Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Fury and the Furiously Busy

Despite writing a blog about being offended, and therefore living in a state of near-permanant rage, it is not that often that I get really angry. This really angry being the kind of seething anger where you feel sick and you can't see and nothing can be done about it, as opposed to my usual rage daily rage that can usually be cured by drinking wine and ranting with my friend Sarah, or by writing a furious email or buying two different types of cheese. Peter Carlisle was definitely one of those times that I felt that seething kind of anger. Another time was when my baby sister's Spanish teacher told her that she needed to watch her repuation after she kissed a boy who was not her date at the school ball, because "Christchurch is a small place" and "boys don't like easy girls". Another time was when year or so ago a friend said that Caster Semenya ought to be competing in the Special Olympics. I think if he said that now I would probably question what it was about my able-bodied privelege that meant I thought that was such a degrading insult. Still, I don't think that not quite fitting into an arbitrary gender binary is enough to classify a person as being disabled.

Another time that I felt that kind of anger was when I first saw this:


An advert for Hymen Gel. I can't remember whether I first saw it on this tumblr or this one, but either way I felt the rage. My first reaction was the this-is-completely-fucking-ridiculous rage. My vulva is not a fucking hair tie. I don't reach for a vagina to fasten my top knot, and a vagina is not my first port of call to keep hair out of my face. But then the real rage started to set in. Rage about a culture that values virginal women, and a culture where companies exist to make money out of women who are paranoid about the tightness and the aesthetic appearance of their genitalia. Rage about a culture that values a woman for the tightness of her vagina, rather than her knowledge or abilities or experience. I also felt a smidgen of the THIS-IS-SO-MEDICALLY-INACCURATE rage, because the vagina is a fucking powerful muscle, it is not a 'use it three times and then leave it in the bottom of the shower' type of situation. And speaking of medical rage, this shit can not be good for you. These kind of products work by causing SWELLING and IRRITATION. If I get thrush from even looking at an antibiotic, I hate to think what these kinds of products do to self cleaning lady ovens.

But through the searing anger, I wondered whether this advert could even be real. So I did some googling. I found the advert listed on the Ads of the World website, made for the Salem Drug Store by the Classic Partnership Advertising company, in Dubai. I also found the Hymen Gel website, with the following mission statement:

"We provide high quality services to pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, Parapharm-aceutical and cosmetic industries in the Middle East region. We cover wide range of niche products from gynecology, skin care and pediatrics."

And then, I felt I swiftly began to feel uncomfortable about my rage, becase Hymen Gel because is a Middle Eastern product and it was a Middle Eastern advert. I felt uncomfortable for heaps of reasons. I felt uncomfortable because I don't want to sound like some white saviour, hypocritically banging on about the oppression of Middle Eastern women while my culture oppresses women in a whole pile of different ways. I might not be able to buy Hymen Gel at the Cuba Street Pharmacy, but waxers and plastic surgeons are making a mint out of Western pussy shame. I feel loathe to comment on a culture that is not my own, and a culture that I have not lived in, because I can never possibly understand the many nuances and practices and traditions and feelings. The best case scenario would be that I would inevitably end up resorting to stale stereotypes about Muslim women, and the wost case scenario would be some kind of Samantha in the market place in the second Sex and the City movie type situation. I can't deny my white privilege when I'm talking about this stuff. I can't deny that I have absorbed some of the media's fearful portrayal of Islamic culture, but I can try and unpack some of this stuff. Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things is a good place to start. One of my first thoughts upon learning the origins of Hymen Gel was about how the stakes are higher in the Middle East, because in New Zealand women are not stoned for adultery and going to the doctor to get a Certificate of Virginity before you get married isn't the done thing. And while this might be a valid point, these are simplistic thoughts. For a start, there HEAPS of different countries in the Middle East, each with different value systems. These are thoughts that other another culture, while ignoring the systemic oppression in my own. There are millions of Muslim people in the world, and I'm pretty sure that every Muslim woman doesn't feel like she has to use Hymen Gel.

I am still furious that Hymen Gel exists. I am furious at EVERY culture where women are ashamed of their genitalia, and where the abstract concept of "virginity" is prized. I am furious that companies exist to manipulate the shame that women feel through advertising, and profit from these cultural ideals. But I am a hypocrite. I have paid my own hard earned cash for a Brazilian wax. I trim my pubes. I am not immune to pussy shame. But is the hymen gel advert just an equivalent to this?

I also wanted to say, dear readers, that I apologise for the lack of posts here lately. It is not due to a want for inspiration, because I've been offended quite often recently, but for lack of time to blog about it . Forty hour working weeks (with a promotion starting soon) and rehearsing evenings and weekends for the play I am in is turning me into a psychopath. A psychopath with very little time to blog. A psychopath who only has time to eat crackers all day and who then admonishes her considerate girlfriend for making baked beans that are "too salty".

Here is the poster image for the show, MINGE:

minge poster

And while I'm at it here are some links to our Facebook page and our event, because if you live in Welllington you should come and watch. Another the reason that I've been really busy is that I have been making a zine to accompany the show, subtly and amusingly titled The Minge-a-Zine. The zine features all of the stories that we wrote and collected from our friends during the rehearsal period, in our attempt to to define and investigate womanhood, and it will be available for purchase for $6 at the show. If you don't live in Wellington, but you would like to purchase a copy of the scene you should email me, and I will post some more details here within the next week when the zine hits the printers. If you don't care about my play or my zine and you just want to read my furious rants on the internet, this blog will be back to normally scheduled fury in December. I can't wait to tackle all of the great-slash-rage-inducing things that you guys are submitting, because the most frustrating thing is not having time to write about the stuff that I want to write about. Like, I couldn't even write a post about the Marie Claire thing! (Luckily though, Lesley Kinzel wrote a really great one.)

Until next time I will leave you with this picture of me, taken as part of a MINGE photo shoot.


[MINGE Photographs taken by MINGE photographer Vanessa Fowler Kendall. The hymen advert photograph was definitely 100% not taken by Vanessa Fowler Kendall.]