Be Sexy – But Keep It Hidden

Like many people I know, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  Although its usefulness for me still outweighs anything else, given the number of people I’m in touch with who live far away from me, I’m often creeped out by the weird stalking behaviours that it encourages, among other things.

And then there’s the advertising that pops up.  Some of it is hilariously misdirected, like the wave of evangelical Christian ads I saw a few months ago. Much of it is just annoying – seriously, enough with the weight-loss ads.  According to Facebook’s information for people wanting to advertise on the site, advertisers can choose to target their ads based on gender, age, location, and interests, among other things.

Which means that some combination of factors has resulted in this ad appearing fairly regularly on the site of my page, over the last several months:

Translation: “Hymenoplasty? Consult the site: Confidentiality assured!”

I know of at least two other friends who have seen this ad, both also Muslim women in their twenties who (at the time) were based in Montreal, so I can only guess that that’s who it is targeted towards.  (And not all of us have “Muslim” listed as our religious affiliation, so I’m guessing the targeting more is more complicated, and linked to what we post or like.)

After months of wondering “do I really want to know?” and definitely not wanting to know what information I would be giving Facebook by clicking on the ad, I typed the link into my browser.  The home page explains that,

“Our clinic will assist you from beginning to end and confidentiality is assured. For religious, cultural or social reasons, it is important for many women that the hymen remains intact. The rupture of the hymen may be caused by other factors than sexual intercourse; namely: the use of tampons during menstruation, horseback riding or sports such as gymnastics. Our personal and professional values are those of respect and confidentiality.”

The site gives additional information about the surgery, the risks involved, and the doctor performing it, and directs readers to the website for the Montreal-area aesthetic surgery clinic where the procedure is performed, for further information.

So I have a lot of thoughts on this.  A MMW post by Fatima from several years ago sums up my thoughts on hymenoplasties pretty well: while they are “ridiculous, violent, and harmful for women,” and there are a bunch of non-sex-related reasons that hymens break, and the whole emphasis on the hymen says some pretty gross things about male ownership of women’s bodies (more here), there may still be women who feel like their lives will be “safer and more fulfilling” if they have this surgery.  It’s an option that no one should need, but it’s also one that, realistically, I can imagine some women feel a need to do for whatever reasons, and it’s not fair to lay the blame for the whole messed up system only on the individual women who choose to have the surgery.

So, given all of that, the clinic’s website seems generally discreet and sensitive, and if the procedure has to exist at all, the targeted Facebook advertising might even be a good way to get the message out.  It’s relatively private, unlike the poster about forced marriages that Tasnim wrote about recently, meaning that people who were genuinely interested in the procedure could access the information without necessarily being seen doing so.  I’d be curious to know how effective the advertising has been; it disturbs me to think of this, but the fact that the ads have been showing up continuously for a long period suggests that they must be reaching someone, or I’m guessing they would have been pulled by now.  I am also very curious to know exactly what the “target” audience is for the ads, and how that was selected.

The part that really does irk me (aside from, again, the whole idea that hymenoplasty even exists in our world, and actually also aside from some of the other procedures offered at this clinic) is the picture that accompanies the ad.  Are the Muslim women to whom the ad is targeted actually supposed to recognise themselves in the image of the seductive veiled woman with only her eyes showing?  (Yes, that is exactly what my friends and I all look like, in case you’re wondering.)  Is it the only thing that the people designing the ad could think of when they thought of a Muslim woman?  Positioned right beside the text about hymenoplasty, this image reinforces narratives about veiled women as oversexualised – but whose sexuality always needs to be kept hidden.  In other words, if we follow the ad’s logic, it’s totally okay to see veiled Muslim women as sex objects, and the burden remains on them to make sure that any actual sexual activity is covered up.

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  • MuslimahWrites

    A great piece, Krista, thanks for this.

  • ariofrio

    Interestingly, veiling, at least in Christian traditions, are supposed to discourage sexual objectification, not intensify it. Is this what veiling is supposed to do in Muslim traditions as well?

    • kristariley

      Yes, in theory… And many women who do veil feel that it does play this role.
      But there are also histories of Muslim women being sexualised and of the veil being fetishised (particularly in representations of Muslim women in Western art and media), and it’s interesting how this image plays into that.

      • ariofrio

        Right. There is this cultural icon of the tapadas in Lima, Peru during the Spanish occupation. They covered most of their skin, except for one eye. They were known not for their modesty, but for being flirty, at least in the popular conception of them nowadays.

        It seems it can go either way.

  • Jekyll

    Good piece. I did an elaboration on,

    Bye the way I think that seductress photo was on the cover of Ergun Caner’s book!