Sunday 13 June 2010

Labiaplasty and racism

I hope you'll take some time to read my page 'What is a Hottentot Apron?'. This tells the story of Saartjie Baartman and her compatriots, who were reviled by white Europeans for being way too lippy; and way too happy about it.

Anyone would be horrified reading Saartjie's story. Like the history of phrenology it reveals the horrible lengths Europeans have gone to to fabricate a scientific rationale for their prejudice. But I have an extra reason to empathise, because we are genital sisters, Saartjie and I.

The fact that I am a white European and the possessor of a 'hottentot apron', has inspired me to try to right some wrongs and in honour of Saartjie and her sisters to turn hatred into celebration.

We've become accustomed to hearing the term 'hypertrophic labia' and think it's a genuine medical diagnosis. The reality is it isn't. The term appears to have gained currency in the 16th century as a way to categorise certain women as not just physically abnormal, but also sexually and racially deviant (see this article which explains it all much more eloquently than I can)

And yet... have you ever seen this misognyist history represented in any programmes/articles about labiaplasty? I'd bet not, I certainly haven't. Putting this in context remember that labiaplasty is a type IIa female genital mutilation which doctors are forbidden even to promote, because it is harmful and rooted in the desire to suppress female sexuality.

Dontcha love white folks' hypocrisy!? Here are some quotes from doctors practising in Britain, as an illustration that the ghost of past prejudice stalks our surgeries, operating theatres (and television studios):

"They have these things's terribly embarrassing....they need to be made normal" - Dalia Nield

"Let's do the standing up test....[on viewing the labia while the patient is standing] ... they're sticking right down and normally you wouldn't get that appearance" Pixie McKenna.

[Labiaplasty] "leaves behind an elegant looking labia". Douglas McGeorge. He added, [just to remind us what we're for]: "Lads' mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look."

"for women with serious hypertrophy - when the tissue is dark and hangs down - there is a simple way to deal with it." Angelica Kavouni. [what exactly is it you find so medically problematic about dark skin Angelica? Do tell...?]

I'm going to keep collecting these quotes, and will be putting them in my next letter to the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association about this subject. Please do send me more examples as you find them.