Livro feminista: You Have The Right To Remain Fat, Virgie Tovar

Por Helô Righetto

Um manifesto contra a gordofobia. Um livro fácil de ler (tem em português! o Título é ‘Meu Corpo Minhas Medidas’) que explica didaticamente o que é gordofobia, mas que principalmente deixa claro a intersecção da nossa obsessão pela magreza como sociedade com outras opressões: machismo, racismo, classismo…

A Virgie Tovar, americana filha de mexicanos, conta que passou cerca de 20 anos de sua vida tentanto emagrecer, tentando não ter o corpo que sempre falaram pra ela que era ‘errado’. Ela fala do perigo da cultura da dieta, quem se beneficia com isso e como nos convencemos de que, se não somos magras, ‘merecemos’ ser tratadas como cidadãs de segunda classe.

Tem uma coisa que ela fala, que parece tão simples, mas que achei tão forte: que a solução para um problema como intolerância não é a gente acomodar a intolerância em nossas vidas e fazermos o possível pra ela não nos incomodar. A solução é eliminar a intolerância. Achei genial.

Nós temos no canal três vídeos sobre gordofobia, vou deixar eles aqui caso alguém se interesse pelo assunto e queira saber mais.





#elenão e Hannah Arendt

Por Renata Senlle

Em tempos de #elenão, não canso de pensar como é que pode nossa sociedade permitir que discursos homofóbicos, racistas, machistas, portanto, criminosos, tenham tanto espaço e audiência. Não canso de pensar como é que a gente faz para se envolver mais com política e impedir ou resistir a isso. Como tornar esse tema mais atraente? No nosso canal no YouTube, a playlist Conexão Política é a que tem menos views. Estamos conversando com um tanto de mulheres incríveis que estão se candidatando nessas eleições. Mas existe uma rejeição ao tema, que inclusive impede que a gente junte forças para ir contra esses movimentos retrógrados e a favor de um mundo mais feminista.

E esse assunto me lembrou de uma mulher incrível que se dedicou a pensar as origens de regimes totalitários. A filósofa política judia, Hannah Arendt, viveu a primeira e segunda guerras mundiais e questionou “como foi possível o totalitarismo”, essa experiência do horror? Como nós podemos nos reconciliar com esse mundo? Hannah foi uma filósofa que se dedicou a pensar o mundo; o mundo da ‘vida ativa’. Para ela não dá pra abrir mão de estar no mundo e se responsabilizar politicamente. Para ela, somos mais humanos quando agimos politicamente. Para Arendt, a pluralidade é fundamental na política.

Penso nela e penso na política que nós, mulheres feministas, podemos fazer, e é o que ajuda a manter a energia em tempos estranhos.

PS: Para conhecer mais a obra de Hannah Arendt, indico o curso ‘Nas Fronteiras do Pensamento: Hannah e Butler‘ com a professora Crislei de Oliveira Custódio. A primeira aula foi semana passada e motivou esse post. Tem transmissão ao vivo e gratuita.

Livro Feminista: Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

Por Helô Righetto

Como feministas e como ativistas, é fácil a gente cair na armadilha do ‘preciso saber tudo e não posso falar besteira’, como se todo um movimento fosse quebrar caso a gente de um passo em falso. Como se nós fôssemos responsáveis por provar a existência do machismo e da misoginia. Se a gente falhar? Ah, tá vendo só, essas feministas não sabem de nada.

É mais ou menos isso que Roxane Gay fala na introdução da coleção de ensaios ‘Bad Feminist’. Que a gente precisa parar de se culpar por gostar de certa música ou assistir certo seriado porque há machismo ali. Que somos seres humanos, temos falhas, e que nossas falhas não podem ser as responsáveis por destruir todo um movimento.

Os ensaios vão muito além da questão ‘má feminista’: Roxane Gay aborda raça e gênero principalmente no que diz respeito a cultura popular. Achei alguns ensaios meio chatos porque ela falava de certo livro ou filme que não assisti. Mas isso acontece em livros de ensaios, nem todos nos agradam. No caso de Bad Feminist, foi a minoria.

Roxane Gay parece estar sentada do seu lado no sofá da sala, conversando sobre o filme que está passando e fazendo você pensar em questões que antes pareciam muito complexas mas que ela faz parecer muito simples. Ela fala de cultura de estupro, de emoções, de livros, de filmes, de uma forma tão fácil e tão interessante, que acho difícil alguém discordar.

O livro é de 2014 e estava esperando na minha estante há pelo menos 3 anos… fui deixando, passando outros na frente, mas finalmente chegou a hora dele. Depois que conversei com a Fran, uma das hosts do podcast ‘Más Feministas’ (que tem esse nome em homenagem ao livro), achei que não dava mais pra adiar!

Imagem: https://dribbble.com/shots/3933414-Roxane-Gay-illustration

A nossa vez

Por Helô Righetto

Acredito que a essa altura do campeonato vocês já estão sabendo do grupo no Facebook com mais de 1 milhão de mulheres que não irão votar no candidato inominável. Estou fascinada pelo grupo e confesso que há horas estou lendo as postagens, interagindo, deixando comentários e lendo o que essas mulheres tem a dizer.

Como a Aline Hack do Olhares Podcast mencionou no Twitter, esse grupo é a prova de que as mulheres não estão para brincadeira na Internet. Imagino que nem todas desse grupo de um milhão se considerem feministas ou muito menos de esquerda, mas me aquece o coração saber que não aceitamos alguém que não apenas não nos aceita como iguais mas também quer tirar os poucos direitos que temos, assim como os direitos da comunidade negra, LGBTQ e outros grupos oprimidos.



Há quem diga que estamos nos iludindo com a internet, que não há revolução feita por esse mundo digital. Eu digo que quem afirma isso não conhece o feminismo brasileiro. Não somos ingênuas. Somos politizadas, somos radicais. Usamos as ferramentas digitais sabendo de suas limitações e suas fragilidades, e sabemos também que nossos opressores estão lá. Não nos reduzam a avatares: somos corpos, somos pensantes, somos articuladas.

