Re: Relativism and Rights (fwd)

Tracy Brown (tbrown@ACPUB.DUKE.EDU)
Sat, 7 May 1994 12:24:08 -0400

D. Read wrote as part of an earlier message:
> Scupin seems to find offensive only that which occurs in other cultures. Are
> women in our society who undergo breast augmentation (note that the term
> used in our society is "augmentation" not "mutilation") and who also may lose
> sensitivity of the breasts for sexual stimulation not equally the victims of
> "false consciousness" when they view it as a positive addition to their
> beauty? Did the realization that breast implants may cause severe problems
> to women lead to an immediate, complete and total rejection by ALL American
> women of breast implants? Or did many women want to continue with breast
> implants? What about hysterectomies, as someone mentioned in another post?
> My understanding is that this is one of the most abused surgical procedures
> in this country. Does the fact that it is done in hospitals under cleaner
> conditions make it somehow more legitimate? Have you ever seen a woman who
> has had her face lifted? Is this legitimate beautification but removal of
> the labial skin somehow not legitimate beautification?

I don't think that breast augmentation can be compared to genital
mutilation, alteration, modification simply because of the fact that the
girls undergoing genital mutilation don't have a say in the matter while
women who undergo breast augmentation do. The same goes for face lifts. The
comparison to hysterectomies seems appropriate in one sense -- sometimes
women have them on the (bad) advice of a doctor, and then discover later
on that they didn't need one. Thus, like genital mutilation, they had a
procedure that they would not have undergone if they had had better
information. That is, it could be said that the hysterectomy was done "against
their will." But, even this is not the same as genital mutilation, because,
again, on one level women do have a say (if you can call it that) in the
matter. This seems a bit different from being a child, and having a
life-altering decision made for you.

The question here is one of consciousness, I think. Why do women get
breast implants when they know full well that it is dangerous? Why do
women support genital mutilation? Are they duped? I think it is a little
more complicated than that. The word "duped" implies lack of thought about
what one is doing, a passive acceptance of societal norms. In
terms of standards of beauty, I believe people choose those that
they will accept and reject. In other words, there is always
some consciousness and choice involved. The question is where does
coercion come into play? How does it become entangled in choice? If people
are unaware that they are being coerced, or simply disagree that they are
being coerced (both which have been put forth as explanations for why
women get breast implants, wear high heels, shave their legs, etc), than
can we say that coercion exists?

To this last question, I would say that there are situations where the
functioning of power does not necessarily depend upon people's awareness
of it -- but I don't believe this can be made into a blanket statement.
Tracy Brown