Some Thoughts on the Muff March

This post was written by Jacob on December 10, 2011
Posted Under: Uncategorized

People may have seen the event on facebook or the piece on the Guardian Website advertising a march down Harley Street today “against the pornified culture driving women under the knife to get a ‘designer vagina’” and “against the cosmetic surgeries ruthlessly profiting from this practice.” Here are some thoughts on the critique that has surrounded this event:

Behind rather a lot of the rhetoric is an argument that capitalism, or rather the expansion of the degeneracies of the commodity form to the human body, conflicts with “that which is natural”, which, we are told, ought to be defended. This is the start of an argument which all too often becomes “what is natural is good”. Nature, that transcendental principle, will apparently deliver us from our despair, it will make us human once again. On the contrary, the only valuable argument about nature is one that examines its witheredness as a mode of critique without a demand to return to nature. The repression of nature may be a (very literal) index of suffering but the end of suffering is not the return of the natural, and every claim of the possibility of the natural is nothing but the propagation of its further suppression by capital.

There is also a claim regarding the “pornification” of culture that manifests itself in the demand for surgery. This is nothing but a bracketing out of basically every other social relationship as mediated by capital, as though the “natural look” couldn’t be equally recuperated as commodity. Or as though sex as it exists today somehow exists other than in the cold system of exchange. Commodities aren’t commodities because of what they are like (although commodities are, qualitatively, dialectically, a certain way). Capitalist exchange means a total system of adequation of everything we do, or produce. The notion of the pornographic gaze as alienating is only viable for people who don’t already understand how absolutely they are alienated. The notion that sex, or the body, can currently exist outside of the relations of capital is nothing but uncritical Romanticism, a philosophy whose reflexion has already been subsumed totally by ideology.

Every expectation of today’s society is one of public self-mutilation; not having cosmetic surgery will not save you. Ultimately, for some people, vaginal cosmetic surgery may be a source of pleasure, just as one may take culinary pleasure from the most processed, most heavily packaged food item. Is the Muff March nothing but an analogue for those bourgeois who spend their time on Radio4 extolling the values of “real food”, the truth being that their muddied misshapen carrots bought from the farmers market at twice the market price offer nothing but a grand sense of capitalist identity while disavowing themselves from capitalist systems.

Nature will not protect anyone from anything. It ought not be the job of protest to sell one commodity over another. The real damage to genitalia is something more primary, more hidden. Bodies are born cut up, ready to be sold. Your vagina has no privilege.

This is not to say that there is no room for critique of this type of surgery and its popularity, as well as the modes whereby it has become a popular phenomenon, but rather that a lot of the critique offered by the people around this march is hugely flawed.

Like this article? Print it, email it, Stumble, Facebook and Tweet it:
  • Print
  • email
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Mixx
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Live
Share

Reader Comments

I definitely support the aims (and creative methods!) of the march generally, but I agree that there are some gaps in the analysis being presented — ones that are typical of much liberal and radical feminism, I’d say.

The causal link between pornography and increasing demands for surgery is one of the main ones. We also hear a lot about the “pornification of culture” and less about the “culturalisation of pornography”, whereby pornography embraces the values of the wider culture in a more extreme form: violence, sexism, exploitation etc. I’d argue that cultures of feminist solidarity, resistance and self-autonomy — like the Muff March! — need building within the sex industry as well as outside it.

#1 
Written By D.B. on December 10th, 2011 @ 1:19 pm
Real Name

Such dense writing, even impenetrable (ho ho!) in places.

Please read:-

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

Cheers,

GO

#2 
Written By Real Name on December 10th, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

“…muddied misshapen carrots bought from the farmers market at twice the market price”

how is NOT having cosmetic genital surgery more expensive than having it?

I don’t understand why you’re arguing that this is a normal part of a woman’s life? This fad is totally unhealthy, in a similar way that the practice of infant circumcision is, which now (rightly) is having a backlash, the same is deserved for this sort of surgery.

The fact remains that the number of these sorts of procedures have rocketed in recent years, which probably is the fault of the media.. and what part of the media deals in genitals? Porn.

#3 
Written By Dolly on December 10th, 2011 @ 4:52 pm
Sofie

“Probably the fault of the media…”, “porn”, “this fad”.

