Down with feminist fearmongering!

Feminists are exploiting the ‘exploding breasts’ panic in the name of having a pop at cosmetic surgery.

Patrick Hayes

Topics Politics

When anti-choice campaigners publish pictures of aborted fetuses to try to stir up anger against a medical procedure they don’t like, many feminists denounce them for trying to exploit the ‘Yuk factor’. Yet when it comes to breast augmentation surgery, it seems feminists consider it fair game to try to make women feel squeamish about the possible gruesome consequences of having a certain kind of operation.

This tactic has been greatly used over the past couple of weeks, following revelations that the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) had been using inferior, ‘industrial’ quality silicone in its implants.

This has led to fears that the implants might rupture – or ‘explode’, as some overzealous reporters have put it – and that there might be a cancer risk, too. The French government has offered to remove PIP implants from French women for free. However, both the French authorities and British medical regulators have made it clear they have found no link between the implants and cancer and, while there is some chance of the implants rupturing, the French health minister has emphasised that the offer of removal is a ‘preventative measure, not of an urgent nature’.

The fact that this is a localised health issue, potentially affecting a very small proportion of the British women who have had breast implants, hasn’t stopped British feminists from seizing the opportunity to air their disdain for anyone who chooses to enhance their breasts surgically. You might think that feminists would call for calm in the midst of all the competitive scaremongering about breast surgery, with the Royal College of Surgeons calling for a ‘national register’ of everyone who has had breast implants and others suggesting that the whole affair is a warning sign of what would happen if the Lib-Con government’s health reforms are passed. You might think feminists would argue for a women’s right to choose what to do with her own body, free from fear.

Far from it. In fact, some of the worst fearmongering has come from feminist writers. According to Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: ‘Things, as we now know, can go wrong. Very wrong. Belatedly this week, experts in the UK are beginning to take the problem seriously. But it may be too late for many women who already have that dangerous silicone in their bodies.’ Maybe, she says, these women ‘shouldn’t have been so weak or vain in their efforts to attain what so many of them regard as unattainable physical ideals’.

Another commentator writes of her ‘bafflement’ at those ‘sisters’ who choose to have their mammary glands ‘cut open daily for the approval of men’, despairing ‘about the three generations of feminism, and where it has really led us at all’. Another asks: ‘How did we get to the stage when we thought it was normal to slit open our chests and stuff them like chicken breasts?’.

Some have published gory pictures of bloody breasts being cut open ‘unnecessarily’ by surgeons (overlooking the fact that all invasive surgery is pretty distressing to look at), alongside descriptions of the trauma of ‘infection, pain, general anaesthetic, scarring’ experienced by those women who are ‘sliced and diced to look like someone else’. Apparently these ignorant women are ‘paying doctors to butcher [their bodies] into more delicious forms’.

Most of these fear-stirring commentators are careful to bracket off the sizable proportion of women who undergo breast augmentation surgery after having had a mastectomy, and not simply because they want to look like Katie Price. But surely the female commentariat’s willingness to go along with – and even exacerbate – breast-surgery scaremongering could cause unnecessary anxiety amongst those women, too?

Instead of calling for safer breast implants that aren’t, as some have put it, filled with substances ‘intended for use in mattresses’, feminists prefer to argue that natural breasts are best. As one blogger says, ‘Fiddling around with things that don’t need it is always risky’. They talk keenly of how they came to be satisfied with their own small, perhaps slightly ‘wonky’ breasts and of their pity for those poor sisters duped into wanting to look like ‘Barbies’, who want to have the ‘pert, rigid teats’ you see in ‘lads mags’ like Nuts or Loaded.

Being sliced, diced, slit, cut, butchered… You would think women were willingly choosing to be victims in a Freddy Krueger horror movie rather than simply undergoing a relatively safe and straightforward operation, which tens of thousands of women go through each year with no ill effects. Instead of calling for people to chill out in relation to this relatively minor health issue, feminists are choosing to play on people’s anxieties, using cheap tactics and gruesome imagery to try to make cynical political gains. How about showing some solidarity with your ‘sisters’ and their freedom to do as they please with their bodies?

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.

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Topics Politics


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