Tuesday, 1 July 2008

My Vulva Is Not Your Work of Art

So, to start Feminist Issue Week, let's go with this one, the empowering vaginoplasty. I was confronted with this over breakfast on Sunday. What we have here is a doctor, apparently known to some as "Dr Sex" (I'm sorry, but he gave that name to himself, I don't care what he says), who wants to help women by cutting up their privates and reshaping them to eighteen-year-old porn star standards. This is so great for women, and he's totally doing it because he cares.

"He wants to talk about his work, which is proudly displayed in a series of ring binders. It is not my usual choice of pre-breakfast viewing. “Look at that — excess tissue along the clitoris. Now, see how clean and sleek that is. The minora: nice and neat.”"

First of all, ew. Second of all, clean and sleek and nice and neat? I'm not a bloody designer vase. But he's very proud of these cloned vulvas. What does it involve, doctor?

“I have procedures that I pioneered, trademarked and have developed over the past 12 years. Laser vaginal rejuvenation, for the enhancement of sexual gratification. Designer laser vaginoplasty, for the aesthetic enhancement of the vulva structures. I also do liposculpting.”

Again, ew. It really, really freaks me out when anyone uses the word "designer" to refer to reproductive parts. And it's always women's reproductive parts, too - men get their share of the surgical enhancement crap, but I've never come across "designer penis" ads. Anyway, this guy is a multimillionaire and charges tens of thousands of pounds to reshape and revitalise.

"A self-styled, can-do crusader for women, he sees his role as one of liberating women from the tyranny of sexual inadequacy and disappointment. By arming us with the tools for total physical dominion over our private parts, he is, to his mind, setting us free."

ARGH. Argh, argh, argh, ARGH. A crusader for women? How are you a crusader for women if you earn your living from telling them the most intimate parts of their body are weird and gross and need fixing? Also, he's not arming us with the tools for total physical dominion over our private parts. By doing this, HE is the one with total physical dominion over our private parts. He's the one with the tools, and he's cutting us up with them, to make us look like his previous works. A ring binder full of identical vaginas. It's like a really twisted version of Argos.

“My customers say, ‘You know what, I don’t like the length of my labia minora. I don’t want the small lips projecting outside the outer lips.’ We can take that excess skin away. They say, ‘I don’t want my labia majora. They’re too flat, I want them full.’ We can inject fat there. Or, ‘I’ve got too much fat in my mons pubis. It looks like I have a penis.’ And we can do that. Or, ‘I’ve had children, I’m too relaxed, I want intense sexual gratification’, so we tighten the muscle. Or, simply, ‘I just look too old.’ Because it's all about youth, youth, youth.”

Oh, for fuck's sake. I wouldn't mind betting that nobody has ever come into his office and said "You know what, I've got too much fat in my mons pubis". Nobody says "mons pubis". The idea that women are actually sitting around with little hand mirrors between their legs, poking their labia and panicking about lack of plumpness, panicking to the extent that they have to call a doctor and pay thousands of pounds to have them fattened up frightens me more than I can say. Whether it's just come from watching porn, or from horrible partners, or from the nagging insecurity that they're wrong, the magazines have told them that so few women have great vaginas, that they have to go and ask a man who knows. A feminist crusader, no less. Am I wrong? Yes, you are. You have flat labia, you ugly bitch, says the feminist crusader.

"He does hymen repair, but doesn’t talk about it since receiving death threats from religious groups."

I'm not sure what the worst part of this sentence is. I can't stand the stupid virginity cult, and since some women legitimately fear for their lives if they don't bleed like hell on the wedding night and give the man something to show for it, this is the one part of the surgery I could, under these circumstances, understand (it's still vile, though). But for a feminist crusader, this seems cowardly in the extreme. Stand up for your damn patients. No points for anybody here.

He also does a rather bizarre procedure called the G-Shot, which involves sticking collagen into the G-spot, or what is assumed to be the G-spot. I don't know much about the existence or lack thereof of a G-spot, because I am lazy and do not research. He reckons this collagen idea is brilliant and 87% of people report more sexual pleasure. The journalist amusingly points out that this figure comes from a study of 20 people. 87% of 20 people? I don't get science.

Some say there is no G-spot, or that it only exists in a certain number of women.

“I would say that every woman does have one. Reports like that . . . it’s as if men want to take pleasure away from women.”

Go Feminist Crusader! We all have G-spots that are insufficiently pleasurable naturally and must have plumping agent stuffed in there! It's totally about our pleasure and not about his profits at all! Hooray!

The journalist asks, helpfully, if this is maybe not about us and more about piling the paranoia on in a world that's already full of the stuff.

“Look, demand for these treatments comes from women,” he says. “I didn’t create it, the market was there, and I discovered it because I listened to women. Every single one of the procedures has been developed because it has been requested. And it’s going international. There is demand.”

You know, I find this remarkably hard to believe. I know that some women are hugely insecure about the way their privates look, and would give anything to have something done about it, but not only is correcting these apparent faults not a helpful or feminist action, but also this man is operating a business. Businesses must have customers. Without vulvas to inject, he's fucked. He needs us, and he must convince us that we need him too. That's what success is all about. He has an enormous vested interest in instilling paranoia, nurturing it and making sure it doesn't die. There is no way in hell he could be a multi-millionaire in a world where women aren't made to feel insecure about this and no alternative route is publicised. He knows damn well what he's doing here.

