Despite fears of  death, infection, pain, and scarring. Women who have had the procedure say it has improved their lives.

Social pressure is nothing to sneeze at in Britain, either, where, despite fears of death, infection, pain, and scarring, 50% of women plan to have cosmetic surgery. Women who have had cosmetic procedures say that it has improved their lives.

Incidentally, I found the UK story in a section of the Daily Mail called “Women & Family.” In accordance with British law, which states that woman, uterus, and toilet-cleaner are synonyms, there is no “Men & Family” section, and no “Just Women, No Family” section.


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  1. Jenny

    Your’e news is beyond disturbing. I am outraged and thankful that you wrote on this subject. I am sorry you had to suffer that whole blonde thing before you could realize the real beautiful you.

  2. Knotted Knickers

    But the Mail article doesn’t say what percentage of those women are planning on Designer Laser VaginoplastyTM. That’s fully legal in the U.S., and it’s apparently increasing in popularity.

  3. JRoth

    Thank goodness Knotted Knickers recognized that my horror quotient was only at 95% or so with Twisty’s initial post, and so turned it all the way up to 11 with “Many women bring us Playboy and say that they want to look like this.”


    WTF is wrong with people!? I mean, I know, I know, it’s the patriarchy, but Jesus!

    Would it kill everyone just to say, “Yay, the human body, literal warts and all, is a great thing!”?

  4. Kate

    50 percent of women plan to have plastic surgery in the UK? Jesus. That’s insane.

    And it’s all done in the name of choice. How the hell did feminism get co-opted into both of these forms of mutilation?

  5. Twisty

    Designer vaginoplasty! Words fail me. “Feminists” who “choose” violent surgeries in order to hack everything off their bods that doesn’t look like porn can kiss my entire black ass. “I got the labia-lift for me!“? I’m too sure!

  6. Tony Patti

    It’s even more telling that men, on the other hand, feel no urge to go and hack their penises up in order to increase the size. It can be done, pretty easily, too, but in terms of popularity it’s not even on the radar. This despite the male adoration of penis size, too.

    Does anyone need further proof that society trains women to hate themselves?

  7. Pinko Punko

    Damn you professional looking and delightful blog! May it be scourged by a 1000 scourges, yet in a thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing way!

  8. res publica

    How the hell did feminism get co-opted into both of these forms of mutilation?

    Given our current political climate, I’m going to sound like some crazed, frothing-at-the-mouth Maoist when I say this, but….

    “Choice” is the capitalist version of freedom. “Designer vaginoplasty” is the capitalist version of feminism. Consumer capitalism finds a way to commodify everything, to neutralize every political movement into a set of products targeting a market segment.

    Or maybe I’m just having a bad day. I know, I’ll go shopping!

  9. larkspur

    Fifty per cent of UK women saying that’d have cosmetic surgery doesn’t equate to 50% of UK women opting for self-mutilation. Surely this includes women who are considering brow lifts, glycolic peels, breast reduction surgery or rhinoplasty. Sure, it’d be great if we could just accept ourselves and each other the way we were born, but the fact is people have always adorned or enhanced themselves. Of that 50%, I’m sure there are a number of people who have unrealistic or unhealthy ideas of what they should look like, but it infantilizes a great number of other people who are making what is most likely a pretty benign choice.

    And to lump FGM in with this 50% – well, that’s sort of like equating the wearing of umcomfortable Manolo Blahniks with amputating one’s feet. FGM – whether it’s excision of the clitoris or total infibulation – is in a class by itself. It doesn’t even bear much comparison with male circumcision. Removal of the foreskin may be unnecessary and ill-advised, but it is not equivalent to FGM. If male circumcision involved partial or complete amputation of the penis, then it would be.

    I have a certain grudging sympathy (not that I’m pleased to admit it) for older women in Dijibouti and elsewhere who get very distressed at the idea of rejecting FGM – I suspect we have only a faint idea of how bitter the ostracization can be. But I’m totally respectful that despite this age-old pressure, women from within the culture (and some men, too) are calling bullshit on this butchery and are actively campaigning for its end.

