Tuesday, September 6, 2016

virgin, remade.

The inspiration for this image came from a good friend of mine back home in Beirut. He and his fiancée had just broken off their engagement, and he had loaned her $800 to have a hymenoplasty. For the uninitiated, a hymenoplasty is a surgery to reconstruct the hymen, thereby "revirginizing" a woman. Hymens can be broken in a multitude of ways, from horseback riding and climbing trees to classical heterosexual penetration. In Lebanon, these surgeries are incredibly popular, second only to nose jobs (which take first place because they can be performed on both men and women). This ex-fiancée had actually lost her original virginity to the first man she was engaged to, but after the second engagement fell through her mother felt the need to test her purity -- which leads us back to the surgery.

Not to revert to tropes, but Beirut is a city torn between East and West, and Lebanese girls are caught in the crossfire. Society puts pressure on women to remain virgins until marriage, or to at least appear that way. Men have no such restrictions and are expected to have sexual experience before marriage, without specifying which women this experience comes from. This schizophrenic situation is fueled by imported popular culture from Europe and the United States, which make pre-marital sex seem so ordinary that it's taken for granted. Putting all those elements together leads to a dizzying focus on appearances above substance.

Looking at this from liberal Los Angeles, it can be hard to imagine why someone would resort to a hymenoplasty. Why not tell the truth? What does her mother have to do with her sex life? Why does she agree to a virginity test? How can somebody start their married life on a lie? While these questions are valid, the distant analyses and criticisms do not take the cultural sphere of Lebanon into account. This is a country where women are bludgeoned to death by pressure cookers at their husbands' hands, where the law is squarely on the side of the man, where adultery legislation and punishment depends entirely on one's gender. Shame is a large part of what women are made to feel all over the world, but in Lebanon, where these pressures can lead to the same woman having multiple hymenoplasties, it is especially important to make this issue part of the national conversation.

Challenging the status quo and bringing taboo subjects into the open is never easy. While doing the readings for this week's lesson, I was particularly impressed with how Gran Fury managed to boil complex issues into a few powerful words. Verbosity is easy, but snappy one-liners are far more likely to sear themselves into the public consciousness. My initial slogans were much longer ("Needle and thread do not a virgin make," or "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's surgery" for example) but I much prefer the shorter "virgin, remade." Choosing an image that conveyed the message was much more difficult than I anticipated. I stumbled across this image quite by accident, but I thought it matched the concept perfectly. For the artistically-minded, white shoes can represent purity, innocence, and virginity. This particular pair might even suggest a bride, which traditionally matches those characteristics. The blood dripping down her legs suggests a violent procedure, maybe even rape. This is all in the pursuit of a disturbing ideal. The font is simple, bold, and to the point -- as I hope people will find this poster.

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