An article in today’s New York Times, In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity, explores a debate over Islam and virginity that has broken out in Europe recently. In France, a Muslim man asked to have his marriage annulled when it came to light on his wedding night that his bride was not a virgin. A 23-year-old in the article is dropping close to three thousand dollars to have hymenoplasty, a surgery that will restore her hymen, giving anyone who’s curious the illusion of virginity. And Europeans (and now Americans) are up in arms about what this all says about religion and culture.
Strangely enough, this is not the first time I had heard of this new development in plastic surgery. Watching a Spanish-language network news broadcast, several years ago, women in Latin America discussed undergoing similar procedures before their wedding night (to “keep up appearances”) or after having given birth (to reinvigorate their vaginas). Some Latin American men, though often a lapsed Catholic bunch, would also like their brides-to-be to be virgins. As a doctor in the article mentions, he tries not to judge anyone, including the women he knows are using vaginal plastic surgery as Valentine’s Day presents.
Sadly, as the article points out, the hymens that are being touted as ultimate proof of virginity can often be broken during childhood in any number of ways, including horseback riding. So even true virgins with “bad luck” might have to save up towards a down-payment on a hymenoplasty. And in the end, this whole debacle says quite a lot about religion and culture, especially what both expect from women (and often, do not from men). In the Latino culture I grew up in, women had to be saints like Mother Mary while men could be deplorable lascivious brutes, that, of course, the same women prayed for every day. I don’t remember any of my male cousins being told that their virginities were a “precious gift.” In my adopted Orthodox Jewish culture, both men and women are socialized to be remain virgins until marriage by being “shomer negia,” refraining from touching the opposite sex (except for their spouses and close relatives).
Perhaps, it would be easier to hand out chastity belts? And if this is going to be an equal opportunity situation, just how would they work on men? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anything’s funny about this situation in Europe. My heart goes out to the bride whose wedding night not only ended in much misery, but whose reputation has been tarnished unforgivably. But my heart also goes out to women everywhere who still suffer needlessly for just being women.