Australian women choose genital mutilation

16 November 2010

Written by: Sarah Green

Feminists and human rights activists continue to campaign to stop female genital mutilation (FGM), a procedure that intentionally excises female genital tissue leading to problems such as frequent bladder infections, childbirth complications and the risk of later surgery. The World Health Organization estimates there are 100 to 140 million women living in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who have had their lives damaged by FGM.

It is therefore concerning that western women are voluntarily turning to genital mutilation. In Australia today, there is a growing trend of women requesting labioplasty or genital surgery to reduce the size, shape and look of their labia.

Over the last two weeks the Sunday Age has been reporting on the dissatisfaction that increasing numbers of women feel, which has led to a rise in the number of women opting for genital surgery. In the last decade there has been a tripling of genital surgery rates with doctors ‘warning pornography may be driving women to have unnecessary genital makeovers’.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland –How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality, claims  the mainstreaming of porn has caused women to believe they are sexually empowered by looking and acting like a porn star. Although women know the images they are seeing are not the ‘real thing but are technologically enhanced’, they are still influenced and feel inadequate in comparison. As well as the tripling of genital surgery, Dines reports that over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in overall cosmetic procedures with 12 million operations taking place annually in the U.S. for makeovers such as liposuction, face-lifts and breast jobs.

For the past 20 years, Dines who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College has been witnessing changes in young adult sexuality, which she argues is being shaped by porn. Dines discusses ‘gonzo porn’ which depicts ‘hard-core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased’. Boys as young as eleven years of age are now viewing porn and it is this ‘porn sexuality’ they are learning rather than positive human sexuality that evolves from everyday life experiences.

Dr Castle, the head of psychiatry at St Vincent’s Hospital told the Sunday Age that he is calling for legislation requiring pornography producers to declare all airbrushed images, so that women would have a clearer and more realistic idea of normal female genitalia.

Dines claims the multibillion-dollar pornography industry must be considered a major public health and social concern. Her assertion is supported by reports that young women are requiring psychiatric treatment after the genital surgery because they still do not like their bodies.

It is distressing that Australian women are seeking surgeons to cut away bits of labia that they do not like or want, while activists try to stop the enforced mutilation overseas. Perhaps those women who think that they are abnormal in some way could get a hold of a new book called The Heart of the Flower, which has been ‘designed to normalise and celebrate diversity at a time when labial reconstructions have reached an all-time high and women’s body image is at an all-time low’. All women should be free to love their bodies without the influence of the pornographers and surgeons who wish to remake them.

Helen Lobato is a Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University.