Virginity for Sale

Well well well . . . It was only a matter of time!

Last summer, I blogged about a case in France in which a young engineer had divorced his new wife because she was not a virgin on their wedding night. How did he find out? She failed to bleed properly from her vagina when they consumated their marriage on that auspicious night.

The case brought up all kinds of issues dealing with religion, sexual and reproductive freedom, and gender roles—particularly within some Muslim communities in which virginity is a prequisite for women’s marriageability. The case also brought up the issue of hymen reconstruction surgery, a procedure that restores the hymen and essentially gives women their virginity back, thereby allowing them a degree of sexual freedom without the risk of being stigmatized as unworthy of marriage.

A Chinese company, it seems, went one step further. Bypassing the surgical option, Gigimo offers an “artificial hymen,” designed to be inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse. According to the Huffington Post, the product “leaks a blood-like substance when . . . broken.” On Gigimo’s Web site, the artificial hymen is described as easy to use, non-toxic, painless, and hypo-allergenic—although a 2008 piece in Salon called attention to potential side effects.

At first blush, the artificial hymen might seem like a win-win situation for everyone. Husbands would be able to present a bloody sheet to their guests on the night of the wedding; women would be able to enjoy premarital sexual freedom without having to worry about a wedding-night divorce; and families would be assured that they had chosen good spouses for their children (IBN Live reported back in 2008 that Muslim women in Britain were already using the product to “fake their virginity”). Alas! Nothing is ever so rosy in the world of sex and marriage. Although having been around for a while, the artificial hymen is now making international headlines because conservative Egyptian lawmakers are seeking to ban its importation and sale in their country.

This case can be seen as an illustration of the ongoing tensions between tradition vs. modernity, men vs. women, religion vs. secularity, and the impact of science and technology on them all. Take, for instance, the role of culture: culture creates a need—in this case for virgin wives—which demands that women’s hymens be intact on their wedding nights. On the other hand, how does culture address those women who choose to exercise the right to decide when, with whom, and under what circumstances to have sex? Similar questions could be raised about the relationship between religiously mandated women’s roles and the expectations of—to say nothing of the demands on—modern women. In other words, how do traditional sexual and reproductive values play out in a modern society in which women may find them outdated and overly restrictive?

This line of argument, however, misses the point. The sad reality is that many, many women in Egypt and elsewhere do not have much—if any—say about when, where, how, and with whom they lose their virginity. This latter group has to answer twice: the first time for the actual loss of their virginity; the second time when they get married. Whether in the form of a reconstructed hymen or an artificial one, technology could have been a saving grace that spared these women the stigma of having lost their virginity before marriage and thus being rendered unfit to marry. In other words, the artificial hymen—while not restoring to these women the dignity they may have lost along with their virginity—might have given them a chance to leave the past behind (assuming, of course, they had any say in whom they married).

But alas! There are too many ifs and if-onlys when it comes to questions of sex and what women do with their bodies. Besides, the artificial hymen would have, at best, been of use to only the minority of women who could afford its $30 price tag. If the ban goes into effect, however, even they will have to do without its salvation. Instead, they will have no choice but to live with the consequences of decisions they made ages ago or—even worse—spend the rest of their lives having to answer for events over which they may have had no control.

This Sh*t Makes Me So Mad!!!

Assiya Rafiq, right, in front of her mother, Iqbal Mai. (Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times)

Assiya Rafiq, right, in front of her mother, Iqbal Mai. (Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times)

After being kidnapped at the age of 16 by a group of thugs and enduring a year of rapes and beatings, Assiya Rafiq was delivered to the police and thought her problems were over.

Then, she said, four police officers took turns raping her.

The next step for Assiya was obvious: She should commit suicide. That’s the customary escape in rural Pakistan for a raped woman, as the only way to cleanse the disgrace to her entire family.

Instead, Assiya summoned the unimaginable courage to go public and fight back. She is seeking to prosecute both her kidnappers and the police, despite threats against her and her younger sisters. This is a kid who left me awed and biting my lip; this isn’t a tale of victimization but of valor, empowerment and uncommon heroism.

“I decided to prosecute because I don’t want the same thing to happen to anybody else,” she said firmly.

Read the full story here.

How come it’s the victim who has to bear the shame, has to suffer ostracism from her family and community, who has to commit suicide? Why aren’t the men who kidnapped, beat , sold, and raped her the ones who have to bear the shame?

Gates Case has Everything to do With Racism, Which is Probably why it Won’t go Away.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. participates in a panel on CNN's live show 'Moment of Truth: Countdown to Black in America 2,' Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. participates in a panel on CNN's live show 'Moment of Truth: Countdown to Black in America 2,' Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The ink had barely dried on Henry Louis Gates’ arrest record before people were falling over themselves to debate whether or not the arrest had anyhing to do with race. Even President Obama was asked to weigh in at a White House press conference. But at least one person involved in the scandal—the eminent Harvard professor himself—believes race was a factor.* In fact, expressing this opinion to Officer Crowley is what got him arrested.

