This week’s lecture explained that all of these practices serve as a traditional way to become more attractive, in a sense, for women. Many of them started long ago and have been deeply rooted into the culture because that is simply the way things have always been and it has become the norm for women to go through these practices either as a rite of passage, or to feel more beautiful and desired.
Chinese foot-binding served as a way to make girls look more attractive to a future husband. This was not only a physical attraction, but one that showed that she would be obedient, loyal, respectful, and that she came from a fortunate family. This practice was connected to many religions and displayed obedience towards elders. Usually, if a girl did not receive foot-binding as a child, she would grow up to be less likely to marry and work as a laborer in a field or servant. This trend shows how much of a status symbol foot-binding served to be. Having bound feet gave social standing and hopes of moving up within social classes as well. Lisa See explains in chapter one of Snow Flower and the Fan, that they had their feet bound in hopes that it would help bring fortune to their family and help better the lives of the daughters by getting them a suitable husband. Most interestingly, is that their feet become more of a fascination to their husbands than the rest of their bodies ever do. So, as they age and their bodies change, their feet will still remain small and bound. We learned in the lecture that this practice was in fact outlawed, but not simply on its own. The entire social order was basically dismantled and with it, foot-binding. I think if they had tried to simply outlaw foot-binding, it wouldn’t have happened but, by restructuring the social system to have people of all social status’ work physically, the ban made much more sense.
Female genital cutting is something that I have learned a little bit about through this class prior to this week. In my selected country, Sierra Leone, FGM is a frequent practice. Similar to foot-binding, this is a way to make a woman look more attractive to her future husband. It is connected to many religions, one being Muslim, and it shows promise of a woman being loyal, obedient, and dedicated to her religion. The practice of female genital cutting is also one that helps express equality. Men are usually circumcised at some point in their life, usually early in infancy or childhood, so making girls go through a type of circumcision allows them to be considered equal before Allah (Newland 2006). I don’t think this is something that can be outlawed abruptly. This is a practice that is often misunderstood, but I think where the misunderstandings happen is in the difference of it being forced or un-forced. It seems that most Westerners assume that this practice is forced or is much more involved than it usually is. With various different types of cutting, often the worse is always assumed but that is not always the case. If FGM were to be outlawed abruptly, I think there would be a lot of issues cultural for communities as well as more “closed door” procedures. The women in these cultures are raised with the belief that this is the standard for a “beautiful woman” and to have that taken away would surely cause some issues culturally.
Plastic surgery has been on the rise within Western countries for quite some time. We are often presented with the idea that women must be perfect at all times and have no flaws or unique characteristics. This practice serves to make a woman feel more “normal” and beautiful, similar to the previous two practices. As Sara Rodrigues explains, women frequently opt for these plastic surgeries to enhance their appearance. This desire to look “perfect” in all ways is connected to multiple influences. The largest in my opinion is the media, both social and news. Women are so often portrayed to have no flaws and have perfect skin, and this translates to women thinking they need to have a “perfect vagina”. I think another connection, that is often overlooked, is the pornography industry. The distorted, enhanced imagery looms by creating unrealistic expectations about beauty and body image. Many women fall victim to the idea that women portrayed in these forms of media are “au natural”, when in reality they are often highly airbrushed and inauthentic. This practice is directly connected to women continuously thinking that they are not good enough being just themselves and having differences from others. If this type of plastic surgery were outlawed abruptly I think we would see a huge increase in “closed door” procedures just like we would with FGM. Women would still find ways to go about getting these procedures. I think it would also cause issues for the women who need these types of surgeries for functional reconstruction as opposed to cosmetic. I think many of the women who have gotten a genital cosmetic surgery are much happier with themselves and without allowing the procedures anymore many would go unhappy for the rest of their lives.
Newland, L. (2006). Female circumcision: Muslim identities and zero tolerance policies in rural West Java. Womens Studies International Forum, 29(4), 394-404. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2006.05.005
Rodrigues, S. (2012). From vaginal exception to exceptional vagina: The biopolitics of female genital cosmetic surgery. Sexualities, 15(7), 778-794. doi:10.1177/1363460712454073
See, L. (2006). Snow flower and the secret fan: A novel. New York: Random House.
Serena Williams Extra Credit
What are the factors that contributed to this situation when viewed at through a lens of intersectionality?
Through a lens of intersectionality race, gender, and class were factors that influenced the situation that Serena Williams faced. She is a very successful black woman and these traits contributed to her situation differently. First, as described in the article, black people have historically been mistreated within the health care system. They are often overlooked and not taken seriously. This is a deeply embedded problem due to racism and personal bias. The next factor, that she is a woman, is similar to the problem of race. Women are historically thought to be unaware, dramatic, or overanalyzing. These two combined leads to a woman who is practically being ignored because others don’t think she knows what she is talking about. The last factor should have helped her, but it in fact had no advantages and proves a larger point. Often times, people with money and status receive a higher level of care and understanding, but that was not the case for Serena. This poses the question of, what about the black women who don’t have such a social status? Are they treated even worse? What about their stories?
What does this say about how our society in general and many people in biomedicine view black women?
This speaks volumes to the attitudes within our society. Racism is real, and it is a problem. Too many people are suffering from the personal biases of others and it has become a public health epidemic. In biomedicine, black women are not viewed as highly as their white counter parts. Health care should be an open door of acceptance regardless of the social categorizations that come with intersectionality. Unfortunately, black women are still viewed with much less urgency than they should be.
Where does class come into play and how might this have turned out differently for a lower-class black woman or a white woman?
I think class has a large role in health care treatment for all, especially women, and especially black women. Those in a lower-class are often provided care that is subpar and more subject to discrimination. It’s more common for women in lower-classes to experience mistreatment from a provider because compared to someone in a higher-class, they have very little power over the provider and they have no other options. If this situation had been with a lower-class black or white woman, she very well could have died from the PE. It’s far too easy for providers to dismiss a patient’s concern when they have little power.
What does the author suggest is a solution to this deeply embedded racist problem in our country’s medical system?
The author suggests that complex solutions and resources will be needed to eliminate this problem. The medical community needs to recognize their flaws and wrongdoings and learn from them. They need to be open to change and listen and learn from the patients that have experienced the mistreatment and poor care. Providers need to set their personal biases aside and understand that they need to provide care without judgement or hesitation.