Somos 1 milhão contra o fascismo.

Museu Nacional, Maria Leopoldina e Independência

Convidamos a Juliana Fleig Bueno, historiadora e pesquisadora de gênero, para escrever um texto sobre o Museu Nacional. Aí vai! Obrigada Juliana por nos ajudar a deixar essa homenagem ao Museu aqui na Conexão

7 de setembro de 1822

Viva a independência e a separação do Brasil. Pelo meu sangue, pela minha honra, pelo meu Deus, juro promover a liberdade do Brasil. Independência ou morte!

Apesar de não ser a mais conhecida, essa foi a frase proferida por Dom Pedro I há quase 200 anos, data que marca a – controversa – independência do Brasil. A colônia se tornava independente de sua metrópole, Portugal.

Não trago novidades, todos aprendemos isso na escola e ouvimos todos os setembros sobre o assunto, mesmo que seja para somente nos alegrar porque teremos um dia extra de folga, como o que ocorreu na última sexta-feira.

O que muitos não sabem, ou se talvez nunca ninguém tenha se esforçado para nos ensinar – ou nós para aprender – é que uma mulher fez parte desse processo. Maria Leopoldina da Áustria foi a primeira esposa de Dom Pedro I, e consequentemente se tornou imperatriz quando o Brasil deixou de ser Colônia e se tornou um Império. Também é a mãe de Dom Pedro II, imperador até o nosso país se tornar República.

Mas como toda mulher, Maria Leopoldina foi muito mais que esposa e mãe. Talvez mais importante que isso, Maria Leopoldina foi uma das principais articuladoras do processo de independência – apesar de Dom Pedro I ter tomado para si toda a glória, como visto na frase que inicia esse texto.

Nascida Carolina Josefa Leopoldina Francisca Fernanda de Habsburgo-Lorena na Áustria, a então princesa Leopoldina não era alheia aos acontecimentos do período, entendia que havia o perigo da fragmentação territorial por grupos separatistas e acreditava na independência como única saída possível. Além disso, tornou-se a primeira mulher a assumir o poder no Brasil, quando em 13 de agosto de 1822 passou a ser a princesa regente com a viagem de Dom Pedro I para São Paulo. Também foi uma das responsáveis por convencer seu marido a aderir ao processo, e por isso é uma das principais articuladores da independência.

No dia 2 de setembro de 1822, sabendo que a quebra dos laços com Portugal era o melhor caminho, Maria Leopoldina organizou uma reunião do Conselho de Estado na qual foi decidida e formalizada a independência do Brasil. Essa reunião ocorreu no Paço da Boa Vista, Rio de Janeiro.

O que Maria Leopoldina não sabia naquele 2 de setembro é que 196 anos após sua decisiva ação – extremamente incomum para uma mulher de seu período –, o fogo destruiria o local em que este importante fato histórico ocorrera.

E nós, 196 anos depois, precisamos que o fogo destruísse o Paço da Boa Vista, então Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, para lembrarmos que mulheres também tiveram seu papel na história e não eram apenas figurantes ou bibelôs que embelezam o ambiente.

Nós precisamos do fogo para lembrar de Luzia, fóssil mais antigo encontrado na América Latina. A “primeira brasileira” – sim, uma mulher! – que viveu há mais de 10 mil anos em nossas terras e que nos mostrava que nossas antepassadas estavam lá, e que a natureza tratou de preservá-las.

Nós precisamos do fogo para lembrar de tantas outras relíquias perdidas num dos mais incríveis museus brasileiros, que abarcava História, Arte, Geografia, Ciência e tantas outras disciplinas.

Nós precisamos que fogo destruísse o elo passado-presente para lembrar de nosso passado e questionar o nosso presente.

Espero que o fogo que apagou nossa memória, que destruiu itens que jamais serão recuperados e substituídos, como acreditam alguns políticos, seja responsável por não nos fazer esquecer de que um povo é feito também de sua história.

Quando morre um museu, um pouco da gente morre junto, mas uma outra parte começa a viver e recordar. Talvez do fogo, como a fênix, renasceremos.

Faça política como uma mãe (feminista!)

Por Renata Senlle

No dia 1º de setembro, participei de uma roda de conversa com o tema #mãesnapolítica, liderado pela ativista Anne Rammi, que é candidata a deputada estadual numa proposta diferente, com mandato coletivo, pela Bancada Ativista do PSOL.

A conversa reuniu um grupo de mães interessadas em falar das suas questões e em como isso reverbera no mundo político. Eram mulheres que não se veem representadas pelos eleitos aos cargos políticos. Mulheres que tem suas demandas diárias de vida pouco levadas a sério. Mulheres que entenderam que “o futuro do movimento feminista é angustiar a sociedade, deparando-a com problemas que, até agora, as mulheres tentaram resolver sozinhas”, como bem disse a escritora Rosiska Darcy de Oliveira no livro A Emergência do Feminino.

Pra não cair no textão, reuni alguns tópicos da conversa e que pontuam a urgência de a gente ter mais mulheres feministas no poder:
  • 83% das mulheres no Brasil são responsáveis pelos cuidados com os filhos.
  • Como fica a saúde mental das mulheres pós-filhos, dada a invisibilidade com que somos tratadas a partir do parto?
  • E o grande puerpério que é não se reconhecer após o parto, independentemente do tempo que faz o nascimento dos filhos.
  • Estamos em 2018 e não tem banheiro para criança, nem adequação de acessibilidade em transporte público. As crianças não existem. Mal são vistas como pessoas.
  • Onde estão as crianças nos dias não letivos das escolas? Quem cuida delas?
  • E as mães migrantes que não têm direitos políticos no país? A mãe migrante é como uma criança: precisa de alguém para falar e fazer por ela.
  • E os relatos de mulheres que já ouviram dos chefes que “rendem menos no trabalho por serem mães”?.
  • As mães viabilizam a sociedade. Nosso trabalho como mães é fundante da sociedade, mas somos vistas como meio e não como pessoas.
  • E as mães de filhos autistas que, não bastasse o perverso e bem intencionado discurso de “serem mães especiais” são recriminadas se querem fazer algo mais das suas vidas, além de cuidar dos filhos, porque, afinal “quem vai cuidar da criança?” (contém ironia nas aspas).
  • E o abandono paterno de 78% dos homens que largam as famílias em caso de nascimento de filhos com síndromes raras, de acordo com dados do Instituto Barese.
  • E as mães que já estão envolvidas politicamente que ouviram que “talvez não seja o momento da vida para fazer isso”.
  • Não adianta falar para uma mulher denunciar violência doméstica sem oferecer atendimento de cuidado para ela ser fortalecida depois disso. É preciso criar redes de apoio e fortalecimento.
  • Mulheres vítimas de abuso e violência devem ser realmente atendas pela polícia?
  • Devemos humanizar a polícia ou criar um atendimento diferente para esses casos com outra instituição responsável?