    Look, as to the accessibility of cosmetic surgery (in which category I do NOT include FGM, obviously), I have all kinds of uneasiness. It’s mostly centered around the extent to which we’re using cosmetic surgery to re-set the baseline. It’s getting to be less about “looking your best” and more about “looking normal”. And it’s not just about breasts or unruly labia. Think about teeth. What with fluoride, better dental care, and more available forms of cosmetic dentistry, a set of big brite-white Hollywood teeth seems to be regarded as standard issue.

    Not long ago in some forum, there was a discussion about sexy but weird-looking guys. Someone mentioned Alan Rickman (who I adore), and someone else (who I know to be pretty young) said, “Eww, yuck! Can you imagine how stinky his breath would be? God, he has all those rotten teeth….” And I realized that she couldn’t imagine that healthy teeth could be crooked, crowded, and anything other than pearly white. It’s not “normal”, so to her, it had to be evidence of pathology.

    I suppose I should summarize, but that’s boring. Okay, here’s what I’m interested in: what’s the extent to which FGM is being performed on girls and women outside of their African and Middle Eastern countries of origin? I mean, there are plenty of immigrants, diplomats, students and teachers living where genital excision is proscribed. I imagine that many families use the opportunity to refrain from imposing it. But lots of other families must also be deciding to stick with the old traditions. Do they send the girls home? Do they bring “practitioners” here? Are there licensed physicians in Europe and the U.S. who will consent to performing this awful, disfiguring surgery under the theory that at least it will be done under sterile conditions? If anyone has links or info, I’d be interested.

  10. Twisty

    I’m sayin, why do people look at, say, boob jobs and FGM as two completely different things? In the boob job culture there’s enormous pressure to conform to patriarchal standards of femininity, to which women capitulate with major disfiguring surgery. In the FGM culture there’s enormous pressure to conform to patriarchal standards of femininity, to which women capitulate with major disfiguring surgery.

    What I mean is, what’s not self-mutilational about a boob job? What’s so much more benign about hacking open your breast and sticking a hockey-puck in there? There are no health benefits, and lots of risk of complications, and the only reason women do it is to conform.

    I don’t think I’m infantilizing anybody when I say that their “choice” to hack themselves up is stupid. I’m not saying “there should be a law preventing insecure women from getting a boob job.” I’m just saying it’s stupid. Conformity is stupid. Sometimes people are just stupid.

  11. Samantha

    I once read a something about the attitudes of men married to women who were subjected to FGM. They unanimously said they liked sex with uncut prostitutes more than with their cut wives but would never marry an uncut woman because they couldn’t be assured of her fidelity.

  12. larkspur

    Twisty, I know you’re not saying there should be a law. And I don’t think that FGM and breast surgery are completely different things. But there is one aspect in which they are completely different: FGM is a surgery that is never medically indicated, and you can’t say the same about breast surgery. (Obviously neither of us is talking about cancer-related surgery here.)

    It’s not stupid, for example, if you have breasts that are markedly unequal in size and you want an implant to make them look more even. It’s not necessary, but it’s not stupid, either.

    Breast reduction surgery is very radical, and while I’m sure you could live a happy and productive life without having it, it’s not a stupid choice if you’d rather do without the back pain, the skin irritation, and yes, even the annoyance if you find yourself unpleasant-looking.

    I’m actually more with you than against you. I know that most cosmetic breast surgery is not done to correct discomfort or an obvious anomaly. I’m permanently astonished at the breast fetish in this culture – the bigger the better, show ’em off, wet t-shirts yay, except OMG don’t bring ’em out in public if you’re just gonna feed the baby, for shame.

