But even if FGM were carried out in the best of clinical conditions on a consenting adult woman, we call it a human rights violation. Why? Because it 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.
I actually don’t agree with Mollman’s conclusions — I think the consent, autonomy and sexual pleasure issues are too important to gloss over — but her arguments are thought-provoking, especially insofar as she points out that breast implants can impede female sexual pleasure, which makes them a little different from most other cosmetic procedures (although obviously not to the same degree as FGM). I am also on board with her here:
I am not suggesting that we deem breast implants and other selective nipping and tucking as exclusively cosmetically motivated human rights violations. I am suggesting, however, that we question the underlying stereotypes that lead to unprecedented growth in cosmetic surgery procedures in the United States during the worst depression since the 1930s. If the only reason for an intervention is that others think that’s what we “should” look like, and if the intervention is both semi-permanent and potentially damaging to our health, maybe what we “should” do is reconsider.
Obviously may of us (or at least the women among us) do things that are less than healthy in order to be perceived as attractive. I wear high heels that mess up my feet. Breast implants are a fairly extreme part of the continuum of not-beneficial-for-our-health cosmetic choices that so many of us make. There’s often a hesitance, in liberal feminist circles, to really discuss things like breast implants because there’s such a strong undercurrent of “I Choose My Choice!” in the general discourse (a position that I happen to think is relatively asinine when it’s used to shut down sometimes-uncomfortable cultural critique). And obviously not everyone gets breast implants for the same reasons, the experiences of a trans woman or a cancer survivor may not fit into the traditional feminist narrative about why women enlarge their breasts. I also have very little interest in making women feel bad or unfeminist about the choice to get breast implants for whatever reason. I do have an interest in looking at what is quite frankly a bizarre cultural practice. There’s no equivalency with FGM, but I’m not sure Mollman is totally wrong that there aren’t parallels.