São temas e problemas que particularmente eu nunca vi nas pautas dos candidatos….

E pra fechar esse texto, vou de novo com Rosiska Darcy de Oliveira: “os interesses das mulheres estarão representados quando, no poder, uma mulher for capaz de agir como mulher, desafiando todo o estereótipo cultural que inferioriza a razão feminina como irracional e a sensibilidade feminina como sentimentaloide” “Não se trata de entrar na máquina política mas, talvez, de enguiçá-la para que outra se torne necessária, em que as mulheres possam funcionar”.

Livro feminista: Lean Out, Dawn Foster

Por Helô Righetto

Há alguns anos, o livro Lean In da Sheryl Sandberg estourou nas livrarias, e se tornou meio que uma ‘bíblia’ para tantas mulheres, já que tratava do assunto carreira de uma maneira que nenhum outro livro até então havia tratado. Mulheres no mundo corporativo, que sentiam-se nadando contra a maré nesse mundo tão masculino e tão pouco disposto a tornar-se menos opressivo, encontraram uma espécie de conforto nas palavras de Sandberg. Afinal, quem melhor do que uma mulher no topo da pirâmide corporativa e com uma vida familiar tão bem resolvida (o livro foi escrito e publicado antes da morte do marido dela) para falar para outras mulheres que sim, é possível ‘ter tudo’??

Claro que há mérito nas palavras de Sheryl. Eu acho que a partir do momento que tantas mulheres se sentem acalentadas, a gente precisa reconhecer que alguma coisa estava mesmo errada. Mas será que, ao seguirem o conselho de Sheryl Sandberg e tentarem se adaptar ao mundo corporativo e tomarem conta dela – ou seja, ‘lean in’- é possível mesmo fazer esse mundinho mudar?

Aqui na Conexão Feminista a gente acha que não. A gente não acredita em entrar nesse mundo e mudá-lo ‘por dentro’: uma vez no poder, vamos mesmo abrir mão dele para beneficiar outras pessoas oprimidas? A nossa resposta, mais uma vez, é não. E por isso que eu (Helô) gostei tanto do livro ‘Lean Out’, que é um manifesto/resposta para o Lean In. A Dawn Foster desembrulha esse feminismo decoradinho para o patriarcado, que usa palavras bonitas como ‘empoderamento’ e ‘representatividade’ para tentar nos convencer de que nossas necessidades individuais, quanto atendidas, nos fazem mais fortes.

O fato é que feminismo não é sobre necessidades individuais. É sobre equidade, sobre libertação, sobre coletividade, sobre interseccionalidade. Fazia tempo que um livro feminista não me animava tanto – estava bastante cansada de ler livros que mais parecem relatórios da ONU mastigados para mulheres ativistas que já estão nessa bolha.

Lean Out é sobre feminismo de verdade, feminismo radical, feminismo inclusivo. Sobre não pedir por favor para o patriarcado para nos deixar brincar. É sobre reconstruir e saber quem ter ao seu lado (e não abaixo de você).

Texto acadêmico: cirurgia plástica e cultura

Por Helô Righetto

Eu estou concluindo um mestrado em Gênero, Mídia e Cultura na Goldsmiths, University of London. Escrevi esse artigo para a matéria Gender, Sexuality and the Media (Gênero, Sexualidade e a Mídia), no começo de 2018. Resolvi disponibilizá-lo pois tive um ótimo feedback da professora da matéria (Dra. Margarita Aragon) e foi um texto que gostei demais de escrever. É sobre como usamos cultura como argumento tanto para emancipação quanto para opressão feminina, dependendo a qual cultura nos referimos.

Caso alguém se interesse em fazer a tradução, é só deixar um alô nos comentários ou entrar em contato comigo por emai: helo@conexaofeminista.com

‘Our own cultural practices are often so normalised that they are rarely subject to the same scrutiny as the practices of ‘others’. Turning a critical lens on what is not challenged in our own practices, but challenged in the practices on culturally different ‘others’, can offer a compelling insight into our practices, and the unquestioned presumptions which they both rely on, and reproduce’ (Braun, 2009: 234). With reference to this quotation, critically analyse how media and culture have influenced the normalisation of cosmetic surgery.

‘In trying to modify female genitals to make them conform to the cultural norm, the cultural norm continues to ignore the fact that female genitalia come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and sensuality that are unique to each woman.’ (Green, 2005: 171)


On her article about feminist disability theories, Rosemarie Garland-Thompson argues that ‘our unmodified bodies are presented as unnatural and abnormal while the surgically altered bodies are portrayed as normal and natural’ (2002: 12). A straightforward yet striking affirmation, which summarizes how cosmetic surgery is now so embedded in the western culture that is often disassociated with the risks and disadvantages of medical procedures. Virginia Blum affirms that cosmetic surgery is usually ‘justified’ with arguments based on the patients’ mental health, as there is no other way to understand harm being done to a healthy body (2003: 13). According to Blum, Psychological damage takes over for physical impairment. Healthy bodies begin to appear “diseased”’ (Ibid). Heyes and Jones also mention ‘inferiority complex’, ‘a claim that could not be disproved’ (2009: 5) as a justification to go on with aesthetic procedures. In a contemporary world where the female body that did not undergo any type of cosmetic reconstruction is increasingly scrutinised by society – especially by the media – and perceived as disruptive, plastic surgery becomes a source of self-empowerment of the ‘civilised’ and ‘successful’ western woman. Moreover, non-invasive everyday practices such as wearing girdles and high heels are normative – some feminists might say that they are compulsory -, even though such practices, especially when repeated throughout adulthood, ‘impair women’s bodies and restrict their physical agency, imposing disability on them’ (Garland-Thompson, 2002: 17). And again, just like plastic surgery, the act of wearing high heels or any other piece of clothing or accessory that interferes with the natural structure and aesthetics of the female body is perceived as choice. Choice is immediately understood as a result of women’s liberation. Therefore, women who choose to undergo a surgical procedure or wear attire that reduces mobility and causes long-term lesions are not perpetuating oppression embedded in western culture: they are simply expressing their right to choose.

