whb: nature v. suture
August 3, 2004 12:44 PM

I owe a number of "back responses" to WHB questions. Here's one from a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Morgaine, cleverly titled "Nature v. Suture".

Buckle your seatbelts, kids - it's a long one. Feel free to play "I Spy" in the backseat while I type.

I. Reproductive options: a) Birth control – what if it might kill you? Make you sterile? b) Abortion- I know a girl who refused to use birth control and had 6 abortions. Any problem with that? (She knew better, she just didn’t care) c) Planned Cesareans – having surgery so you can plan your birth around your schedule. Any conflicts? Is it better for the mother to have a safe surgery or a risky natural birth? Would cutting a pregnancy short hurt the mother? The baby? Would it matter to you if there were increased risk to the baby? Is vaginal birth passé?

I am generally averse to medical intervention. I've encountered a lot of uninformed doctors, and I hesitate to make any decision that will make me more dependent on them.

Birth control's a fairly personal decision, particularly because the effects of current medical birth control options are so individual. I consider it wildly unfair that there are so few comparable choices available to men - the end result being that it's almost always up to the woman in any straight couple to decide how to avoid pregnancy.

Abortion is an acceptable means of birth control in my book. Have I used it that way? Well, no. It's expensive and even the medical (vs. surgical) option is still not a skip through the park, and prevention seems easier to me. But that's me. It's legal, it's up to you, and you shouldn't have to apologize, whether you 'know better' or not.

If I were to have a kid, I have no idea how I'd prefer to do it. There are advantages to a planned, controlled, surgical birth, I suppose. But there are also risks with any surgery (and, from the mamas I know, I understand those risks to be greater and the rewards sometimes less than having a kid the usual way). It seems to me that the least unpleasant and most empowering way to give birth is at home with a trusted midwife and/or doula. But then - I hate doctors, and it would be next to impossible for me to be comfortable through a medically assisted pregnancy.

I think instances of people planning C-sections just for convenience are fairly rare, and even if it's the next big trend, I have a hard time passing judgement on any woman for her approach to bearing kids. I'll wait and snark about how she raises them later. [It's a joke. Really, I'm kidding. I swear.]

II. Breasts – Are any or all of these purely a matter of choice? A necessity? An abomination? Vanity? Any issues of patriarchy, or oppression here?

a)Breast reconstruction- done after breast removal due to cancer, paid by insurance.
b)Breast reduction to alleviate back pain, paid by insurance.
c)Breast enlargement as an elective? What if the only implant available can be deadly? What if the Army is paying the bill? What if she's doing it to make more money or get a raise? Or because her boyfriend wants her to?

Can you guess how much it pisses me off that the military will pay for your breasts (well, sorta), but won't even LET you get a freaking abortion on your own dollar while you're active duty? That's demented, and totally in line with what I was saying on LJ earlier this week about giving the government more money to spend - making sure Army doctors have "practice" at plastic surgery is not a good use of the $.25 that probably cost each of us this year.

Back pain due to breast size can be treated with exercise as well as surgery, to an extent. To a degree, you could grow your breasts with exercise instead of surgery, too. Surgical alteration of breasts, no matter how much it may seem like an individual choice, is actually a series of "individual choices" that add up to support for a very narrow definition of "normal". Women are supposed to have two breasts of a certain size, shape, and quality in order to be attractive - this is an issue of tremendous concern for the women who get various breast surgeries, and it is cultural, not personal.

It may be your individual choice, but particularly when the intent is cosmetic it contributes to the porn culture and narrows other womens' choices each time one woman goes the surgery route.

III. Beauty hurts

Women in China used to be subjected to foot binding, which was a cruel and painful practice that crippled women permanently.

Right now, on the East Coast, women are paying doctors to have bones removed from their feet so they can fit into expensive designer shoes. Any problem with that? Do you ever buy shoes that don't fit because they're pretty ? Or on sale?

That is positively whacked. I have never met a pair of shoes that cute. Seriously, though, I think this is a class issue. As plastic surgery and personal trainers have become more the purvey of middle class folk, it seems like a subset of the wealthiest Americans looks for other more creative/expensive ways to make appearance a class indicator. It's a sort of consumption I find offensive and just - whoa, so utterly out of touch with the world.

Shoes should be both pretty and comfortable at least for their purpose. Most high-fashion designer shoes are neither. But yes, I've at least bought shoes that weren't tremendously comfortable based on my belief that they'd break in comfortably. They're like itty bitty sculptures, shoes are.

Which is, by the way, exactly the appeal of the broken "lotus blossom" feet of Chinese aristocrats during the brief time that was in fashion. Binding gave the foot a distorted sculptural form that was considered very beautiful. Our attitude about shoes, the use of heels to make "shapely" calves - not as extreme, but of the same color as Morgaine's examples.

There are some positives here, at least - no doubt in part because women have been working and "practical" for some time, there's more of a sense that your shoes - practical vs. silly - are something you're free to choose. In daily situations, it's as normal for a woman to wear comfy flats as teeter in heels. It's progress.

IV. Genital surgery. Little girls in Africa and the Middle East are systematically mutilated. Our government does not see this as a human rights issue. Women in America pay doctors to 1) create a false hymen 2) modify their labia for aesthetic reasons and 3) tighten their vagina to make sex more pleasurable for their (male) partner. Women are also known to have genital piercings done. Bikini wax, anyone?

I struggle with the implication in Morgaine's post that one government should intervene in what is considered accepted practice in another's society. I agree that the practice of "female circumcision" is barbarous, but violating another's sovereignty is also a human rights issue. One society's definition of barbarism is not the same as another, and there are, whatever you may think of them, rules about interference. It's a complex issue that could be seen as a colonialist intrusion on one hand or as a failure to intervene on civil war against women on another. And, as Karl pointed out, we still think of it as normal and ordinary to circumcise infant boys, a painful process even parents rarely have little choice in (not to mention the kid). What if we were a less powerful nation and the rest of the world decided abortion was barbaric and wrong?

From what I understand, genital surgery isn't always for a partner's pleasure - it can make sex more pleasurable for the woman getting the surgery, too. Seems like a huge amount of risk, but if the reward was going from painful to delightful sex...

On the other hand, I think all aesthetic surgeries fall under the "maintaining a narrow standard of normal" thing I mentioned above. Waxing to an extent does the same. Piercing is something I don't think even belongs in a group with the rest of these - yes, it's about aesthetics, but it's not about "normal". That gives it a very different context - taking it from defining what all women should be to what certain women are (whatever that is).

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your wicked thoughts

I find most of your responses to these topics thought provoking and right on. I must disagree with you on the breast reduction item though. I've known two women in my life who struggled with horrible pain due to extremely large breasts (not just back pain but also pain in the chest and upper body) and no matter if they decreased or increased their weight or tried a million exercises (and they did) the pain did not go away. The only way they found relief was through breast reduction. Neither of them went from extremely large breasts to whatever the porn ideal is. They were still average women with larger than average breasts. The only difference is that the breasts had become much more in tune with the rest of their body and stopped causing them excessive pain. So I don't think that their choice to decrease their pain by having breast reduction can in anyway be construed as support for "very narrow definition of 'normal.' "

these are the thoughts of Michelle on August 3, 2004 02:02 PM

Funny how people are quiet when they agree and pipe up with the comments when they don't. ;)

I didn't think the post was that strong in condemning everyone who gets a breast reduction. Hmm. Maybe a need for editing.

Though I do still contend that there are ways in which lifestyle changes can help people on this point.

these are the thoughts of april on August 3, 2004 03:48 PM

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