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Friday, July 28, 2006

Repairing faces (and other parts), 1

I have recently read two books dealing with the ethics of certain types of surgery. One of these was Cutting to the Core : Ethics of Contested Surgeries, edited by David Benatar (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006). This book had many contributors. Besides being glad that at least someone is paying attention to the ethics of surgery, I was struck by three aspects of the book.

One aspect was genital surgery on young girls. Some cultures expect young girls to go through a surgery more or less parallel to male circumcision, or worse. The U. S. Congress was understandably horrified by this practice, and it has been outlawed here. So far, so good? Maybe, maybe not. Some recent immigrants are either going to illegal surgeons, or sending their daughters back to the home country to have the surgery, so that the law hasn't stopped the practice, just made it more expensive, more dangerous, or both. Furthermore, in many cases, a small nick, rather than more drastic surgery, would satisfy the claims of the culture, but attempts to allow this have run up against the law, which forbids any such surgery.

Another aspect of this surgery that I hadn't considered was that there is little regulation of male circumcision in the U. S., but lots of regulation of female equivalent surgery. This doesn't seem quite right.

The second aspect that I wish to mention is surgery designed to enhance attractiveness. No contributor spoke out against breast size enhancement, which surprised me. The contributors who wrote on this topic included a plastic surgeon and a feminist scholar. It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society where many women feel that they need to have a "boob job," and where they feel more confident, not merely sexually, but generally, as a result. Can't we, whatever our sex, be content with the way we are, at least if it isn't grossly abnormal and/or life-threatening?

The third aspect is related to the second. That is this. More and more people are having surgery just to alter their appearance. Some of this is being done as art, some as cosmetic, and most of it for shock value. If I live very long, I expect to see someone growing feathers, with an extra eye, or with hair on the palms of their hands, for example. Is this right? If not, why not? Good questions.

I expect to post on the related book soon.

Thanks for reading.


Mirtika said...

Perhaps the difference between the male and female "circumcisions"--and why one is offensive generally to us while the other is common practice--is that 1. male circumcision was commanded by God for a certain group at a certain time and we would not believe God to ordain something wicked and 2. male circumcision can be looked at as a "hygienic" procedure that 3. does not cripple male sexual function unless some surgical mishap occurs while 4. female circumcision specifically is done to REMOVE a woman's ability to orgasm, thereby heightening the possibility that she will remain faithful.

Removal of a protective hood is not the equivalent of removal of a viable clitoris. If men had a radical reduction or elimination of sexual pleasure after circumcision, I guarantee they'd outlaw that, too.

Oh cosmetic surgery: As a woman who's never been beautiful and coveted that as much as any woman, I nevertheless find the cultural approval of early, frequent, and radical cosmetic surgery (and its role modeling by celebrities) rather horrifying. As I told my husband, pretty soon, men won't know what normal female breasts are supposed to look like, because the norm will become the round, hard, weird, surreal breasts that men's magazines and porn and strip joints now idolize.

And botox is just plain creepy.


Martin LaBar said...


Apparently there is some surgery that can be done on females that doesn't eliminate sexual pleasure, and will satisfy some cultures, but some of the surgery done on females is un-hygienic, horrible, and repressive.

You seem to be right about breasts, at least in North America in the 21st century.

What's next? Abs?

Mirtika said...

I wouldn't be surprised.

We have women plumbing up boobs and butts, removing fat from hips and thighs, surgically tightening upper arms, puffing up lips, immobilizing foreheads, flattening bellies, and those bizarre uber-white teeth that do not look remotely human or real. (I'm sorry, but human teeth are not the color of white-out!)

More and more folks are aiming to look like, what?, mannequins? Unlined, hairless, with no evidence that gravity has any kind of effect on the human tissue.

I understand the desire for beauty: it's powerful and it gets you admiration, promotions, attention, and a wider marriage candidate pool.

But it's as if we don't want to be human.

Besides, my head is constantly tallying how better spent those billions and billions could have been to alleviate real human problems, not cosmetic ones.