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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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204 Responses

  1. Evergreen
    Evergreen January 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm |

    I think these are important issues to discuss. I have a somewhat unique perspective on it. I had a breast reduction when I was 18. I was already having back trouble, and I was lucky enough for the surgery to be fully covered by my health insurance company. This would seem to be a totally different situation, right?

    (Sorry, this turned into a novel. TL;DR version at the bottom)

    Except it’s not. Yeah, I was having back pain, but my 18-year-old self was MUCH more concerned about the fact that I looked “disproportionate;” having 36DD breasts on a 5’1″, 120 lb body made me feel freakish. I was excited to be able to buy dresses and bathing suits that fit me both at the bust AND at the waist! I was thrilled that boys would stop staring at my chest any time I ventured into a mixed-sex situation, whether a party or a classroom. I In my own mind, the medical indication for the reduction was just a cover for getting free plastic surgery to make me look “normal.”

    I had a wonderful feminist surgeon who did a great job. But I still don’t feel that I adequately considered or was informed of some of the consequences. First, that it was tremendously painful. There are a lot of nerves in that particular region! I seriously was unprepared for how painful it would be and how long the pain would last. And it was major surgery with major anesthesia that left me nauseated for several days. Second, I had patches of numbness that lasted for years where nerves were severed. After 14 years, those are mostly gone, but there are still a few spots where I have reduced sensitivity. Finally, I won’t know whether or not I can breastfeed until the time comes to try.**

    I don’t fault anyone involved for these issues. The surgeon was responsible and respectful; my parents tried to help me think through it as best they could; even my high school boyfriend was supportive (he was a seriously great guy). I believe in the right of adults (even young ones like I was) to make their own mistakes. And I don’t exactly regret it – I *have* had an easier time of it with smaller breasts. But that’s in large part due to the fact that society doesn’t make it easy for any woman’s body to be more than one standard deviation from the norm ideal.

    TL;DR: I now recognize that there were much less invasive and damaging ways I could have addressed my back pain. But I was so eager to shed the burden of having a socially disruptive body that I ignored any other options.

    ** I’m under the impression that reductions have come a long way since 1998, and are less likely to interfere with future breastfeeding.

  2. Catherine
    Catherine January 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm |

    Not sure I’m understanding the comparison here… if FGM were to be carried out on a consenting adult female, would we actually call it a human rights violation? Really? What if she wanted it? People do extraordinary things to their bodies and to their genitals – extreme body modifications, if you will – and nobody says it’s a human rights violation: indeed, quite the opposite, it’s people asserting their rights to do what they want with their own bodies.
    The horrifying thing about FGM is not the act in and of itself, it is the fact that it is most often performed on young girls, often too young to consent or even to understand what is happening to them, in unsanitary conditions and, yes, in order to accord with societal expectations that brand women’s sexuality as impure and to be feared. A woman in a clean, sanitary operating theatre, actively choosing to have the same procedure done on her, with full knowledge and consent, is WORLDS away from that scared girl. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that FGM, if done in the right spirit (i.e. one of reclaiming one’s own body, of making oneself happy), could even be potentially empowering for some women (for comparison, consider men who voluntarily bifurcate their penises – extreme body modification done for aesthetic/artistic reasons). But that is very, VERY different, clearly, from the majority of FGM that occurs at the moment.

  3. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm |

    A statement in the article, with no qualifications or exceptions:

    breast augmentation surgery is carried out solely to satisfy stereotyped notions of what women could or should be: sexually available and attractive to men

    As written, this is clearly untrue. As Jill points out.

    I understand the points the author makes, but I’m still a little reluctant to draw that close a parallel between breast augmentation (even assuming the purpose is always “solely” what the author states), and FGM, the direct purpose and effect of which are to impede or destroy sexual function.

  4. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm |

    By the way, I was surprised to see that the World Health Organization definition of FGM referred to in the article includes genital piercing as a type of FGM and a human rights violation, with no exception for the presence of consent. Is genital piercing generally considered to be FGM? I had no idea.

  5. Azalea
    Azalea January 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm |

    I concur with Catherine. My problem with FGM and MGM is the fact that it is mostly nonconsentual and in places where “consent” is given it is mostly under the societal pressure to look like everyone else and how your healthy not deformed genitals aren’t good enough for other people to interact with unless you cut off pieces of it. Like rape, although some are more physically violent and more obiovusly forced than others (if the victim was drugged no one, not even the victim may even be able to tell a rape occured etc) we don’t place heirachies on rape we shouldn’t place them on anything people are physically or sexually forced to endure.

    Although we can say well; many women choosing breast implants are doing it because they want bigger breats- well…why exactly? Is there pressure on her to do it? Is she doing it because she herself has a preference for bigger breasts? The reason matter, one is less her choice if she’s choosing to do it for someone else. The problem is, people who are not the woman maing that decision would either have to trust her when she says it is for her or undermine her ability to make a decision on her own and question that its what she really wants. Most women do not have naturally large breasts and the number of women having augmentation as a result of lost tissue from an illness or they simply want they breasts to look as full as they used to looks isn’t a number typically brought up in these discussions.

    I’m a firm believer that a woman can actually want things that happen to be things that men want too- big breasts, big butt, small waist, pretty face, high heels, make up, etc without somehow being brainwashed or not having real autonomy in the decision. It happens, the problem is, its hard to distinguish those times from when someone is making such a decision in oder to please someone else. So how do you address that without sounding like a patronizing asshole?

  6. matlun
    matlun January 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm |

    Seriously?

    I am really going to go for the “I choose my choice” option here. But if (huge if) we disregard the consent issue, there is still:
    1. Health issues
    This is simply not comparable. The health risks with breast augmentation are quite limited.
    2. Irreversability
    A breast augmentation is reversible
    3. Consent!
    Yes, I did say I was going to disregard it, but I just can’t…

  7. Esti
    Esti January 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm |

    I’m definitely interested in a conversation about the cultural forces surrounding cosmetic surgery, but I’m not sure the parallel works here. As Donna points out, even if it was done consensually and safely, FGM is different because it’s purpose is reduced sexual function. That may be a side effect of breast augmentation (and reduction), but it’s not the goal.

  8. the-r-evolution
    the-r-evolution January 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm |

    @Azalea

    I think you address it the way you just did. By acknowledging that it is impossible to sort out someone’s reasons for something (even to the person making the choice, sometimes!). Because of that, if someone is actively consenting to something, then let them do it and don’t fall all over yourself question their particular motives. Criticize society overall, instead, for putting pressure on people to have procedures done that they don’t really want themselves.

    As for FGM itself, I don’t understand the point of comparing it to BA, unless we’re trying to make FGM seem not serious. Because really, it’s a disingenuous comparison. FGM just does not belong on the same scale of “physical alterations women make, by their own decision, and possibly make for reasons regarding Patriarchy”- such as: makeup-hair extensions-botox-BA. Jill did say, and I agree, that the issues of consent are too large to overlook. With that admitted then, I am confused as to what the purpose of even making this comparison is.

  9. the-r-evolution
    the-r-evolution January 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm |

    As to what Etsi said about purpose, I concur.

    Although, although, although- I have to add, as someone who has seen a lot of crazy shit in the BDSM world- there are definitely women out there that would enjoy something like this for kink reasons, and I don’t think it is entirely fair to automatically discount that anymore than we discount other body mods.

  10. the-r-evolution
    the-r-evolution January 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

    Strike “crazy”, add “weird”. My b.

  11. Esti
    Esti January 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    That’s fair. As soon as I hit submit I realized that my comment was probably making blanket statements to which there would be exceptions. As you say, though, I’d have to think those are rare and probably not helpful when trying to decide whether FGM as a practice is comparable to other things.

  12. Northland Heights
    Northland Heights January 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |

    As you already suggested, this does completely gloss over trans women. By why *do* trans women get breast surgery, and why should that be condoned by the feminist community?

  13. Azalea
    Azalea January 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm |

    the-r-evolution:

    I’ve heard that clitoral piercings will lower sensitivity of the clitoris overtime because it overstmulates it yet it is something many women choose and is painful. Some FGM, the most common FGM is a removal of the clitoral hood which essentially, if what I’ve heard is true, has a similar if not the same effect. Initially though it heightens sensitivity (thus the overtime overstimulation).

    So I want to go with that example: FGM (limited to removal of the clitoral hood which could initially be quite pleasant after the healing process) compared to breast augmentation.

  14. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm |

    I think the breast augmentation ship left port 2 decades ago and there’s no calling it back. A journalist in the Daily Mail stated the more important issue is having the right to high quality, safe medical devices. Even though it was mostly for cosmetic reasons, they were ripped off and let down. Any blaming the woman who got the defective PIP implants misses the point (I realize no one here is doing that, BTW).

    As far as FGM, I’m on total agreement. In the U.K. labia reduction is becoming popular. I don’t know why a grown woman would want to look like a 10 year old girl.

    A little off the subject: Men are having more cosmetic procedures than ever before, and cosmetic centers are developing marketing strategies just for men. Recent news articles in the links below tells the story. More men getting botox and and lipo-suction. We already know about the millions of men who get the hair on their heads transplant to bald spots, just look at all the commercials. Men also understand that being more attractive and/or younger looking gets you more money at work and a larger number of women that would be willing to date them.

    Most of you would probably be shocked at the number of men you work with who dye their hair.

    A question for the author is: If this is about societal norms for women, why are more men getting things like pectoral and chin implant, lipo, laser hair removal, etc? Could it be a deeper desire to feel better about ourselves?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2084223/The-rising-trend-Bro-tox-Meet-men-hooked-cosmetic-fillers.html

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1094731/Rise-man-jab-From-Botox-smart-lipo-fast-grooming-fixes-men–booked-man-yet.html

  15. Kathleen
    Kathleen January 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm |

    What I think is most illustrative about this comparison is the sputtering rage it produces (not here, to be fair, but in the original context of posting), most often from women, who are deeply invested in being able to condemn sexism *elsewhere*.

    The first Sudanese human rights organization that sends me a petition calling for the banning of the barbaric practice of slicing open women’s chests, shoving plastic sacks under their skin, and sewing them back up again in Western countries, I’m signing it.

  16. artdyke
    artdyke January 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm |

    My wife has a clit piercing (which is actually a hood piercing – no one pierces their clit except the people on BME Extreme). It’s the first piercing she got at 18. She says it was entirely painless, heightened sensitivity for a while, and then she got used to it and it returned to normal. No lost sensitivity.

    I’m a little confused at to what consenting adult women we are talking about here who are supposedly opting for FGM. Do people do this? Or are we just talking about, like, labioplasty? Because even though I am very anti-cosmetic-surgery, that’s a procedure even I have considered because I have one inner labia that’s super long, get’s in the way, and can get irritated because it’s not being protected by the labia majora. I don’t think that sort of thing is at all comparable to adult FGM…

  17. Evergreen
    Evergreen January 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |

    I agree that the comparison between the two is not all that useful, honestly. But the reason I told my story is to illustrate that just because something is chosen (desired, even), doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

    I don’t think it’s condescending to have honest conversations with women in our lives about why they’re making choices like these, as long as you listen and respond respectfully. I think it is useful to talk about the social and cultural pressures on us to look as close to “perfect” as we can. That doesn’t mean stopping people from making those choices, obviously. Maybe such procedure is the easiest way for someone to get through the day, given the world we live in. But I think acknowledging that, rather than pretending that it’s a value-neutral choice, is useful.

  18. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |

    Kathleen,

    What about lipo, hair removal, maximal facial surgery to improve the jaw line -major surgery and very painful – jaw and palette are cut up and rearranged – chin implants, nose jobs, face lifts? Would you make all these illegal? If not, why just the breasts?

  19. Kathleen
    Kathleen January 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm |

    Joe — I’m not interested in a what about the men / what about procedures that men also do conversation? But perhaps someone else will engage you in that one.

  20. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |

    Kathleen,

    For those procedures I was talking about women, mostly. They are still the ones that get most of that stuff. Should they not be allowed to?

  21. Azalea
    Azalea January 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm |

    Kathleen at 15 I’m pretty sure you hit a nerve!!! lol As I’ve said there are women who have it removed for a variety of reasons but once you begin the “questioning” phase- especially considering most of the women being questioned would be less privileged (minorities) than those who are questioning (Western white women), some of which who may have opted to “mutilate” their bodies for the sake of *insert a reason those who are being questioned may not approve of here* things could get pretty testy. That conversation would not be easy to have and honestly it could be considered disrespectful to even feel you have a right to question her decision on what she’s done with her own body at all. It is why I for the most part back off and stroll the “choose your choice” line when there was a clear option not to do that thing at all without dire consequences. Just as we say “find me those women who choose FGM” I am sure there are women who choose FGM that think a breast augmentation is absolutely absurd and only done to appease a man.

    So again how do you “question” women on those choices without implying they had no agency as an adult to make decisions about their own bodies while we demand that the world trust us with decisions about our own bodies?

  22. Hobbes
    Hobbes January 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    In the U.K. labia reduction is becoming popular. I don’t know why a grown woman would want to look like a 10 year old girl.

    It bothers me quite a bit when people make this argument, either in reference to pubic shaving or appearance of labia. I have tiny labia and was confused for years as to what people meant when they talked about “meat curtains”. Nothing, not even the starts of them. That’s just how I’m built, I don’t want to look like a 10 year old girl. I shave because otherwise it’s really friggin’ itchy and I’d much prefer to spend a few seconds shaving every few days than trying to ignore the constant itch of pubic hair. (In contrast, I only shave my legs during cycling season. It’s all about practicality.)

    So yeah, I look like a 10-year-old in the genital region, partially because that’s how I’m built and partially because the natural state is itchy as hell. Why is this something the internet feels they should be judging me on?

  23. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm |

    What I think is most illustrative about this comparison is the sputtering rage it produces (not here, to be fair, but in the original context of posting), most often from women, who are deeply invested in being able to condemn sexism *elsewhere*.

    The first Sudanese human rights organization that sends me a petition calling for the banning of the barbaric practice of slicing open women’s chests, shoving plastic sacks under their skin, and sewing them back up again in Western countries, I’m signing it.

    Which other “voluntary” surgeries would you also want to ban? Would the ban have any exceptions? Would it apply to all women?

  24. the-r-evolution
    the-r-evolution January 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm |

    @Hobbes

    Exactly.

    Not to mention how ridiculous a comment that like it on a thread about breast augmentation, where many women that consider it do so because they have very small breasts and are often told they “look like a 10-year-old”. Sheesh.

  25. Li
    Li January 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm |

    As far as FGM, I’m on total agreement. In the U.K. labia reduction is becoming popular. I don’t know why a grown woman would want to look like a 10 year old girl.

    Let us please not go down the route where we imply that certain genital features are those of children. Many women have small labia, they do not have the genitals of a 10 year old. Small labia are most certainly within the normal range of adult genital variation even if it is complete bullshit to treat them normatively.

  26. EG
    EG January 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm |

    A question for the author is: If this is about societal norms for women, why are more men getting things like pectoral and chin implant, lipo, laser hair removal, etc? Could it be a deeper desire to feel better about ourselves?

    Yes, in an article about breast implants and FGM, why aren’t you talking about men’s actions and desires and insecurities? Keep your eye on the ball(s), ladies.

  27. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm |

    Li and Hobbes,

    Sorry, I seem to have hit a nerve here. If you have small labia naturally I’m not suggesting that’s a bad or unattractive thing. And my post didn’t say that woman shouldn’t be allowed to have that surgery. I’m not anti-cosmetic surgery. I’ve had relationships with woman that have small labia and found them attractive. But some of the woman on the show that I saw this on had fairly normal looking labia if not extended out maybe 1/2 to3/4 of an inch, but want them chopped off. It’s just from my personal point of view I don’t see why it’s necessary unless the are really huge or causing some medical problems like one poster here indicated. I guess I should have left the 10 year old girl comment out and just said that men don’t mind labia that stick out, even significantly. Can’t speak for bi or lesbian women.

    As far as a woman with small breasts looking like a 10 year old, I wasn’t addressing that, but most men know you can’t determine age by breast size and I certainly don’t try. If a woman with small breasts wants implants that’s her business and hers alone. I would certainly never be rude enough to tell a woman with small breasts she looks like a child. I judge age my looking at the hands if I’m in doubt or I’ll just ask.

  28. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua January 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm |

    Pierced ears. Who needs ‘em? And some people have it done to their *babies*.

  29. Tony_
    Tony_ January 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm |

    So again how do you “question” women on those choices without implying they had no agency as an adult to make decisions about their own bodies while we demand that the world trust us with decisions about our own bodies?

    You don’t– you question society (as the-r-evolution #9 posted). Of course, it’s not easy. You have to build a pretty convincing case, while carefully avoiding broad statements that could offend women who are happy with their choices (as there are many). But as Evergreen’s comment shows, even some women who are happy with their choices may be willing to consider the pitfalls they nevertheless faced, or the fact that maybe if the world were different, they would have chosen differently.

    I’d also avoid the generalization that in the case of FGM, the “questioners” are all Western white women, as that’s not true. Plus, I strongly suspect that the bulk of actual anti-FGM work being done in Africa and Asia is by non-white, non-Western women, and these activists in many cases may have even more radical views against FGM than Western activists who have more distance from the practice and who are more accustomed to thinking about bodily preferences in terms of choice. On the other hand, the majority of women who choose FGM in Africa and Asia are undoutedbly also non-white, non-Western, and they, too, think about it very differently from Westerners who think in terms of choice. I guess the point is, except for the obviously coercive cases, there is no law of nature or correct perspective with regards to how deeply a particular practice is either a ‘matter of personal choice’, or ‘a sexist product of society’. It is entirely dependent on context. The work of questioning society consists largely of drawing out that context.

  30. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm |

    EG,

    LOL, very good. I’ll take your point. The reason for that post is that I was trying to say that, first, I don’t believe all the social pressure stuff regarding women getting implants. It’s the woman’s decision. Why she does it is her own business. The reason i brought the men into it is to demonstrate that the reason is probably because we all want to feel good about ourselves and that is the main reason for implants and other surgeries. We all want to be attractive to a potential partner and that is not the result of a sexist society as the whole FGM implant comparison implies. The two are not related in my view.

  31. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm |

    I judge age [b]y looking at the hands

    You have to get up awfully early in the morning to put one past Joe! Remind me to start wearing fingerless gloves everywhere.

  32. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |

    We all want to be attractive to a potential partner and that is not the result of a sexist society

    So the general standards for female attractiveness in U.S. culture — and the differences between those standards and the standards for male attractiveness — have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with sexism, and just magically happen to exist? (The last thing I want is to have a conversation about this. I was just wondering if that’s what you really believe.)

  33. Tony_
    Tony_ January 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    The last thing I want is to have a conversation about this.

    Why is that? It seems that we’re finally getting to the crux of the issue…

  34. EG
    EG January 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |

    To say nothing of who gets to be considered a “potential partner” by whom. You’re a dude in his late forties? Why not hit on a woman in her early twenties? You’re a woman in her early thirties? Hope you don’t think a guy in his mid-twenties would want anything to do with you, you dried-up old hag.

  35. Donna L
    Donna L January 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |

    Why is that? It seems that we’re finally getting to the crux of the issue…

    Because it’s so . . . basic? Look, if anyone else wants to go through the exercise, they’re welcome to. I just don’t personally feel like it.

  36. the-r-evolution
    the-r-evolution January 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

    @Joe

    Thanks for your clarification. Generally it is best to just stick to saying “I don’t think x, y, and z alteration is necessary” not make shaming comments about women’s bodies and/or their choices. We get enough grief as it is on that from all sides- because really, any choice a woman makes about her appearance can be the “wrong” one. No makeup? Ugly. Makeup? What are you, a whore? Clown? Don’t shave? Ew, you’re disgusting, you stink, etc. Shave? Oh, what, you want to look like a 10 year-old girl?

