Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chinese-made "fake hymens" being marketed to the Middle East

Interesting story in Britain's Guardian this week about the growing demand for fake hymens in the Middle East, which writer Mohamed Al Rahhal just had to buy. They are manufactured in China and can be bought in Egypt via mail order. The phenomenon has lawmakers in a stir, arguing that it will promote female promiscuity.

To a Western mindset this is a whacky idea for a product, but in many societies, there are few things more important than ensuring the "honour" of an unmarried woman. And when she becomes a bride, in some cultures it is customary to check the bedsheets for blood after the marriage is consummated. For a woman who wishes to marry but is no longer a virgin, a fake hymen can protect against the perception of dishonour. And dishonour can sometimes be a matter of life and death - many so-called "honour killings" are related to a girl being seen to be sexually promiscuous.

How ridiculous is it that such a product exists? I mean, I'm glad that it does, but the whole philosophy towards women and sexuality that necessitates it is just messed up. Where is the insistence on males proving their virginity? Why does no one care whether men sleep around before marriage, yet demand that a woman remain pure? It is quite amazing the number of young men I have observed, in cultures from Asia, Europe and Africa, who see no hypocrisy in them being proudly sexually active, yet demanding a virgin bride.

The abhorrent practice of female circumcision (or female genital mutilation), practiced primarily in Africa but also Southern Asia, is tied to this philosophy. Its ultimate aim, at least in its extreme forms, is to prevent a woman from enjoying sex, thus dissuading her from having sex before marriage.

I'd like to think that in the West our attitudes are a little more advanced in this respect. But how much, really? Consider that a sexually active man is lionised as a "playa", "stud" or "ladies man", whereas the female equivalent seems to be "slut" or "whore". Of course, should a woman not wish to be sexually active, she is derided as "frigid". Many guys seem to be on an eternal quest for sex, but once they acquire it, do they respect the woman who granted them such a treasure? If only.


  1. First and foremost, the premium on female pre-marital virginity in many cultures derives from the threat of cuckoldry.

    As Kayne West sings in Golddigger-
    "18 years, 18 years
    And on her 18th birthday, he found out it wasn't his?"

    And when inheritance is passed from father-to-son, it makes a big (monetary) difference whether your son's bride might be carrying someone else's child.

    I'd love to see whether the virgin/slut dichotomy exists in the Minangkabau culture of Sumatra, where women inherit the property and husbands live as guests in their wives house.

    And genital circumcision/mutiliation (for both male and females) is not purely an African//southern Asian affair and the reasons for it there, as in aboriginal and surbuban Australia, are usually quite complex. It is rarely explained as an intention to dull sexual enjoyment. There are also usually elements of tradition, rite-of-passage, initiation into adulthood and the community to it as well.

    I'm not defending these practices, just giving some context....

    Female virginity is linked to male inheritance of wealth. If your son marrie

  2. @ Bonoboboy - I should have been more specific - I was primarily referring to infibulation, the most extreme version of FGM which is practiced primarily in NE Africa. This is the removal of the external parts of a woman's genitalia, followed by sewing her up leaving only a hole big enough for urination. Once she is married, her husband can unsew her.
    Whatever the other traditional reasoning for this barbaric practice, I cannot see it as anything other than a means of controlling a woman's sexuality.

    Other forms of FGM are not as severe and may be more symbolic in nature.

  3. What do you say to the relativists, Eurasian, who say that your condemning FGM reflects values stemming from your particular cultural formation, one which makes negative value-judgements on such things as FGM because of their impact on women's sexuality?

    But from whence does your cultural formation, Eurasian, derive its normative status, since you seem to be presenting it as normative? If you're not a cultural relativist, from where do you derive this standard of morality that you obviously treat as objective that it is apparently universally applicable and binding in its authority?

    Otherwise it may simply be a case of "what is wrong for you may not necessarily be wrong for them", such as "denying" a woman her "right" to "sexuality".

  4. @ Peter - I understood about 1/3 of what you said just there. Something about normative something else.

    Anyway, I think some cultural relativism is fine. But you can only take it so far. There are plenty of cultural norms which I don't personally fancy but can accept as a right of cultural expression. Say, arranged marriage or eating dogs. But some things are just f***ed and have no reasonable justification.

    A few examples: Honour killing. Infibulation. Sex with underage children. Slavery. "Dancing with the Stars."

    I'm firmly against those things. Is that wrong?

  5. Sorry you didn't understand most of what I said. Maybe I could have worded it better.

    Yes, "Dancing With The Stars" is wrong! :D

  6. @ Peter - it would be wise not to overestimate my intelligence.

    See Bonoboboy's use of a Kanye West lyric to illustrate anthropological phenomena, above.

    He knows how to pitch to my dubious level of intellect.