Research in 2005 into reasons behind choices to have labiaplasty (US-based, available, if you can get access, at – http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00813.x )

“The review revealed 131 patients had undergone a labia reduction surgery. They had a mean age of 35.7 years (range 14–57), mean parity of 1.7 (0–6), 95% were white, 3% were African American, and 2% Asian. Results of the questionnaire revealed: Group I—those who received labia reduction surgery for strictly aesthetic reasons—equaled 37% (49/131); Group II—those seeking the surgery strictly for functional impairment equaled 32% (42/131); and Group III—those seeking the surgery for both functional and aesthetic reasons equaled 31% (40/131).”

I’m sure I’m not the only person extremely uncomfortable with some feminists attacking women (at least 63% in this case) who have a surgical procedure to relieve discomfort or pain, because, as so often, they’re more interested in pushing their anti-’sexualisation’ agenda than in considering the reality of lived experience and working from there.

Some women probably do have this surgery for ‘aesthetic’ reasons, and maybe there’s a debate to be had around what that says about the media we all consume (porn not being the only medium that can inspire body dysmorphia, or even the worst offender). But let’s not ignore the broader range of reasons, or worse, make out like having this surgery at all, ever, for any reason, makes you A Traitor to The Sisterhood/A Dupe of The Patriarchy/a gullible follower of ‘fads’.

#4 
Written By Sofie on December 10th, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

Spot on, Sofie. Agree completely.

#5 
Written By D.B. on December 10th, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

It’s a while since I’ve read an articled so long on what look like Marxist cliches and so short on humanity, so forgive me if I struggle to keep up. It’s a while since I’ve seen adequate conjugated as if it were a verb, too.

However, I think I can make enough sense of Jacob’s polysyllables to say this in response. It may be that acts that include changing the shape, look or function of our bodies are acts of survival or resistance. To say ‘this is my vagina, it will look the way I desire it to’ is to declare a desire for some kind of autonomy. To a doctrinaire Marxist that may be an illusion, a mere tilt at hegemonic windmills, but to some of us it may appear to be better than mere acceptance of the norm.

Of course there’s a risk that that desire for autonomy might be subverted by the market, but, qualitatively, the desire to have piercings or tattoos is no different to labiaplasty if you follow the logic of the organisers of the muff march.

#6 
Written By Carter101 on December 11th, 2011 @ 9:40 am

“bought from the farmers market at twice the market price” I hesitate to point out the obvious but if you bought carrots at the market whatever you paid is pretty much, by definition, the market price.

I digress…

I attended the muff march and interviewed around a dozen of the participants to find out why they were there some of which I’ve reported here http://www.bigsmoke.org.uk/?p=17086

I was struck by a few things. First that while the organisers talked about pornification quite a lot the marchers barely mentioned porn, and at least one speaker said that porn was a non-issue.

Second they did not see the problem as about moving away from nature but that the images and messages that girls are bombarded with induce self-loathing by placing unrealistic expectations upon us – expectations that will not be fulfilled through surgery.

Several people drew the distinction between necessary cosmetic surgery and “designer vaginas” so I think the idea this was an attack on cosmetic surgeons in general is a bit of a red herring.

There were two areas where I genuinely think there needs to be more thought (on their part, and everyone else’s). One is about ‘my body my choice’ and how pro-choice abortion arguments fit with the arguments against labioplasty and the other is this supposed parallel between female genital mutilation around the world and cosmetic surgery here – which seemed a bit thin to me.

#7 
Written By jim jepps on December 13th, 2011 @ 12:09 pm
Helen

This article goes wrong in so many ways. The critique of ‘natural=good’ is a valid one, but not in this context. The ‘natural look’ already IS a commodity – haven’t you seen cosmetics ads, women’s magazines, that sell such a thing? This isn’t about a fetishization of the natural, it’s about rejecting the notion that your body should be surgically altered to fit social norms of what is acceptable, substituting functionality for appearance. It is about the difference between seeing your body as a commodity to be consumed by others, rather than for your own use and pleasure.

(Also, the carrots comparison? Totally ridiculous. You don’t have to spend money on leaving your body as it is.)

Sure, the argument can be made that appearance can also be for your ‘own use’ – as CARTER101′s comment implies. The fact remains that standards for what you want your vagina to look like do not exist in a vacuum. There is a reason why a ‘pretty’ vagina might make someone happier given the social context which we are in, just as consumer products are for the working class. Sure, we all want those things, but those wants don’t come out of nowhere.

The notion that this is declaring autonomy and power is a bit of a chimera – sure, you are declaring autonomy over the natural appearance of your body, but you are declaring submission to something else. Just as the integration of women in the capitalist labor force declares autonomy from the patriarchal family (economically at least) at the same time they declare submission to capital.