In this essay, I will argue that western society’s understanding of culture creates an environment where surgical aesthetic modifications – cosmetic surgery, with a special focus on labiaplasty – are normalised and even encouraged. Although I will use some examples to show the influence of media in our construction of beauty standards, my objective is to offer a critical reflection on how we use culture to support the pursuit of smooth and homogeneous bodily surfaces. I will start by defining culture, and reflecting on how essentialized notions of culture are hurtful for women (Merry: 2006). I will then discuss how western society accepts media influence as part of culture to justify the control over women’s bodies disguised as choice and empowerment. Moreover, I will use Jones’ arguments on skins and screens to complement the idea of women’s bodies constructed to perform within a patriarchal and heteronormative society (2017). I will finish by comparing labiaplasty and FGM within the human rights framework.

What is culture?

I want to emphasize and define culture, as it is an essential concept for this essay. I want to analyse how western perceptions of culture are not only responsible for the normalization of female bodily modifications in western society, but also for using this normalization as a tool to disguise the perpetuation of women’s oppression by ‘othering’ non-western societies. When writing about humans rights and gender violence, Sally Engle Merry (2006: 10-16) deconstruct essentialized models of culture that often become obstacles to the realisation of human rights, especially women’s rights.

The first essentialized model is culture as tradition. When we construct an indestructible link between culture and tradition we evoke an evolutionary idea that ‘all cultures are positioned on a continuum from primitive to modern’ (Ibid: 12). The culture as tradition model maintains the idea that ‘traditional societies are at an earlier evolutionary stage than modern ones, which are more evolved and civilized’ (Ibid), and is often used to describe poor countries in the global South. Dorothy Hodgson points out that ‘“cultures” are seen as fundamentally local, moored to specific places, people, and times. Culture (or at least so-called “third world” or “traditional” culture) is often attacked as the obstacle to rights, the impediment to human progress and prosperity’ (2011: 2). Therefore, peoples from ‘traditional’ societies become, in the view of the global North, victims of culture: they need to be rescued, saved and civilized to overcome oppression. Female genital mutilation is the poster child of this essentialized view of culture, and is typically described as a ‘harmful cultural practice’ (Merry, 2006: 12).

The second essentialized model is culture as national essence. This view is rooted in Germany, as a result of the claims of universal civilization from England and France in the nineteenth century. ‘German romantics asserted the importance of a distinct culture (…) which formed the spiritual essence of their society’ (Ibid: 13). Cultural as national essence emphasizes national distinctiveness such as language, law and religion. The main issue with this model is that culture is used as a shield to human rights. Those who are opposed to women’s rights use national essence as a disguise to ‘defend culture’ and keep patriarchal privileges. According to Merry, to define culture as national essence is to believe that ‘providing [women’s] rights will cause social chaos and disturb established hierarchies’ (Ibid: 14). Therefore, culture as national essence is an excellent excuse for governments when they fail to adopt, protect and provide women’s rights. The idea of ‘not intervening with culture’ is especially dangerous for women. According to Florence Butegwa, ‘why is it only when women want to bring about change for their own benefit do culture and custom become sacred and unchangeable [?]’ (2002: 123).

The two essentialized models of culture explained above imply that culture is something that exists in villages, in remote places far away from urban world capitals, but not in places where human rights and women’s rights are discussed, such as the conference halls of the United Nations in New York or Geneva. Merry presents a more organic and inclusive conception of culture, based on anthropological observations. She calls this conception ‘culture as contentious’ (2006: 14-16) and explains that the emphasis in on making and transforming culture as it consists of many more pillars than beliefs and values. Cultures ‘include institutional arrangements, political structures, and legal regulations. As institutions such as laws and policing change so do beliefs, values and practices’ (Ibid: 15). Saying that culture is contentious is accepting that it is malleable, it is shaped according to changes in institutions, it is open to hybridization. It is in constant change instead of being ‘closed’ and ‘pure’. Consequently, a contentious culture is a culture that allows barriers to be broken and includes local practices as resources for thinking and realising women’s rights. Analysing and theorizing culture as contentious rather than an immutable concept amplifies the debate and allows for a more in-depth and accurate women’s rights activism.

Culture, media and choices

When I speak to friends, family and acquaintances about the definition of feminism, even with fellow feminists activists, I come across the word ‘choice’ several times. ‘Freedom to choose’, ‘right to choose’, ‘women making choices’ are ready-made answers to the question ‘how to do you define feminism in a few words?’. Virginia Braun says that ‘Ideas of autonomy and agency, and alongside these, choice, have been at the heart of feminism since the first efforts towards women’s emancipation, and have remained an important tenet of feminist discourse since that time’ (2009: 235). Choice is cherished and used as an argument for those that believe that there are no such a thing as sexism or misogyny in western society, that these are issues encountered only outside the global North, issues rooted in cultures that do not allow women to make choices. By stigmatizing and othering non-western cultures, including practices such as FGM and customs that exclude women from the fabric of society, we are building a pretence in which all women in the global North are emancipated, free and therefore able to make unbiased choices. Including choosing to do bodily alterations such as labiaplasty.

