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Austin Cline

Virginity Fetish for European Muslims

By June 22, 2008

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Is the illusion of virginity the same as real virginity? Perhaps it doesn't matter, because the illusion of virginity is sufficient to keep young women safe from the abuse of fathers, brothers, and potential husbands. That seems to be the conclusion of many Muslim women who are going to European doctors for a new procedure called a "hymenoplasty," the reconstruction of the hymen which thus creates the illusion of biological, physical virginity. Even other doctors are fooled — and, yes, it's possible that a woman would be taken to a doctor to be examined to determine if she is a virgin. How sad is that?
Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”

Source: The New York Times

Evil, secular European society is being blamed here, but at most it simply provides a context where Muslim women have more options to make choices about their lives and their bodies. Unfortunately, some of the choices which they want to make are still so frowned upon by traditionalist Muslims that these women have to find ways to "take back" what they did. They still don't have enough power in Muslim families and communities to demand acceptance of who they are and the choices they made, so they have give the illusion that nothing happened.

And what are those choices? On the surface, they are about having sex with whom they want and when they want; more fundamentally, though, those choices are about living their own lives and taking control over their bodies and sexuality. The demand for virginity, in contrast, is a demand for control: families demand control over the bodies and sexuality of young women until they can be delivered into the waiting hands of a husband who, in turn, will also demand control over his wife.

A woman is not allowed to have sexual feelings, desires, or experiences which are not under the control of the patriarchal leaders in her life. Religion is an effective tool in maintaining this sort of control because religion teaches that it's God's will that men have this control over women. It's a "sin" for women to have their own feelings, desires, and experiences. It's "wrong" for women to dress, think, talk, and behave in ways that demonstrate any independence from the sexual control of men.

“In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,” said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. “Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”

Given the violence which Muslim women can face if they don't submit to the standards imposed on them by men, it's hardly surprising to find women anxious to undergo this surgery — but why suggest that virginity is more important than life? For one thing, every surgery comes with risks and so what we have here are women who are taking medical risks in order to appear to be virgins and thus avoid abuse from men. Secondly, when virginity and "sexual purity" are idealized and fetishized to such a degree, they really do become more important than humanity and human life. This is often a problem with religions where "purity" is valued because total purity is impossible while the consequences of impurity are horrendous.

Of course, religion isn't the sole problem here. Although religion has been integral in defending, justifying, and preserving patriarchy, even in the absence of religion these type so misogynistic attitudes would persist. That's demonstrated by how easy it is for some men to defend controlling and/or subordinating women without resorting to religious arguments. We saw that here on this site recently when a couple of commenters insisted that women who don't dress "modestly" and "conservatively" are sluts, attention-whores, prostitutes, and of course are just getting what they deserve when subjected to abuse, bullying, and harassment on the streets.

William Saletan writes in Slate:

I'm no fan of most cosmetic medicine. It's a surrender to stupid social pressures. It's superficial, unnecessary, and expensive. It perfectly expresses our insecurity and triviality. We should use technology to overcome tragic realities, not to alter stigmatized appearances.

But sometimes, a stigmatized appearance can become a tragic reality. That's the paradox of virginity fetishism. The quality of your soul doesn't matter. If you don't have that bit of tissue between your legs, you're garbage.

That is indeed how some men feel even today — a woman's worth is defined by how successful she has been controlled. If she has refused to act autonomously and make decisions which her male relations might disapprove of, then she is "pure" and thus a good person. If she makes decisions which males regard as insufficiently modest, then she is garbage. We found similar sentiments expressed here in a non-religious context. Deathslayer wrote:

This strumpet isn’t just “asking for it” when it comes to sexual attention, she is DEMANDING it.
Yes, some innocent women get hurt, but the reality of rape statistics is that few middle-aged and older women get raped compared the vast majority who are in the 18-35 age range.
Somewhere along the line, I went through a metamorphosis. I changed from a man who loved women and thought they were just about the greatest thing in the world, to a man who can’t stand them, or anything about them.
Women are SLAVES to their emotions and their ENTIRE life is guided by whatever mood they may be in at any given time. You may have good intentions and think you are “helping” or “educating” women by explaining things clearly and reasonably, but all you are doing is wasting brain cells and oxygen. I have come to believe that most women are INCAPABLE of deep intelligence. They simply do not have the technical mind necessary for rational thought and true reason. It is beyond their grasp. You might as well try explaining Quantum Physics to your dog.
When women are capable of making logical, long term decisions, that are for the good of the whole and not just themselves, they are welcome to join us men at the adult table. Until then, there is plenty of room at the kiddie table.

Professionalism wrote:

Should women wear berkas, I really do not care, if American women want to go that far just to get some “attention” then so be it. Maybe it will stop so many of them using the “summer” as an excuse to leave the house looking like a Bangkok street walker, and then getting upset when they are viewed upon as such.