@Sofie – I don’t think anyone who is against cosmetic surgery is insensitive to those who have surgery for reasons of functionality. You don’t see feminists campaigning against breast reduction surgery, for example, which is usually done for back pain or other functionality reasons. the evidence you present could equally be stated as 68% had aesthetic concerns, rather than how you presented it. Also, women’s understanding of what ‘correct’ functionality is may be again distorted by the same cultural norms – in the documentary Orgasm Inc, there is a woman who undergoes the insertion of an ‘orgasmatron’ into her spine because she believes she is sexually dysfunctional (which did not work at all and is hugely risky). It turned out that what she considered as dysfunction was that she did not orgasm from penetrative sex only. She was not aware that this was actually quite normal. It would be interesting to know what is considered dysfunctional by these women in this study/context.

#8 
Written By Helen on December 15th, 2011 @ 10:03 pm
Sofie

I think they *were* insensitive, because no one mentioned it at all in any of the press releases, slogans, leaflets, whatever (at least not that I’ve seen and I’ve been looking). They erased non-aesthetically motivated labiaplasty entirely.

I’m not willing to go into details here from studies (it’s very graphic) but suffice it to say the examples I’ve read are not women seeking an elusive, made-up version of ‘normal’ female sexuality. They were women who, often after childbirth, were unable to resume sexual activities they had previously enjoyed, and wished to.

I think it’s also important not to draw a distinction where aesthetic reasons are always bad and functional reasons are good. ‘Aesthetic’ is a big umbrella term for many motivating factors. And, y’know, we come off as the feminist police again.

It’s also important to bear in mind that labiaplasty figures may cover sex reassignment procedures; another reason ‘natural as good’ is unhelpful is how alienating it can be for trans people.

I’m not unconcerned that there might be a rise in women having cosmetic surgery because a range of media (not just porn) have normalised a certain body type that they don’t feel they fit. But a headline grabbing media stunt with so many flaws in its politics and message is not even close to an answer on these questions.

#9 
Written By Sofie on December 19th, 2011 @ 10:25 pm
Marcus

I can’t help feeling that the real point of the Muff March has been lost (was lost immediately). The media and those responding by posting Internet comments have concentrated their efforts on whether or not anyone should be concerned about the right amount of pubic hair to have or not have, the appropriateness of labiaplasty as an aspect of cosmetic surgery, and the motivation of women who elect to have the procedure carried out.

To labiaplast or not to labiaplast? Actually, that is not the question. This is just another skirmish in the e-feminists’ war against men. And the vulva is just a convenient bit of turf on which to have the fight.

Untangle yourself from the labrynth for a moment.

This is about some women turning other women into victims (again). Having found a victim, they look for a victimiser (not hard, because it’s always men), in this case Harley street surgeons. The victims in these cases never (ever) exercises logic, free will or common sense. They are always, pressured, forced or coerced (words used freely and interchangeably by e-feminists). As one commentator pointed out, “It’s not an option to groom, it’s a demand!”

The cause and the arguments are always weak, but usually reference the e-feminists’ obsession with sex. To bolster shaky arguments, the rhetoric is laced with intoxicating quantities of negative imagery and association. The purpose of this is to take the attention off the weakness of the original argument and win support of reasonable people who really don’t care one way or the other about the contrived issue but do have a view about, say, something as nasty as coercion. So the issue is fused (in this instance) with references such as: ruthlessly mining women’s bodies, barbaric genital mutilation and ‘ideals’ peddled by the pornography industry. The careful juxtaposition of words such as pornography and pre-pubescent girls is clearly intended to result in a secondary level of negative imagery.

The language that e-feminist’s use isn’t accidental, it’s calculated. Each sound-bite is calculated to do damage.

The e-feminists three point strategy, which is based upon victim, victimiser and spurious negative imagery, is played out over and over again (in different clothes) by e- feminists throughout the world like an inoperable cancer.

Obviously, the perpetrators of this nonsense can expect some post-march opposition. The stock response by the e-feminists’ foot soldiers who are carefully embedded amongst the ranks of the general public can be relied upon to brand anyone foolish enough to challenge the credibility of the argument as a misogynist (or if there are several doubters, they are branded as hordes of misogynists.

Q: What is an e-feminist?
A: According to some views, it’s a woman who could start a fight in an empty room.

#10 
Written By Marcus on January 10th, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address

Please leave these two fields as-is:

Protected by Invisible Defender. Showed 403 to 463,730 bad guys.