    So went it comes to physical appearance, I think it is good to criticize the structures of society that pressure women into choosing one appearance or another, or the ways in which it robs them of making free choices- but I don’t think it is a good idea to criticize the bodies and the choices of the women themselves.

  37. igglanova
    igglanova January 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm |

    Anyone claiming that standards of attractiveness are not influenced by the patriarchy is either a fool or a liar.

  38. Catherine
    Catherine January 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

    The reason for that post is that I was trying to say that, first, I don’t believe all the social pressure stuff regarding women getting implants. It’s the woman’s decision. Why she does it is her own business.

    The thing is, no. Women are told constantly, every minute of every day, by every airbrushed advert we see, by every television programme featuring improbably attractive ‘average’ women, by the film industry, by music videos, by ALL THE POPULAR CULTURE WE CONSUME, that there is a certain way that we need to look – a certain standard of beauty to which we should adhere, or we’re ugly/weird/unloveable/whatever. I am a woman, and I can tell you: it is all-pervasive, and deeply damaging to your self-esteem, especially if you diverge significantly from this ideal (I should point out that it is unachievable, hence the word ‘ideal’, and everyone diverges from it to some extent), as I do. It is extremely hard to hold my head up high when every positive image of a woman I see is of a thin woman, while fat women (like me) are always portrayed negatively.

    Similarly, the ideal to which we are supposed to adhere has large breasts (though a small frame, which is a combination that happens very infrequently in nature), and I can ABSOLUTELY see how a small-breasted woman could feel, with all of this constant pressure, that having small breasts might not be good enough. In fact, it would take a remarkably strong-minded woman NOT to feel that: when everything you’ve ever read or seen tells you you should be a certain way, it is DAMN HARD not to agree, to stand back and realise it for the bullshit it is.

    What I’m trying to say is that women’s aesthetic choices cannot and should not be seen as being independent of the culture in which the women exist. Having breast implants (I am excluding trans women and cancer patients here) CANNOT be a free choice when everything in your culture is telling you that getting the implants is the only acceptable course. Which of course doesn’t mean that I would ever stop anyone from getting them, or make them illegal; only that it is naive to believe that women who choose to get breast implants are getting them for reasons utterly unrelated to the misogynistic culture in which we live.

    Proviso 1: There are, of course, exceptions in mainstream culture, which are much more positive towards women and depictions of women, but the point I am making is that they are very much the exception, not the rule.
    Proviso 2: I’d just like to reiterate the-r-evolution, in case it seems like I am denying women their agency:

    I think it is good to criticize the structures of society that pressure women into choosing one appearance or another, or the ways in which it robs them of making free choices- but I don’t think it is a good idea to criticize the bodies and the choices of the women themselves.

  39. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |

    This all reminds me of a quote by John Zerzan. He’s an anarcho-primitivist, which means he rejects all technology, all the way back to invention of agriculture and writing (!!) and thinks it’s the root of all society’s problems. I pretty much disagree with him on most everything, fortunately, but I like the meaning behind this one quote. (Don’t worry this becomes relevant soon). A journalist once confronted Zerzan over why he owned a television and watched it–didn’t that make him a hypocrite, given his extreme anti-technology views? Zerzan replied, “Like other people; I have to be narcotized.”

    In other words, just because one lives in a fucked up society that presents one with a fucked up array of choices, doesn’t mean one can avoid those choices. Even if one strenously objects to them being the only choices available. So yeah. It really, really sucks that a constant barrage of media illusions and lies manipulate women into having poor body image. But women still have to do something about that poor self-image. They still have to be narcotized. So I think under these conditions, something like breast implants often is a rational, sensible, totally appropriate and justified choice. Which doesn’t make the overall conditions any less unjust or any less in need of radical transformation. But for the individual, in the here and now, she still needs to cope however she can.

  40. Azalea
    Azalea January 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm |

    LotusBen,

    I disagree with you here:

    But women still have to do something about that poor self-image. They still have to be narcotized. So I think under these conditions, something like breast implants often is a rational, sensible, totally appropriate and justified choice. Which doesn’t make the overall conditions any less unjust or any less in need of radical transformation. But for the individual, in the here and now, she still needs to cope however she can.

    There are countless women- minorities who wll never ever meet the beauty ideal of United States culture because it starts with being white. So many minority women have to find beauty in their own skin. There are women who are really short or can’t grow their hair long or their hair isn’t straight or have dark hair and eyes or have really really big breasts or really big butts or are plus sized or have larger eyes or noses or skin darker than what is “acceptable” to mainstream media/society but they still find beauty in themselves without conforming to the beauty ideals. That can and does happen quite often.**

    I am not saying that there are women who find absolutely nothing wrong with themselves, even without the help of the media there would still be women who compared their physical appearance to the physical appearance of other women; who’s prettier, who had longer shinier healthier hair, who is taloler, who is shorter, who has clearer/smoother skin, who has a nicer shape, etc etc. I am simply saying that all in all there are women who “cope” with the societal pressures to conform by simply accepting themselves and “working with what they’ve got.”

  41. Mike Crichton
    Mike Crichton January 14, 2012 at 12:24 am |

    Wait, are we considering the sort of cosmetic “vaginoplasty” that’s allegedly become common due to porn as FGM?

  42. Sonia
    Sonia January 14, 2012 at 3:59 am |

    This could be a basis of all sorts of wonderful analogies.

    The parallels between bottle-feeding coke and drinking coke as adults.
    The parallels between diapering and being forced to wear a bra.
    The parallels between riding a tricycle without a license and DUI.
    The parallels between wearing a black dress and a burka.
    The parallels between bathing every day and prison showers.

  43. PowerLover
    PowerLover January 14, 2012 at 7:02 am |

    I think Catherine gets to the core of the issue. Judging and critiquing cultural standards and the power of (beauty etc) industry is not the same as judging and condemning individual women. The former is hugely important though. It means working towards changing those fucked up cultural norms!

    Also, positive depictions of different kinds (and body types) of women in mainstream culture are hugely important! Why don’t we have them more, we should ask. As are women “who “cope” with the societal pressures to conform by simply accepting themselves and “working with what they’ve got”” important for young girls and women under the pressure to conform and to do what ever it takes to get as close to the ideal as possible.

    I say this as someone who conforms in many ways (make up etc) but grew up with so much anxiety over small breasts. I think it is incredibly sad that a solution to the “problem” of small breasts should be surgery. My beautiful perfect breasts! When growing up why was I told by all the culture around me that small breasts are not sexy not good, and in need of at least lots of padding in the bra! I mean Jaysus! Instead of focusing on how individual women cope in this situation, why not focus on how we can change the standards that cause all this anxiety!

    Individuals’ choices in this respect matter too. (I mean, as to how to change the society, not how to individually cope with the pressure) That’s why I think it is a laudable feminist act to for example reject make up, shaving, high heels etc. sometimes, for the sake of setting up an example that choosing not to conform is possible. (Of course sometimes it is virtually impossible due to the levels of social pressure, or you just personally really like these practices)
    Especially for young ones growing up and facing the pressures to conform these kind of examples can be really significant. I am not saying that this is what everyone should be aiming at, or that your personal make up choices etc. are the only or most important way do feminist deeds. But surely they can matter. More important though, is how those who have some power over this type of issues, choose to use it. I’m thinking of people who work in (powerful positions in) marketing, media, film and so on.

    Here is an amazing piece related to how to deal with social pressure as a parent, in this case re: fat

    http://www.rachelsimmons.com/2012/01/mom-im-fat-one-mothers-inspired-response-to-her-7-year-old/

  44. Shannon Drury
    Shannon Drury January 14, 2012 at 8:45 am |

    Consumer culture makes it increasingly hard to tease out which of our choices are “choices” at all. Thanks for this post, Jill.

  45. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated January 14, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    Both breast augmentation and labioplasty are derived, as elective surgeries, from appearance shaming and appearance standardization. Acquaintances who purchased breast augmentations uniformly cite an ex-husband who teased or shamed them, and sexual insecurities with a current lover. One believed she would be more employable with larger breasts. Contrarily, a thin, flat-chested sex worker had a clientele due to her undeveloped appearance. Alteration of genitals to increase pleasure or reduce appearance anxiety are a private choice. Ironically, no-one has mentioned voluntary hysterectomies here. A coworker once planned a complete hysterectomy, for the sole purpose of ridding herself of her sex drive and dependence on men, back before vibrators were commonplace. This may provide insight into the origins of female-on-female FGM, but does not excuse the practice.
    Target the men and women who do the appearance shaming, rather than the surgical patients. If shaming is culture-wide, educate the culture.

  46. Vigée
    Vigée January 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |

    I am simply saying that all in all there are women who “cope” with the societal pressures to conform by simply accepting themselves and “working with what they’ve got.”

    Clearly, Azalea, but that’s not the group that LotusBen was talking about. He’s talking about the women who don’t accept themselves by working with what they’ve got. He’s analyzing the societal and systemic forces that cause women who choose surgery to feel that it’s a necessary decision without vilifying that choice on an individual level. I think his point is well-taken.

  47. je
    je January 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |

    I think the conversation about societal expectations pushing grown women to cut open their chests, stick plastic bags in them and then get their chests sewn back up is worth having. When you think about what it actually is, I can see why one would want to compare it to another grossly invasive procedure that some grown women choose to have done for themselves.

    But the reality is that FGM, as it is largely practiced, isn’t being done by adult women who make that choice for themselves. The procedure may have the same name whether being done TO a minor (or TO an adult married woman against her will) or being done WITH the consent of the woman: it’s called FGM. But the difference between the two is like the difference between porn starring adults and porn staring children. However much society may be influencing an adult woman’s choice to undergo elective surgery, it’s not FORCED/IMPOSED on those people. And that’s a minority of FGM.

    It’s hard to watch this conversation take place where a parallel is drawn between an elective procedure and a procedure that is, in the vast majority of cases, forced.

  48. Miss S
    Miss S January 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm |

    There are countless women- minorities who wll never ever meet the beauty ideal of United States culture because it starts with being white. So many minority women have to find beauty in their own skin. There are women who are really short or can’t grow their hair long or their hair isn’t straight or have dark hair and eyes or have really really big breasts or really big butts or are plus sized or have larger eyes or noses or skin darker than what is “acceptable” to mainstream media/society but they still find beauty in themselves without conforming to the beauty ideals. That can and does happen quite often.**

    In fact, studies have found that Black women have actually have higher self esteem than white women. Azalea, I think me and you have discussed that on the blog before, and we pointed that there is some internal work inside Black communities and families for girls to find beauty in themselves and reject the white girl with blond hair and blue eyes ideal. Lord knows I’ve had this conversation with my youngest sister more than once.

    It doesn’t always work, but in recent years I’ve seen a lot more blogs and websites about black women expressing their femininity and finding beauty in blackness. It’s a nice thing to see.

  49. Kathleen
    Kathleen January 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm |

    Sonia — the parallels you draw unintentionally underscore exactly the way these discussions too often happen.

    children vs. adults

    hapless people who are chosen for vs. self-aware people who make choices

    non-Western vs. Western

    non-white vs. white

    So that condemnations of FGM are figured as “it’s our duty to educate infantilized others” while critiques of breast implants are figured as “who do you think you are passing judgment on your peers? Do you think you are smarter than they are or something? They are your equals and should be treated as such”

    That your only response to anybody drawing a parallel between the two is outraged disbelief is… telling.

  50. je
    je January 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm |

    Kathleen – I know that you weren’t directing your comment at me, but as another person who is troubled by the analogy, I do want to respond to your critique. While I agree that it’s far too easy to point fingers to the “uncivilized world” with moral outrage without a shred of irony, I disagree that chafing at the comparison between breast implants and FGM necessarily means a person is a moral relativist when it comes to Western vs. non-Western issues with women’s bodies.

    The fact is, there is a difference between women who choose to undergo FGM and women who are forced or tricked into doing it by their families, society, etc. There’s nothing wrong with supporting women within their communities who wish to change that paradigm, and there’s nothing wrong with drawing a line in the sand and saying “I can’t say I think that’s okay.” Now, if you aren’t willing to or interested in turning that same lens towards your own culture and community, there is a huge problem, and I think FGM can be a fad cause. But it has been labeled a real problem by women in their own communities and cultures, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. I suppose it’s also okay to disagree with that too. But to say it’s problematic doesn’t in and of itself mean you’re infantilizing those women who face the prospect of being forced to undergo or forced to allow their daughters to undergo it.

    Personally, I’d agree that breast implantation as a cultural phenomenon is rooted in self-hatred and certain pressures by society, for sure. And for women who choose to undergo FGM of their own free will, I’d say that’s an apt comparison. But for both of those cases, it’s not like women are being physically forced or coerced into their mutilations, the way that FGM is forced upon so many girls and women or, for a Western comparison, pregnancy is forced upon young women in certain communities.

  51. je
    je January 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

    And with that, I’ll shut up, because I realize I’m doing a lot of talking about an issue that isn’t mine and one for which I have a lot more learning to do than teaching.

  52. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm |

    Can someone point me to examples of women who chose to mutilate their genitals (i.e. NOT labioplasty, but full on clit removal and sewing up their vags) and weren’t in some way coerced into making that choice?

    This is the part that baffles me. What use is this parallel when you’re setting it up against a straw woman?

    And if this straw woman exists, I wouldn’t call it a human rights violation. But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t.

    These are two great things to talk about. But really, I absolutely do not see the comparison.

  53. Perspicacity Spour
    Perspicacity Spour January 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

    PrettyAmiable: Yes. If you look up (For example) Infibulation, clitoris removal and genital nullification on BMEzine, you’ll find a lot of women and other female-bodied people sewing, cutting, and removing their genitals, for aesthetic, sexual, fetish and personal reasons.

    It’s an interesting comparison to make, but first of all the distinction has to be made between involutary FGM performed on children who have no way of consenting to the procedure, and voluntary FGC (Female Genital Cutting, the less immediately emotive term preferred by practitioners) which, although culturally influenced, is in no way mandatory.

    YES, the pressure can be high to have the perfect vulva, as can the drive to have one which is perfectly tailored to your needs, and to me it feels as if FGC is very closely comparable to breast augmentation; A culturally-influenced but internally-reconciled-with desire to modify the body in ways which the body’s owner perceives will make them more acceptable, either to themselves or to other interested parties.

  54. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm |

    Azalea. . .yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I do actually agree with that, although I guess it wasn’t really evident in my last post. Self-acceptance is a strategy many women use to cope with societal pressures they get around their physical appearance. And I think it’s a pretty damn good strategy. After all, one’s beauty comes from within one’s own mind anyway. If you see yourself as beautiful, then you are beautiful.

  55. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 14, 2012 at 8:49 pm |

    It’s an interesting comparison to make, but first of all the distinction has to be made between involutary FGM performed on children who have no way of consenting to the procedure, and voluntary FGC (Female Genital Cutting, the less immediately emotive term preferred by practitioners) which, although culturally influenced, is in no way mandatory.

    This, then. Using “FGM” completely skews what is actually happening in terms of that magazine. Is body modification of that sort (completely consensual, not coerced) comparable to breast implants? Kinda, in that it’s culturally influenced (but FFS, everything I do is culturally-influenced). But if you’re using the term “FGM,” you’re not thinking of the magazine folks. You’re thinking of women who have gotten fucked out of a real choice.

    And I stand by saying that it is absurd to identify those magazine people as people who have had their human rights violated.

  56. Joe from an alternate universe
    Joe from an alternate universe January 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm |

    “YES, the pressure can be high to have the perfect vulva, as can the drive to have one which is perfectly tailored to your needs, and to me it feels as if FGC is very closely comparable to breast augmentation; A culturally-influenced but internally-reconciled-with desire to modify the body in ways which the body’s owner perceives will make them more acceptable, either to themselves or to other interested parties.” – Perspicacity Spour

    Perspicacity Spour,

    Brilliant! Spot on!

    I would only add one thing. The pressure to modify genitals is not a Western thing, and there is no pressure from Western men to have any modifications. I’ll feel free to speak for the majority of American men on this: hetro men like what’s down there, of course, but really don’t have a preference. It’s not what you have, but how you use it that counts.

  57. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm |

    I thought this was interesting perspective. I found it trying to find info on women who would choose FGM. I remembered discussing it in class once but saying, “This one time, I totally remember talking about this and I learned a bunchbelieve me.” isn’t really a supportable position.

  58. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 14, 2012 at 10:18 pm |

    *sigh* I can’t post links. Screw it.

  59. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein January 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm |

    We can highlight parallels between two phenomena without saying that they’re exactly the same, or equally bad. Huge differences can coexist with valid parallels.

    Consent is the most obvious difference between FGM and breast augmentation. Ubiquity is another difference: There are cultures where almost every woman undergoes FGM, whereas, only a tiny percentage of Western women get breast implants. In some places, FGM is the price of being “normal,” whereas, breast implants have never been the norm.

    Bearing all that in mind, I still see a parallel: Women are always expected to change or “fix” their bodies to conform to cultural ideals of femininity. In societies where women have low status and few rights, they are more likely to be subjected to really horrific modifications like FGM, footbinding, neck stretching, breast ironing, or, in the West until disturbingly recently, extreme corsetting.

    In societies where women have higher status and more rights, women are less likely to be coerced outright and less likely to be expected to make extreme structural modifications as a matter of course.

    That said, the social pressures to alter ourselves haven’t been completely abolished in democracies where women enjoy full legal rights. Society just doesn’t have the leverage over women that it once did, and that’s a credit to feminism.

  60. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 14, 2012 at 10:36 pm |

    Northland Heights said:

    why *do* trans women get breast surgery, and why should that be condoned by the feminist community?

    What an unpleasant, aggressive way to phrase a question. Can a single day go by here without somebody expressing hostility towards trans women, or expecting them to justify every aspect of their existence? No wonder I’ve heard so many trans women express concerns about this place.

    So I’m not sure that this question should even be dignified with an answer, but: how about because it’s sometimes very much necessary for trans women to have breast augmentation surgery in order to be visually perceived as women by other people (do I really need to explain all the reasons that’s important?), and sometimes by themselves. After all, some people aren’t able to do HRT, for a variety of reasons. And for those who do, it sometimes has no perceptible effect, or an effect that isn’t enough to signal “woman” to people. Unless someone starts to transition at or around puberty, they’re probably never going to end up with results anything close to what could have been expected had they done so, and it’s usually the case that the older one is when one starts, the less the results. And however HRT turns out, trans women with taller and/or broader body shapes that generally signal “man” to people, often need something more than what HRT gives them in order to look help counteract that signal or cue, and any other “male” cues they may have. The exact same extent of results from HRT can obviously look very different on someone who starts out at 6′ 2″ with a broad chest and shoulders than on someone who’s a foot shorter with a small frame.

    Are those good enough reasons to “condone” a trans woman’s having BA? I’m sure a simple “because it makes them feel better about themselves and allows them to get by in the world” wouldn’t have been enough, right? If the next question is going to be, “why do trans women need to have breasts in the first place; why can’t they just be happy with the body they have like everyone will be after the feminist revolution?,” then I have nothing to say.

    women’s aesthetic choices cannot and should not be seen as being independent of the culture in which the women exist. Having breast implants (I am excluding trans women . . . CANNOT be a free choice when everything in your culture is telling you that getting the implants is the only acceptable course.