Virginia Braun suggests that the alleged patient’s autonomy is not free from marketing and advertising influences and that free choice is ‘culturally circumscribed’ (Braun, 2010: 1400). She points out: ‘how autonomous individual choices can be when considerable societal and media pressure exist for women to alter their appearances (?)’ (Ibid). Braun presents other sociocultural factors that influence choice, such as women’s lack of awareness of the diversity of vulvas as a result of the visual attention that only certain versions of vulva get, especially in pornography: ‘The most oft-cited visual vulval reference is pornography. A result of the ‘pornographica- tion’ of mainstream culture, where pornography is chic and (use is) normalised, is that seeing women’s genitalia – particularly supposedly desirable versions – has become more common for heterosexual women. This ‘porn’ vulva is reportedly desired by women’ (Braun, 2009: 242). Green corroborates, saying that several studies suggest that women are more likely to consider labiaplasty after seeing edited images of vulvas in photographs as well as pornography (2005: 174). This is particularly evident when Braun provides examples of the aesthetically ideal vulva that patients-to-be seek through: ‘a “neat” vulva that resembles that of a prepubescent girl, a fleshy but smooth-skinned (and firm) vulva, with labia minora that do not “protrude” beyond the labia majora; a “nicely” hooded and “contained” clitoris, as well as a “tight” vagina’ (Braun, 2010: 1401). In a website dedicated to promoting cosmetic surgery practice in the United States, the following statement was found: ‘The purpose of the procedure is to provide a youthful look of the labia minora and reduce the excess prepuce the excess skin along the sides of the clitoris. Patients want to have a youthful look of the minora. Patients want the minora nice, thin and perky. Patients do not want sagging, droopy and bunched up minora. Patients want a clean look. Patients also want the excess skin of the clitoris to be sculptured down so that the prepuce hugs the clitoris like a piece of paper draped tightly over a pencil’.

Images of ‘perfect’, unattainable bodies – including flattened, symmetric, screen-like vulvas – populate social media and screens. A recent article published on Huffington Post investigated the power of influence of social media celebrities on consumer habits, especially when it comes to beauty trends and habits. The report highlights the ‘Kardashian effect’, and refers to the physically harming homemade procedure to obtain temporary plump lips showcased on social media by Kylie Kardashian back in 2015, which led millions of young women to do the same. The same report also suggests that image editing apps such as Facetune – used to smooth skin or to make eyes look bigger – or face filters from Instagram and Snapchat play an important role in homogenizing the idea of beauty. Interviewed by the Huffington Post, Professor Renee Engeln said that ‘It’s not enough [to] have to compare yourself to these perfected images of models, but now you’ve got this daily comparison of your real self to this intentional or unintentional fake self that you present on social media. It’s just one more way to feel like your falling short every day.’

In 2017 an app named Princess Plastic Surgery, aimed at young girls, encouraged users to use scalpels and fillers to save the princess from being ugly as a result from a spell cast by a wicked witch. And in 2016 a cosmetic surgery clinic ran a television ad with a popular fashion blogger that had breast augmentation, in which she talks about how her self-esteem and confidence have increased after the procedure. A similar message was at the heart of a campaign that ran on television in 2017. Using the ‘do it for you’ rhetoric, the ad targeted new mothers who have insecurities about their bodies look after childbirth. The pressure to return to their pre-pregnancy weight leave new mothers vulnerable and at risk of depression. Although the ad was later deemed irresponsible and banned, it was on air long enough, exposing women once again to images of perfect bodies under the pretence of choice. Women are taught, from a very young age, that not only their natural features are wrong and that is normal to have plastic surgery to fix their bodies but also that doing a cosmetic procedure is empowering.

On the other hand, images of childbirth and breastfeeding, which include exposed vulvas and breasts which are far from the ‘youthful look’ promised by plastic surgery, are banned from social media and censored under misogynistic ‘community guidelines’. According to a report published on the website The Pool about the hashtag #stopcensoringbirth movement, ‘What has incensed and mystified campaigners worldwide is how something as natural, everyday and universal as childbirth can be classed as obscene, when women’s bodies are routinely used on social media for arguably more offensive purposes and positively sail through clearance. And because, as users, our squeamishness is highly selective and that – dare anyone say it – suggests deep-seated misogyny over how women’s bodies are permitted to be seen and for whom and what purpose they exist’.

Therefore, women are willing to have labiaplasty not because they can choose but because they feel the need to conform, to fill expectations, to be the idealised woman created by a patriarchal society. Angela King adds that ‘surgery is also promoted as being about individual choice and self-determination, but the end results aimed for, especially by the most popular procedures, seem to be profoundly normalizing’ (2004: 36). It is only normal then women that have done the procedure feel satisfied and happy with the result. Moreover, according to Braun, these women are not perceived as ‘victims’ of culture, even though they are influenced by it and may see labiaplasty as a positive side of western culture: the possibility of ‘choosing’ to undergo surgery is the argument itself, as women have the information they need to make a decision and can choose not to do the surgery (Braun, 2009: 238). Although I agree with Jones when she affirms that ‘we need to abandon narrowly reductive politics of representation such as “the media made me do it” narratives’ (2017: 44), and with Green when she says that women are not ‘cultural dupes’ (2005: 176), especially because patients are aware of media influence, I do believe that western society fails to acknowledge that labiaplasty and cosmetic surgery in general are a tool for perpetuating oppression. Jones herself says that ‘Our surgical culture literally shaves labia down to be even, immobile and small – and there’s no doubt that this is a profound way of silencing women’ (2017: 42), which could easily be a comment on FGM practices. There is no doubt that women with perfect health are putting themselves at risk to have aesthetically pleasing vulvas as a result of ‘growing cultural ideals of female genitalia seen in popular women’s and men’s magazines, as well as in pornography’ (Green, 2005: 175).

In summary, even though cosmetic surgery might be considered an aspect of western culture, the choice of becoming a surgical subject becomes an individual act, free from social norms. The woman that seeks aesthetics modifications is taking control over her body, is doing it ‘for herself’ and using her alleged freedom of choice (Braun, 2009: 238). This view taps into Merry’s aforementioned arguments that culture has different connotations in western society: it is prejudicial and oppressive for women in the global South, and a source of self-empowerment and agency for women in the global North.

