Tag Archives: Middle East

Knowing cultural view of virginity, Chinese women try surgical restoration

Having just been to China and spent numerous hours discussing transnational gender issues, I found this article fascinating.  For Chinese women these unrealistic expectations of virginity are a real problem, and result in Lolita-like fashions, baby-doll pornography and a booming child sex-trafficking trade.  This also trickles down into personal relationships as women are prevented from feeling sexually liberated due to the double standard.

As much as I would like to agree with Zhou Hong, the doctor performing these surgical restorations, in saying that this is a liberating act, these surgeries avoid the consciousness raising that could come from direct communication.  Read about the stir this caused in Egpt, here.

We could also learn something here, Americans, that virginity before marriage isn’t all that important and it’s far from immoral.  But safety first!

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By Keith B. Richburg in Beijing, The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; A06

China has long been known as the land of fakes — Rolexes, DVDs, handbags and designer clothes.

Add a new one to the list: fake virgins.

A growing number of Chinese women — mostly in their 20s and about to get married — are opting for a surgical procedure called “hymen restoration,” which returns the hymen to its condition before it was ruptured, which typically occurs during first sexual contact but can also happen while playing sports or doing other strenuous activities.

Even as China has flung open its doors to the West and modernized, a deeply conservative and chauvinistic attitude persists. Many men, including white-collar professionals, say they want to marry a virgin. And increasingly liberated Chinese women have found a way to oblige them.

“We can fix it so everything is perfect, so the men can believe they are marrying virgins,” said Zhou Hong, a physician and director of gynecology at the Beijing Wuzhou Women’s Hospital. “We don’t advertise it; we don’t publicize it.”

Zhou, 44, said most of her patients are sexually active young women who are about to marry and have told their future husbands they are virgins. She said a smaller number want to forget a bad relationship and “start over,” and a few have been victims of rape.

Zhou is one of many Chinese doctors performing the procedure, which is also done in other countries. She said she restores as many as 20 hymens a month, and the number is increasing. For as little as 5,000 renminbi, or about $737, for a 20-to-30-minute procedure, Zhou is giving women a second chance at having a first time.

Does she worry that she is encouraging people to start their marriages with a lie? “It’s just a white lie,” Zhou said. And she blames men for having unrealistic expectations.

“I don’t agree with this value” placed on virginity, Zhou said. “It’s unfair to the women. The men are not virgins. But we can’t change this male-privileged society.”

The surgery, known as hymenoplasty, has been around for years, although it is considered rare and is illegal in some countries. It is performed primarily in Muslim countries, where the traditionalists place a high value on a woman’s virginity. It also has become common in France among French Muslims, usually for young women about to enter a traditional marriage. There are no statistics available in China on how often the surgery is performed. But sociologists and other experts, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggest it has gained in popularity.

For women who do not want to have surgery, a cheaper, faster path to “revirgination” is available in most sex novelty shops: a Chinese-made artificial hymen that purports to create a physical sensation for the man and emit fake blood when ruptured.

Good luck trying to buy a kit online! I was going to post a link for everyone but they're all but imaginary.

A 25-year-old woman from Guiyang recently bought several online, intending to resell them to young women in her circle. Some of her friends, she said, were worried that their boyfriends might leave if the truth about their virginity was known.

“It’s really worthless for couples to break up over this small issue,” said the woman, who asked not to be quoted by name.

Some sociologists and others have criticized the virginity obsession as emblematic of a male-dominated society in which women are viewed as sex objects. And they are equally critical of women undergoing potentially dangerous or painful medical procedures to conform.

“I think it is really stupid for women to do this kind of surgery and buying fake hymens,” said Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the country’s preeminent sexologist. “It’s self-deception.”

The virginity topic has surfaced in recent newspaper columns and Internet debates. Several men posting comments on a popular Web site blamed women for what they called modern women’s materialism when seeking a mate.