    I hesitate to discuss this subject because there’s undoubtedly somebody out there who will use anything I say as an excuse to condemn trans women, but I did want to add that trans women aren’t immune from cultural pressures, or from internalization of cultural standards of how women should look in order to be considered attractive, any more than any other women. I know a number of trans women who have very much struggled with deciding where and how to draw the line, in considering BA, between its being really “necessary” (see above), and its simply being a product of the same sort of internalized cultural pressures and beauty standards that all women are subjected to.

    Maybe they shouldn’t bother agonizing about it like that, because there are those who condemn what trans women do no matter what decision they make (and tend to extrapolate any decision trans women make about one specific thing to a condemnatory analysis of everything else they decide), but I know that people do agonize, because I did.

    I’m well aware that I have small breasts, and there are many times I’ve seriously thought about BA. Especially when I’ve gotten down about myself and started thinking that they’re so small that they don’t even “count” as breasts (especially in a world where I’ve seen women more endowed than I labeled as being “flat-chested”), that people would laugh at me (even though my former partner didn’t seem to mind at all), and so on. Harsh thoughts I would never have about any human being in the world other than myself. But at least so far — and it’s been quite a few years now; I began HRT in 2000! — I’ve always decided that it wouldn’t really be “necessary” (since I do have a relatively small frame) and that if I did so it really would just be because of internalized cultural pressures. In kind of the same way, I always intensely disliked my nose, and was convinced for many years that there was something so inherently “male” about it that it would prevent me from ever transitioning. But I realized eventually that it was no impediment to my transitioning, and that to the extent I still dislike it, it’s because it “looks Jewish” and I’ve very much internalized Northern European, anti-Semitic standards of what noses are supposed to look like (the fact that I’m aware of the reasons doesn’t make the feelings go away). Not to mention that my son, who’s always been remarkably accepting of all aspects of my transition, has always been incredibly upset by the possibility of my changing my face in any way. (Apart from everything else, including his telling me he loves it the way it is, I think it represents the continuity of “me” to him, from before.) So I’ve decided (at least so far) to live with my nose as is, as a visibly Jewish woman.

    With respect to BA, my thoughts about necessity vs. cultural pressure, combined with the stories I’ve heard about loss of sensation, the fact that my former partner was strongly opposed to it (and told me that every woman she knew who’d had it neither looked nor felt “real” to her), and the fact that I’ve almost never in my life had anything more than the most minor of surgeries without major and sometimes life-threatening complications, have been enough to dissuade me. I’m not saying I won’t change my mind someday, but I kind of doubt it.

  61. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 14, 2012 at 10:42 pm |

    ^
    I should have made clear that the second block quote in my comment is from Catherine, not from Northland Heights.

  62. evil fizz
    evil fizz January 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm | *

    The pressure to modify genitals is not a Western thing, and there is no pressure from Western men to have any modifications.

    Are you living under a rock or something?

  63. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm |

    We can highlight parallels between two phenomena without saying that they’re exactly the same, or equally bad. Huge differences can coexist with valid parallels.

    Until someone forces me to get implants against my will, I’m going to go ahead and say that the ONLY parallel that matters is that the given body has changed. It’s not that women are expected to change their bodies in both societies. In one case, women feel pressure to change their bodies. In the other, women have their bodies changed by outside agents. Saying that the two are similar is like saying teen girls having sex in high school and rape are the same. No. Full stop.

    Here’s what the forced comparison sounds like: it drizzled in NYC the other day. Indian women experience parallels during monsoon season. Reason: drizzling rain and monsoons are both wet.

    Both are worth talking about, but parallels are incredibly poorly thought out. Even the three highlighted in this post are ridiculously shallow. Discernible health benefit: mental? Maybe? For some women? Probably, as Donna L pointed out, for trans women.

    Pressure to get implants vs coerced FGM or forced FGM? Body change. That’s it.

  64. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 12:26 am |

    evil fizz 1.14.2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink *The pressure to modify genitals is not a Western thing, and there is no pressure from Western men to have any modifications.

    Are you living under a rock or something?

    I think I may have – is there a lot of pressure on women, in America, to alter their genitals? I ask this sincerely and don’t mean to be dense or rhetorical.

    I’m aware of breast augmentation, liposuction, botox, lip/ass injections, etc – but I’ve just never come across the topic of genital mutilation/alteration.

  65. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 12:28 am |

    I mean to say, I haven’t come across the topic of adult women in America being pressured to have cosmetic genital surgeries.

  66. broken
    broken January 15, 2012 at 12:31 am |

    @Joe

    You are kidding right?

    I’ve encountered hundreds(Thousands if you were to including the internet) of western men who comment, criticize, discuss, analyze, and have preferences about the the appearance of labia.

    There are are huge number of western men who believe that the appearance of the labia is changed by how many partners (not how much sex) a woman had.

    Go on any porn streaming site or any model/actress database site and you will find long discussions on what type of labia is more attractive.

    In any group of men where sexual exploits are discussed, you will easily elicit opinions and something resembling a mythology about the appearance of labia.

    Hell when I was in high school, boys would openly talk about the appearance and their preferences.

    The plethora of slang terms for large labia should be proof enough of the existence of that pressure.

    Heck, look at playboy, atleast until a few years ago, the chances of a playmate of the month having large labia, was very very low.

  67. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein January 15, 2012 at 12:34 am |

    We’re talking about elective cosmetic breast implants, not reconstructive surgery or gender reassignment surgery. The author doesn’t explicitly stipulate that, but it’s implicit in her argument.

    She’s talking about the kinds of breast implants that confer no health benefits. Reconstructive surgery and gender transition are health benefits unto themselves.

    Defenders of FGM would argue, and maybe correctly, that FGM has psychological benefits in a culture where one’s genitals are not considered normal or socially acceptable unless they’re cut. We’re accustomed to thinking: That society has a warped view of what’s socially acceptable.

    Defenders of aesthetic plastic surgery argue that these procedures confer psychological benefits in an appearance-obsessed society where age discrimination is rampant. Maybe they do, for individuals. But we should also acknowledge that our society’s concept of what constitutes a socially acceptable body type is warped.

  68. igglanova
    igglanova January 15, 2012 at 12:56 am |

    I mean to say, I haven’t come across the topic of adult women in America being pressured to have cosmetic genital surgeries.

    I guess it must not exist, then? My condolences for your broken Google.

    As is often the case, the ‘pressure’ to alter one’s body is not as baldly stated as ‘Hey, girlfriend! This terrific surgery will fix your disgusting, broken adult secondary sex characteristics’ or whatever. Media representation of white, youthful, unusually slender, hairless, itty-bitty-be-labia’d women (here’s lookin’ at you, porno!) has reached such saturation that these women are not just looked upon as ‘ideal’ examples of female attractiveness. Said saturation creates a surreal little model Earth where women who happen to fit this narrow standard are the only women who exist. Creepily, this simulacrum eventually supplants reality for a lot of people. Thus, the massive overrepresentation of WYUSHIBBL women leads people to erroneously perceive this type of woman to be not only ideally beautiful, but ‘normal’ and average. (See also: the concept of ‘Hollywood Homely.’) And so the rate of various body modifications skyrockets – people who are completely within the realm of what is normal begin to see themselves as not only ‘not beautiful enough’, but so ugly that they are in need of a drastic fix.

    And oh, look, this helpful surgeon is conveniently close and available to help you fix your inherent brokenness!

    (For a fee.)

  69. igglanova
    igglanova January 15, 2012 at 1:06 am |

    So I’m not sure that this question should even be dignified with an answer, but:

    I’d just like to say that I admire your patience with this kind of ignorant hostility, DonnaL.

  70. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:22 am |

    I guess it must not exist, then? My condolences for your broken Google.

    I gave no indication that I thought it didn’t exist. In fact, if you read both my comments, you’ll see that I started out by admitting that my lack of familiarity with the matter was a problem on my part (by saying that I must have been living under a rock), and I went out of my way to qualify that I was asking on the topic sincerely, not rhetorically.

    Your comment towards me was entirely uncalled for. Yes, I’m fairly new to progressive politics – so there are a lot of issues I either haven’t seen or haven’t thoroughly explored.

  71. igglanova
    igglanova January 15, 2012 at 1:24 am |

    We can highlight parallels between two phenomena without saying that they’re exactly the same, or equally bad. Huge differences can coexist with valid parallels.

    Yes, this. Because I approach subjects like these with the acknowledgement that no choice is truly freely made, I do appreciate the provocative question posed by the original article, even if I don’t fully agree with it. As with any analogy, there are elements present in one item that are not in the other – I mean, that’s why it’s an analogy and not a pair of synonyms – but it is useful as a way of getting people to think more critically of procedures that are not just potentially harmful to individuals choosin’ their choice, but to girls and women generally.

    I also appreciate any acknowledgement that ‘barbaric’ practices are not the sole purview of scary exotic foreigners.

  72. shfree
    shfree January 15, 2012 at 1:35 am |

    I think I may have – is there a lot of pressure on women, in America, to alter their genitals? I ask this sincerely and don’t mean to be dense or rhetorical.

    I’m aware of breast augmentation, liposuction, botox, lip/ass injections, etc – but I’ve just never come across the topic of genital mutilation/alteration.

    Because I personally live under a rock I don’t get the pressure to alter my genitals, but I have heard of labiaplasty, and every time I read an article I skim it with my legs crossed. And I have read a number of articles about the increased surgery to achieve the “perfect” labia. So, I’m guessing you live under a bigger rock.

  73. igglanova
    igglanova January 15, 2012 at 1:35 am |

    Drew, it’s a common passive-aggressive tactic for people to say ‘well I’ve never heard of that‘ as a way of dismissing the severity or prevalence of a problem. Often, the translation is thus: ‘If this were a real problem I would have heard of it by now.’ It’s a way of maintaining plausible deniability. I may have simply run across too many tiresome trolls and disinterested mansplainers in my time here to see such statements with an unjaundiced eye.

    Anyway, I do enjoy a butthurt scolding from some random guy for doing feminism wrong. My failure to coddle is duly noted.

    P.S., you’re not the arbiter of what is and is not ‘called for’ in a feminist space, especially if you’re green enough to not know anything about friggin’ labiaplasty.

  74. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:42 am |

    Drew, it’s a common passive-aggressive tactic for people to say ‘well I’ve never heard of that‘ as a way of dismissing the severity or prevalence of a problem. Often, the translation is thus: ‘If this were a real problem I would have heard of it by now.’ It’s a way of maintaining plausible deniability. I may have simply run across too many tiresome trolls and disinterested mansplainers in my time here to see such statements with an unjaundiced eye.

    Understandably – which is why I qualified that I was asking sincerely and not trying to be rhetorical.

    Anyway, I do enjoy a butthurt scolding from some random guy for doing feminism wrong. My failure to coddle is duly noted.

    P.S., you’re not the arbiter of what is and is not ‘called for’ in a feminist space, especially if you’re green enough to not know anything about friggin’ labiaplasty.

    I’m sorry, then – you’re right, I’m in no position.

  75. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:45 am |

    Because I personally live under a rock I don’t get the pressure to alter my genitals, but I have heard of labiaplasty, and every time I read an article I skim it with my legs crossed. And I have read a number of articles about the increased surgery to achieve the “perfect” labia. So, I’m guessing you live under a bigger rock.

    I must. I’ve heard of the procedure before, but not in the context of it being a something a significant number of women consider getting.

  76. suspect class
    suspect class January 15, 2012 at 3:30 am |

    We’re talking about elective cosmetic breast implants, not reconstructive surgery or gender reassignment surgery. The author doesn’t explicitly stipulate that, but it’s implicit in her argument.

    When you write an article about what women do or do not do, you are not talking just about cis women unless you specifically talk about cis women. When you write an article about women, you are talking about cis and trans women.

    The author in the linked piece states “[Breast augmentation] carries no discernible health benefits and potentially has a negative impact on women’s sexual health, as well as a number of other potential serious health effects. As the panic in December 2011 has shown, it is, in fact, not entirely clear how great the chances for complications are. Moreover, breast augmentation surgery is carried out solely to satisfy stereotyped notions of what women could or should be: sexually available and attractive to men.”

    But, in fact, there are other reasons women have breast augmentation. As Donna L has stated, trans women’s choices around breast augmentation are not divorced from cultural pressures, but are also not without positive health effects. The author may have *meant* cis women, but then it is her error for only saying “women.”

  77. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 15, 2012 at 5:48 am |

    But, in fact, there are other reasons women have breast augmentation.

    I kind of disagree. The only reason transwomen would need or want BA in order to be read as women is because there’s a cultural idea that to be a woman, one must not be flat chested. How is a flat-chested ciswoman who wants larger breasts, so as to be perceived as more feminine, attractive, sexy, whatever, any different from a flat-chested transwoman with the exact same motivations? They’re both women, they’re both looking to do a ‘better’ job meeting the cultural beauty standard; the only difference is that it’s even harder for the transwoman to achieve.

    I really don’t think that someone being trans- means choices like getting BA are insulated from criticism as gender-norm-enforcing. I think it’s completely understandable, I’m not attacking individuals who choose to do it because we do live in a society where people who don’t look a certain way aren’t considered ‘real women,’ but I can’t think of a single motivation for getting BA that is patriarchy-reinforcing for ciswomen and yet makes perfect sense for transwomen.

  78. Hari B
    Hari B January 15, 2012 at 8:26 am |

    Interesting and lively discussion here…thanks all.

    I totally see how we need to remain mindful of the great differences btwn FGM and the body-modifications undertaken ‘voluntarily’ by Western Womyn–to avoid minimizing the very real and ongoing harm of FGM. Yes, I want to remain mindful of that; I also want to affirm my agreement that there is a real common thread underlying both practices. I won’t say ‘parallel’, because parallels are lines that never meet and I see interconnections at the core of these things.

    I agree with those who have already stated that womyn can make no clear choice when it comes to ‘cosmetic surgery’. We live in patriarchy; standards of beauty arise from patriarchal ideals of femininity–to fail to see that is simply a failure to see that. A choice to ‘cope’ as others have named it aptly, via surgical modification, is not the same as a truly free choice.

    That said, I do not judge individuals for their choices–ye gods, there is such a deep misogyny influencing us that we all need ways to cope! Yeah, for me, tv is my drug of choice from time to time. What I judge–and rage about, grieve over, and write/speak about–is the underlying misogyny that drives these choices. When confronted with a friend/client/family member with their words of self-hatred (on physical or other level), especially where body-modifications are concerned, I might or might not talk about misogyny and social pressure. I certainly do say what I can to support their self-love and acceptance as they ARE. And I do this even at times by affirming that a choice I would never make for *me*, is possibly the best choice for *her*–by affirming that only she knows her way, and by affirming my respect and full acceptance for her choices.

    In other words, to hate the underlying misogyny that drives the choices, does not automatically translate to judgements against the person making them. I might even have a moment of pity for someone who makes this choice–but only a passing moment because who the hell am I to know how a womyn’s powers might be manifest in the choice, or somehow further served?

    Yeah, someone would have to live under a rock not to know the continuous pressure upon womyn (and in some ways men, but with important differences) to conform to standards of beauty. As a small breasted womyn myself, whose body was once described condescendingly by a man (whom I only dated briefly for this very reason) as ‘just like a 12yr old boy’s body’, I learned 2 things very quickly: one is that unless I would go the route of surgery and/or padded bras (gah, never), I’d better learn to love my equipment as-is and 2. Men who love large breasts, hourglass figures, etc, tended to self-select out of my range of mate possibility–ok, great. But I know how extremely difficult it can be for a womyn to love herself as-is (if her body does not sufficiently conform or she simply cannot believe it already does, without surgery), I know also how difficult it can be to accept that one’s pool of possible mates might be quite shrunken by virtue of a womyn’s ownership of a non-conforming body. Given my personality, easy enough to think GOOD! The shallowest of men who are only attracted on the basis physical traits are unlikely to waste my time. I’ve seen how not-at-all easy that is for many womyn.

    In fact, I was able to pretty much dispense with *male pressure* to look different! And in fact, it’s been *womyn* who have put the greatest and most enduring pressure upon me to conform to beauty standards! (not to mention feminine behavior standards, another topic entirely). “oh but you’d look so GOOD with some makeup! The guys will really come flocking!” “Here, try on this (ridiculous, to me) outfit, it will make you look so HOT!” “Have you ever considered wearing, um, a PADDED BRA? Just sayin…” “If you’d only wear more dresses and heels….shave your legs….get a better hairstyle/dye job….blah blah blah…you’d get more dates/keep your man/blahblah” Just to give some fer instances that plagued me from early teens onward.

    For me, this is an important way in which FGM and western womyn’s ‘choices’ to body-modify for beauty conformity do intersect. It is womyn, even more than men (but founded of course upon a male definition of beauty) who attempt enforcement of role-slavery. And I believe that it arises from the same source: womyn’s understanding that being attractive to the ‘right men’ is necessary to give them value, to keep them fed and safe, to justify and satisfy their existence as womyn in patriarchy.

    In patriarchy, where womyn are NOT safe physically or psychologically no matter how hard we work for acceptance by men. Where we are NOT valuable as persons, and only marginally valuable (because we are so immenently disposable/interchangeable) through our best of efforts to comply. Where we are NOT justified for existing as womyn in our own right, and can never actually be satisfied as people while living according to male standards of beauty and feminine behavior.

    No, cosmetic surgery is NOT the same, not nearly so brutal or traumatizing as FGM even though there is both brutality and trauma involved in cosmetic surgery (which our bodies do experience even though we don’t consciously ‘feel it’ due to anesthesia). It is not nearly so unsafe for us as is FGM practiced in many areas, because of antiseptic med practice here. And in most cases, our surgeries do not damage our female pleasure, sex and childbirth the way FGM does. Pleasure of the breasts may indeed be reduced or ended by augmentation or reduction–but not necessarily; it may destroy or impede our ability to breastfeed, but not necessarily. We must be careful not to extend the relationship between these 2 things too far.

    And we help ourselves a lot, I think, to see the ways both phenomena are interconnected at the core. The core which is patriarchy, whose misogyny drives both manifestations with equal power, even if with far differing consequences for the womyn involved.

  79. Li
    Li January 15, 2012 at 8:49 am |

    In Australia it is illegal to show “explicit” sexual material in soft porn magazines, and the current classification regime considers visible labia minora to be “explicit”. The result is that it’s standard practice for soft porn mags to photoshop-trim their models’ labia minora so that they aren’t visible (though, to be fair, several editors have been vocal about the innate hypocrisy of that classification system). There aren’t just cultural values placed on women’s labia, there are state values.

  80. Li
    Li January 15, 2012 at 9:01 am |

    I kind of disagree. The only reason transwomen would need or want BA in order to be read as women is because there’s a cultural idea that to be a woman, one must not be flat chested. How is a flat-chested ciswoman who wants larger breasts, so as to be perceived as more feminine, attractive, sexy, whatever, any different from a flat-chested transwoman with the exact same motivations? They’re both women, they’re both looking to do a ‘better’ job meeting the cultural beauty standard; the only difference is that it’s even harder for the transwoman to achieve.

    This is bullshit. Trans* women can have a number of different relationships with their breasts/chests that cis women overwhelmingly don’t have; among others, body dysmorphia. Trans* women overwhelmingly understand that their decisions about their bodies occur amid a whole heap of sexist values, but that doesn’t erase the role of things like body dysmorphia in shaping their decisions.

    Most trans* women I know have interrogated the cultural values around their transition decisions far more than the cis women I know have interrogated the cultural values around the same surgeries. Treating trans* women as if they’re just ignorant of cultural values that surrounds women’s bodies (and these values are almost always implicitly cis centred) is 1. unsupported by any of my experiences with trans* women, and 2. deeply transmisogynistic.