Somewhere in this mess is Lucia Whalen, the 911 caller who’s been accused of racism for mentioning to the dispatcher that the suspects were Black. The recently released 911 tape provides some vindication—some vindication because, while she does not specifically use the word “Black,” she does tell the dispatcher that one of the suspects looked “kind of Hispanic.” Kind of Hispanic? What exactly does kind of Hispanic look like anyway? Because pictures of Gates’ accomplice have been hard to come by, it’s safe to assume Gates—with his mocha skin—was very likely the Hispanic-looking one. But it doesn’t matter because in Boston—which doesn’t exactly have a great reputation for racial inclusivity—“kind of Hispanic” translates into “not White,” which pretty much answers the dispatcher’s question about the suspects’ race.

If race was not a factor, why then does a suspect’s skin color matter in the first place? Wouldn’t “what are they wearing?” be just as good for identifying suspects? After all, the police are perfectly capable of identifying suspects by their clothes, hairstyles, or physical features, no? Gates, for example, has a very recognizable limp. So again, if race didn’t play a role, why was it so important to the dispatcher?

But wait! Just when things couldn’t seem more cut and dry, genetics throws a spanner into the works. In an ironic twist, professor Gates has traced part of his genetic ancestry to an Irish warlord! Even more astonishing is the fact that Officer Crowley, who maintains that his decision to arrest Gates had nothing to do with race, is descended from the same warlord!!! This means that Professor Gates and Officer Crowley are related!!!

So the question becomes: if not for racism, how on earth could Officer Crowley and Professor Gates end up in the confrontation that splashed their photos all over the national press and got them invited to the White House for beers with the President? On the one hand you have Crowley, a White police officer, a symbol of law and order in his community. On the other hand, you have Gates, a Black man and a renowned Harvard professor—albeit surprisingly unknown and unrecognizable to Crowley. On the 911 tape, Crowley tells the dispatcher, “I have an ID of a Henry Louis Gates.” Apparently, he had no idea who this “gentleman” even was! So again, how did Gates become a burglary suspect in his own home? More importantly, how did these two men—who share DNA!—wind up on opposite ends of the racial binary, one presumed to be an upstanding, fairminded citizen and the other so easily mistaken for a burglar? It seems pretty cut and dry.

According to Officer Crowley, Gates was “uncooperative”—as anyone with any dignity or self-respect would have been in that situation—so the handcuffs had to come out. But giving a police officer a piece of your mind because he basically accused you of burglarizing your own home is not disorderly conduct, it’s freedom of expression. Expecting any person to grin and bear such indignity and humiliation is not only unfair and insenstive, it borders on tyranny. Isn’t protection from the caprices of an overbearing executive one of the foundational principles of the Constitiution, a document with which Professor Gates is no doubt familiar? Luckily, Cambridge PD sympathized with the professor and dropped the charges. That should have been enough vindication.

But not for everyone. In nearby Boston, Officer Justin Barrett was so incensed by a local columnist’s defense of Gates that he wrote her an email in which he called the professor a “banana-eating jungle monkey”! Even more troubling is Barrett’s assertion:

I am not a racist, but I am prejudice [sic] towards people who are stupid.

Apparently, Officer Barrett, despite his dislike of stupid people, is incapable of recognizing racism. He goes on to conclude that Professor Gates “has indeed transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey,” and adds that, had he been in Officer Crowley’s place, he would have pepper-sprayed the professor in the face.

So we’re back to the same question: on what foundation did Barrett’s letter rest, riddled as it was with “frequent grammatical and spelling errors”? This barely literate man, despite having been an English teacher, does not even know the meaning of transcend—to rise above, to move onwards and upwards—or that it has a positive connotation (the word he was looking for is “regressed”). Yet for some reason, he confidently and mercilessly denigrates an acclaimed Harvard professor! In fact, this incident defies logic and can only be understood as an irrational emotional response born of prejudice and ignorance. Kinda like . . . racism?

But, lest anyone get the impression that this case is all about race and nothing else, it’s only fair to point out that Officer Barrett also had a few choice words for the columnist, Yvonne Abraham:

Barrett, who identified himself as a veteran . . . also took issue with Abraham’s journalistic ability, calling her ‘a hot little bird with minimal experience in a harsh field,’ as well as ‘an infidel.’ The rambling e-mail also suggested that she ‘should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning,’ later returning to that line of thought with, ‘I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. No sugar.’

Good to see that Officer Barrett is well-rounded in his prejudice. After all, his sentiments give the impression that having been born with a penis—kinda like having been born with  the right skin color—entitles him to insult and dismiss a professional journalist for no reason other than that she was born with the wrong genitals. Oh, and he disagrees with her on the Gates issue.