“Women demand men have houses and cars, why can’t men demand women be virgins?” asked one man on the Tianya site. “So, greedy women, remember, you have to protect your hymens, because those are big dowries for you to exchange for money.”

Some men who were interviewed agreed about the importance of finding a virgin. “I really care about virginity,” said Xia Yang, product manager for a technology company. “If you go to buy a cellphone, of course you’d want to buy a new cellphone. Who would spend the same amount of money to buy an old cellphone that’s been used for two years?”

The virginity debate also underscores a contradiction in modern China: As the nation becomes more freewheeling, there remains a deeply conservative core.

“Since the reforms began 30 years ago, sexual relations in China are actually quite chaotic,” said Chen Lan, a novelist and social commentator. “One-night stands, extramarital affairs, prostitution. . . . All this means Chinese women have more frequent sexual activity, and at a younger and younger age. And this makes men feel women’s bodies are not as clean as before. In these circumstances, men care even more about a woman’s virginity.”

Zhou, the gynecologist, is unruffled by the controversy.

She said that she hears from satisfied clients after they are married, women who text-message her to say that the wedding night was a success.

“That’s the happiest thing for us,” she said.

Researcher Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Why “Eat Pray Love” Should Make You Want to “Eat, Shoot and Leave”

I thought this review was hilarious.  Even though I’ve never read the book, I strongly dislike movies in which white people are enlightened by non-white people, and, in turn, try to save those non-white people.

Loop 21 discusses the dangers of “color blindness” in these “white-people-as-savior” films:

Hollywood has been perpetuating this “master narrative” for over 100 years — the fact that without whites, blacks will never reach their full potential in life or in society. Really.

While many people know this story and some may have lived it, the fact is that this is the exception and not the rule. Black folks spend plenty of time saving themselves from systems of oppression that are so intrinsically linked, that life on planet Earth can appear daunting to many and hopeless to others. The fact remains that African-Americans have a history of resiliency and determination that is unmatched in this country.

Why is Hollywood so invested in telling this other story over and over to the point of exhaustion, while clearly ignoring the norm, which is Black folks pulling together to make something out of nothing?

Hollywood’s love affair with black people with or without athletic ability, that need saving from themselves, continues. This love affair is only trumped by audiences that reinforce this problematic narrative by flocking to films that continue to profit from this disingenuous storyline.

This happens a lot in American movies:

Dangerous Minds

Renaissance Man

The Blind Side

and the new film Eat Pray Love


In the NPR article, “Eat, Pray, Love, Leave: Orientalism Still Big Onscreen,” author Mia Mask includes the film in a list of recent movies which romanticize travel along the Silk Road.  Some plots like those in Syriana, Body of Lies, and the new Prince of Persia “rely on the stereotype that the East is someplace timeless, otherworldly, incomprehensible.”  While other films like Eat Pray Love and Sex in the City 2, rely on the stereotype that “the East is waiting to be discovered by Westerners in search of self.”

This is orientalism.

“‘Orientalism’ is the term academic historians and literary scholars like Edward Said have used to describe this age-old pattern of depicting Middle and Far Easterners as primitive Others.”

But that’s another blog post.

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This essay, written by Sandip Roy and originally published on AlterNet, gets at the implications of exoticism and orientalism in the film Eat Pray Love.

For the longest time, I thought the 2006 bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” was a sequel to the 2004 bestseller about punctuation “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

Now I am enlightened. One is about the search for the meaning of life. The other is about the meaning of a comma.

I confess I never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller except for browsing through a few pages in a copy sitting by a friend’s bedside. I enjoyed the writing. The story of picking yourself up after losing your way has universal appeal even if we all can’t afford to recharge under the Tuscan sun.

It’s not Gilbert’s fault, but as someone who comes from India, I have an instinctive reflex reaction to books about white people discovering themselves in brown places. I want to gag, shoot and leave.