  81. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 9:01 am |

    RE: Labiaplasty

    I have heard of it but the only place I have heard of pressure (from an entity other than the media’s preference for little to no visible labia in porn etc) of women to undergo labiplasty is in feminist spaces. I am not being dissimive of the real problem it just means that I haven’t experienced it. It can be a real problem without a lot of people hearing about or experiencing it; an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Obviously pressure to alter your genitalia for cosemtic reasons is wrong as all fuck.

  82. j.
    j. January 15, 2012 at 9:03 am |

    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).

    Oh, the irony of this quote on Feministe….

    I agree with Lindsay Beyerstein above that two phenomena such as BA and FGM can be alike, yet not alike. That said, the RHRC piece stinks of the worst of second-wave feminism, in how it hand-waves the issue of consent, ignores transgender issues entirely, and also seems ignorant of body mod culture (and how certain mods can actually enhance pleasure).

    Joe from an alternative universe: Uh, it’s called “societal context.” We live in a patriarchy, where body image pressures on women are much, much stronger than they are on men. Which, you know, is why one of those silly adult women who are beyond your dudely understanding “would “want to look like a 10 year old girl.”

    But thanks for reminding us to think of teh menz and to urge us not to question beauty standards. Also, for letting everybody on a feminist thread know what you, personally, find attractive, and dismissing any of us who have actually experienced shaming about our genitals — including from American men, whom you seem to think you speak for. Because all of these are more important than focusing on women’s rights. Fucking ignorant privileged git.

    Drew, do your homework before making grand pronouncements. You’ll piss people off less often that way.

  83. Holly
    Holly January 15, 2012 at 9:21 am |

    Hello, friendly neighborhood (but mostly moved out of the neighborhood) trans woman here. Guess what? Like millions of other trans women, I’ve performed some medical interventions on my body to affirm my own gender that:

    a) are not without impact on my overall health and sexual health;
    b) are impossible to make in some kind of theoretical, completely “liberated” way;
    c) definitely have connections, in my own mind, to the kinds of choices many cis women also make about their bodies

    I want to respond to something justamblingalong just wrote:

    I kind of disagree. The only reason transwomen would need or want BA in order to be read as women is because there’s a cultural idea that to be a woman, one must not be flat chested.

    This, in my experience and the experience of many other trans women I’ve discussed this with, is simply not true. There are other reasons. The two that spring most vividly to my mind have to do with first, our own relationships to our gendered bodies, even in the absence of cultural pressure, or anyone else at all, and second, what we do in bed sexually and romantically by ourselves or with others.

    But Holly, you might be thinking, there’s no such thing as “the absence of cultural pressure!” All decisions about breasts are inevitably culturally pressured decisions! Yes, but some of us have to make them anyway, and we have to do the best we can to make decisions for our own health and well-being in high-pressure situations. If you believe that a great political leader can navigate a hundred different pressures and interests, justified and otherwise, on her decision-making process and still arrive at a difficult decision that paramountly prioritizes the well-being of the people she leads, then hopefully you have some faith that some women can make difficult and pressured decisions about our own bodies.

    For me, this meant theoretical questions like “what if you were the last person on the planet, Holly? what if you lived in a future world with no gender? what would you want your body to look like?” Trying to think about some post-gender future is as difficult for us as fish trying to imagine living in the air, but it’s not impossible. We can try to subtract the mind-twisting pressures we live under all the time out of the equation. I’m sure not all women who make difficult and pressured decisions about their bodies engage in theoretical what-ifs like I do, but I really do believe that for me and so many other women, these are life and death decisions. I had to ask myself these questions or perish somehow, in the soul or in the body.

    So yes, you can decide that you want to have larger breasts (or any breasts at all) for yourself, inasmuch as it’s possible to make any decision whatsoever for yourself.

    How is a flat-chested ciswoman who wants larger breasts, so as to be perceived as more feminine, attractive, sexy, whatever, any different from a flat-chested transwoman with the exact same motivations?

    Well, the interesting question in this discussion is “are they any different?” I don’t think so. But “so as to be perceived as…” is not the only factor in either a cis woman’s decision-making or a trans woman’s decision making process. That’s almost insultingly over-reducing the question.

    For an example — my mother has had both of her breasts removed due to cancer. She chose not to have them replaced. I have another friend who lost one entire breast when she was a relatively young adult. She chose to have one synthetic breast made for her to match her other breast. (She doesn’t have large breasts, by the way, so it’s not exactly a lopsided balance issue.) These decisions could have gone either way for either woman; they are decisions that impact the gendered perception, the overall health, the sexual health of these women. And yet I don’t believe any of these are the top criteria for deciding.

    You could point out that my mother is quite a bit older than my friend was, and that this means different things for sexuality and gendered perception in society. I’d agree with you, but that difference is far from the only thing in the picture.

    I really don’t think that someone being trans- means choices like getting BA are insulated from criticism as gender-norm-enforcing. I think it’s completely understandable, I’m not attacking individuals who choose to do it because we do live in a society where people who don’t look a certain way aren’t considered ‘real women,’ but I can’t think of a single motivation for getting BA that is patriarchy-reinforcing for ciswomen and yet makes perfect sense for transwomen.

    I agree with this too — I just don’t think every motivation for BA is patriarchy-reinforcing, for cancer survivors, trans women, or cis women who haven’t lost one or both breasts to injury or cancer.

    You can argue that cancer survivors and trans women fall into a completely different, non-elective category where there are “clear health benefits” unlike what the linked article claimed about most BA. However, if you ask me the “clear health benefits” have to do with our own relationships to our bodies — privately, in the impossible chamber of our own solitude, sexually. These are not things I would imagine are totally absent from *any* BA decision.

    So I would prefer to just say “we must reduce gendered coercion on people’s bodies, especially women’s bodies.” This means

    a) doing our best to reduce social pressures that mandate certain kinds of “healthy bodies”;
    b) helping people have what they need emotionally, socially, economically and informationally to make their own decisions in the face of inescapable pressures;
    c) supporting the authenticity and importance of real choices, even when they fall short of some imagined goal of a “completely free choice

  84. Hari B
    Hari B January 15, 2012 at 9:32 am |

    btw–FGM takes on a wide variety of forms. I mention this because some commenters (tho surely not all) do not seem clear about this. It may be ‘as little’ as removal of clitoral hood and part of labia minora, only to reduce pleasure. This is believed to reduce female lust, and the possibility of adultery. Apparently, including together all nations where FGM is still in practice, on the whole about 80% of womyn receive this ‘lesser form’ of it.

    FGM may be as much as clitoridectomy with removal of most of vulva parts–such a terrible wound that the vaginal entrance is destroyed along with the external pleasure-parts. A straw must be inserted during healing of this wound, to leave a small hole that allows passage of blood and urine. Such womyn must be repeatedly battered by penile penetration attempts, in order for penetration to finally occur–the scarring must ripped open to a degree. Childbirth requires extensive cutting to sufficiently open the vagina to allow baby’s passage, and recontruction must be done. As I understand it, it is this radical FGM which leads so often to fistulas following birth (where not reconstructive surgery is available to poor womyn) that make womyn pariahs due to uncontrollable urine and sometimes fecal leakage that occurs with fistulas. Apparently, in certain nations, almost all the womyn receive this ‘greater form’ of FGM (but still only 15-20% on the whole when considering all FGM nations together. (note: obstetric fistulas often in occur for womyn who have not suffered FGM, but who have been subjected to extremely violent rape, as in Congo and the Sudan)

    Here is a wikipedia link. wikiped is not always the best source, no, but in this case the info definitely echoes what I have previously read in numerous books/articles on FGM.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation

  85. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 15, 2012 at 9:47 am |

    Are men allowed to ask questions of women in feminist spaces, or can they always expect to be rebuked, told they’re ignorant, sent to Google, or otherwise diminished?

  86. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 9:52 am |

    Trans* women can have a number of different relationships with their breasts/chests that cis women overwhelmingly don’t have; among others, body dysmorphia.

    But at the end of the day, trans or cis, there is a woman who feels compelled to alter her body to better fit someone else’s deifnition of what a woman should look like. I think that is what we call “common ground.”

    Trans* women overwhelmingly understand that their decisions about their bodies occur amid a whole heap of sexist values, but that doesn’t erase the role of things like body dysmorphia in shaping their decisions.

    You don’t think there are ciswomen who suffer from body dysmophia? That suffering from it, they turn to the most logical answer and change what they think is wrong withtheir bodies?

    Most trans* women I know have interrogated the cultural values around their transition decisions far more than the cis women I know have interrogated the cultural values around the same surgeries. Treating trans* women as if they’re just ignorant of cultural values that surrounds women’s bodies (and these values are almost always implicitly cis centred) is 1. unsupported by any of my experiences with trans* women, and 2. deeply transmisogynistic.

    I think dismissing any connection between the reasons why women as a whole, cis or trans would turn to breast augmentation is a bit misogynistic. Everyone’s experience is different, a cis woman can question the cultural values surrounding women’s bodies and still go for it. Maybe after being patronized her entire existence she denies it so that she feels like for once in her life she has control over her own body. Science can’t prove the thought process every woman has gone through in making a decision about her body. We either trust women to make these decisions and question the culture that influence them or we distrust women with their own bodies, treat them like children who don’t know any better and question the decisions they make about their own bodies.

    If we’re trusting women, we’re trusting ALL women.

  87. Dao
    Dao January 15, 2012 at 10:21 am |

    Your comment towards me was entirely uncalled for. Yes, I’m fairly new to progressive politics – so there are a lot of issues I either haven’t seen or haven’t thoroughly explored.

    Are men allowed to ask questions of women in feminist spaces, or can they always expect to be rebuked, told they’re ignorant, sent to Google, or otherwise diminished?

    From what I understand, this isn’t a Feminism 101 blog. If men want to get their questions answered might I suggest the following blog?

    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

    Men can educate themselves with some work on their part.

  88. Li
    Li January 15, 2012 at 10:31 am |

    Most trans* women I know have interrogated the cultural values around their transition decisions far more than the cis women I know have interrogated the cultural values around the same surgeries. Treating trans* women as if they’re just ignorant of cultural values that surrounds women’s bodies (and these values are almost always implicitly cis centred) is 1. unsupported by any of my experiences with trans* women, and 2. deeply transmisogynistic.

    I should clarify what I meant here: the cis women I know, who generally (though not exclusively) haven’t had breast augmentation surgery, haven’t had to interrogate the cultural values around them in the same way that the trans* women I know, some of whom have had BA and some of whom have not, but all of whom have experienced an *expectation* that they get BA. I didn’t mean to imply that cis women who have had BA don’t understand the environment in which they’ve made that decision, but to say that trans* women, by virtue of the multiple pressures they face surrounding their bodies and surgical interventions, tend to be really aware of the cultural values that surround their transition decisions. There’s an ongoing tendency, even within queer communities, for people to presume that trans* women haven’t thought about their transition decisions and they should just accept their bodies as-is because notions of what women look like are cultural.

  89. Li
    Li January 15, 2012 at 10:39 am |

    You don’t think there are ciswomen who suffer from body dysmophia? That suffering from it, they turn to the most logical answer and change what they think is wrong withtheir bodies?

    I think that trans* people’s experiences of dysmorphia can be really different from cis people’s experiences of dysmorphia.

  90. broken
    broken January 15, 2012 at 10:48 am |

    @BBBShrewHarpy

    As a man who has been moving about feminist spaces for a few years now, but is in no way comfortable speaking for all men allow me to answer your question as best I can from my very limited perspective.

    Yes, yes they can. I myself have asked some very stupid, very ignorant, and very googleable questions.

    I’m still here.

    After the third week, I learned to read comment threads and accept that the women posting had valid life experiences which shouldn’t be dismissed because “I hadn’t heard about”.

    I later went out and read books because I realized it wasn’t the job of the other readers to educate me about feminism. Instead I would occasionally ask “can anyone recommend a book/blog/article on this topic”.

    This is a feminist space and to an extent it’s supposed to be a safe space. I’ve always felt that cis men are free to read and comment.

    However this guy came in and basically said “I don’t see the problem so there isn’t one”. That isn’t a question that is an ignorant dismissal that attempts to diminish the experiences of every woman here and it could have been solved by a google search.

  91. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 15, 2012 at 10:50 am |

    From what I understand, this isn’t a Feminism 101 blog. If men want to get their questions answered might I suggest the following blog?

    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

    Men can educate themselves with some work on their part.

    So the answer to my question about men being welcome to ask questions here is “no, they are not”. Ok, but is it really necessary to be very rude when they transgress (without being offensive)? Perhaps either answering the question or sending them to the blog you linked above would be more constructive.

  92. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 15, 2012 at 11:18 am |

    @broken: I think our comments were in a race condition.

    I appreciate your perspective. The problem I see is that many people (not just men) arrive here because a particular post is linked in another blog, and end up whiling away enjoyable hours reading through the archives. This provides but a superficial entry to the world of feminist thought, but for many people (not just men) with 60+-hour work weeks and limited time to explore many of these topics, Google is not really a friend, and it doesn’t seem to me to be too much of an imposition to ask a question. If that question results in being sent to another blog, book, article, then fine. In your case, you survived the initial hazing and found value and interest in the literature that has been recommended to you, so no harm done. I still maintain that even if your initial questions were ignorant, responding aggressively is inappropriate unless you were diminishing someone’s experience, insulting women, or somehow causing offense. This is not because of a “for teh menz” impulse, but because of how such reactions (and how they affect people’s perceptions of feminists) have an impact on my experience as a woman living in the real world, and in a very reactionary, male-dominated part of that world. The phrase “Oh You’re not one of them feminists are you?” is not an infrequent part of exchanges in my life.

    I do apologize for hi-jacking this thread and derailing the very interesting discussion. I just felt that Drew (as opposed to Joe who did put forward a “I like all labia therefore this claim is bogus” argument) asked a reasonable question and was unjustly treated.

  93. Catherine
    Catherine January 15, 2012 at 11:19 am |

    So the answer to my question about men being welcome to ask questions here is “no, they are not”.

    @BBBShrewHarpy Yes, they are. However, it’s not helpful for men to ask really ‘feminism 101′ questions, which, as broken pointed out really well, is not helpful or necessary. This isn’t a feminism 101 space and some basic knowledge has to be assumed, otherwise every discussion we have will have to recap a bunch of things and it would all take forever and be very annoying.
    If, however, men are asking advanced feminist questions and properly engaging with the issues being discussed, utilising the same basic feminist theory that most frequent commenters on this space are aware of, then of course they are welcome. This isn’t a blog you just wander into and comment on with no prior knowledge. You do what I did and what I think most of the other commenters here did: you lurk, and listen, and learn, and challenge your assumptions and preconceptions, until you know enough to be able to contribute significantly to discussions. And to be honest, if you’re commenting before you’ve heard of labiaplasty, you haven’t lurked long enough. But that is a gender-free thing! It has nothing to do with your gender! Feminist and questioning men are as welcome as feminist and questioning women. Troll men are as unwelcome as troll women.

  94. broken
    broken January 15, 2012 at 11:41 am |

    @BBBShrewHarpy

    The problem is, unless Drew tends to pretend that he is other people, I think Drew is Joe, just using a different name.

  95. Dao
    Dao January 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

    So the answer to my question about men being welcome to ask questions here is “no, they are not”. Ok, but is it really necessary to be very rude when they transgress (without being offensive)? Perhaps either answering the question or sending them to the blog you linked above would be more constructive.

    You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said they’re not welcome, but that Feminism 101 questions do not belong on this blog. As Catherine said, you lurk and you learn before making sweeping statements about whether labiaplasty exists in the Western world.

    I didn’t find anyone here being offensive. I find the people responding to the Drews and Joes tired of having to educate people on 101 questions that they could easily read about on other blogs, or, even at this one.

  96. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm |

    @broken
    Oh, I see what you mean. I thought I had read this thread carefully but now I suspect you’re correct. I thought sock puppetry had died with the oughts or even the nineties. Ok, I’ll go back to lurking politely lest @Catherine dismiss me once and for all as a troll!

  97. Catherine
    Catherine January 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm |

    @BBBShrewHarpy Sorry, I didn’t at all mean to imply that either you or Drew were a troll!

  98. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

    I should clarify what I meant here: the cis women I know, who generally (though not exclusively) haven’t had breast augmentation surgery, haven’t had to interrogate the cultural values around them in the same way that the trans* women I know, some of whom have had BA and some of whom have not, but all of whom have experienced an *expectation* that they get BA. I didn’t mean to imply that cis women who have had BA don’t understand the environment in which they’ve made that decision, but to say that trans* women, by virtue of the multiple pressures they face surrounding their bodies and surgical interventions, tend to be really aware of the cultural values that surround their transition decisions. There’s an ongoing tendency, even within queer communities, for people to presume that trans* women haven’t thought about their transition decisions and they should just accept their bodies as-is because notions of what women look like are cultural.

    The thing is any woman who has what the people in her culutre and society generally perceive to be “masculne” physical traits is expected to either do something about it, be ignored or be belittled and misgendered. Chyna from WWE (formally WWF) was very oftentimes called a “man” or manly by many many people or thought to be trans* because of her perceived “masculine” physical traits. In fact when she did her spread in Playboy, many people argued it sold so many copies because no one believed that she had a vagina, they had to see it for themselves. The pressure to look a certain way (not be flatchested, have “soft” facial features, long eyelashes and hair, a curvier but mostly slender/petite figure etc etc) exists for just about anyone who calls herself a woman lest she be misgendered or ignored or belittled by society. It happens that many cis women fit the bill (there are CERTAINLY trans women who have naturally “feminine” physical traits and BA was the icing on the cake so to speak). Either way, I respect and understand the desire, as a woman for any woman- trans or cis to decide that BA is what she wants in order to feel more like the woman she envisions herself to be.

  99. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm |

    I think that trans* people’s experiences of dysmorphia can be really different from cis people’s experiences of dysmorphia.

    Li, I certainly agree with you here, especially given the fact that trans women so often experience violence at the hands of transmisogynists and the verbal and oftentimes physical beatings they endure for not meeting someone else’s expectation of what they , as women, should look like. I hope my rebuttal didn’t dismiss that part of it and if it did I apologize but I am aware of that tragic set of circumstances almost unique to trans women. I just pretty much wanted to go with the notion that women, trans and cis alike, who suffer from body dysmorphia (reasons and degree varies) and choose BA a

  100. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm |

    Drew, do your homework before making grand pronouncements. You’ll piss people off less often that way.

    I’m sorry but, what grand pronouncement did I make?

    I asked a question because I came upon a topic I hadn’t really considered before, and qualified that I was asking about it sincerely and not rhetorically. When someone responded under the assumption that I was asking rhetorically, I said I felt the comment was uncalled for.

  101. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm |

    Also BBB, there’s no rule against being rude here. A lot of commenters here are rude in ways that I think are very intelligent and entertaining. This is a political blog with vigorous debates, not a group therapy session. If a person is not prepared to sometimes be offended or get their feelings hurt, then I think this is probably not the website for them.

  102. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm |

    The problem is, unless Drew tends to pretend that he is other people, I think Drew is Joe, just using a different name.

    This is untrue.

  103. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm |

    Li, I had this nice long comment and it disappeared on me! >< My apologies. But in response to your other comment about this: I know that for trans women, not looking "feminine" enough can have very serious cosequences for her safety and well being- not just her mental health in dealing with body dysmorphia but her physical and sexual health due to the many assholes who attack trans women for whatever reason but definitely partyl because the way she looks doesn't fit their standards of what a woman should look like. I in no way meant to downplay that at all.

