October 7, 2009

Mideastern Misogyny

The latest piece of utter ridiculousness credited to religion comes from Egypt, where hyper-conservative Muslims have their panties in a wad over a new device which they are convinced will erode the moral and very foundations of their society. The device is sold for about thirty dollars and is called (in English) the Artificial Virginity Hymen Kit.

Mabye you can imagine why our old friend Islamic Rage Boy here is upset about this and probably applauds calls for a ban on the AVHK's importation to Arab nations, and you can probably imagine my sneering reaction to that effort.  But just in case you can't, I'm going to luridly dwell on the subject for an uncomfortably long and detailed essay -- below the jump.
The hymen is a very small film of moderately delicate tissue within the vagina of a human female.  For most women, it is dislodged by her partner the first time the woman has sexual intercourse, causing a small and harmless discharge of blood.

But women can also dislodge their hymens through completely non-sexual activities. Pretty much any kind of strenuous exercise can cause a young woman's hymen to rupture. So can riding a bicycle or a horse. Or tripping over something and landing the wrong way. I've been told that improper or inexperienced use of various kinds of feminine hygiene products can do it, although at this point I'm beyond the boundaries of what I consider to be reliable information.

The woman may not even notice that she is bleeding because she might mistake the blood from the dislodgment of her hymen for the blood of her menstrual cycle, and there's a reasonable chance that if the hymen dislodges, it will dislodge while she is menstrating anyway.

Most of the women I've discussed this subject with have said that they didn't bleed the first time they had sex. Granted, I haven't taken a survey or anything and personally, I've never really cared about any woman's virginity, regardless of whether I was (or even merely wanted to be) intimate with her.  I've never, ever, understood the significance of virginity.

But that might be just me. For a lot of men, including many from Arabic cultures that have fused cultural traditions with the religious beliefs of Islam, there is a very high premium put on a woman being a virgin on her wedding night. (Similar religious singificance is put on virginity in some segments of western culture, too; her too, this fetish is typically reinforced by religion.)  And the only proof of her viriginity is that when her new husband penetrates her, she bleeds. If she doesn't bleed, the husband may distrust her claims to have been a virgin.

So a woman may very well have never had any "intimate knowledge" of a man prior to marriage, and yet still have dislodged or ruptured her hymen through the course of ordinary, non-sexual activities that involve even moderate levels of physical activity. But if the woman is in that position, when she is first with her husband sexually, she won't bleed. If the husband is an unreconstructed chauvanist mentally and emotionally governed by sexist religious doctrine unedited since the seventh century who actually cares that his new wife didn't bleed and has been culturally indoctrinated all his life to distrust women and question their veracity, he will assume that the lack of bleeding is because his wife was not a virgin.*  He is then in a position to divorce his unbloodied but now-deflowered new wife, or physically abuse her, or worse.  The burden of proof is then on the woman and her father to somehow "prove" her virginity.  So the woman may well be more anxious about bleeding than anything else; her life may depend on it.

So the solution to this problem, as with so many problems in our globalized consumerist world, of course, is a product.  A product made of the dried whites of chicken eggs and some dye, to be specific.  The product's manufacturer offers this delightful description what it sells and how to use it:
No more worry about losing your virginity. With this product, you can have your first night back anytime. Insert this artificial hymen into your vagina carefully. It will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrate, it will ooze out a liquid that look like blood not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans, you will pass through undetectable. Its easy to use, clinically proven non-toxic to human and has no side effects, no pain to use and no allergic reaction.
Are we all still living in the seventh century that people even care about this sort of thing?  William Saletan of Slate Magazine is exactly right: this is a fetish, not a cultural imperative.  And it has managed to reach the Legislature of Egypt, where legislators supervising public morality find this adaptation of a Hollywood special effect to be an existential threat:

Sheik Sayed Askar, a member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who is on the parliamentary committee on religious affairs, said the kit will make it easier for Egyptian women to give in to temptation. He demanded the government take responsibility for fighting the product. ... Prominent Egyptian religious scholar Abdel Moati Bayoumi said anyone who imports the artificial hymen should be punished. "This product encourages illicit sexual relations. Islamic culture forbids these relations except within the confines of marriage," Bayoumi said. ... "If this thing enters Egypt, the country is going to go to waste. God protect us," commented a reader on the Web site of Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabie.
Really? "God protect us"? From a packet of fake blood? Is your faith-based distrust of women so deep that you not only have to drive your brides to buying this product through an absolutely unreasonable cultural pressure but you have to then ban it so that you can be sure that your new wife's blood is genuine? And you need the help of Allah the Almighty Creator and Judge Of All to protect you from this?

This is disgusting on more levels than even I care to consider. If there is a God, one has to imagine that He has weighter things to think about than trivia like this.  It is as every bit as silly as American football players thanking Jesus for getting an interception and getting upset about penalty flags thrown during their self-aggrandizing act of public "piety".  Jesus doesn't care about your touchdown and Allah doesn't care about your packet of fake blood.  (They don't care because they don't exist, but even if they did, I say they still wouldn't care.)

The problem is not that a woman's hymen might dislodge before her wedding night. The problem is that a massive cultural misogyny so intense it periodically erupts into violence has been given the mantle of respectability by religion and therefore made beyond the scope of respectable social reproach. And I pronounce that to be pure, unadulterated, 100% pigshit.

The solution isn't a product and it isn't a ban of a product. The solution is to put your mind in the twenty-first century, not send it back to the seventh. Grow up, Abdel Moati Bayoumi and the rest of you Egyptian troglodytes who mock the term by calling yourselves "scholars." You claim that Islam is a religion that respects and cherishes women? Fine. Then go be a good Muslim and act like you respect and cherish women. Don't use your noble religion of peace or the socially-backward authoritarian military dictatorship that you call a government as a shield against criticism of your creepy sexual perversions.

* The unfortunate woman damn sure isn't supposed to enjoy sex with her husband in a culture like that, and with that kind of pressure on her to bleed out of her hoo-ha, it's a good bet she won't. I guess she's supposed to just grip the bedposts, think of The Prophet, and hope that everything works out.

1 comment:

David Schraub said...

I presume that one of the reasons this product is catching in Egypt is because the nation's Grand Mufti issued a Fatwa back in 2007 endorsing reconstructive hymen surgery, precisely in response to misogynist threats against women who didn't bleed properly.

The commentary of the clerics in support of the pronouncement ("Any man who is concerned about his prospective wife’s hymen should first provide a proof that he himself is virgin;" "Islam does not care for the feelings of ignorant people, just as the law does not protect the idiots") are also fascinating reads.