Friday, October 09, 2009

China’s fake hymen: blessing and curse

By: Dalia Ziada

One of the most controversial issues in Egypt these days is the new Chinese product called the “fake hymen.” It is a manufactured hymen that costs only 15 dollars and women can use it by themselves with no need to visit the doctor or have a medical operation to restore their lost hymen. In a patriarchal society like Egypt, where a woman’s body is blamed for the absence of virtue and presence of vice, selling a fake hymen would be a good justification to impose more restrictions on women’s rights, but at the same moment, it is a life saver for hundred of helpless women.

China, the world’s fastest growing economic power, is building its success on investing into developing societies, especially the Middle East. The two main markets that Chinese investors work in are Syria and Egypt. They supply these markets with cheap products that cover all and every need of citizens, including those attributed to cultural and day-to-day habits of people. One example is the Ramadan Lamp, or the fanous, which children buy to welcome and celebrate the month of Ramadan. The fanous has been exclusively made by Egyptian manufacturers since the Fatmid age. However, in recent years Chinese exporters provided a cheaper and funnier version, which successfully marginalized the Egyptian local product.

Like the fanous, a woman’s virginity is another local issue, which has some strong cultural roots and traditional restrictions in Egyptian society. In Upper Egypt, hundreds of women have been killed by a male relative; brother, father, or husband; for merely discovering that they lost their virginity before marriage! In almost all rural areas in Egypt, the groom’s mother is allowed to check the virginity of her son’s new wife by her hand before they are officially declared husband and wife! If her family refuses to be subjected to this humiliating test, they would be blamed by their community and lose their honor. The same applies to poorer segments in the urban cities. Even in the upper classes, you can hardly find a man who is willing to marry his girlfriend if she lost her virginity before marriage. It does not matter if he, himself, had tens of relationships before marriage!

Almost 90 percent of the huge number of covered women in Egypt’s streets are forced by their families to be covered to allow them to study or work. Salafi sheikhs, who appear all day long on conservative funded Satellite TV channels speak mainly about the relationship between Satan and the uncovered woman. They do not hesitate to blame the woman for being raped by a man for being not covered in the proper way.

In 2006, in the famous Eid el-Fitr sexual harassment incident downtown Cairo, some women wearing the niqab were violently harassed. However, the society did not blame the boys who committed this horrible deed. They blamed the women who wore tight clothes and did not cover their bodies properly and used this as a justification for the men who committed this shameful sexual harassment. The funny part is that it is not only the men who blame the women for not dressing in a certain way. The majority of women blame themselves for the same reason and subsequently exaggerate in covering their bodies and avoiding mingling with men in different social activities.

Given the aforementioned facts and the growing religious piety of the Egyptian society, the “fake hymen” could be both a curse and blessing at the same time. For only 15 dollars, this “fake hymen” could save the lives of tens of women and give hundreds of other young women new hope to restart their lives and practice their right to love and marry without expecting any blame from their families or future husbands. However, at the same moment, the fact that woman can restore her hymen for only 15 dollars without the need to visit a doctor or take the risk of having a medical operation, will give the extremist segments of society reasonable justifications to impose more restrictions on a woman’s freedom to go out and get involved in different social activities. According to medical experts, the woman who would use this fake hymen shall suffer some medical problems in the future because of the low quality of the Chinese product.

Attempts to ban the new fake hymen will not solve the deep rooted problems of Egyptian society. These eternal problems can be solved only by empowering women, giving them their well deserved space of freedom and right to choice, and most importantly, by stopping blaming women’s bodies for a man’s irresponsible actions.

Source: Bikya Masr (