Flattened vulvas and heteronormative sexuality

On her investigation about ‘media-bodies’, Meredith Jones argues that skins and screens are merging (2017: 29-48). Jones affirms that media – and especially social media – and bodies – especially female bodies – are so entangled that screens’ flatness (representation) is affecting the way we perceive three-dimensional surfaces (real life) and vice versa (Ibid: 29). She suggests that we no longer should mourn the detriment ‘real life’ relations because of our ‘parallel’ online lives, but instead we should ‘interrogate the paradigm in which bodies and media are formed together and continually re-form each other in an ongoing and under-examined tension between two- and three-dimensional ways of being’ (Ibid: 30). Jones proposes that skins and screens are coming together, and that ‘both are interfaces, both are media’ (Ibid: 33). For this essay, I will use Jones’s arguments that focus on the relations of images on media and plastic surgery – more specifically labiaplasty – in order to construct and support my own argument that, for western society, culture is only relevant and brought to the fore to support women’s rights when it highlights women’s oppression outside the global North.

When investigating the merge of skins and screens, Jones focuses on labiaplasty not only because of the vulva’s ‘complex and fraught history (…) and its distinction as the quintessential liminal part of women’s bodies’ (Ibid: 34) but also because of its three-dimensionality (folds, curves, asymmetry) and ambiguity (skin and orifice, hidden and exposed, receiver and expeller) and most importantly because we are led to perceive vulvas as ‘messy and irregular’ rather than just normal (Ibid: 34-35). The asymmetry and complexity of vulvas, as well as its individual particularities, instead of being seen as part of a woman’s essence and a normal and healthy component of a woman’s body, has become problematic, something to be improved, corrected, flattened, in order to be adapted to heteronormative homogeneity (Braun, 2010).

One example given by Jones is the use of image correction softwares such as Photoshop (or more user-friendly apps for mobile phones that do not require technical skills) to ‘adjust’ nude images of women and make them less ‘obscene’. The visible part of the labia minora is removed, so the vulva is reduced to the labia majora and a vertical crease (Jones, 2017: 36). Although consumers of popular culture are able to separate what is seen in the media from reality, manipulated images are partially responsible for the construction of beauty ideals. Jones argues that although women know that bodies and faces on screens and magazines are heavily edited they still wish to have their features altered to look like two-dimensional images (Ibid). She says that ‘In an image-saturated world where people wish they could be Photoshopped in real life and where scalpels can be aligned with digital tools, there is an under-examined tension between two and three dimensions’ (Ibid: 36-37). Here, I would like to make a link to the aforementioned app Princess Plastic Surgery, in which scalpels are literally digital tools, already constructing a notion that the two-dimensional and three-dimensional can merge.

Jones also taps into the Kardashian effect mentioned in the previous section. She focuses on Kim Kardashian-West’s nude photographs for a Prada advertising campaign produced not long after Kardashian-West gave birth. In this series of photographs, one stands out: ‘a photograph shot from below, emphasizing her hairless, oiled vulva rather than her face’ (Ibid: 39). Jones labels Kardashian-West’s vulva as ‘mainstream’ (Ibid), as it is symmetric, flat and smooth. There is an obvious paradox between the ‘seen on screen’ vulva on the series of photographs and the fact that Kardashian-West had recently given birth. Jones says that ‘In giving birth her vulva’s capacity as a (…) expandable, three-dimensional, living object had been utterly proven. And yet she was most keen (…) that it still satisfied notions of beauty in context of a two-dimensional surface’ (Ibid).

The desire for a body as a representation of a screen – becoming screen rather being skin – is not simply a result of the rise of technology. Jones highlights that the pursuit of the flattened vulva has been constructed since European colonizers highlighted the ‘extraordinary physicality of African women’ (Ibid: 37). The features of the vulva of the African women, such as elongated labia minora, were associated with race as a biological difference between the women colonized (wild, black and savage) and the women related to colonizers (civilized, white and docile). This inherited racist notion fits into the essentialized views of culture explained by Merry and explored in the first part of this essay. Colonizers were already creating a separation of what is accepted and what is not in women’s bodies (Ibid: 38-39). Jones affirms that ‘Such historical and contemporary entanglements help foster a powerful urge to modify (…), to smooth and diminish and reduce to a single surface’ (Ibid: 39).

Green highlights another historical factor, the clitoridectomies performed since the second century to ‘combat’ any subversion of the female sexuality, such as lesbianism and masturbation (2005: 160). Clitoridectomies were particularly popular among middle-class women in England during the Victorian Era in order to ‘preserve their energy’ and fulfil their ‘primary role in life; that of wife and mother’ (Ibid: 161). Green quotes of historian Ann Dally, who states that ‘clitoridectomies were practised during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on ‘women and girls of whose behaviour middle-class men disapproved’ (Ibid: 163). I want to link this quote with the explanation Green provides about the extra vaginal stitch performed in women which had tears or episiotomies after giving birth. The ‘extra stitch’ is also known as the ‘husband’s knot’ (Ibid: 170). Therefore, the medicalization of women’s bodies, more specifically women’s vulvas and vaginas, continues to be a tool to control women and mould their sexuality around the desires of heterosexual men. Moreover, the pressure to conform – which has been discussed in the previous section – is based in a patriarchal and heteronormative view about gender roles and the existence of only two sexes (Ibid: 177).

Once again I want to draw a parallel with the work of Rosemarie Garland-Thompson on feminist disability theories, which I previously mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay. She questions the ‘insistent narrative that one must overcome an impairment rather than incorporating it into one’s life and self, even perhaps as a benefit’ (2002: 27). For the context of this essay, the impairment can be understood as the unmodified body, leading us to reflect on the insistent narrative of living with our natural bodily features rather than ‘overcoming’ – transforming, altering, erasing, flattening – and understanding this as a benefit, which can be even interpreted as a political act and a way of changing culture, linking to Merry’s ideal of culture as contentious (2006: 14-16).

