As we see this week, different cultures have different ideas about feminine beauty. This week we focused on female genital cutting, vaginal plastic surgery and female foot binding. Each of these are seen as practices to ensure feminine beauty, and I think it would definitely effect women’s lives if these practices were to be outlawed in their societies.
Female genital cutting is still a large practice that is carried out today in many societies around the world. As we see in the Newland (2006) article, female genital cutting is an extremely important practice to the Muslim community in rural West Java. She argues that “the position of zero intolerance of female genital cutting may complicate and aggravate socio-political relationships with unintended consequences” (Newland 2006). After reading the article, I can definitely see how this would affect the society. She also mentions that circumcision for males shows more consequences than female circumcision. She mentions that these processes aren’t oppressive to women, but rather a representation of parental responsibility towards the child undergoing the genital cutting. In their community, female genital cutting is crucial for social acceptance, since circumcision is the identifying feature for Islam for boys and girls. It is also a way to express the idea that men and women are equals. It also comes into play with their religion, since they cannot be allowed into a mosque if they aren’t circumcised. I think it’s also important to point out that these women don’t think female circumcision harms their sexuality or sexual experiences. In January of 2003, a government campaign was launched for a zero tolerance towards female circumcision. As a result, medicalization of the practice, which led to more invasive procedures than the ones they were initially performing. It’s clear that Newland was using a critical medical anthropology approach during her fieldwork.
As for vaginal plastic surgery, in Heather Leach’s film “The Perfect Vagina” we see a lot of women in the United States and in the United Kingdom are getting labiaplasties and hymenoplasties. The film follows a feminist approach, discussing how women will undergo these surgeries to look like the women in magazines, pornography, or please men. At first, these types of surgeries were performed for comfort, but now it’s an act of beauty. I think this is a feminist approach, because women feel insecure about their body and vagina based off of the unrealistic standards society (particularly men) set on them on what they are supposed to look like. We often see a lot of women having their hymen reconstructed so they appear to be a virgin, because in some cultures if you’re not a virgin prior to marriage you can be shunned and socially punished. The video mentions how people undergo these surgeries believing that they’re doing it for themselves, but it’s really to be socially accepted by others. Which is why I think that this video could also take the theoretical approach of interpretive theory, since it discussed how these insecurities started, how to get rid of these social expectations, and how this is effecting their overall health. I don’t think outlawing these types of surgeries would have the same effects on the society as outlawing the female genital cutting would, since it doesn’t play any roles towards social status, culture or religion. I think not allowing these types of surgeries would maybe change the expectations for women to have this perfect constructed vagina. It would force women to live with their insecurities, and I think it would also show people that nobody- even famous people that we see in magazines and pornography- has a perfect vagina.
As we see in the Snow Flower and the Fan reading by Lisa See (Lee 2006), Chinese foot-binding is an act done to young girls in hopes to one day find a suitable husband, and even bring fortune to their family, leading to better lives for them (Lee 2006) Foot-binding was a symbol of wealth, obedience to parents, and showed the potential to obey their future husband and be a good wife. Bounded feet are actually very sexually appealing to the men in society. Even though their bodies grew old and they aged in appearance, their feet will always remain bound and petite. Men looked for the women with the smallest and best feet in society to be their potential wife. As See mentions in her article, because her feet were thought to turn out perfectly, the best the community has ever produced, that someone would pay great money to have her as a wife, along with receiving goods from the potential groom’s family (See 2006). The foot-binding process is kind of seen as a right of passage in their community from girl to women, and it prepares her to be a desirable wife, since it shows that they will obey their parents and other people they are supposed to and do this process. I feel as if See takes a feminist approach during her article, as she talks about how important this is for women and how it makes them more appealing to the men in the population, and they are meant to endure this painful procedure in order to please the men in society, and make it known that they are fit to be a good wife. I feel like a zero tolerance policy was made for the feet-binding, men in the society would have a hard time accepting this, as it really is a process for them. I don’t think the girls in the community would mind too much, and I feel as if they would they would learn to not see unbounded feet as fat, ugly and clumsy.
Serena Williams Extra Credit:
1) What are the factors that contributed to this situation when viewed at through a lens of intersectionality?
- Some factors that may have contributed to the complications after Williams giving birth are discrimination because of her race and gender. In today’s world, racial issues are less common than they used to be, however they still exist. Additionally often times women are viewed less intelligent than men, because they are said to “jump to conclusions”.
2) What does this say about our society in general and many people in biomedicine view black people?
- Many times in social situations white women are treated with more respect than black women because they are not a minority, and have white privilege. For example, in maternal cases, the death rate of black women is three to four times higher than white women. This is most likely due to nurses and doctors taking blacks less seriously than whites. This says that even in medicine, where we are supposed to be the most empathetic people in the world, and treat everyone the exact same, that we do not. We don’t even take their opinions/concerns into consideration, even when its about their own body and something that they’ve been through before.
3) Where does class come into play and how might this have turned out differently for a lower class black woman or white woman?
- Class could come into play, because of once again, intelligence. Lower class people are often considered more less intelligent than the upper class, weather its because they didn’t go to college or maybe just the way they look/ their upbringing. I feel as if this could have went a lot differently for a lower class individual. Maybe they finally gave in to William’s demands because of who she was, and to satisfy her so that she didn’t go bad-mouthing the hospital, and because of her societal platform, people would’ve listened. If she was from a lower social class, I’m hoping they would have also given into her demands, but I feel like it’s completely possible for them to ignore them.
4) What does the author suggest is a solution to this deeply embedded racist problem in our country’s medical system?
- In this article the author suggests that people in the medical field should listen carefully to patients instead of just shrugging off what they have to say, and actively recognizing the social gap between whites and blacks. I think this goes to show that when it comes to health and someone else’s own body that they may know better than even a doctor, that we cannot see things in a lens of ‘black and white’, and everyone should be viewed the same.
Leach, H. (2016, July 19). The Perfect Vagina [film]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Kx0Tj1FpEc
Newland, Lynda. “Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java.” ELSEVIER, 2006, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.2-Newland.pdf.
See, Lisa. “Snow Flower and The Fan.” Footbinding, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.1-See.pdf.
Williams, Sanithia L. “Serena Williams’s Birthing Nightmare Is All Too Familiar for Black Women.” Tonic, Tonic, 12 Jan. 2018, tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/43qb5m/serena-williams-birth-black-women-maternal-mortality.