Apparently he has a couple of UK customers a month, but we have no stats about vaginoplasty over here because it doesn't really happen. He thinks (and this is fucking brilliant) that this isn't because we don't need it, it's because we're weird. He blames our healthcare system. No, he does. And this man is from the stupidly rich nation where people die because they can't afford medical care. I mean, I rag on the NHS as much as anyone, but thank God we're not in America. He, however, thinks we should envy Americans because they can spend all their money on a designer vagina - I hate that phrase with a rhyming passion - and then die of whatever when their money and insurance runs out.

"Also, the mentality of the doctors — they work so hard, they have no life. Doctors here are entrepreneurial, in the first place."

Yeah, our doctors are fucking weird. Wanting to save lives and shit. Who cares if people die, so long as they die with diamond-encrusted genitals? Seriously, this is disgusting. Who the hell thinks like this?

"It isn’t just the fault of the doctors. Some of the blame must also be laid at the feet of British women. Matlock is frustrated by the modesty of his British patients when it comes to that part of their anatomy. “My UK patients are so shy. They say, ‘Women in the UK would never talk about this.’ The attitude is, ‘That’s how it is. You were born like that, so leave it alone.’ That’s why they come here. Here, the culture is 100% different.”"

Well, thank fuck for that. How dare we be modest about it? It's not like we keep it covered up and hidden from view all the time, and only the people we really trust are allowed to see it or anything. Oh, wait. I cannot believe "you were born like that, so leave it alone" is a bad thing in this context.

He goes on about the whole tighter vagina = better sex thing, which the journalist points out is crap. We read a testimonial from a happy customer. She wanted to be like a nineteen-year-old, which makes me sad for her self-esteem.

"Back in Matlock’s office, we’re poring over pictures of a Playboy model displaying what he calls “a beautiful structure”. Matlock's hands-down bestseller is laser vaginal labioplasty, and it’s this kind of image, he claims, that inspires women. “Women bring in this pornographic information — I have drawers of it — and they say, ‘That is what I wanna see.’ That’s what women want to see after rejuvenation.”"

I don't know about you, but I feel sick. Women watch porn, feel inadequate, and come to him. He confirms their fears and takes a huge chunk of money. Women want to look like porn stars. WHY?

"Dr Toby Mayer is a plastic surgeon working in Beverly Hills. “If someone has a functional problem with their vagina, then they should have reconstructive surgery,” he says. “But who can say what a vagina should look like? I am 66 years old. I have never, in all my life, ever heard a man say,‘I saw this woman, she had an ugly vagina.’ Never. To tell someone otherwise is to promote body dysmorphia. What is the mentality of this person? It’s not progressive, it’s entrepreneurial. It’s about money. And doctors should never be about the money.”"

Read that again. And again, and again. Thank God for him. I have not lost faith in all doctors. And, thankfully, even "Dr Sex" himself has to admit that no, men do not care if your vagina looks like that of a teenage porn star. He's quite sad about it, though. We end on some horrible motivational-speaker thing about perfection, and then some even more horrible stuff about French women having toned pelvic floors.

I really hate this wave of people who say and do horrifically anti-feminist things, and then try and pretend they're trying to help us. We've had people who think women shouldn't be working, and tell us that they're on our side, because we don't really want to be working. This "I correct women because they want to be corrected" stuff has been all over the place forever, trying to sell us an image of the person we could be if only we bought this, or went there, or did that. We are supposed to accept without question that breast implants can be empowering if a woman really, truly wants them (and I'm not about to psychoanalyse any of these women, but empowering? No. Confidence-boosting, perhaps) and I am pretty worried that one day soon I will be expected to accept without question that if a woman really, truly wants this man to re-mould her vagina in his signature style, then more power to her. It's inevitable that vaginoplasty will migrate over here, but I wish I could keep it out. Whatever this guy says, we clearly don't need it here, otherwise there would be actual demand for it. We seem to run enough plastic surgery clinics, and if enough of their patients, unsubjected to the hard sell, had asked for this sort of thing, they would have found someone to do it. It's all about profit.

What it is emphatically NOT about is empowering us. It's also not about what we want. This man knows what he thinks a good vagina looks like. It's not like a haircut, or even a nose job - one size will damn well fit all here. There is one image of symmetrical, youthful perfection. What if you like your flat labia? You think he'll encourage you in that, or will he break out his ring binder and say, in wheedling tones, "Oh, but darling, see how much better you could look"? The only reason this is being marketed as personal empowerment is because, by his own admission, men couldn't care less if there's fat in your mons pubis (I don't even understand this one, frankly) - if they did care, the good doctor would be working that angle for all he's worth. We all know that what other people think is far more important than what we think, at least when it comes to our own appearance, and if there was a viable "don't you want to give him this gift?" or "well, you can leave it alone if you want, but it's the kind of thing guys whisper about in pubs" selling point, the empowerment spiel would be out the window. He doesn't care about us, he wants money. Of course he wants money. That's understandable. But for the love of God, admit you're in it for the money. Don't pretend you're in it for us, because you know you're not. You know this is nothing but a breeding ground for insecurity and panic and self-loathing and looking at as much porn as possible trying to work out what the 'perfect' vagina looks like. And then we come to you and you say "Let me help you, I want to help you." And we believe that we're wrong, and funny-looking, and can never have sex ever again because what will he say? And you smile, and you fix us, and you take £40,000. And you get to tell the whole world that you're on our side.

I am not here to be shaped and moulded into someone else's idea of perfect. Not a stranger's, not a doctor's, not my partner's. And whatever the good doctor may say about the woman's decisions, it's not. He gets to reshape and remould every woman to have the "structure" and the "lines" that he thinks a woman should have. I am a person, and I am not your work of art. In fact, I'm one of those Englishwomen you hate so much - I was fucking born like this, so leave me the fuck alone.

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