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Recently, the U.K.’s Daily Mail ran a story uncovering the fact that between 2005 and 2006, 24* hymen reconstructions have been performed on “immigrants and British women of ethnic origin” by the National Health Service (NHS), which is funded by taxpayer money. Hm. (Personal thoughts: Do you think that if these 24 women were white non-Muslim British women, there would be any article at all?)
There have been oodles of response articles and blog postings. But one in particular, written by the Daily Mail’s Saira Khan, got me a bit irritated.
She starts off on the right path by condemning hymen reconstruction. Good! It’s silly! The hymen is a membrane that has no medical purpose! And many women are born without one! So why measure a woman by whether she has one? Ridiculous and insulting, I think.
And, later in the article, she makes some good points about the sexual double standard between British Muslim boys and girls—i.e., boys can be slutty but girls can’t. This is a global standard, I believe, that overrides religion and ethnicity, but that’s another for another blog. Personally, I wonder if the problem lies with men’s lack of something similar to a hymen. Perhaps if men had hymens (there’s an odd visual), the concept of virginity* would be something completely different.
But after that, Khan misses the boat. She uses her ethnicity to give herself some authority: “Well, speaking as a British woman of ethnic origin, let me make it clear…”. But the subject she’s lending authority to bothers me: “…The British NHS should simply not be paying for a cosmetic procedure that is unnecessary, demeaning to women and totally at odds with modern British culture.”
British culture?! How about incompatible with Muslim culture? This article’s silence on the matter makes it seem like getting hymen reconstruction is a normal part of a Muslim woman’s life! Hey! Guess what? I’m a Muslim woman who was raised in a non-Muslim majority country, too. In fact, I might just be part of the demographic that you think is succumbing to fundamentalism! And I don’t think that hymen reconstruction is part of Islam, thank you very much!
She uses her authority to further alienate the recipients of this procedure from British culture rather than to affirm their Britishness. Something about the article just sort of smacks of internalized Islamophobia: “those of us who choose to live in Britain must follow and respect British values.” That sounds familiar…didn’t Jack Straw say something about that when he started attacked niqabis’ “Britishness”? And this quote sounds a bit right-wing in itself: “For what is the point in the Government spending millions on creating a “Fortress Britain” to protect ourselves against terrorism when it is allowing the roots of Islamic extremism to spread into our hospital wards?” Because, you know, whenever a doctor restores a woman’s hymen, s/he also implants an “Islamic fundamentalist” chip with an Al Qaeda instructional video on it!
(sigh) Once again, Muslim women’s bodies are being used for political ends. This article positions Muslim women who undergo this procedure (and by association, the rest of us Muslim women) against Britishness, instead of within it, making it seem like getting a silly procedure can belie all of your political ideologies and allegiances.
And she’s blaming the wrong people for this whole thing. The problem does not lie with NHS’ offer of hymen reconstruction; the problem lies with the demand for this procedure.
I agree that it’s alarming that women feel there is a need for hymen reconstruction. I can even see how it would be an indicator of a rise in conservatism. What I can’t understand is why we’re not looking within our own community and dealing with this issue.
Maybe if, instead of having hymen reconstruction, these women could refuse to get married (and some of their virginal friends could refuse with them, in solidarity)! And, with thousands of women not getting married (because we all know someone, come on now, there must be thousands at least), there will be a huge drought in the pool of available women, and men will finally realize that a woman’s worth does not lie in a piece of membrane. (sigh) I wish I lived in a fantasyland of sisterhood like that.
*24 surgeries within the span of two years? (rolling eyes) Big deal.
*The author believes that virginity IS a concept instead of an actual medical condition. For an interesting read about this, pick up Hanne Blank’s book Virgin: The Untouched History.
Editor’s Note: I didn’t want to include a picture here for obvious reasons. Do not attempt to Google “hymen reconstruction” unless you want to see some vaginas.