Have you heard about the recent breast implant scare in Europe and South America? It goes like this:
A French manufacturer (Poly Implant Prosthese, or “PIP”) gets busted for making their sexbags with cut-rate industrial grade silicone and (some allege) a fuel additive. The bags are distributed globally into the innocent chests of over 300,000 women. Naturally, these cheap-ass implants are rupture-prone. Depending on the agenda of the organization doing the reporting, the rupture rate is between 1% and 7%.
In the wake of this revelation there emerges a big furor over whether governments will endorse recommendations to remove the PIPs, who will pay for the removals, whether patients should get free replacements, and which patients would qualify for which services. In the UK, for example, although they’re not recommending removal across the board, the NHS says it will remove the chest units for free, but it won’t replace ‘em. Etc.
Here is the story of a UK woman who needed big boobs, so she took out a loan and got some PIPs installed. Five years of suffering later, she finds out the PIPs have been recalled, but the installer, Harley Medical Group, won’t pay. Suck it, lady, that’s what you get for being fatuous and vain.
Mang, this kind of thing makes my lobe sprout tumors.
As Marianne Møllmann of Amnesty International notes in her essay on the subject of the PIP scare,
[I]t is an intervention which is carried out solely to satisfy stereotyped notions of what a women could or should be, and which has:
1. no discernible health benefits;
2. a negative impact on women’s sexual health; and
3. permanent effects on women’s health more generally.
But oh snap! Møllmann isn’t talking about breast implants. She’s talking about female genital mutilation. In her essay she observes the similarities between FGM and breast enbiggenment surgery (what I’ll call FBM, female breast mutilation). She even remarks that, apart from the fact that “the former makes us queasy and the second doesn’t,” they’re the same flippin thing. Like most people, however, she stops short of calling FBM a human rights violation, although to most Westerners, FGM clearly is.
But really, what’s the diff? The two practices occupy overlapping points in the oppression continuum. They are both the result of misogynist social conditioning, they are both carried out on victims who have little or no personal autonomy, they are both justified by the notion that conformity to a patriarchal ideal will improve their chances of success. Either they are both a human rights violation, or neither is.
Much is made of the notion that FGM is practiced 1) in unsanitary conditions 2) on children who have not consented, and for those two reasons it supposedly differs wildly from elective procedures performed in clinics on empowerful Western women who are jumbo-izing their boobs “for themselves.” But I assert that even adult women who ostensibly agree to breast mutilation cannot have arrived at that choice from a position of full human agency. I assert this because no woman anywhere enjoys full human agency.
300,000 women in this PIP debacle alone. It’s a fucking bloodbath! The sequence of events leading to this moment are tragic, macabre, and horrific in the extreme. Consider:
300,000 women aren’t dumb. But instead of getting an invitation to life’s rich pageant, since the cradle they have done nothing but absorb messages that illuminate their many defects. As a matter of survival they have been forced to embrace femininity as their prime directive. Land a dude and beget the son and heir, etc.
Now adults, these women perceive that, as members of the sex class, their prospects with dudes — and in fact their value as human beings — depend entirely on the degree to which they succeed in appeasing the dominant class. They grasp that greater rewards accrue to women who display sexual availability than do to women who make no effort to submissively self-pornulate. They further observe that they belong to a culture wherein large breasts are fetishized. They surmise that they will achieve higher status, and in turn be happy and loved, if they conform as closely as possible to the fetishized ideal.
So 300,000 women study themselves in the mirror. They note in scrupulous detail their numerous cosmetic departures from the beauty standard. They decide that they are defective enough to warrant self-mutilation. They submit to extremely gross, painful, invasive, potentially life-ending surgery wherein leaky baggies filled with a substance normally used as mattress gel are implanted into healthy tissue. Their reward? Now they can send the message the oppressor longs to hear: “You win. I am a sack of meat. Fill me up with your fluids, your garbage, your mattress gel, and your disdain.”
And they live happily ever after.