    And I enjoy laughing at ridiculous affectations – like have you heard about the increasing popularity of butthole bleaching? Yeah, really, because no normal person’s anus is differently pigmented. (The one anal-bleaching celeb I’ve heard about by name is Lara Flynn Boyle, but I cannot verify the claim.)

    Stuff like that is insidious, and it’s indicative of a larger cultural problem of how we think of, and seem to be terrified by, women’s bodies. Not only that, but as women, we seem to be horrified by the possibility of alarming others with our gross physicality. Which is endlessly weird.

    But I still think it’s worth objecting to equating FGM with most typical Western cosmetic surgery. Yes, they are related, but imagine saying to an acquaintance who’s suddenly become a 34DD – “God, why didn’t you just let ’em hack away at all your girl parts?” She’d look at you like you were insane; she’d back away when she realized you were looking at her perky new boobs and thinking about horrible bloody carnage. She’d say, “But this is different”. I’d agree with her.

  13. Crys T

    “She’d look at you like you were insane; she’d back away when she realized you were looking at her perky new boobs and thinking about horrible bloody carnage.”

    The only reason it ISN’T horrible bloody carnage is because Western women with boob jobs pay big bucks and (generally, though by no means always) have them done in fairly clean, clinical conditions. The fact that you get anaesthesia and nice stitches may camouflage the fact that it’s mutilation and make it easier to get through, but it by no means changes the fact that it’s mutilation.

    And as for the horror and blood parts, I imagine some of the wmoen who have had infections and other negative side effects to their boob-job surgeries could tell us tales that would make all our hair stand on end.

  14. larkspur

    “…I imagine some of the wmoen who have had infections and other negative side effects to their boob-job surgeries could tell us tales that would make all our hair stand on end….”

    Crys, I have no doubt. BTW, I don’t have implants, and I doubt I’d ever get them, even for post-cancer reconstruction. And if a friend of mine said, “Hmm, I’m thinking about some nice implants”, I’d ask her to think about all of those possible problems or disasters first. Because it’s elective surgery. I wouldn’t want to risk a bad result, or a hospital-acquired infection, or possible long-term problems.

    I’m going to shut up about this now, after one final remark. I still think FGM and cosmetic surgery are separate issues. There is no rational excuse for FGM…and more important, it’s done on infants and girls routinely and without their consent, or for older girls, without their informed consent. It’s regarded to be socially necessary, to produce grown-up women who meet the basic criteria for inclusion in the society. That’s way different from any social pressures for bigger boobs here in the U.S.

    The end. I will deploy my rantationality to other topics. (Unless anyone wants me to respond to something, of course.)

  15. Anonymous

    Sorry, Larkspur, I’m with ChrysT on this one. But just to be clear, what I espouse is the notion that “beauty” is not an absolute, but in fact a cultural construct. Since, in our case, culture is based on a misogynist paradigm, the only possible conclusion is that the beauty standards imposed by it are misogynist. Why does a woman who gets a boob job say she feels better about herself? Isn’t she really just feeling more accepted because she is in compliance with the cultural standard? I maintain that the way to feel better about oneself is to feel better about one’s self, not about one’s having successfully adopted the trappings of patriarchal wetdream sexbotness.

    There is nothing inherently excellent about giant gazongas. If there were, men would want’em, too.

  16. Anonymous

    Hey Larkspur, I wrote the above before I read your last comment; I’m really not trying to beat a dead horse! I agree, by the way, that FGM and boob jobs are not quantitatively identical. I guess I just see fewer degrees of separation between them than you do. Patriarchy-blaming is, alas, an inexact science.

  17. amba

    Twisty, what no one’s mentioned here is that boob jobs wreck sensation in the nipple. (Or so I’ve heard. Tell me if I’m wrong.) In other words, women are sacrificing the subjective experience of pleasure in order to become a more desirable, saleable object. It isn’t FGM, but it’s on the way.

  18. Crys T

    YES, Amba, that is exactly what I’ve heard, and exactly what I’ve been thinking for years now! God, I’m glad I found this place!!!

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