    I just honestly think that one can examine those cultural pressures regardless of whether or not she is cis or trans and decide to do something like BA mostly or partially for the benefit of herself anyway.

  104. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm |

    However this guy came in and basically said “I don’t see the problem so there isn’t one”. That isn’t a question that is an ignorant dismissal that attempts to diminish the experiences of every woman here and it could have been solved by a google search.

    If you’re referring to my question, I’m going to *again* point out that I explicitly stated that I was asking the question sincerely and not rhetorically.

    So, no, I wasn’t “basically saying” anything of the sort – you (and some others) falsely projected that message from me. And no matter how many times you make that blatantly untrue statement, it will never be true. Sorry, guy.

  105. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm |

    Drew: defensive much?

    Personally, I’d prefer this thread stay focused on breast augmentation and FGM, rather than on whether or not you are being unfairly attacked for being a greenhorn.

  106. Dao
    Dao January 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm |

    If you’re referring to my question, I’m going to *again* point out that I explicitly stated that I was asking the question sincerely and not rhetorically.

    It doesn’t matter if your question was sincere or not. This isn’t the place.

    As LotusBen said….let’s get back on topic.

  107. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm |

    Drew: defensive much?

    Yup. Tends to happen when someone asks an honest question and is responded to with “I know what your underlying message is, no matter how many times you state that it was not! I’ll tell you what you were saying!”

    Or repeatedly stating that I ‘don’t even know what labiaplasty is’, which is also untrue – I’ve known for years what labiaplasty is, I just didn’t know it was something many women considered getting.

    But, as Azalea said:

    I have heard of it but the only place I have heard of pressure (from an entity other than the media’s preference for little to no visible labia in porn etc) of women to undergo labiplasty is in feminist spaces.

  108. Drew
    Drew January 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm |

    Ok, I’ll stop responding in order to let the conversation get back on track. Apologies for the derail.

  109. Li
    Li January 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm |

    Li, I had this nice long comment and it disappeared on me! >< My apologies. But in response to your other comment about this: I know that for trans women, not looking "feminine" enough can have very serious cosequences for her safety and well being- not just her mental health in dealing with body dysmorphia but her physical and sexual health due to the many assholes who attack trans women for whatever reason but definitely partyl because the way she looks doesn't fit their standards of what a woman should look like. I in no way meant to downplay that at all.

    I just honestly think that one can examine those cultural pressures regardless of whether or not she is cis or trans and decide to do something like BA mostly or partially for the benefit of herself anyway.

    I agree. I just think it’s important not to elide the differences between trans* people’s experiences and cis people’s. And because there’s a segment of the feminist community that routinely argues that trans* people’s body dysmorphia (and, I recognise that not all trans* people experience dysmorphia) is purely socially produced and will be eliminated post-patriarchy and also because of stuff currently going on in my own community, I get a bit twitchy about comments that presume that trans* people’s experiences with surgeries in a transitional capacity are essentially the same as cis people’s experiences in a non-transitional capacity.

  110. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    I agree. I just think it’s important not to elide the differences between trans* people’s experiences and cis people’s. And because there’s a segment of the feminist community that routinely argues that trans* people’s body dysmorphia (and, I recognise that not all trans* people experience dysmorphia) is purely socially produced and will be eliminated post-patriarchy and also because of stuff currently going on in my own community, I get a bit twitchy about comments that presume that trans* people’s experiences with surgeries in a transitional capacity are essentially the same as cis people’s experiences in a non-transitional capacity.

    Definitely. My sister has is now obssessed with her lack of an abundance of breast because all of the other women in our family are very heavy chested. She has confided that she feels like a boy. Now let me explain, my sister’s favorite color is green, she hates pink, she’s an athlete, she wears dresses, she is a giggle box smart as she wants to be and although she is a very pretty girl she feels like a little boy because she doesn’t look like the rest of us in that one area. I think that is a very very personal deal, I can imagine for a lot of trans women it is simply that her own ideal of what her own body should look like, for whatever her own reasons are, dont match up and that is unique to her being trans. I wouldn’t say they are the same, just that as we both agree, there is common ground that should be respected. Any woman with body dysmorphia has enough going on than to add on it a bunch of allies telling her how unfeminist her way of addressing her body dysmophia is.

  111. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm |

    I just think it’s important not to elide the differences between trans* people’s experiences and cis people’s. And because there’s a segment of the feminist community that routinely argues that trans* people’s body dysmorphia (and, I recognise that not all trans* people experience dysmorphia) is purely socially produced and will be eliminated post-patriarchy and also because of stuff currently going on in my own community, I get a bit twitchy about comments that presume that trans* people’s experiences with surgeries in a transitional capacity are essentially the same as cis people’s experiences in a non-transitional capacity.

    Thank you so much for this, Li. I wish I had made this point more clearly in my comment giving my own thoughts about all this (# 62 above). I really don’t want to sound like I’m giving Azalea a hard time, because she’s very much speaking in good faith and is clearly an ally. It can be very frustrating, though, when well-meaning people who don’t belong to a particular marginalized group say things like (in words or substance) “what you’re saying sounds just like what non-[marginalized group] feels when . . . .” When they really would have no way of knowing. I’ve certainly seen that enough when white people try to draw direct analogies between their own experiences and those of people of color. I know it’s a way of trying to empathize and to make a connection, but it’s still, as I said, frustrating. In this respect, I can state from my own experience that it’s really not the same thing. The feelings of body dysphoria (which is what I’ve always called it rather than body dysmorphia; I’m not sure there’s really any difference) that I had before my medical transition began, when my body was still entirely coded “male” in appearance, were very, very different, in both degree and kind, from the feelings of “not measuring up to cultural standards” that I have now, with my body entirely coded “female” in appearance, based on my internalization of those cultural standards. (See my post above.) The feelings I have now are, I think, probably very much like those of any other woman, although there’s still most definitely an additional, residual insecurity (greater or lesser in degree depending on my state of mind) based on the fact of my trans history. The feelings I had before, prior to or early in the process of medical transition, were not really comparable at all. I wish I could explain the difference, but I’ve found it impossible to put it in understandable words to people who don’t have a trans history.

  112. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm |

    DonnaL that’s why I apologized I really did not intend to come off as saying they are “exactly” the same or to belittle the experience of any trans woman here. When I gave my example I was more so speaking of the fact that body dysmorphia (being the common ground) exist in both cis and trans women the reasons and the complexities involved on both ends are very different and vary by personal experience.

    Just in the grand scheme of things; if two women were planning BA- one being a flatchested cis woman and the other being a flatchested trans woman neither would be planning it had they grown the breasts they wanted for themselves. They both think surgery is the best option, a necessity even for their own mental health and positive body image. There is an entire whole host of other issues present that are unique to being trans and a whole host of other issues unique to being cis. I am just saying that it is as ok for either of them to have BA surgery and not be judged as conforming.

    I apologize again, if it seemed like I was trying to co-op your experience. I do know that there are ciswomen without body dysmoprhia that will get BA just because she can afford it or another reason that would not put her in that common ground. I have often griped around here myself about not being understood or having my own concerns belittled because I’m a WOC and I truly don’t want to do that to you or any other trans woman.

  113. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm |

    Plus, to all the self-identified feminist and/or queer people out there who “routinely argue[ ] that trans* people’s body dysmorphia (and, I recognise that not all trans* people experience dysmorphia) is purely socially produced and will be eliminated post-patriarchy” (thanks again, Li), I am so sick and tired of that kind of supreme arrogance, condescension, and cluelessness. Not that I haven’t said pretty much the same before, but you people have no fucking idea what the fuck you’re talking about — none — and I wish you’d all just shut the fuck up and mind your own business, and stay the fuck out of trans people’s lives.

    So much for my apparent reputation here for being patient (thanks, Igglanova). If I am, it’s never out of consideration for the sanctimonious [insert disparaging noun of choice] who ask all those hostile so-called questions. It’s because maybe there’s somebody out there reading who thinks about these issues in good faith and is maybe on the fence. After all, to the extent trans people are fighting a battle for general societal acceptance, on all fronts, there aren’t enough of us, and we don’t have remotely enough power (economic, electoral, or otherwise) to make much of a difference on our own. It would be like Liechtenstein vs. the former Soviet Union. So we need all the allies we can get, and if anything I ever say (whether here, or on Shakesville, or on the forum I belong to for parents of high school and college students, or in “real life” in the work I do through the LGBT Rights Commitee of the NYC Bar Association, and hope to do now that I’ve been elected to the board of directors of LeGal [the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York]) helps a single person out there to incline in that direction, I think it’s worthwhile, no matter how tiresome and frustrating it sometimes gets. Because I’m no saint by any means!

  114. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 15, 2012 at 4:12 pm |

    Donna, even though I’ve tried to educate myself on trans issues and consider myself an ally, I still know I’ve benefited a lot from your answers to people’s questions. I especially remember learning a lot from what you said on the thread about the Maine girl. Privilege is pretty blinding, and one can always stand to learn more about people’s experiences that differ from one’s own. And I’m sure there’s a lot of fence-sitting lurkers out there who read what you write and are educated, too.

    I also enjoy it when you tell people to fuck off. :-)

  115. kungfulola
    kungfulola January 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

    you people have no fucking idea what the fuck you’re talking about — none — and I wish you’d all just shut the fuck up and mind your own business, and stay the fuck out of trans people’s lives.

    As a cis woman feminist reading this thread, I want to thank you for writing this. I have plenty of strong opinions on mandatory beauty for women and performing femininity and negotiating gendered expectations, and sisterhood, etc. But, as is always true when talking about marginalized communities, the most important thing I can do when trans issues come up is to shut up and listen and believe trans women when they talk about what they need in order to be happy and whole. The act of listening and believing in good faith is MORE IMPORTANT than interrogating why they are saying this and what if society was hypothetically different. Fuck what cis women think trans women should want or need. No, seriously. Fuck that. Step one comes first, and step one is to just shut up.

  116. j.
    j. January 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    Why is there an assumption that someone with two misogynist slurs in his handle is engaging in good faith?

  117. Azalea
    Azalea January 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm |

    In fact, studies have found that Black women have actually have higher self esteem than white women. Azalea, I think me and you have discussed that on the blog before, and we pointed that there is some internal work inside Black communities and families for girls to find beauty in themselves and reject the white girl with blond hair and blue eyes ideal. Lord knows I’ve had this conversation with my youngest sister more than once.

    It doesn’t always work, but in recent years I’ve seen a lot more blogs and websites about black women expressing their femininity and finding beauty in blackness. It’s a nice thing to see.

    Hey MissS!

    Exactly! I’ve said before that if I let the media tell it I would never be considered beautiful! There is a natural hair trend going on now- I dont know if I said so on the blog before but I have naturally sandy brown hair that I would always dye black because I felt my hair color didnt match my skin (I’m what some people would call “beige or light brownskin). I’m a “thick” girl but I am borderline conceted about my size. It’s sexy to me even though the media would say a 10/12 is fat and fat is unattractive I dare to say I am both fat and attractive; face and body. I am not the only one to feel that way but I know of those who don’t.

    There are women who dont accept their bodies for reasons that go deeper than what society wants and there has to be a compassionate way to address that.

  118. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm |

    I kind of disagree. The only reason transwomen would need or want BA in order to be read as women is because there’s a cultural idea that to be a woman, one must not be flat chested.

    This, in my experience and the experience of many other trans women I’ve discussed this with, is simply not true. There are other reasons. The two that spring most vividly to my mind have to do with first, our own relationships to our gendered bodies, even in the absence of cultural pressure, or anyone else at all, and second, what we do in bed sexually and romantically by ourselves or with others.

    Holly- We’re not disagreeing. I didn’t say that “the only reason transwomen would want BA is to be read as a woman,” but rather “insofar as a transwomen is getting BA so as to be read as a woman, that necessity is the result of a cultural idea that ‘real women’ have breasts.” There’s a huge difference- I wasn’t denying that transpeople might have other motivations, such as body dysmorphia, to get BA, and I wouldn’t make that assertion because I’m cisgendered myself, and so I wouldn’t know what I was talking about if I did.

    The two that spring most vividly to my mind have to do with first, our own relationships to our gendered bodies, even in the absence of cultural pressure, or anyone else at all, and second, what we do in bed sexually and romantically by ourselves or with others

    Without arguing that transwomen’s experiences of gendered bodies and ciswomen’s experiences thereof are the same- because, as Donna said, they’re not- I’d add that both motivations are conceivable for ciswomen.

    My only claim here is that there are non-patriarchy reinforcing reasons to get BA, and the reason I’m bringing trans-issues into the conversation is in response to people who seemed to think if a ciswomen got BA it was necessarily the result of misogyny, and if a transwomen got BA, it necessarily wasn’t. My argument is that some (not all!) of the non-misogynistic reasons that a transwoman could get BA also apply to ciswomen, ergo not all cis-BA is an evil patriarchal practice.

  119. Catherine
    Catherine January 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

    @j.

    my experience as a woman living in the real world

    Comment 94.

    BBBShrewHarpy is female. Can’t she be reclaiming those slurs? Or being ironic?

  120. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm |

    BBBShrewHarpy is female. Can’t she be reclaiming those slurs? Or being ironic?

    Considering that one of the largest feminist magazines out there is called “Bitch,” one would think.

  121. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm |

    Yes, I’m a woman, but I stole my handle from a man.

    “No one was going to call me a ball busting bitch, shrew or harpy.”

    - proflikesubstance, in his blog, reproaching himself for not doing more to call someone out on sexist asshattery.

  122. Drew
    Drew January 16, 2012 at 2:31 am |

    I would also like to thank DonnaL for her contributions to the thread.

  123. Natalia
    Natalia January 16, 2012 at 6:28 am |

    Not that I haven’t said pretty much the same before, but you people have no fucking idea what the fuck you’re talking about — none — and I wish you’d all just shut the fuck up and mind your own business, and stay the fuck out of trans people’s lives.

    Agreed.

  124. Kaz
    Kaz January 16, 2012 at 8:07 am |

    On that whole trans* thing…

    This gets a bit frustrating for me because: on the one hand, I think it is very wrong to assume trans* people’s experience is akin to cis people’s, or that cis people can generalise their own experience with bodily issues to trans* people, because there are some real differences there that are just… not comparable. For instance: danger and effects of being misgendered for cis people vs for trans* people, I really don’t think that’s comparable. And if anyone starts talking about how trans* people shouldn’t have surgery because it’s all social anyway! and patriarchy! and whatnot, I cosign everything DonnaL said. (Thanks!)

    On the other hand, I find a lot of people jump to the other extreme – that trans* people’s experience is so different from cis people’s that the sort of argument above re: BA and voluntary genital alterations being bad cannot possibly have a negative impact on trans* people. That we can even say things like “X surgery is ALWAYS because of buying into social stuff and NEVER a good thing” without this affecting questions of trans* surgery at all – even for those people who don’t know they’re trans* or are only figuring it out, or those for whom the line between “body issues because of social stuff” and “body issues because of dysphoria” is not clear-cut. And I think that’s also wrong, both because of my personal experience and because I’ve spoken to enough other trans* people for whom this is a very murky situation.

    I guess for me the bottom line is: trans* people are still part of society and are still affected by attitudes about bodily alteration, and when we talk about this sort of stuff we have to take that into account without assuming trans* people’s issues are essentially equivalent to cis people’s.

    (Not quite as obvious in this thread but very noticeable in a previous one about labiaplasty, a lot of people are also prone to binarism in this sort of discussion – that the only trans* people who exist are trans women and trans men and that this means there are only very specific surgeries trans* people might need. For instance, the idea that nobody could ever want their clitoris removed because of bodily dysmorphia on account of being trans* seems to be an undercurrent in this thread, whereas this is actually the first place my mind went when I thought about consenting adults having that sort of surgery; I’m sort-of-neutrois and know a lot of other people who have “why is there ANYTHING there” issues to do with their genitals.)

  125. Hari B
    Hari B January 16, 2012 at 11:45 am |

    So…. I guess folks are pretty much done with discussing whether or not a legitimate parallel or intersection can be drawn between FGM and BA/other female-body-altering? Just wondering, since the last 30% of the posts have been about specifically trans issues…not arguing against the importance of those issues in general, and as some part of a discussion about FGM and BA/etc. Only pointing out that the discussion has changed focus pretty entirely. Any other comments on the original topic?

  126. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

    I think the discussion on the original topic stalled because the term FGM could be interpreted in different ways, with the interpretation determining how closely the procedure could be compared with BA. I think several posters could conceive of women voluntarily undergoing FGM such as labiaplasty, piercings, clitoral hood removal and there was some discussion as to the motivation for these surgeries and whether they were truly voluntary or resulted from societal pressures (particularly labiaplasty). In that sense, the parallels with BA are (to me) clear. It seems to me that the subject of the original article was the type of FGM usually imposed on young girls without their consent (removal of clitoris, labia, sewing up), and that it is difficult for us here to conceive of undergoing this type of operation voluntarily, making it problematic to compare with BA.

  127. BBBShrewHarpy
    BBBShrewHarpy January 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

    Sorry for double post… I didn’t complete my thought.

    What the author of the newspaper article appeared to be proposing was that BA in Western society was not too different from the type of FGM practiced, for example, in Sudan… if one could conceive of such FGM being undertaken consensually and in a safe and hygienic medical environment.

    What we ended up discussing was whether the type of FGM we practice “here” (where here != Sudan, perhaps the US) is like BA and whether it is truly voluntary.

    So at some point we shifted the emphasis from a discussion of whether BA was like FGM to whether voluntary FGM was like BA.

  128. Azalea
    Azalea January 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

    Any other comments on the original topic?

    Hari,

    I am one of the people that believe there is a paralell between the two only when consent is valid and present. My largest concern for FGM is that it , like male circumcision is violently and painfully forced upon non-consenting infants, babies or small children who have no way of understanding what is happening or changing it when they get older. Although I doubt anyone here believes pharonic FGM is ever consentual (the least likeliest to occur in the world but the most extreme and damaging) the one that occurs most often is typically limited to removal of the clitoral hood only, occurs in a safe medical environment and there are many girls who, like many circumcized guys who proclaim satisfaction with having been circumcized. A lot of the time it boils down to a desire to look a certain way. On the other hand- most BA are “elective” in that there is no physical medical reason to have it done, it isn’t addressing a deformity or disfigurement it is addressing one’s desire to look a certain way. If someone has decided that yes, I want to look different than the way I naturally look and use surgery to do so, if they are consenting to said surgery and understand what the surgery entails who are we to condemn them or that surgery? You can’t without making the statement that you know what’s best for someone else’s body and body image than they and/or their doctor does.

    I think everyone has agreed that the way to address this is to question the culture that promotes the idea of what anyone’s body or body parts *should* look like. I’m on board with that.

  129. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm |

    An Atlantic article highlighting the role that gynecologists themselves play in creating the demand for labiaplasty — to put it simply, procedures like that are an easy way to make money:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/perverse-incentives/8489/

    This is the first paragraph:

    Though the recession has blunted overall demand for cosmetic surgeries, one subcategory appears to be entering a growth phase, at least judging from the fifth annual Congress on Aesthetic Vaginal Surgery, held late last year in a luxury resort outside Tucson. There, about 60 doctors, most of them OB-GYNs, converged to discuss the expanding field of “cosmetic-gyn”—elective surgeries for women seeking to “rejuvenate” and/or “beautify” their vaginas. Attendance at the conference has been increasing by about 20 percent each year—one doctor there explained that his services are in such demand, he has multiple operating rooms so he can move quickly from one surgery to the next—and last year a competing conference was held at the Venetian in Las Vegas.