The only good that might come out of this episode is that Officer Barrett will be removed from the police force, prompting a huge collective sigh of relief from “infidels,” “hot little birds,” and “jungle monkeys” all over the Boston area. In the meantime, I gotta cancel my subscription to Ms. Magazine and tear up my NAACP membership card. I won’t be needing those anymore!

*Considering Professor Gates has written books on the question of race and racism in America, I’m going to have to assume he knows what he’s talking about and agree with him.

Gang Rape/Murder Trials May Strike a Blow for Women’s Rights in South Africa.

A little over a year ago, the body of 31-year-old Eudy Simelane was found in a park near her home on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. She had been gang raped and stabbed 25 times. Eudy was a sportscaster and a former midfielder on the South African national women’s football team. She was also a lesbian.

In a country where rape and violence against women is endemic, Eudy is one among countless victims. A recently published survey found that one quarter of South African men admitted to having committed rape. Further compounding the problem, the One in Nine Campaign, which takes its name from the grim statistic that only one in nine victims comes forward, maintains that rape is grossly underreported. This is no surprise considering that in South Africa, as elsewhere, women who are raped often find themselves blamed for it. For example, in a recent high-profile rape trial, the current president defended himself with the old she-made-me-do-it line, arguing (among other things) that the victim had provoked the sexual encounter by wearing a kanga—a traditional wrap-around garment—while she was a guest at his house. Unlike the president, however, most South African rapists are never tried for their crimes.

But Eudy Simelane’s case is somewhat different from the others. She was well-known, so the trial of the men accused of raping and killing her is bringing a lot of needed attention to South Africa’s rape crisis, especially to the targeted rape of lesbians. Dubbed “corrective rape,” The Guardian describes it as a practice wherein men—or gangs of men—rape lesbians in the belief that after sex with them, a lesbian will “become a girl.”

Earlier this year, one man accused of playing a role in Eudy Simelane’s death pled guilty to robbery and murder, but not rape. Today, the remaining suspects go to trial. Womens’ and gay rights activists are organizing around the trials—as well as around two other cases of “corrective rape”—hoping to push the government to take stronger action against rape, sexual violence, homophobia, and other hate crimes.

The convictions and sentences handed down in these cases ought to send a strong message that rape is wrong and go a long way towards improving life for lesbians—and other women—in South Africa. After all, it was the first country in the world to constitutionally guarantee gay rights, and the outcome of these cases will show whether, and to what extent, the South African government is committed to the ideals enshrined in the post-Apartheid constitution.

Decapitating your Wife is not a Good Way to Improve the Image of Muslims in the US.

Muzzammil Hassan (left) and his wife. Mr. Hassan confessed to police that he had decapitated his wife, who had recently filed for divorce. The had two children, ages 4 and 6.

Muzzammil Hassan (left) and his wife. Mr. Hassan confessed to police that he had decapitated his wife, who had recently filed for divorce. The couple had two children, ages 4 and 6.

“The founder of an Islamic television station in upstate New York aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes has confessed to beheading his wife, authorities said.”

If this case weren’t so real—and horrendous—one might mistake it for a parody article from The Onion.

Great! Another Muslim psychopath commits a grave act of domestic violence. The Islamophobes are really going to have a field day with this one. Nice move, Muzzammil. It will take thousands of hours of positive TV programming to repair the damage you have singlehandedly done to the image of Muslims. I hope you rot in jail.

My heart goes out to this poor woman and the children and other loved ones she leaves behind.

There’s really nothing more I can say.

Read the full story here.

Immigration Process Costs Some Immigrants More Than Money.

The New York Times recently reported that some female immigrants who have applications pending with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service are asked to perform sex acts with immigration agents and even subjected to forcible or coercive sex in exchange for approval of their applications.

. . .. Mr. Maxwell’s own deputy, Lloyd W. Miner, 49, of Hyattsville, Md., turned out to be an example. He was sentenced March 7 to a year in prison for inducing a 21-year-old Mongolian woman to stay in the country illegally, and harboring her in his house.

Other cases include that of a 60-year-old immigration adjudicator in Santa Ana, Calif., who was charged with demanding sexual favors from a 29-year-old Vietnamese woman in exchange for approving her citizenship application. The agent, Eddie Romualdo Miranda, was acquitted of a felony sexual battery charge last August, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to probation.

In Atlanta, another adjudicator, Kelvin R. Owens, was convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting a 45-year-old woman during her citizenship interview in the federal building, and sentenced to weekends in jail for six months. And a Miami agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for transporting a Haitian woman to detention is awaiting trial on charges that he took her to his home and raped her.”

Read the full article here.

This is what happens when an entire population is denied rights and left at the mercy of an often overly punitive government bureaucracy.