Labiaplasty x FGM x Culture and Human Rights

FGM is ‘often labelled a “harmful traditional practice” as well as a form of violence against women and violation of human rights. The human rights framework does not see consent as diminishing the violation. Even if a woman chooses to have this surgery, it is still a human rights violation. The critique of FGC incorporates concerns about health consequences, loss of sexual pleasure, violence against women, and gender oppression’ (Levitt and Merry, 2011: 85). James affirms that FGM ‘must be recognized as a patriarchal practice embedded within the complexity of gender hierarchy’ (2002: 99). However, it is imperative to consider that, in the case of FGM, ‘the opposition between guilty perpetrator and innocent victim is not so clear-cut (…). Those who carry out FGM, and who have done it to their children, do it for reasons of love, not hate. The reasons people give for continuing the practice are tied up with the belief that a girl cannot become a proper woman without the ritual of FGM’ (Nash, 2015: 132).

Levitt and Merry raise the question about plastic surgery in countries like the US ‘where these practices are common’ (2011: 85). In fact, 5070 women in the US had cosmetic vaginal surgery in 2013. Although cosmetic procedures can have debilitating bodily consequences they are not accepted as human rights violations (Ibid). Therefore, when we talk about cultural change and consequently the eradication of practices identified as violence against women, we must acknowledge that ‘there is a selection taking place in which other practices harmful to women are ignored’ (Ibid: 87). Although, as previously discussed, cosmetic surgery is perceived by western societies as choice and the women that undergo cosmetic procedures are considered to have agency, plastic surgery is a product of a culture that objectifies women and pressures women to achieve impossible beauty standards. According to Garland-Thompson, ‘the beautiful woman of the twenty-first century is sculpted surgically from top to bottom, generically neutral, all irregularities regularized, all particularities expunged’ (2002: 12). By drawing a parallel between labiaplasty and FGM, my intention is not to say that FGM practices are excusable and not a violation of human rights, but to highlight the issue that able-bodied women going through surgical interventions is not considered violence against women or a product of culture although it is inherent in patriarchal traditions and structures (Coomaraswamy and Kois, 1999: 190).

Surgical intervention for bodily modifications is an acceptable form of violence against women. Merry says that most societies have a boundary between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and ‘redrawing this boundary is at the heart of the human rights project concerning violence against women’ (Merry, 2006: 25). Hodgson agrees: ‘“culture” is often depicted as an obstacle to “progress”, thereby, at times, undermining women’s power and autonomy by ignoring cultural practices and beliefs that serve to empower women, while stigmatizing others, like FGM, that are often central to rites of passage or ritual transformations’ (2011: 140).

As the critiques towards FGM have started based on the health hazards associated with it but in the past few years focused on gender oppression – ‘a practice justified by custom and culture and redefined as an act of violence and a breach of human rights’ (Merry, 2006: 25) – we conclude that other forms of violence against women that are also a consequence and a symptom of gender oppression must be analysed through cultural lens and be included as human rights violations. The forms of violence against women ‘not labeled as harmful cultural practices’ (Ibid) include cosmetic surgery.

Conclusion

Each of the institutions that perpetuate gender inequality, as well as the understanding of gender, functions and is embedded in communities – therefore, cultures – in different ways. The complexity of the mechanisms of each and every one of the institutions cannot be accepted as perennial, uniform or static. If gender itself is not perennial or a given but a socially constructed performance (Butler, 1990), all the structures constructed to support and maintain gender oppression – such as the beauty industry and its range of cosmetic surgeries for the purpose of achieving contemporary beauty standards – need to undergo transformation. Lionnet says that ‘different cultures, for better or for worse, impose similar constraints on the bodies of their members, especially when those bodies are already marked by the sign of the feminine’ (1992: 8, quoted in Green, 2005: 178 ). These constraints are practised in different ways within different contexts – whether within communities in small villages in the global South or requested by women seeking a designer vagina in the global North – but we continue to witness a control over women’s bodies based on suitable essentialized interpretations of culture that deny gender equality.

I want to finish this essay borrowing Green’s words one more time: ‘The genital ideal may differ historically and cross-culturally, yet the fact remains, to be a woman is to have a specific culturally prescribed and approved form of genitalia. Indeed, her most ruthless critic may be herself’ (2005: 177).