    To the extent this sort of thing falls within the definition of FGM, I think it’s entirely legitimate to analogize it to breast augmentation surgery, and question the growing cultural pressures that have given rise to it.

  130. daniel
    daniel January 16, 2012 at 9:50 pm |

    You may be able to find paralels but the two are not really comparable imo. Breast augmentation does not cause permanent physical harm (in most cases), it is not designed as a means of oppression, it is not designed to cause permanent physical harm, physical disability, and suffering.

    Female genital mutilation causes irreperable and permanent disability. Breast augmentation is simply cosmetic, and is usually reversable.
    The two cannot be compared. You insult the sufferers of FGM by even suggesting the notion.

  131. Butch Cassidyke
    Butch Cassidyke January 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |

    @Kaz:

    On the other hand, I find a lot of people jump to the other extreme – that trans* people’s experience is so different from cis people’s that the sort of argument above re: BA and voluntary genital alterations being bad cannot possibly have a negative impact on trans* people.

    What I also find problematic is that it put, like, two completely separate groups based on experience (trans or cis) whereas I have the impression that it’s not that clear-cut : yes, globally there are different issues for trans people, but it’s not like, homogeneous. And I feel that saying “well, this surgery is bad, but for trans people it’s different and it’s good” is a bit condescending, like poor little things whose life is too difficult so let’s not add this to their burden.

    Plus, well, it puzzles me that it seems to be feministly bad for a woman to get breast implants in order to look more “sexy” (i mean, according to shitty society standards) but to be feministly good for a woman to get breast implants in order to look more cis.

  132. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 17, 2012 at 12:06 am |

    Plus, well, it puzzles me that it seems to be feministly bad for a woman to get breast implants in order to look more “sexy” (i mean, according to shitty society standards) but to be feministly good for a woman to get breast implants in order to look more cis.

    And here I was trying to get away from the focus on “specifically trans issues” that Hari was pointing out (not that I or any other trans person were responsible for that focus to begin with) by posting a link to an article about cosmetic surgeons pushing labiaplasty, and now we’re right back to the trans.

    This sounds to me suspiciously like just another way of saying that trans women should stay with the bodies they start out with. You know, the very same bodies that are very often a major cause of their dysphoria in the first place. And describing their motive as “look[ing] more cis” sounds like just another way of saying that trans women are pretending to be something they aren’t. Other than that, I have no interest in repeating anything that I and others said earlier in the thread (e.g., comments 62, 82, 85, 90, 111, 113, and 126 — clearly a disproportionate number unduly dominating the discourse), which I think explain in great detail that no, trans women aren’t immune to internalizing the same cultural standards as any other woman, but, yes, there are very definitely other factors involved as well.

    And if you’re suggesting that trans women could use some good old non-condescending “tough love” and honesty with respect to the facts and feminist implications of breast augmentation, because otherwise we’re being babied, well, I assure you that being excessively catered to is not a problem most trans women have. Nor is a failure to think through the implications of what they do.

  133. Butch Cassidyke
    Butch Cassidyke January 17, 2012 at 4:21 am |

    DonnaL: I’m not saying people (trans or not) should not modify their body, at all (wouldn’t be very well placed for that), personally I’m more thinking “people do what they need or what they want”. But I am questioning the difference of treatment concerning women who are “outside of the cis femaleness norm” (not only trans women, I have the impression it also seems to be “ok” to have breast implant if you are a “flat-chested” cis woman) for whom it would be relatively “normal” to have BA, and women who are relatively inside this norm, for whom it’s “social pressure”, because it seems that by doing so we are only challenging the pressure to look like photoshopped supermodels and ignoring the pressure there is also to be in acceptable range values of “real-life ‘normal’ cis women”.

  134. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 17, 2012 at 6:21 am |

    To the extent this sort of thing falls within the definition of FGM, I think it’s entirely legitimate to analogize it to breast augmentation surgery, and question the growing cultural pressures that have given rise to it.

    It’s not FGM. I don’t fucking care what word games you want to play, adults choosing to have a labiaplasty- even in the context of social pressure- and eight-year-olds having their clitoris sawed off between two rocks is not the same thing. Would the people who are posting things like “leaving the issue of consent aside, they seem similar” say the same thing about consensual sex- which takes place in culturally influnced ways- and rape? Consent is a big fucking deal.

    We can talk about why labiaplasties are bad. We can talk about how messed up our culture is for even considering such a thing normal, let alone considering certain types of vagina normative. But we must do it without making facile, insulting, and misogynistic comparisons to FGM.

  135. Hari B
    Hari B January 17, 2012 at 6:55 am |

    Whether cis, trans, or a mastectomy survivor, for me it still boils down to pressure on womyn to conform to a maculine and inherently womyn-oppressing cultural pressure. Hell, even womyn with a pretty ‘normal-sized’ (per cultural norms, that is) set of breasts go for augmentation, this is not reserved to flat chested womyn. That ‘masculine imperative’ is seen in 2 things: that womyn are willing to risk loss of some/all erotic sensation in their breasts, along with a challenge to future breastfeeding, for the sake of appearance. And appearance itself is the other thing: because it seems that men, significantly more than womyn in general, ‘get off’ on appearance. Womyn, whether cis, trans, or cancer survivor, want to be seen as ‘very sexy’ by those for whom appearance is important in terms of measuring sexiness.

    I add that womyn can be also attached to appearance, but less so in general–and in often different terms. Terms that don’t require surgery!

    And even apart from risk of loss of sensation and function (which I would not risk! my breasts are highly sensitive and wonderful producers of milk for my babies– no way I’d risk losing any of that), there is the risk of surgery itself. In the best of medical conditions, in this era there is an increasing risk of infections that cannot be stopped–for reasons relating to the medical setting itself, with the longterm and necessary routine use of powerful antibiotics and antiseptics, we now have more antibiotic-resistant super bugs emerging all the time. People still die, or lose some functioning, from reactions to anesthesia as well as medical error in administering anesthesia and oxygen. Surgical errors can be made. Previously unknown allergies can arise suddenly and lethally (anaphylactic shock–more likely w/repeat exposure but possible with first exposure).

    So in a real way, womyn of any group submitting themselves to BA (or lipo, or facial surgery…) are literally risking their lives for…what? To look right to men. And for me, this very much relates to FGM because not only the issue of ‘looking right in the right places’, but because at base it’s all about masculine control of womyn–our fitting ourselves, *at whatever risk*, into an ideal that does not have anything at all to do with us. Not with our reality, our wishes and needs, our health and sexual pleasure. This pressure goes far deeper than appearances, being both a symptom of a problem and an act that only deepens the symptoms for womyn.

    2 things in my experience have influenced my view on all this. One was that some 25yrs ago, I met a trio that ‘looked like’ 1 man, 2 womyn in a group marriage. They told me that they were in fact all womyn, and we had lots of interesting discussions about this. Main point here is that the MAAB-womyn, when I asked him about going chem/surg route, basically snorted in derision. And said that she needed nothing but her own awareness of being a womyn, to be a womyn (all 3 said too, that his physical form made it easier for them to have kids–a handy byproduct for them). Which is not to say that all trans people *should* do this or that–these are highly personal choices. Point is, she helped me see a broader view of trans issues…she refused to risk her health only to look more like a womyn (her words, not mine), and just didn’t see her body as being all that important. Just saying–there is not necessarily more logic in trans BAs, and not more social pressure than for cis-womyn. Different kind of pressure, for sure–yet it springs, IMO, from the same misogynist source.

    The other thing to impress me has been working with Amish people, who all dress alike and are otherwise extremely focussed on valuing themselves and each other from the heart, from a spiritual standpoint. Quite anti-vanity, in physical or any other manifestation. Not recommending their life to anyone…but I will say that it is so mindblowing to see how little appearances do matter to them. I’m used to it now, and find my time in their company quite the haven when it comes to social pressures regarding appearances (there, it’s normal that no one wears makeup or heels, or shaves, or wears ‘sexy’ clothing–I fit right in for once). But in the beginning, I was quite amazed to see how at times, very plain looking womyn, flat chested, womyn of size, or otherwise ‘lacking’ in the our norms for beauty and sex appeal, might be married to a handsome man–and vice versa. I won’t say appearance means nothing–the Amish are still people after all. Yet there is a real and daily-practiced norm of loving each other as people–not as ornaments that are somehow a reflection of our own status.

  136. Hari B
    Hari B January 17, 2012 at 7:01 am |

    oops, forgive my lapse of appropriate pronoun for the MAAB-womyn, above. I don’t usually have this problem, in transwomyn who present physically and otherwise in ‘female norm’…she went ahead and stuck with androgynous but still more ‘masculine norm’ appearance, so during our acquaintance I did trip at times on the pronouns!

  137. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 17, 2012 at 8:06 am |

    Oh, so they’re comparable if you take out all the things that make them completely different. I see.

  138. Hari B
    Hari B January 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm |

    In my opinion, consent is not real in either case–we are not talking about surgeries that were womyn’s idea, or suit womyn’s needs or our notions of what ‘looks right’. What I have seen in real life, where it comes to female altering surgery and other medical alterations of female body and experiencing–which includes ‘elective cesarian’ and ‘epidural’ –is that consent is not true consent because womyn are NOT TOLD ALL THE REAL RISKS of these interventions/modifications. Nor are they fully informed about the REAL BENEFITS, in terms of both longterm health and daily experiencing of one’s body, of leaving things be (the appearance of our bodies, the experience of birth).

    As a midwife I have met countless womyn who thought they were ‘consenting’ to med-tech birth stuff–only to find out the hard way that they really didn’t know jack about what they were getting into. I can’t say for sure, but knowing med practice as well as I do (not only via procreation matters), I doubt womyn are given true, full information about either the risks of body-altering surgeries or the real benefits of foregoing them. And without full knowledge of the risks (immediate med/surg risks along with longterm risks), without also fully knowlege of the benefits of leaving stuff be, there simply is no true consent.

    But like I said–2 things: in my opinion (and only in my opinion), because these body modifications arise from patriarchal dominance over womyn, I see coercion in their very existence. I see misogyny and oppression in equal measure (only more ‘kindly and gently expressed’ in things like BA compared to FGM). The greatest victory for patriarchy…the best way for men to retain their dominance in culture…is for womyn to start thinking all this shit is their OWN idea, that they WANT it, CONSENT to it! JMO.

    Otherwise, like I also said repeatedly: I don’t say they are exactly alike, FGM and BA/etc. I said they have important intersections. And a common foundation. Yes, while they still have important differences….although if not evident yet, I don’t think those differences are as big as some like to think. Yes, it’s very different, having proper medical care for surgery vs someone taking a dirty knife to your girlie bits. But both spring from the same place. Both are patriarchal gender-enforcement at the core.

  139. flightless
    flightless January 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |

    I do think nonconsensual surgery on children is wildly different from consensual surgery on adults. I’m anti-capitalist enough, though, to worry about the situation of sex workers who choose breast and/or genital surgery in order to succeed financially. And class issues can also make the procedures far more hazardous. (Apparently experimental, very dangerous silicone-injection BA was done on Japanese sex workers seeking to appeal to the tastes of American soldiers during WWII. Levels of consent in “wage slave” situations are not always that great.)

  140. j.
    j. January 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm |

    Shorter Hari B.: “Womyn” are just pawns of the patriarchy, and she sees no good reason that their decisions about their own bodies, such as, I dunno, body modification, should be respected.

    In fact, I strongly suspect any outfit that includes shoes other than Birkenstocks or hiking boots would be rejected by Hari as “patriarchal.”

    Tl;dr: Thanks for confirming my suspicion of anyone who uses “womyn” these days.

  141. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm |

    So in a real way, womyn of any group submitting themselves to BA (or lipo, or facial surgery…) are literally risking their lives for…what? To look right to men.

    Yeah, it’s really convenient how women would never be attracted other women, or try to look a certain way for them, right? Thank god none of these hypothetical people (let’s call them homosexuals, from the Greek) would ever prefer bigger breasts. It’s so nice and tidy that there aren’t any people like that, because then we’d have to try to write in a way which didn’t erase there experiences!

  142. j.
    j. January 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm |

    Catherine and Justamblingalong: Someone with two misogynist slurs in their handle who plays “What About Teh Menz?” on a feminist blog is not going to get the benefit of the doubt from me.

  143. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm |

    So in a real way, womyn of any group submitting themselves to BA (or lipo, or facial surgery…) are literally risking their lives for…what? To look right to men.

    Yeah, it’s really convenient how women would never be attracted other women, or try to look a certain way for them, right? Thank god none of these hypothetical people (let’s call them homosexuals, from the Greek) would ever prefer bigger breasts. It’s so nice and tidy that there aren’t any people like that, because then we’d have to try to write in a way which didn’t erase their experiences!

  144. Donna L
    Donna L January 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm |

    some 25yrs ago, I met a trio that ‘looked like’ 1 man, 2 womyn in a group marriage. They told me that they were in fact all womyn, and we had lots of interesting discussions about this. Main point here is that the MAAB-womyn, when I asked him about going chem/surg route, basically snorted in derision. And said that she needed nothing but her own awareness of being a womyn, to be a womyn (all 3 said too, that his physical form made it easier for them to have kids–a handy byproduct for them). Which is not to say that all trans people *should* do this or that–these are highly personal choices. Point is, she helped me see a broader view of trans issues…she refused to risk her health only to look more like a womyn (her words, not mine), and just didn’t see her body as being all that important. Just saying–there is not necessarily more logic in trans BAs, and not more social pressure than for cis-womyn. Different kind of pressure, for sure–yet it springs, IMO, from the same misogynist source.

    I can’t even begin to explain how offensive, dismissive, and fundamentally disheartening it is — notwithstanding your little “which is not to say that all trans people *should* do this or that” caveat — for you to dredge up and tell us about the opinions of one derisively snorting trans person 25 years ago, who obviously suffered from neither social nor body dysphoria, that “her own awareness of being a womyn” was enough for her (well, good for her!), and suggesting that anything about this story is even remotely relevant to anything that’s been discussed in this thread by or about trans women.

    It doesn’t even seem like you’ve read a single word anyone’s said. For someone who waxes so poetic about how sensitive and wonderful your own breasts are, it’s truly remarkable that you would presume to suggest that a trans woman who doesn’t have breasts and needs BA in order to have them, only wants breasts because of patriarchy, and to look “very sexy” to men, and bodies aren’t important, blah blah blah. Personally, “being sexy to men” is and always has been the least of my concerns. Good God. Is that the only reason you like having a female-coded body and or being perceived as female? If appearance and bodies are so unimportant, would you be perfectly content to wake up in a completely male-appearing body tomorrow? If not, then please stop pontificating about trans women.

    Or, to sum up in a few words: I give up. Seriously. I’m wasting my time.

    In other words, I just

  145. Kaz
    Kaz January 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm |

    Yeah, uh, cosigning DonnaL here. We really, really do not need “but my trans friend says…” let alone “but this one trans person I knew briefly 25 years ago [SERIOUSLY?!] said…”, especially when it’s ignoring everything the trans*-identified people in this very thread have said.

    Also… I admit it made me uncomfortable that people have said “can we stop talking about trans* stuff?” because I think that talking about bodily modification and ignoring trans* people is kind of a bad idea and happens too much already – which I sort of tried to get at in my last comment. Is going “er, can we consider the fact that trans women might need this surgery?” when someone is pontificating about how breast augmentation is Bad because Patriarchy seriously considered a derail?

  146. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm |

    Yeah, I don’t get this obsession that so many cis people seem to have with using trans people’s experiences as evidence to make some broader point about all women or all surgery or all life or whatever. Also, if you really feel the need to use trans people’s lives as vindication for whatever theory you’re promoting, at least use actual credible factual evidence relating to their lives, not irrelevant anecdotes or offhand speculations. I don’t think any of us would appreciate people using our core identity as a handy, disposable pawn in the service of their internet jibber-jabber. I know I wouldn’t, and from what I can observe most trans people don’t seem to appreciate it either.

  147. Hari B
    Hari B January 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm |

    Yeah, totally ‘because patriarchy’. Whether you’re gay or straight or trans…because that’s what lives in our heads and runs our lives, from birth, unless you work hard get it out of there and make some different choices. All that dysmorphia, dysphoria, and a whole lot of other really awful human dis-ease arises because patriarchy.

    And yeah, WOMYN. Womyn–wimmin–womon–womb-one–because patriarchy, and because the language of patriarchy still needs deconstructing. Of course, if any ‘feminist’ wants to call herself ‘of man’ (woman), or in all kinds of other ways identify herself in male terms of living, appearing, performing, working, sexing, whatever, feel free.

    But if taking a jab at ‘womyn’…and making sneering references to Birkenstocks…if that’s all ya got people, sheesh. I am not impressed. Is this the New Feminism? We get middle-school- snotty with people who are just TOO UNHIP?

  148. Hari B
    Hari B January 17, 2012 at 9:17 pm |

    We’ve come a long way, baby, eh?

  149. Donna L
    Donna L January 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm |

    Japanese sex workers seeking to appeal to the tastes of American soldiers during WWII.

    During the was sounds rather unlikely — maybe after?

    I’m sure you’re aware that silicone injection — “pumping” — still goes on, particularly in marginalized communities (like some trans women); there are horrendous long term effects.

  150. Donna L
    Donna L January 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm |

    All that dysmorphia, dysphoria, and a whole lot of other really awful human dis-ease arises because patriarchy.

    You really don’t get a damn thing about trans people, do you? You’re too wrapped up in your theories to pay attention. God forbid you should have read a single word any trans person has said in this comment thread, or anywhere else ever (at least in the last 25 years). It’s so typically arrogant, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

  151. igglanova
    igglanova January 17, 2012 at 9:58 pm |

    Fuck, people. This is what happens when you are too attached to your feminist theory to consider revising it in the face of pesky, contrarian facts. Dysphoria is not caused solely by patriarchy, although patriarchy certainly exacerbates it, just like it seems to enjoy enhancing all sundry of other miseries. Why don’t you all try reading a fucking biology book every once in a while? Psychology, human development, zuh? It might give you some insight into how human brains and bodies actually work, rather than simply confirming whatever armchair intellectual model you’d prefer to believe.

  152. Drew
    Drew January 17, 2012 at 10:10 pm |

    Or, to sum up in a few words: I give up. Seriously. I’m wasting my time.

    In other words, I just

    I lol’d. Thank you, Donna.

  153. EG
    EG January 17, 2012 at 10:13 pm |

    And yeah, WOMYN. Womyn–wimmin–womon–womb-one–because patriarchy, and because the language of patriarchy still needs deconstructing. Of course, if any ‘feminist’ wants to call herself ‘of man’ (woman), or in all kinds of other ways identify herself in male terms of living, appearing, performing, working, sexing, whatever, feel free.

    I realize that incorrect etymology is the least of anybody’s problems here, particularly with what Hari’s been saying about trans people, but because I am a big geek who does care about etymology, and because all the other more significant problems have been addressed by more able commenters…

    “Woman” does not mean “of man.” That is either nonsense or bullshit, depending on whether it’s being promulgated knowingly or by somebody who is just ignorant. “Man,” in the early middle ages meant “human being,” more or less, like the Latin “homo, hominis” (except that “homo, hominis,” while referring to a gender-neutral person, is a masculine noun, and so takes the masculine form of adjectives, which is an interesting but irrelevant issue). “Adult male human being” was designated by the word “werman,” probably with the “wer” prefix being related to the Latin “Vir, viri,” meaning “adult male human,” and from where we get our word “virile,” literally, “manly.” “Adult female human being” was “wyfman,” with the prefix “wyf” meaning “female” (I don’t know what the etymology there is; I don’t think it’s related to any Latin), as in “midwife,” literally, “with woman,” and from where we get, well, “wife.”

