Posted: November 15, 2010 in Bodies, Health, Sexism, Sexual violence
Tags: , ,

Trigger warning for genital mutilation and consent violation.

What. The. Fuck. An Australian woman, in 2002, went into hospital to remove a piece of vulva tissue that had been identified as pre-cancerous. While she was under anaesthetic, the doctor who performed the surgery took it upon himself to remove her clitoris as well. He is claiming that had he not, the cancer would have spread; however, he did not announce his intention until she was almost anaesthetised, at which point she had no chance to refuse consent.

Now, I’m not a doctor; I certainly know nothing about cancer and whether indeed the extent of the operation was necessary. However, had it really been necessary, the principles of bodily autonomy and informed consent require him to have discussed it with his patient beforehand, when she was fully conscious and capable of understanding and objecting.

There are several issues intertwined here.

Firstly, we have the ableist idea that patients cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own care and therefore that doctors must high-handedly take control and have the full right to do so. The woman concerned has said, “If I had known that my clitoris was going to be cut off there is no way I would have walked through that hospital door,” and frankly, that should be her decision to make, no matter how severe or lifethreatening the cancer.

Secondly, we have the compromising of female bodily autonomy. His actions read as a sick, sadistic attack on a woman’s body, bodily autonomy and sexual agency, and the fact that he told her just as she was going under is even worse, a deliberate assertion of power and privilege, a deliberate sadistic attack on her. The fact that she is a woman and he a man is written in burning letters all over this story. A woman’s body is not the property of anyone else. It is her own. Rape culture makes its way into the operating theatre, where it has no goddamn right to be.

Thirdly, we have the words, “Her husband’s dead so it doesn’t matter anyway,” allegedly said to a theatre nurse. One, how sexist is that? That the only reason a woman needs genitalia is to satisfy her husband? Many women have thriving solitary sex lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. Women do actually want and like sex, and want and like their genitalia. Two, it’s also ageist – just because a woman is beyond a certain age, he assumed she will never have or want sex again.

There are probably many, many more issues and anyone’s welcome to point out more, although I don’t think we need to dissect every single atrocity here to agree that it is a terrible, terrible event.

This sort of thing is frightening and outrageous. Utterly, utterly appalling. Ms DeWaegeneire, what was done to you was completely wrong and inexcusable. I am so, so sorry you have been put through this nightmare and I hope that justice will be done as soon as possible.


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