Bibliography

  • Blum, V. 2003. Flesh Wounds – The Culture Of Cosmetic Surgery. California: University of California Press.
  • Braun, V. 2009. The Women Are Doing It For Themselves. Australian Feminist Studies. 24/60: 233-249.
  • Braun, V. 2010. Female genital cosmetic surgery: A critical review of current knowledge and contemporary debates. Journal of Women’s Health. 19/7: 1393-407.
  • Butegwa, F. 2002. ‘Mediating Culture and Human Rights in Favour of Land Rights for Women in Africa: A Framework for Community-level Action’. In Abdul-lahi An-Na’im (ed.) Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa. 108-125. London: Zed Books.
  • Butler, J. 2006. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
  • Coomaraswamy, R. and Kois, L. 1999. ‘Violence against Women’ In K. Askin and D. Koenig. (eds.) Women and International Human Rights Law. 177-217. Ardsley: Transnational Publishers.
  • Cosmopolitan. 26/04/18. 3 Common Cosmetic Vaginal Surgeries and Why Women Get Them. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a8349653/cosmetic-vagina-surgeries-labiaplasty-tightening/ accessed on 26/04/18.
  • Dr. Matlock. Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation. http://www.drmatlock.com/body-procedures-beverly-hills/laser-vaginal-rejuvenation/ accessed on 24/04/2018.
  • Garland-Thompson, R. 2002. Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory. NWSA Journal. 14/3. 1-28.
  • Green, F. 2005. From clitoridectomies to ‘designer vaginas’: The medical construction of heteronormative female bodies and sexuality through female genital cutting. Sexualities, Evolution & Gender. 7/2: 153-187.
  • Heyes, C. and Jones, M. 2009. Cosmetic surgery: A feminist primer. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Hodgson, D. 2011. ‘These Are Not Our Priorities: Maasai Women, Human Rights, and the Problem of Culture’. In Hodgson, D. (eds.) Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights. 138-157. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Huffington Post. 30/04/18. Instagram Influencers Are All Starting To Look The Same. Here’s Why. https://www.huffpostbrasil.com/entry/instagram-influencers-beauty_us_5aa13616e4b002df2c6163bc accessed on 30/04/18.
  • Huffington Post. 30/04/18. ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ Points To A Troubling New Trend in Plastic Surgery. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/snapchat-dysmorphia_us_5a8d8168e4b0273053a680f6 accessed on 30/04/18.
  • James, S. 2002. ‘Listening to other(ed) voices: Reflections around female genital cutting’. In S. M. James & C. Robertson (Eds.) Genital cutting and transnational sisterhood: Disputing US polemics. 87–113. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
  • Jones, M. 2017. Expressive Surfaces: The Case of the Designer Vagina. Theory, Culture & Society. 34/7-8: 29-50
  • King, A. 2004. The Prisoner of Gender: Foucault and the Disciplining of the Female Body. Journal of International Women’s Studies. 5/2: 29-39.
  • Levitt, P. and Merry, S. 2011. ‘Making Women’s Human Rights in the Vernacular: Navigating the Culture/Rights Divide’. In Hodgson, D. (eds.) Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights. 81-100. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Merry, S. 2006. Human Rights & Gender Violence – Translating International Law Into Local Justice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Nash, K. 2015. The Political Sociology of Human Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Racked. 30/04/18. Forget Fashion Week – the Kardashian Effect Is The Only Thing That Matters. https://www.racked.com/2016/9/8/12587882/kardashian-effect accessed on 30/04/18.
  • The Pool. 27/04/18. An “irresponsible” ad selling breast surgery to new mothers has been banned. https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2018/1/An-irresponsible-ad-selling-breast-surgery-to-new-mothers-has-been-banned accessed on 27/04/18.
  • The Pool. 24/04/18. Could a fashion blogger really convince you to get a boob job? https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2016/27/could-a-fashion-blogger-really-convince-you-to-get-a-boob-job accessed on 24/04/18.
  • The Pool. 24/04/18. These cosmetic surgery “games” are profiting from young girls’ insecurities. https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2017/25/zoe-beaty-on-cosmetic-surgery-apps-for-kids accessed on 24/04/18.
  • The Pool. 24/04/18. Why is the sight of a vagina giving life such a taboo? https://www.the-pool.com/health/wombs-etc/2018/11/Sali-Hughes-calls-to-stop-censoring-photos-of-childbirth accessed on 24/04/18.
  • The Washington Post. 30/04/18. Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge: The dangers of “plumping that pout”. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/21/kylie-jenner-challenge-the-dangers-of-plumping-that-pout/ accessed on 30/04/18
  • Feminismo em modo acadêmico

    Por Renata Senlle

    Em julho, logo depois que rolou o Intercâmbio Feminista, eu, Renata, fui participar de um Simpósio de ‘Gêneros, gerações e violências: Investigações sobre América Latina e Caribe’, que aconteceu na Universidade de Salamanca, na Espanha.

    Foi uma oportunidade de apresentar o meu projeto de pesquisa do mestrado, que pretende analisar o impacto das narrativas feministas da internet na cobertura da mídia tradicional dos casos de violência doméstica. Mas o mais bacana desse evento foi que fui convidada por uma querida professora que tive na escola, que hoje acompanha o trabalho que fazemos aqui na Conexão Feminista.

    Foi por conta das conversas que propomos aqui, das conexões reais que estabelecemos entre mulheres, dos antigos vínculos que resgatamos e dos novos vínculos que criamos toda vez que falamos das nossas questões, é que fui para a Espanha reencontrar a Vanessa. Quando ela me chamou eu já tinha o projeto, mas não tinha entrado no mestrado. Me inscrevi primeiro por conta desse trabalho aqui.

    Ela foi a professora mais marcante do meu tempo de escola. Dava aula de história de um jeito que abriu minha cabeça para as questões das mulheres (lembro das discussões sobre A Letra Escarlate, das mulheres bruxas queimadas pela inquisição e do quanto aquilo conectava com uma raiva interna, que hoje sei que é o feminismo). Gostava tanto dela que fui assistir a defesa da dissertação de mestrado dela que, logicamente, tratava de mulheres. Era sobre as memórias das mulheres católicas do Colégio Sion.

    Imagine a emoção de encontrar com ela novamente (nem vou falar quanto tempo depois) e apresentar minhas ideias de pesquisa!? Não sei descrever ainda como foi incrível e impactante. Hoje, ela é pesquisadora do Programa de Pós-Graduação Programa em Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Mulheres, Gênero e Feminismo da UFBA. E continua sendo uma mulher admirável.

    É “A” Conexão Feminista

    Por Helô Righetto

    O primeiro texto que foi publicado nesse site, dia 23 de julho de 2018, é sobre machismo na linguagem. Foi um texto que escrevi originalmente para o (agora descontinuado) jornal Brasil Observer, e que acabou não sendo publicado. Eu sou muito interessada nesse tema, em como a gente expressa machismo na maneira que falamos/escrevemos. Nosso vocabulário é super machista e é difícil demais mudar isso. Uma pequena mudança que nós duas, Heloisa e Renata, fizemos, foi parar de falar sobre a Conexão Feminista usando artigo masculino. Não chamamos a Conexão de “o” Conexão Feminista, e sim de “a” Conexão Feminista. Parece um detalhe bobo, mas no começo foi bem difícil a gente virar essa chave. Até nos acostumarmos parecia que estavamos cometendo uma gafe gramatical. Ninguém mais além de nós duas se refere a Conexão Feminista assim. Sempre recebemos mensagens de pessoas que nos assistem, escutam ou nos seguem nas redes sociais e que nos mandam links e depoimentos com o seguinte comentário: “lembrei do Conexão quando vi isso”. É realmente algo tão corriqueiro que demora pra gente perceber o quanto é importante. A Conexão gosta de ser ela. Um passinho pequeno para o feminismo (a feminismo?) mas um grande avanço pra gente desconstruir o machismo nosso de cada dia.