The story is so self-involved, its movie version should’ve been called, “Watch Me Eat, Pray and Love.” In a way I almost prefer the old colonials in their pith helmets trampling over the Empire’s far-flung outposts. At least they were somewhat honest in their dealings. They wanted the gold, the cotton, and laborers for their sugar plantations. And they wanted to bring Western civilization, afternoon tea and anti-sodomy laws to godforsaken places riddled with malaria and Beriberi.

The new breed is more sensitive, less overt. They want to spend a year in a faraway place on a “journey.” But the journey is all about what they can get. Not gold, cotton or spices anymore. They want to eat, shoot films (or write books), emote and leave. They want the food, the spirituality, the romance.

Now, I don’t want to deny Gilbert her “journey.” She is herself honest, edifying and moving. I don’t want to deny her Italian carbs, her Indian Om’s or her Bali Hai beach romance. We all need that sabbatical from the rut of our lives.

But as her character complained that she had “no passion, no spark, no faith” and needed to go away for one year, I couldn’t help wondering where do people in Indonesia and India go away to when they lose their passion, spark and faith? I don’t think they come to Manhattan. Usually third-worlders come to America to find education, jobs and to save enough money to send for their families to join them, not work out their kinks.

This is not to say “Eat, Pray, Love”– now a major movie in a theater near you – just exists in a self-centered air-conditioned meditation cave and has no heart. But it requires more than the normal suspension of disbelief when Julia Roberts announces she will eat that whole pizza and buy the “big girl jeans.” We see her trying to squeeze her Julia Roberts body into her jeans, struggling with the zipper and we know this is a fine, brave actor at work.

She tries not to be the foreign tourist but she does spend an awful lot of time with the expats whether it’s the Swede in Italy, the Texan in India or the Brazilian in Bali. The natives mostly have clearly assigned roles. Language teacher. Hangover healer. Dispenser of fortune-cookie-style wisdom. Knowledge, it seems, is never so meaningful as when it comes in broken English, served up with puckish grins, and an idyllic backdrop. The expats have messy histories, but the natives’ lives, other than that teenaged arranged marriage in India, are not very complicated. They are there as the means to her self discovery. After that is done, it’s time to book the next flight.

But all through the film this is what I was wondering. Why was she drawn to those three countries? Why Italy, India and Indonesia?

Is it because they all start with I?

I, I, and I.

Not inappropriate for a film that is ultimately about Me, Myself, and I. I travel therefore I am.

Nothing drove that home better than what happened after the screening ended. I went down in an elevator crammed with radiant women, all discussing when they teared up during the film, and how much they related to it, and its message of opening yourself up to the world. There was one woman in a wheelchair in the elevator. After we reached the lobby, the women, still chattering, marched out into the chilly San Francisco night. The woman in the wheelchair remained stranded behind the heavy doors.

Sandip Roy (sandip@pacificnews.org) is host of “Upfront,” the Pacific News Service weekly radio program on KALW-FM, San Francisco.

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The Speed Sisters in Palestine – NPR

What do you think of when you hear “racing?”  The roaring of engines?  Drunken fat men cheering?  Bikini-clad women waving checkered flags at the finish line?  I hear the victory bells of equality!

So gender equality in racing is no reality yet, but women the world over are staking their claim in this quest of man over machine.  NPR, CNN, and BBC ran stories recently on The Speed Sisters in the West Bank – a growing group of competitive female race car drivers tackling gender politics on the race track in the Middle East.

And since I believe in activism, show some support for these fearless leaders by friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter.  On their Facebook fan page you can see some really amazing photos of their fun and daring endeavors.

Here are some segments from the three articles.  Check out the articles in their entirety by clicking the links.

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“The Speed Sisters,” BBC

The eight-strong team is made up of Muslim and Christian women aged 18 to 39.

Not only are they challenging their male counterparts on the track, but also the often conservative nature of Middle Eastern society.

They recently competed in their first race as a team on what has always been a male-dominated circuit.