    During the middle…middle ages, the elision between “werman” and “man” that resulted in “man” meaning “male human being” took place, and over the years the first syllable of “wyfman” was slurred into “wo,” giving us the “man” and “woman” we have today. But it is “woman” that is truer to the original etymology. “Of man” has nothing to do with it.

    I’ve always found the claim that misspelling words is somehow a feminist step forward to be absurd. First of all, one could just as easily make the argument that calling a man “man” and calling a woman “woman” implies that men are incomplete women, because we, linguistically, contain all of them and then some, whereas they don’t contain all of us. It would be no less–and no more–reasonable. Second of all, I don’t give a shit whether men call me “great goddess” or “that bitch,” as long as they stop using their material power to prevent us living good, full lives. I mean, oh good, now we’re “womyn,” or “wimmen” or whatever nonsense else. First of all, since you’re pronouncing the word in precisely the same way, what’s the difference, and second of all, am I still making 80 cents to every dollar a dude makes? Are my reproductive rights still under attack? Do I still have to worry about sexual violence? Oh, I do? OK, well then, I don’t care what vowels you’re using.

  154. EG
    EG January 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm |

    In other words, if I call someone a “bytch,” my slur isn’t any less gendered, so what’s the damn difference? Or dyfference?

  155. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 17, 2012 at 10:31 pm |

    Personally, I identify as a “mann” because I think it’s patriarchal to insist I have an inherent right to be inside woman. Also as a nod to Thomas Mann, who is underappreciated.

  156. EG
    EG January 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm |

    Look, if you were really committed to feminism, Ben, you’d spell your name “Behn,” as a tribute to the still-underappreciated playwright, instead of trumpeting the works of yet another white man…

  157. Donna L
    Donna L January 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm |

    the prefix “wyf” meaning “female” (I don’t know what the etymology there is;

    It’s a Germanic word, like “weib” in German, meaning woman, not wife.

    I’ve always found the claim that misspelling words is somehow a feminist step forward to be absurd.

    You mean you don’t like to study herstory?

  158. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 17, 2012 at 10:41 pm |

    Aphra Behn. Hmmm. Well she looks quite impressive based off her Wikipedia entry. I’ll have to check out some of her works.

  159. Donna L
    Donna L January 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm |

    a nod to Thomas Mann, who is underappreciated

    .

    Personally, I think Heinrich is the underappreciated one. Plus he was anti-Nazi way before Thomas. (There was a great article about the two of them very recently in the London Review of Books.)

    EG, one of the moderators at Shakesville is an English professor who uses “Aphra Behn” as her name, since that’s her area.

  160. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 17, 2012 at 11:07 pm |

    Heinrich Mann, cool, I hadn’t heard of him either.

    I’m pretty pleased with myself. I’ve caused myself to learn about two world class authors in ten minutes, all induced by the same joke. I guess I need to joke with literate people more often. The normal response I’d get would be: “Who’s Thomas Mann?”

  161. EG
    EG January 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm |

    Behn is interesting; she’s usually best known these days for her long prose piece “Orinoko,” because it’s looked at as a proto-novel, and because it’s about an African prince, it can be interestingly paired with “Othello” in a course about race in the Early Modern period. For my money, though, she’s at her best as a playwright. Her best known and most successful play is “The Rover,” which is very interesting, though caveat: there are not one but two scenes in which our “heroes” attempt to rape one of our heroines, and it’s all played for hearty laughs, because you know what’s funny? Raping ladies.

    But she’s well worth reading!

  162. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 17, 2012 at 11:46 pm |

    To the people laying the womyn bulkshit to rest: this is why I love this site, and I want to do all your taxes forever.

  163. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm |

    Well that’s fascinating. And I just found both Oroonko and The Rover on the internet to read–for free–since they’re in the public domain. So that’s awesome! I seem to remember EG on some other thread you mentioned that no one just casually reads “great” literature for fun, but that’s pretty much all I read. I grew up on television with a television attention span, so on those occassions when I can discipline myself to click off Squidbillies, Family Feud, or the Jersey Shore I generally only read something that’s “serious” and “expands my horizons” in some way, whether that’s intellectually, emotionally, culturally, or politically. So an influential proto-novelist who’s been denied entry into the canon based off institutional sexism?

    I will contact you after I hear back from the SSA re: my name change.

  164. EG
    EG January 18, 2012 at 12:07 am |

    You know, I never think of Behn as “great literature,” because she was so excluded from the canon, and is still slagged off far too often for my taste! But I should confess that when I was between college and grad school, and bored out of my mind at my secretarial job, I was reading Hesiod on my own time, so even I disprove my own snark!

  165. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 18, 2012 at 12:25 am |

    Lol, you hypocrite. This is a fun conversation, and I normally excuse my tendency for flagrant derails because I figure, it’s my life, I’ll comment about whatever the fuck I want, you know? But even I am starting to feel a little guilty about this one because it’s so wholly unrelated the the OP in every conceivable way.

    I will get back to you after I read some Behn though!

  166. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 8:57 am |

    “armchair intellectual” ROFLMAO. srsly, people? Knowing exactly NOTHING of my life beyond a few facts I’ve offered among the long, complex, highly involved (socially and politically) and anything- BUT ‘armchair-ish’ nature of me–you call out ‘armchair intellectual’ and do precisely what? Oh, right…silly me. You make yourselves feel more comfy via dismissal. “only someone who hasn’t availed herself of much actual LIFE would think such stupid thoughts–we don’t gotta listen to her!” Again–this is the best you can do?

    As the only one, or at least one among extremely few on this thread, who is still trying to speak to the TOPIC AT HAND of FGM/BA ‘parellels’/intersections….yep, still totally b/c patriarchy.

    I’ve lived for 38yrs (of my 55) in/around a smallish town with a large-ish state university–the Uni population is about 1/3 of the total local population. A university which has pursued emminence in a few areas, and has worked closely w/community and local gov’t in promoting some goals–the ones I’m thinking of are disabilities and accessibility, along with International Students. It is also a town with something like a 60-40 split of whites/blacks (apart from Uni, which is further racially and culturally diverse). Because the Uni is so big here, it has had a lot of influence on local politics and culture. The LGBTQA community has been thriving for a few decades now, as has a strong environmental community, feminist/womyn’s studies and many other kinds of progressives-all-the-way-to-radicals.

    So–my experience with a huge diversity of very different people and cultures has been ongoing and very personally-involved on multiple levels. Apart from the one transwomyn I mentioned (and is ‘brief acquaintance’ meant to cover a friendship that spanned years?), I’ve known (closely) quite a few other transfolk and countless queers of various stripes (including 2 of my kids identifying as bi). Can’t even say how many different cultures I’ve worked with, danced with, been friends with, had illuminating convos with, done political action with, including differently abled people. And see, what with this being a relatively small town (local pop, excluding uni, about 40,000), there is every chance that at some point all ‘average citizens’ will deal with all of these differences upclose and personal.

    On a personal level, I rarely argue with people over personal choices and whatever ways they rationalize those choices. I am often amazed at people’s ability to find their way, a way that feels sufficiently sane to them, in seemingly crushing circumstances–even when they make choices that I wouldn’t make. Even when they make choices I abhor, on a theoretical level. I mean, I might choose to cut ties with a womyn who chose to stay with an abuser, because of that being too painful to me–but I wouldn’t hate her for it, or even judge her for it. I know how hard some of our choices are.

    But, back to FGM/BA parallels/intersections, yeah, totally b/c patriarchy. For me, this is a very broad, general topic applying to womyn generally. No doubt, there are various special categories of womyn, trans and cancer-survivors being particularly named here. And neither of those categories impacts my thinking about things that impact womyn generally, where stuff comes from (patriarchy) and how it manifests (self-alteration at risk of self harm).

    I argue with no person about personal choices they might make, as long as those choices don’t hurt me. Not being trans myself, it is impossible for me to know from inside what all is involved in choices a trans person might make–as a friend to actual trans people, it’s just mine to love them as people, without judgement, and I do. All that said, no, the special categories of trans or cancer survivors simply don’t have a substantial, formative impact on my general thoughts about FGM/BA.

    And really, be as outraged or dismissive as you like, but the truth for me is that the more I hear from and about trans, the more I see the ever-more particular delineating of a very special category. And I agree that trans is a very special category. I even celebrate the mysteries of life which break up the potential monotony of life in ever-bringing special exceptions of life into being. That, and as a courageous person who’s always, *always* glad to see courage displayed by others, I celebrate the courage it takes to wade into that and sort it out for oneself, against terrible odds and with damn little support. I’m not a trans, no, but by dint of having made many a difficult courageous/against-the- grain choice myself, I know the kind of price paid and truly salute others for their courage.

    Still, all of this means that via further and further presenting themselves as special category, trans people are defining themselves pretty much out of a general discussion about things that affect womyn generally. Easy enough for me to play the dismissal game right along with you, and just say you’re all too dim to bother with, if all you can come up with is ‘birkenstocks’, ‘womyn’, etc as points of ‘refute’ to my opinions. Yet know that I in no way dismiss transwomyn as people, OR as a special group with their own issues. As womyn, they are certainly partaking of issues general for womyn in many/most respects, I recognize. As trans, I also recognize (with trans people’s help) that they have another set of issues worth consideration and validation *as special issues of their group*.

    And when it comes to analysis of FGM/BA, it’s simply about numbers: the vast majority of womyn in this world are actually FAAB womyn. It is simply, logically, and totally impersonally upon that majority basis that any *general* thinking/comments can most usefully be made on a topic about *womyn generally*, such as links btwn FGM and BA.

    JMO, people.

  167. j.
    j. January 18, 2012 at 11:43 am |

    DonnaL:

    For someone who waxes so poetic about how sensitive and wonderful your own breasts are

    Because she’s an ERRRTHHH WOMYNNNN. Teh Ghoddess materializes through her ~~~Wombynly body~~~!!!!!!

    Igglanova:

    Why don’t you all try reading a fucking biology book every once in a while? Psychology, human development, zuh?

    I bet Hari thinks science is just too “male-identified.” She prefers “Wombyn’s Intooishun.”

    Hari:

    All that dysmorphia, dysphoria, and a whole lot of other really awful human dis-ease arises because patriarchy. … Of course, if any ‘feminist’ wants to call herself ‘of man’ (woman), or in all kinds of other ways identify herself in male terms of living, appearing, performing, working, sexing, whatever, feel free.

    Yes, Hari, you’re so ***daring*** for being ignorant of etymology, not to mention all the fields Igglanova mentions, and choosing instead to pull theories out of your ass about other people’s lived experience.

    It doesn’t matter fuck-all what life experiences YOU’VE had if you’re pontificating on the existences of others. Having bisexual friends or children does not give you the authority to speak with authority about transgender people’s experiences. Hell, even having transgender friends or children doesn’t give you that authority. Not your body, not your place.

    Oh, and nobody gives a fuck how old you are, how ~~prestigious~~ your goddamn university is, or, for christ’s sakes, who you’ve danced with.

    Not being trans myself, it is impossible for me to know from inside what all is involved in choices a trans person might make–as a friend to actual trans people, it’s just mine to love them as people, without judgement, and I do.

    I’m sure all the trans people here are immensely grateful for your ~~love~~. Especially when you use “trans” as a common noun.

    …trans people are defining themselves pretty much out of a general discussion about things that affect womyn generally.

    This cis woman would like to tell you to take your self-important cissexist bullshit and fuck off.

    JMO, people.

    Opinions are like assholes. Except for those with colostomies, everyone’s got one, and they all stink.

  168. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm |

    DonnaL.
    Really? Somehow my asshole-like opinion is any stinkier than, say, yours? Somehow my opinion is more ‘self-important’ than, say, yours? Somehow my reference to my thoughts and lived experiences is less valuable than say, yours? Or other peoples’?

    Somehow, loving and respecting people in my life, who may happen to be trans, is not good enough (nor could it even be real, apparently), if I think a discussion about ‘womyn generally’ should be focussed on womyn generally, rather than unduly influenced by transwomyn’s uniquely trans experience/issues?

    Somehow, if my nipples are sexually sensitive–and my breasts make lots of milk–and I treasure those things too much to risk surgery…and I treasure those things enough that I think womyn should be told the REAL RISKS of surgery and the REAL BENEFITS of keeping your original equipment…somehow, this makes me simply RIDICULOUS?

    Hey, guess what ppls? Not going to apologize, or run hide in shame, because I brought a little bit more of the realities to your party and you don’t like that. This is not just a discussion about ‘body image’ and the various psychosocial factors involved in people ‘feeling good about their bodies’. It’s a discussion about actual bodies, actually impacted in potentially damaging and even lethal by surgeries and chemicals. Anyone old enough and sane enough for ‘consent’ is surely not afraid to know of that aspect of the FGM/BA issue.

    And…’trans as a common noun’??? Hey, maybe I’ve missed some all important hipness or PC factor here…but if ‘cis’ is common, then why wouldn’t ‘trans’ be? Whatever. It’s all just more fuel for your hissy fits.

    Sheesh, I’m so sorry…I seem to have stumbled back to middle school somehow. Not sure how *that* happened…I thought I was posting on a conversation among actual, mutually respecting adults who were openly sharing views and knowledge on a topic of importance to adult womyn. My bad.

  169. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm |

    DonnaL.
    Really? Somehow my asshole-like opinion is any stinkier than, say, yours? Somehow my opinion is more ‘self-important’ than, say, yours? Somehow my reference to my thoughts and lived experiences is less valuable than say, yours? Or other peoples’?

    Could you at least pay attention?? THAT WASN’T MY COMMENT, FOR FUCK’S SAKE! For that, if nothing else, you owe me an apology.

  170. Li
    Li January 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm |

    DonnaL.
    Really? Somehow my asshole-like opinion is any stinkier than, say, yours? Somehow my opinion is more ‘self-important’ than, say, yours? Somehow my reference to my thoughts and lived experiences is less valuable than say, yours? Or other peoples’?

    When your opinion is cissexist bollocks, yuhuh. “Some of my best friends are trans” doesn’t trump the fact that you’re speaking over many trans* women’s lived experiences. And lets not even go through the obnoxious logic that decides that trans* women don’t really need to be considered because they’re in the minority.

  171. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    Somehow, if my nipples are sexually sensitive–and my breasts make lots of milk–and I treasure those things too much to risk surgery…and I treasure those things enough that I think womyn should be told the REAL RISKS of surgery and the REAL BENEFITS of keeping your original equipment…somehow, this makes me simply RIDICULOUS?

    And where the hell did I call you ridiculous? If anyone said that, it wasn’t me. So that’s anther apology you owe me.

    What I did say was this:

    For someone who waxes so poetic about how sensitive and wonderful your own breasts are, it’s truly remarkable that you would presume to suggest that a trans woman who doesn’t have breasts and needs BA in order to have them, only wants breasts because of patriarchy, and to look “very sexy” to men, and bodies aren’t important

    Because apparently it’s OK to be happy with your “original equipment,” but if you aren’t, because it’s entirely the *wrong* equipment for you, then tough luck.

    But the fact is, I don’t expect perfection. And before you just attacked me for saying things I didn’t say, I had been about to say that if the following was the best you could manage for an apology for saying that dysphoria is entirely about patriarchy, and for talking about a non-dysphoric trans person as an example for trans people who are dysphoric:

    Not being trans myself, it is impossible for me to know from inside what all is involved in choices a trans person might make

    then I was going to accept that as an apology. And was going to give you the benefit of the doubt on the dubious “very special category” stuff, or at least re-interpret it as an attempt to restate the truism that in certain respects (but hardly all), trans women’s concerns and motivations can be different from those of many cis women — not that that means they’re not as much part of the overall catergory of “women” as any other groups of women with different backgrounds.

    But now that you’ve blasted me for things I didn’t say, I’m annoyed all over again.

  172. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm |

    If anyone else is going to use that block quote again, please leave my name out of it, since obviously I had nothing to do with whatever comment Hari is complaining about. Whether or not that comment was justified.

  173. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm |

    DonnaL–MY BAD. You’re right, I misquoted.

    It was j….who started the post with a quote of you…I got it mixed up.

    my apologies for mixing that up.

  174. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |

    Thank you.

  175. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    I never said trans womyn didn’t need to be considered. I said that their experience as a special group cannot be used to generalize about links btwn FGM and BA for womyn generally. I stand by that opinion.

    And really, I understand: logic doesn’t matter, my studies or experiences or years of living and thinking about stuff, the diversity of people I love for exactly who they are, doesn’t matter. What matters most, to be considered hip enough here, is that I agree to hear transwomyn as if their experience is just the same as FAAB’s experience in every way. It’s just not cool to name the obvious, like the fact that FAAB comprise a gigantic group compared to trans, and that trans experience around BA/etc has aspects quite different than FAAB in general. Yet it’s somehow even *less* cool to say that I respect trans as a special group, who certainly deserve support in speaking for themselves.

    But of course, if I fail to respect disabled womyn or WOC, say, ‘special groups with special issues’, that’s also way uncool.

    I understand–it’s not about logic, consistency or the objective, impersonal numbers involved that amount to what is generalizable on an issue. It’s not about ‘consent’ that has anything to do with medical facts and body facts. It’s all about what is cool, and what is not. I understand that I totally fail your cool test.

    Oh well, I’ll live–standing right by my opinon, as stated several times now, on the matter of FGM/BA.

  176. Jadey
    Jadey January 18, 2012 at 6:49 pm |

    Hari B,

    You’re right, you do fail my “cool” test, providing that “cool” means, based on how you seem to be defining it above, “willing not to be dismissive of groups based on their lack of numerical or normative majority”.

    Meaning is made at the margins – not in the centre. Meaning is made where people have to butt up against, beat against, define themselves against the comfortable mass of uncomplicated existence.

    Women of colour, women with disabilities, trans women, poor women… I have learned so much more about feminism and “women generally” through the insights of women pushed to the margins. It’s not about numbers – it’s about perspective.

  177. Li
    Li January 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm |

    Let’s remember for a second that one of the particularly pernicious lines you have come out with in this discussion was:

    All that dysmorphia, dysphoria, and a whole lot of other really awful human dis-ease arises because patriarchy.

    Because; that statement? Is not a general statement, it is a statement about women who have experienced dysphoria. And, as we’ve already covered, experiences of dysphoria are one of the key points of difference between many trans* women and cis women. In making a universal statement about dysphoria being a result of patriarchy you were specifically eliding differences between trans* and cis women, and you were doing so in a way that runs against many trans* women’s lived experiences and understandings of their bodies.

    When you make a statement like that, and then you start running off about how you totally met this trans* woman who didn’t experience dysphoria 25 years ago, and actually you know lots of queers, that’s not logic or even opinion, that’s you reframing the discussion to be about your authority to make statements rather than the actual substance of the statements you have made.

  178. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm |

    No one here is doing anything except stating opinions based on what they’ve studied, experienced, thought about. We are all leaning into our own authority to have opinions and make statements. I’m really not sure why you think I’m doing things any differently than you or anyone else here. It really seems that some of you just don’t like my opinion, so between trying to persuade me that I am just so uncool, and saying that I’m doing the discussing all wrong otherwise, you’re hoping I’ll just quit so you don’t have to even *see* me, much less consider my POV as valid in it’s own right, among other valid POVs.

    I never said anyone else was ‘wrong’, or should think the way I do.

