No means no

The NSPCC and Sugar magazine have conducted an online survey on teenage girls unwanted sexual experiences. I can’t find the survey details (they were printed in Sugar magazine last week) but the NSPCC press release with details is here. Highlights (if you could call them that) are:

45% of teenage girls have had their bottoms or breasts groped against their will.

56% of unwanted sexual experiences occurred for the first time when the recipient was under (yes under) 14. (30% aged 12 or under, 26% aged 13).

44% were made to feel guilty for saying ‘no’.

Check out the rest of the statistics, including 51% felt as though the incident was at least partly their fault, and 7% thought there were some reasons for forcing a girl.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting because I find that students often respond to articles about sexual harassment or the silencing effect of pornography etc, by saying “well, girls are more assertive and in control nowadays, this article was probably right in the seventies, but things are different now”. Indeed, I’ve heard students raise the age of the statistics used by Rae Langton in “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” as a reason for maybe rejecting Langton’s argument. If this survey is right, “no” isn’t any closer to meaning no now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

Valuing Women’s Labour

Interesting article here, about new proposals from the Independent Midwives Association (IMA) for the way the NHS structures midwifery care. The idea seems to be to set up a more personal and long-term relationship between the pregnant woman and midwife, giving women the more choice about their care, as well as more flexibility to the midwives in terms of when and where they work. These proposals are intended to remedy the ‘present conveyor-belt model of care’.
Interesting philosophy-wise: the talk of the ‘conveyor belt’ model suggests that both midwife and pregnant woman are both engaged in production-line, unskilled work, raising issues of the way that women’s labour is viewed and valued (as discussed by Okin 1989).

Domestic Violence Training for Hairstylists

This article, passed on to me by S, discusses an interesting new programme (though apparently there have been others) that trains hairstylists about domestic violence. The idea is this: women often talk to their hairstylists about matters they won’t discuss with others. This means that hairstylists are sometimes told about domestic abuse. The training programme gives them information about getting help that they can pass on to clients. Sounds like an excellent idea. And very interesting for feminist philosophers: (1) it’s an innovative way of overcoming the silencing involved in women’s hesitancy to discuss domestic violence; (2) it recognises hairdressers as both possessors of important knowledge and potential teachers.

Discriminatory Beliefs and HIV/AIDs

An interesting report from Physicians for Human Rights(pdf here) draws connections between the discriminatory beliefs held against women in Swaziland and Botswana and the high vulnerability to HIV/AIDS that these women seem to have (e.g. 75% of all Sub-Saharan HIV victims in the 15-25 age range are female).

There are lots of factors involved but a lack of control over sexual decision making, and legal and social gender discrimination leading to sexual risk taking seem to factor large in PHR’s study. To quote:

“Interviews indicated that many HIV-positive women are forced to engage in risky sex with men in exchange for food for themselves and their children. As one interviewee put it, “Woman are having sex because they are hungry. If you give them food, they would not need to have sex to eat.” ”

The whole report makes very interesting reading, but what is especially interesting is that PHR take the solution to the HIV/AIDS problem in Swaziland and Botswana to hinge on greater rights and equality for women. If women have more say over sexual decisions they can assert a desire to use barrier contraception. And with legally protected property rights etc. there will be no begging for food and shelter with its accompanying vulnerability.

I think this is interesting because it gives a nice case for questions about cultural relativity, and especially for stretching any intuition we might have in favour of leaving other cultures unquestioned. Here is a case where regardless of how we, as westerners, mis-read other cultural traditions, introducing legal rights and increased social standing for women looks as though it would alleviate a huge health problem.

More on pornography and labiaplasty

Further to Jender’s recent post on labiaplasty, Lih Mei Liao and Sarah Creighton have recently published a study in the British Medical Journal looking at the causes and effects of cosmetic labia/genitoplasty (here if you’ve got Athens). They interviewed healthy adults who had undergone surgical reductions in “normal” labia to find the reasons given for wanting this procedure. They found pornography was often implicated. To quote from the BMJ press release:

“Patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora, … some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from advertisements or pornography that may have been digitally altered.”

They also suggest that the increase in numbers having this surgery is leading to a further increase in numbers wanting the surgery. They argue that the increased numbers of cosmetically altered labia contribute to the narrowing of our ideas about what counts as “normal”, leading women to feel greater concern about their own bodies, thereby increasing demand for labiaplasty. Apparently, numbers of procedures on the NHS have doubled in the last five – since the NHS won’t perform cosmetic surgery in the absence of psychological trauma, it suggests these procedures aren’t mere whimsy.

Also interesting is that Reuters reported on this article and its contents (here). However, they didn’t file it under “Health and Science” and “Lifestyle”, but under “Oddly Enough”, their section for jokey and bizarre news events.

Fashionably battered

Jess McCabe at The F-Word dicusses Benetton’s new “Colors of Domestic Violence” ad campaign, featuring models made up to look like victims of domestic violence. Benetton’s been making shocking ads that they say are intended to promote good causes for a long time. And there’s no doubt that these ads do raise awareness of domestic violence. Still, there’s something a little troubling, given that our reaction to fashion ads is meant to be along the lines of “I want to look like that! I’ll go buy that sweater!” Hmm. What do you think?

Labiaplasty to impress the girls

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon does an excellent job here on the astounding argument that women get labiaplasty to impress their female friends. Among other things, she points out that the author clearly has some rather odd ideas about what women do when they get together. (Marcotte’s post also includes a photo featuring some costumes to bear in mind for the next Halloween party you get invited to. Who would have expected such helpful tips from the Feminist Philosophers?)

Labiaplasty is actually a very useful teaching example for feminist philosophers: (a) It’s really hard (for reasons Marcotte mentions) to make the standard student argument that everything women do about their appearance is done for other women; (b) It at least seems to be a pretty clear case of porn shaping even women’s ideas of how they should look (whether it does so via their own viewings or via men’s comments). The reason for my qualification is that this article quotes one doctor who says shows like “Nip, Tuck” are cited by his patients more often than pornography is.

Gender-bending made easy

Apparently if women take birth control pills that eliminate menstruation, that’s a step toward blurring the boundary between the genders. Or so says the photo caption on this article by Susan Donaldson James at ABC. Who knew it could be so easy? (Fun, though, to reflect on which theories of gender would have this result. My vote at the moment is “none”, though I haven’t actually devoted much time to thinking about it.)