In another event they took part in, 50 competitors of both sexes had to race against the clock around the car park of a vegetable market in Jenin.

Matthew Bannister spoke to Suna Aweidah about how she came to be a competitor and how male attitudes towards her and the team have changed.

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“In the West Bank, Women with a Need for Speed,” Sheera Frenkel, NPR

Khaled Khadoura, head of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation, says that it took no time for women to move from novelty racers at the track to serious competitors. “I’m very proud to see our young women today taking an interest in race car driving, and training in order to improve themselves,” Khadoura says.

But not everyone is happy to see her on the track. Despite the growing popularity of racing across the Arab world, a number of Muslim clerics have spoken out against the sport.

Teammate Sahar Jawabrah says she’s heard men call it haram, or forbidden, but she thinks they are ill-informed. There is nothing wrong with racing, she says.

While most of the men at the races applaud just as loudly for the female racers as for the men, some say they are uncomfortable with women at the racetrack.

(Click for photo gallery) Mona Ennab, a former beauty pageant contestant, has been racing for more than seven years. But this year she's found herself as part of a team, the Speed Sisters - a group of Palestinian female race car drivers that's breaking stereotypes in the Arab world's increasingly popular auto racing scene. Photos by Maya Levin for NPR

Tareq Sarsou, a 33-year-old Ramallah store owner, says that while he was impressed by the sport, he isn’t sure it’s appropriate for Palestinian society. “I would not allow my wife, my sister or my daughter to race here,” Sarsou says.

In this season’s races, nearly all the women fared well against the men. And one of the Speed Sisters earned a spot in the top 10 rankings.

Like many of the women on the team, Ennab says she began her racing career almost by accident. “I love cars, I love speed, so I drive fast. And after they see me in Ramallah when I drive fast they told me to come to the federation and join,” she says.

“I think for me, driving isn’t like any other sports; men and women can compete in the same race. And you know what — they’re beginning to get there,” McLuskie says. “At the beginning of the season we had one of our girls who won her category. And you should have seen the faces of those guys.”

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“The Palestinian women racing drivers with a need for speed” by Paula Hancocks, CNN

Noor Daoud is 20 years old and car-crazy.

She wears black-and-yellow overalls rolled down to her waist, her curly hair tied back in a ponytail, and holds her helmet loosely in a perfectly manicured hand: This Palestinian woman who freely accepts she’s a tomboy.

Daoud has been driving since the age of 11 and used to run errands in the car for her mother in East Jerusalem. She was tall for her age, which is how she was able to reach the pedals.

Some of her male friends have come along for moral support and she says when other men see her race, they have no idea at first she’s a girl.

“They think I’m a boy, they don’t know I’m a girl,” she said, adding that she gets some raised eyebrows when she takes her helmet off. “They’re really surprised, they say ‘How can she? Where did she learn?’ And I never learned really, nobody taught me, it’s all me,” she said.

Daoud recently had some expert coaching from British trainer and former competitor Helen Elstrop. Elstrop told CNN: “The determination I see is just much stronger in these girls, and the Palestinian women I have met. They have worked very, very hard to achieve. Just to be out there is such a big, huge step.”

As Elstrop helped to break down gender barriers in Britain in what was traditionally thought of as a boy’s sport, she is helping the Palestinian women to do the same.

“When you have a crash helmet on, when you have your overalls on, when you have the windows up, who knows [who is] in the car?” she said. “It doesn’t matter, we like a level playing field.”

That was certainly the case on Ramallah race day. Seven women were competing with 43 men, and as the cars spun past scarily close to the spectators it was almost impossible to tell who was inside.

Although a man won this race, one of the women came seventh out of 50 — an impressive achievement considering how young the sport is for Palestinian women.

Little disappointment from Noor. She said “It’s been fun watching people win … because we’re all winners, we’re all sisters. We’re all speed sisters.”

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