    One thing about trans and body dysphoria that I will try to explain in terms of patriarchy: gender binary. Patriarchy only allows self-expression along lines of male and female assigned gender behaviors/roles. Yet over time, other cultures have allowed for multiple genders–recognizing that people’s bodies just don’t always reflect their sense of who they are in a simple, socially packaged way. While I imagine even in this kind of setting, there might occasionally be an individual born who really felt they had the wrong body, I think it would be more rare than it is now, in a dominant culture worldwide, where there are only 2 gender choices.

    Gender binary is just a social construct, nothing more. It is a constuct so extremely limiting as to be damaging to nearly everyone in at least some small way, and to some in much larger ways. Add to the restrictive binary, the fact that men have dominance over womyn in patriarchy, then it’s no surprise we end up variations on body dysmorphia.

    Patriarchy is the most destructive human system ever devised among humans. It is killing us all, and the planet along with us. Yes, I absolutely see patriarchy, in all the insidious and pervasive ways it forms every institution and aspect of our selves and lives, as the root of both FGM and BA.

  179. Hari B
    Hari B January 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm |

    Jadey–”You’re right, you do fail my “cool” test, providing that “cool” means, based on how you seem to be defining it above, “willing not to be dismissive of groups based on their lack of numerical or normative majority”.

    Dismissive of groups I am not. Not particularly fond of norms, either. Seeing me that way does not mean I *am* that way–only that you haven’t understood me. That is not just due to my way of speaking, but just as much to your way of hearing.

    “Meaning is made at the margins – not in the centre. Meaning is made where people have to butt up against, beat against, define themselves against the comfortable mass of uncomplicated existence. ”

    In some ways I agree with you on this–but as for the ‘comfortable mass of uncomplicated existence”…I know of no such place, nor do I know anyone else who does.

    “Women of colour, women with disabilities, trans women, poor women… I have learned so much more about feminism and “women generally” through the insights of women pushed to the margins. It’s not about numbers – it’s about perspective.”

    Yes, I too learn much from all, come to understand myself and various important things better for being with, talking with people inhabiting other positions than my own. Womyn at the margins have much to offer…I have been a womyn at the margins in many ways all my life, hard as that may be for those of you who think you have me pegged.

    The most encompassing meaning is made by all–margins as well as center, by the ‘special groups’ along with the ‘main group’ . I understand what depth of meaning is gained, and what greater possibilities are made open to us all, by seeing, hearing and accepting the margins along with the center. I just don’t listen to the margins as if they speak for *all*, or as if their message is *more* important than the majority’s.

  180. trees
    trees January 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm |

    @Hari B

    I’m seeing this trend in your comments. You seem to have a hard time accepting people’s expertise on their own experience. It’s great that you have friends or acquaintances of whatever identity, but that doesn’t mean you have any real understanding of their world. You keep talking over people when they share their actual lived experience in their own bodies, and then you seem surprised when you are met with hostility and/or resistance. You do this even when you acknowledge that you have limited knowledge of an issue. I don’t get it. You genuinely seem surprised by the reaction you often foster. I suppose you just really don’t see how you so often come across, but why are you so unwilling to listen to folks when they share their impressions?

  181. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm |

    even in this kind of setting, there might occasionally be an individual born who really felt they had the wrong body

    That’s mighty generous of you.

  182. Donna L
    Donna L January 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm |

    but why are you [Hari] so unwilling to listen to folks when they share their impressions?

    As the old saying goes, “forget how it works in practice; it doesn’t work in theory!”

  183. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm |

    One thing about trans and body dysphoria that I will try to explain in terms of patriarchy: gender binary.

    Dont worry Donna, Hari will explain it to you. HAHAHA, What?

    I’d just like to state that I will always value the lived experiences of Donna and others above the (supposedly) “informed” opinions of others. I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t.

  184. Azalea
    Azalea January 19, 2012 at 1:11 am |

    Flightless @ 144

    I do think nonconsensual surgery on children is wildly different from consensual surgery on adults.

    ABSOLUTELY!!!!!

    I’m anti-capitalist enough, though, to worry about the situation of sex workers who choose breast and/or genital surgery in order to succeed financially. And class issues can also make the procedures far more hazardous. (Apparently experimental, very dangerous silicone-injection BA was done on Japanese sex workers seeking to appeal to the tastes of American soldiers during WWII. Levels of consent in “wage slave” situations are not always that great.)

    The horror stories Ive heard of women getting all kinds of “mixtures” injected into their butts, breasts and lips performed by “Dr.s” who do not have a medical license to practice anywhere to speak of are heartbreaking. You have to wonder what exactly pushes someone to the level of desperation needed to decide that they’d trust an untrustworthy person with their life and health just to change the way they look. It surely couldnt have been a decision taken too lightly.

  185. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 19, 2012 at 1:18 am |

    Yes, the “pumping” stories are some of the most awful stories I’ve ever read. A lot of women have died. Yet, I can understand the desperation. Unfortunately, some of the people who take advantage of that desperation are women from the very same communities. Even if their motivation is to help.

  186. Caperton
    Caperton January 19, 2012 at 1:46 am | *

    Hari B: You’re doing a great job of marginalizing already-marginalized populations, defining women out of the conversation as it suits your argument, repeatedly ignoring the lived experiences of commenters who happen to disagree with you, and being generally insulting. This would be a great time to ease up.

  187. Hari B
    Hari B January 19, 2012 at 5:47 am |

    Respectfully withdrawing from the convo now, having said my piece on FGM/BA stuff already, and heard–as far as I can tell–the gist of other POVs as they relate to FGM/BA directly. Thanks all to stayed with the topic at hand and spoke your piece on it.

  188. Hari B
    Hari B January 19, 2012 at 8:55 am |

    No, wait, one more thing:

    1. Communication can be difficult in the most favorable of circumstances, and on the internet among strangers is possibly the least favorable.

    2. I understand comm, and all events, to be the product of all participating/interacting parties (including silent bystanders)–that is, all are responsible in some way for what transpires.

    So–I can apologize sincerely for ways that I have unintentionally contributed to hostilities and misunderstandings amongst us. I don’t necessarily *see* my contributions toward the worse, but I assume that I’ve had some part in things. If I were to take the time to do a thorough critique of my own comments and the responses, I might see my part more clearly…although, that would still be from my own POV, values, etc. Anyway, I am imperfect at best and at times a shit, and don’t mind saying to you all that I am aware of this.

    And to be really, really clear about this, I am NOT apologizing for anyone else’s part in turning a discussion towards hostility and polarization. I am NOT owning more responsibility than anyone else for…anything here. At times in my posts I have directly addressed what I perceived as knee-jerk hostility toward me (and which no one seems to debate WAS hostility expressed toward me). At times I’ve chosen not to directly address hostility OR other POVs, just reiterated my position.

    Again–we disagree, and that seems to be the main point. My POV is grounded in radical feminism–that is, an analysis of culture and all of manifestations via all institutions and all of its members w/respect to the worldwide religion of patriarchy–and that in itself seems to be where people’s offense is grounded. I don’t look at trans issues from another viewpoint other than radical feminism. I also don’t say that anyone else has to do as I do, or think as I think; I just stand on the philosophical ground that I’ve chosen…which we *all* do.

    And it seems to me all throughout, that this is taken as offensive in and of itself, but no one will say that. I get accused of being an insular moron, quite obviously pegged by most of you as a white, het, middle-class know-nothing who leans into mere Privilege as a prop for uninformed opinions. To try to bust that prejudice, by naming the variety of my life experiences including friendships and working collaborations with all manner of diverse people, results in the tired old phrasings of “Oh, so now you say ‘some of my best friends are queer/trans’–what a joke, you are still a self-important idiot”. I get accused of ‘dismissing’ trans self-identified, self-expressed experiences/feelings on such things as BA, because a) I believe that body dysmorphia arises from patriarchy, just as much as all else does in this culture and b) I refuse to give trans people a dominant vote in this subject. Not that I fail to hear them, or fail to respect their lived experience (although I am accused of this), but only because, it sure seems to me, I don’t give them a *bigger* voice/vote in this than I do FAABs.

    And all this because of 2 things: 1. I questioned the idea of ‘consent’ on psycho-social grounds…as if doing so is just the greatest-possible insult to transfolk ever. Well, I’m not sorry to present this challenge, don’t apologize for it. I’m just as likely to challenge myself and any other on these grounds, for almost any choice. Whatever anyone thinks they ‘see’ in this (believing it springs from a particularly ‘trans’ thing), I look at life not only as a radfem, but as someone involved in holistic health with an attitude that all we do springs from a very deep well of consciousness indeed–very much impacted by sociological and psychological forces that we are not always completely aware of.

    2. I also challenged the idea of ‘consent’ on actual medical and health grounds, introducing the dirty little secrets of these elective procedures. Secrets kept by those who profit from people’s ignorant bliss–the multi-billion $$ med/pharm complex. Knowledge is power, right? But in this case, not *me* attempting to have power over *you* (just another patriarchal reversal) but me attempting to share the power of knowledge (which in this case applies to a challenge of ‘consent’ on factual grounds).

    People, believe what you will about me. I guess I couldn’t help but offer this last commentary. I guess I couldn’t just leave, without saying all of this–and adding that while I am sorry for any unseen, unintended offense given–and would far rather have ppl understand my very real respect and love for people, and the very tough decisions we must make in our lives. But if you missed that, it’s not my fault alone. When people lash out with knee jerk and totally juvenile style personal attacks designed to make me slink away in shame, what I see is the hostility that belongs only to *you*. And I would just like to say that neither healthy discussions, nor personal evolution occurs when people just project their emotions outward onto others. Hey, tell me you’re p.o.ed or whatever–own it as you own and I will respect that–I certainly have plenty of my own feelings, no shame in that. And if you’re going to try to make it all somehow *my* deficiency and shame, I’m not going to own that. Certainly not because it boils down to the fact that we. simply. disagree. about links between FGM and BA–and about how much weight should be given to *any* small group on a matter of concern to womyn generally.

    Which last I say, knowing full well that by saying it, I will only again be believed of ‘dismissing’ trans voices…but also knowing for myself, how much I value, and have learned and benefitted from many differing voices over the years.

  189. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm |

    Well. There’s a gracious apology if I’ve ever seen one.

  190. Esti
    Esti January 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm |

    That might be the single greatest “I’m going to bow out of this conversation, where “bow out” means “get the last word in and then stop listening to everyone else”” that I’ve ever seen. Brava.

    DonnaL (and others who went through the exercise of responding in this thread), thank you.

  191. Drew
    Drew January 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |

    That might be the single greatest “I’m going to bow out of this conversation, where “bow out” means “get the last word in and then stop listening to everyone else”” that I’ve ever seen. Brava.

    I call it the “throw rocks and run” tactic. The best is when you reply and they get indignant that you’re trying to “drag it out” when they’re “just trying to walk away”.

  192. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines January 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |

    Donna L Thank you so much for your patience and participation on this thread.

  193. Li
    Li January 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm |

    Not that I don’t too appreciate it, but the number of times we’ve needed to thank Donna L for her patience has been ridiculous lately.

  194. Donna L
    Donna L January 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm |

    You’re both welcome, not that I think I was particularly patient in this thread. But as I said earlier (# 62 above),

    Can a single day go by here [at Feministe] without somebody expressing hostility towards trans women, or expecting them to justify every aspect of their existence? No wonder I’ve heard so many trans women express concerns about this place.

    Maybe the “single day” part was an exaggeration, but it has been happening a lot. And if it continues to happen, I’m not going to be able to continue to engage to the same extent every time; either someone else will have to do it, or maybe it won’t get done. Because even if I appear to stay reasonably calm, I’m not sure people realize how much stress and anxiety having to go through this exercise causes me each time — especially because I never know when it’s going to pop up again, and because I know perfectly well that each time I do engage, there’s somebody out there thinking, “oh, there those trans people go again, thinking it’s all about them and monopolizing the conversation with their special issues.” I realize that Feministe isn’t Shakesville, and isn’t intended to be a “safe space” all the time for trans people or anyone else, and that the culture of discourse is very different, and I also realize that most of the non-trans people who post here are allies or at least neutral, but it’s amazing how often this happens. As Li says, it’s getting ridiculous!

    Plus, I’m afraid that Hari’s comments just tend to confirm my entirely unscientific opinion that feminists around my age are far more likely to be ignorant and/or hostile, and unwilling to allow their long-held beliefs about trans people to be challenged in any way, than younger women.

  195. Jadey
    Jadey January 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm |

    @ Donna L

    I think this is Feministe’s greatest weakness, and no one has yet seemed to figure out how to fix it, although I know Jill has been trying. Because there does always seem to be someone popping up (maybe a new commenter entirely, maybe someone who’s been around commenting on an issue they’ve never talked about before) with the same BS over and over again. Persistent offenders do seem to get banned or chased off eventually, but the space has never erred on the side of closed moderation and at this point probably can’t, given how much work that would be for the mods on such a massive blog (I think I’ve said before I’m curious about and prepared to be horrified by the actual visitor stats on this blog – I can only imagine). And the consequence is that there is so much bullshit all the time, of one flavour or another, and most commenters can only handle so much troll-y crap before burning out. Conversation is easy here, for such a large blog, because moderation is light, but so often the conversation isn’t even worth it after a while.

    And more of us who aren’t as personally affected and brought down by the crap comments do need to step up to the plate more when it happens. But, that being said, we’re often more prone to fucking things up worse because we often don’t get it the same way as someone who has to live it (exceptions apply!) and sometimes we say unhelpful things when we mean to be pitching in. Catch-22. And it’s not the first time that it’s lead to burn-out for the people that Feministe needs *more* of, not fewer of.

    But self-care is activism too, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who needed to walk away or disengage with a toxic situation, and I hope you wouldn’t hold it against yourself either. A lot of the crap comments that happen on this blog don’t target me personally, but some do, so I have an inkling of the exhausting emotional spiral that goes along with first reading and then trying to defend against such comments, and I’m sure it magnifies exponentially with every new one.

    In some ways, the people like Hari are the worst, because they can’t be shrugged off as silly trolling jokes or are so over-the-top they never make it past moderation in the first place. They believe so deeply and will argue so persistently for something so hurtful and painful that they just suck all the oxygen out of the room.

  196. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm |

    In some ways, the people like Hari are the worst, because they can’t be shrugged off as silly trolling jokes or are so over-the-top they never make it past moderation in the first place. They believe so deeply and will argue so persistently for something so hurtful and painful that they just suck all the oxygen out of the room.

    I agree. It would actually be kind of funny, if it weren’t so frustrating, that by repeatedly complaining and insisting that trans issues were taking up too much space in this thread, all she succeeded in doing was insuring that they took up more of it.

  197. EG
    EG January 19, 2012 at 11:40 pm |

    Actually, what I find most obnoxious is the whole “I refuse to contemplate a way of understanding anything that does not fit into my previously held ideology, because I am a Radical Feminist.”

    Um, OK. How does that make more sense than “I refuse to contemplate a way of understanding anything that does not fit into my previously held ideology, because I am a Christian?”

    Look, if your theory doesn’t work, the problem is with the theory, not the world.

  198. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 19, 2012 at 11:48 pm |

    It’s no different from any other religion, whether de facto or de jure; it doesn’t matter whether it’s anti-trans radical feminism, Marxism-Leninism, fundamentalist Christianity, or anything else. Whatever doesn’t fit essential dogma must be denied and/or rejected. I think it’s especially difficult for people who’ve centered a good part of their lives around that particular “religion.”

  199. EG
    EG January 20, 2012 at 12:10 am |

    I completely agree. That’s one of the reasons why I won’t commit to any specific school of political thought. I want the freedom to take the best insights from any of them without having to go down with the ship of their prejudices and cruelties.

  200. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 20, 2012 at 12:57 am |

    “The trees taught me that the way to make it through those storms (and the storms of life) is to stay rooted and centered but not rigid. The trees and branches that try too hard to stand strong and straight are the ones that break. The only ones that make it through are the ones that know to bend and flow and let go.”

    –Julia Butterfly Hill

  201. Hari B
    Hari B January 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

    Hello again, dear people :)

    I do hope someone posts after me, because I really, really, really don’t want to have the last word! Which point seems to have escaped somehow, before…that by making my own last word (hehehe, next-to-last, it seems), I shut up and stepped back, to give the remaining words to all of you.

    As for Radical Feminism, I find I must offer a correction there. After embracing radfem philosophy through my teens and 20s, I spent another couple decades venturing into various other realms in study, discussion and practice. Like you, I felt a need not to be confined and besides–radical feminist thought is…well, so rage-y, and not at all the most hope-inspiring of philosophies!

    It was only another 15yrs later, through a couple of life-altering/life-threatening experiences that I found myself irrevocably drawn back to radical feminism. And that is because I saw how extremely unified and unifying a philosophy it is–for *me*. It is the only way that all of my life’s experiences, and all that I saw happening in this world, too, made any sense at all to *me*. I have not, as some of you seem to assume, simply been stuck on the same ol thing forever, without seriously checking out anything else.

    As for disagreements on this thread…oh my. I don’t know, maybe I’m mistaken, but I read here, and post here, under the belief that feministe is a feminist site. Which to me means, that feminist discourse is approved, that discussing various issues is meant to be done in terms of feminist theory, oppression-analysis. In any discussion, people’s individual experiences are valuable in and of themselves to a degree, in shining a full, encompassing light on a topic. And on the whole, issues are meant to be founded in analysis that applies most generally to womyn and feminism–on a feminist sight, I would think. This I have tried to do–and others have also done so….in fact, some have expressed much the same opinions as me, but did not garner anything like the furor pointed at me.

    Which is puzzling indeed. Having now taken the time to reread the whole thread, I might understand this now: I didn’t just state my piece and then leave, as others who made similar statements to mine did. I stuck around, and continued to represent my feminist sentiments, even after receiving negative feedback.

    Anyway, it still seems to me…and hey, sorry but all the comments that followed my last ‘final statement’ only seemed to emphasize this…that my biggest ‘sin’ here has been a staunch determination to keep this discussion focussed on a feminist analysis of an issue of general concern to womyn. We have disagreed, that’s all–why is this a matter for some to have felt they were forced to be ‘so patient in enduring me’? Or for others to rush to give sympathy for the one who feels dismissed, disrespected, etc, because I *simply disagreed* with her? Or for anyone to feel such a strong need to explain me away as one of those pathetic older radfems who just never grew at all after reading Mary Daly 30yrs ago? No disrespect for any poster’s individual experience either felt or expressed by me, it seems to have been my bad that I didn’t let individual experiences shift my perspective, or take me off course of the feminist analysis which I thought was actually the point of a site like feministe.

    Not that I expect any further respect to be granted on the basis of these words, any more than I received earlier from any of you. I’ll live. Just wanted to share!

    Now, please, do feel free to have the actual last word. I’ll stop by to hear you, but I promise, I’m done now. I’m sure there will be other discussions in which we might be able to further exchange views here and elsewhere that feminism is on the table.

  202. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm |

    Oh for God’s sake. You still don’t get a single thing anybody said on this entire subject.

    it seems to have been my bad that I didn’t let individual experiences shift my perspective, or take me off course of the feminist analysis which I thought was actually the point of a site like feministe.

    Indeed it was “your bad.” Obviously you didn’t intend it that way, but all you’re doing by that statement is strongly indicting what you think of as “feminist analysis,” by equating it with “theory above all, regardless of whether actual people’s lives fit that theory, because if they don’t, they can simply be ignored.”

    Do you even realize that Caperton is a moderator (that’s what that little asterisk means!), and specifically told you to stop with these disrespectful, insulting comments? But you thought it was OK just to keep on saying the same thing over and over again? (One would think that you’re old enough to realize that when you start a sentence with “no disrespect intended, but,” you intend exactly that. I guess not, though.)

    In most places, ignoring a moderator’s instructions is ample ground for banning.

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