I agreed with Naomi McAuliffe in her worry that feminism is doing itself no favours with its choice of high profile campaigns this year in Is the Muff March a cunning stunt? (For more on cunning stunts masquerading as feminism see this blog post) Where we differed was with the principle behind the march; in this case “the very real issue of cosmetic genital surgery.”
A real issue? I understand the personal is supposed to be political, but this is just a bit too personal. It may be the statistical case that “Labiaplasty, vaginal tightening, and hymen reconstruction are all on the increase”, but if women are choosing to do these things with their own highly evolved brains, where is the issue? The (apparently) oppressed women inside the Harley Street clinics were not privileged a voice to enlighten us. If they had, a curt, 'Get stuffed and mind your own muff business', might have been the response.
The feminists succeeded in getting headlines, but what benefit to the cause – indeed, what cause? Only WH Smiths could have benefited from the stunt, being spared a few hours of 'radical', 'guerilla' feminist activities denouncing the female form as pornographic and slapping stickers over pert boobs. In the war against sexual objectification, the next step may well be putting paper bags over pretty girls faces as they walk down the street. Come to think of it, these Object and Feministing girls would do well in Dubai, enforcing purdah.
But back to the elusive “issue”. With nobody being physically forced into anything, McAuliffe invoked the feminist context of collective female shame. Always a safe bet as, not being perfect, humans very often feel shitty about themselves whatever their sex. History is littered with ideologies which have sought to harness this nebulous power. “Women and girls have to live with accusations of smelling like fish, smelling during our periods, having vaginas that are too slack, having labia that is not neat enough, growing too much hair (as though it's a choice), or not decorating a minge like a Christmas tree with some ghastly vajazzle. They're reacting to these accusations with razors, wax and a surgeon's scalpel.”
If this is anything to go by, feminists are spending far too much time hanging around with teenage boys, (or frequenting Mumsnet - the vernacular is pretty much indistinguishable.) To take serious note of either opinion has the political weight of engaging in a debate on climate change with the Monster Raving Loony Party. There's an adage about arguing with idiots that some feminists would do well to heed.
Another thing which jarred about this protest was the implication that such surgery was driven by vanity. Many surgical procedures in those clinics are not actually 'cosmetic' (as if that were a pejorative term – it isn't) but reconstructive. But typically, these feminists jumped to the most negative opinion of women as vain, shallow, and easily led creatures. What a woman recuperating after getting a 3rd degree perineal tear repaired would have made of their caterwauling we don't know.
It reminded me too of the 'too posh to push' myth; a myth pretty much perpetuated by women in the media. Anyone who has ever been through childbirth knows it is not about being posh, it is about a genuine mortal fear of childbirth and wanting to avoid unimaginable pain. So unimaginable, in fact, it's impossible to imagine it afterwards. That's a neat biological trick! It's about a series of trade offs: between facing that fear and pain (surely an individual choice in a civilised and technologically advanced society) or having a few extra days bed rest and a sore tummy; between childbirth induced vaginal and rectal trauma or a fully functioning pelvic floor.
It's one of the cornerstones of our civilisation that women do not have to face the mortal horrors of childbirth alone and without help if they need or want it. Why lead them up the garden path, then slam the door in their faces? I find it odd, not to say highly disturbing, that it is feminists, and not 'The Patriarchy', who are protesting that there should be limits to those privileges; and not based on medical or fiscal considerations, on ideological ones. Thankfully we do not live in a feminist autocracy, and our reformed patriarchy gives women the choice to avoid these traumas, and to have them surgically fixed, for whatever reason they so choose – bladder control or good sex – without the harassment of the establishment. Feminism once fought for women to have opportunities and choices such as these. Now it almost seems like it wants to revoke them.
As a society, we have come far. No man can now take to the pavement, pious placard in hand, telling women what they ought to be doing, and rightly expect to be called anything but a sexist pig. So what does that make these feminists?
Actions speak louder than words. For all the cries of feminism being a pro-women organisation, more and more it actually appears pro-feminist and anti-women. The disconnect between feminism and women is becoming more palpable as time passes. If it is for women, why won't it listen to us? Why not take criticism where its due? Why not adapt? The feminists on the 'Muff March' perfectly illustrate how orthodox feminism today is not about creating opportunities for women or empowering them to make their own choices. It is about disseminating archaic 20th century dogma and slavishly following ideology, in spite of women’s wants, needs and lived experience today.
So here's my question: Does feminism serve women or do women serve feminism? That's not a rhetorical question. It needs to be answered.
Too often feminism connects the word 'woman' with terms of weakness, victimhood and shame. If I could tell these feminists anything, it is that times have changed and 'woman' is not my slave name.
Follow the link to see the Facebook debate about the Muff March