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by Gabrielle Shiner
Feminist writers like Naomi Wolf are peddling pure panic in their moralistic campaigns against cosmetic surgery.
Recently on the BBC’s Newsnight, feminist writer Naomi Wolf went on an impassioned - and unfounded - tirade about the dangers of breast implants. Eventually, she did remind us that she is not a scientist, but only after spewing off a baseless rant about the health risks she claimed to be associated with silicone implants. As people often do when science isn’t on their side, the feminist author turned to fearmongering, making up for her lack of rationality by demonstrating her notable abilities as a patronising moralist.
On national television, and in front of a live audience of women who had undergone breast augmentation surgery, Wolf - author of The Beauty Myth - claimed that breast implants were the cause of autoimmune disorders such as lupus. Her claims fed into an ongoing debate over the implants that broke out earlier in the year after it was discovered that some implants were made using industrial-grade, rather than medical-grade, silicon.
Admittedly, I’m no scientist either, but I do know how to do my research. The Lupus Foundation of America, among others, clearly states that, ‘there is no scientific evidence to indicate a cause-effect relationship between silicone breast implants and lupus’. Long-term studies have shown that similar autoimmune disorders are just as common in women without breast implants, giving no basis to suggest that a causal relationship exists between the two. When the Lib-Con government’s public-health minister, Anne Milton, attempted to reassure the Newsnight audience of the general safety of the French implants, however, Wolf passionately accused her of lying to women and being unfit for her position.
What happened on Newsnight was not a brave stand to protect women, but the cheap use of scare tactics against women who want to alter their appearance through plastic surgery. What essentially lies behind this senseless debate is the ridiculous fear of fake boobs possessing women’s apparently susceptible brains. Kindling hysteria over breast implants shames and pressures women to opt out of these procedures because of fear and misinformation, rather than their personal judgment. Naomi Wolf, and countless similar feminists, claim the moral high ground and present themselves as knights in shining armour, riding in to liberate and enlighten the mass of ignorant damsels who have internalised misogynistic notions of beauty. But there is nothing heroic about ducking rational argument and relying on psychological bullying to push your agenda.
Wolf and others get hysterical over the idea that women are socially compelled to conform to certain beauty standards. However, it is not conformism itself that these feminists object to, but that women are conforming to standards that feminists don’t approve of. Lacking reasons to justify their own moral stance over another’s, this strand of feminism ultimately relies on frightening gossip and patronising rhetoric to manipulate women into conforming with the feminist worldview.
This wave of feminism has woven a narrative of exploitation into every bit of cosmetic life, which conveniently functions as an all-inclusive copout. Plastic surgery patients, in particular, tend to be appropriated as symbols of the disastrous results of our misogynistic culture, rather than being treated as thinking, independent women who have various personal reasons for undergoing these procedures. But even if we buy into this story, where do we draw the line? When does wanting to feel attractive and define our aesthetic identity become a sign that our brains have been completely dominated by men?
Individual women should be left free to decide for themselves and treat their bodies any way they like without facing the moralistic wrath of the Naomi Wolf clan. Anybody planning to undergo surgery should be made aware of the risks that a procedure entails, but they should be left to exercise their judgment without being bombarded with baseless hype from overzealous moralists. Instead of writing women off as hopeless physical and mental victims of misogyny, feminists should leave the hysterics behind and instead engage in a rational debate that respects the diverse values of women as independent individuals.
Feminism should be about showing solidarity with fellow women and striving to overcome the common challenges that we face. There is nothing progressive or constructive about trying to define a one-size-fits-all view of womanhood. This type of feminism has missed the point and simply serves to perpetuate the difficulties that women are gradually overcoming. It makes no difference whether men, the media or feminists impose expectations on us - the point is that it undermines our independence and our individuality. Naomi Wolf and the rest of the enlightened female elites should cut the saviour act and start engaging with other women with the intelligence and dignity we deserve.
Gabrielle Shiner is on the executive board of European Students For Liberty and studies English at Queen Mary, University of London. She is one of the organisers of Liberty League, which holds its three-day Freedom Forum between 30 March and 1 April 2012.-----
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