Women who fail to abide by men's standards about what is appropriately "modest" and "conservative" for women are not just garbage, they are "hoebags," "strumpets," and "streetwalkers." Women who make autonomous choices must be denigrated and told that they aren't mature or intelligent enough to make choices for themselves. Although Muslim society is among the strictest when it comes to the oppression of women, it's clear that there is a lot of sympathy for such oppression among some men in the West.

Demanding that women adopt certain standards of "modesty" which aren't applied to men falls in the same category as demanding that women be virgins on their wedding night, that women be demure in their speech, that women focus their goals and desires on keeping house and raising babies rather than getting a career, that girls take abstinence pledges and attend purity balls, and so forth. Furthemore, when such controls fail, the next stages include verbal abuse, harassment, catcalling, whispering campaigns, gossip, and ultimately even physical abuse, torture, and death.

It's all about controlling women's sexuality and bodies in order to ensure that they remain available to men. It's about preserving men's superior social and political status — it's Male Supremacism, morally and intellectually on par with White Supremacism as a social ideology or outlook.

Comments
June 22, 2008 at 1:33 pm
(1) mave says:

heartily agreed. Male Supremacism is definitely the right term for it. sometimes the knowledge of this reality (and the experience of it) is too much to bear. I find living among misogynists, narcissists, zealots and fools frustrating at best, torturous at worst. sometimes it’s difficult to imagine even one reason to continue the struggle. I don’t have much hope that real, lasting change will ever happen.

June 22, 2008 at 2:00 pm
(2) Eric says:

Who uses the word “strumpet” these days?

June 22, 2008 at 2:09 pm
(3) Maree says:

Well said. Sexism and misogyny are so pervasive in our world that it is invisible to the overwhelming majority of people – no matter where you live. It’s not getting better, it’s getting much worse. I think that people like you – who see it all very clearly – constitute barely a handful out of the total world population.

June 23, 2008 at 11:11 am
(4) ee says:

A different take:

I have wondered if the idea of a bride being a virgin on her wedding night, wasn’t actually created to protect the father. After all, if she is a virgin – then her dad/uncle/etc didn’t molest her. I think why in some societies a woman who is raped, is expected to kill herself. Her father’s proof was destroyed.

This actual protected little girls, to some extent, from sexual abuse. But now that there is an operation. There will be no sign that the little girl wasn’t hurt.

June 23, 2008 at 4:48 pm
(5) tracieh says:

ee:

That’s at least an interesting idea.

But I don’t think it’s generally the purpose. Chastity in most cultures is about confirming paternity. When I took anthropology, the way they explained it (in a nutshell) was that when a woman bears a child, she knows the child is hers. But the “father” never knows. This is problematic because in paternal cultures (where _female_ chastity seems to be most enforced), wealth moves from father to son. So, it’s about a man protecting his assets and making sure the child that inherents his resources is actually _his_ and not his rival’s. (And isn’t that what survival is? Passing on the genes and controlling the resources?)

I don’t think rates of female child molestation have been shown to be any lower in paternalistic societies. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were worse, since the woman are futher objectified, and often married earlier. Although adult male family members may be molesting them in ways that do not compromise the girl’s value as a tool to bind their family with another family, I am skeptical it would actually protect her from molestation in reality.

June 27, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(6) John Hanks says:

I don’t think Mohammad was as bad as his so-called followers. He wasn’t stupid. Nor was he a liar and a bully.

June 28, 2008 at 12:25 am
(7) George says:

This virginity thing seems to be rather Darwinian and ironic considering the proof is provided by a religious stricture.

June 28, 2008 at 11:46 am
(8) John says:

The abuse angle seems…thin. It’s definitely a guarantee (until recently) that there aren’t any heirs to bride’s inheritance beyond the husband and the new family’s progeny. Marriage for a time was the most elegant means of securing the brokering of estate mergers. The agreement being that the grandkids would get what the grandparents would endure sharing. Virginity implies no grandchildren outside of the compact to muddy the waters when it comes to who gets what when the grandparents expire and parents join the choir invisible.

June 29, 2008 at 3:54 am
(9) tony says:

It is not only Muslims who insist in female virginity. I remember when Lady Diana Spencer was going to marry the heir presumptive to the British throne press reports stated that she had undergone a ‘discreet gynecological examination’ prior to her marriage.

July 28, 2010 at 10:49 am
(10) chowdhury iftekhar says:

protecting of women virgin is difficult question now a days,as women working various offices ,company ,and bride being a virgin whatever any religious ,on tender ages girl virgin may be injured in trees, or poles ,many others places ,so if u muslim women growing up in europian society her parent did not perverse her virgin , how can we detected it ? anyhow when one women ages 12-25years old ,her virgin test ,its purity is fooled ,

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