Genital Culture: Exploring the Cultural Importance of Genital Surgery in the West

Alexa Dodge


In “Feminism Versus Multiculturalism”, Leti Volpp argues that Western conceptions of third-world culture as uniquely oppressive to women work to conceal the ways that Western culture itself also promotes patriarchal and normative practices that can be dangerous and degrading to women. In this paper, I will take up this argument by demonstrating how Western discourse vilifies cultures that engage in female genital mutilation (FGM) without realizing how the Western practices of intersex surgery and cosmetic vaginal surgery are also culturally imbued practices that can be seen as forms of genital mutilation. The assumed importance of genital surgery for intersex infants as well as the rising popularity of cosmetic surgery for women’s genitals exemplify the importance placed on gender distinction though genital appearance in our culture. Genital surgeries such as these are tied to the idealized conception of the gender binary that exists in Western culture. Despite the reality that genitals, especially the vagina, vary widely in appearance (size, shape, colour), the belief that there are norms of genital appearance that need to be adhered to for females and males continues to be propagated within Western culture. Suzanne Kessler’s work on intersex surgeries and Virginia Braun’s work on the growing popularity of cosmetic genital surgeries both illustrate how these norms are acted upon through genital surgery. This paper will perform an in-depth examination of these trends to reveal the similarities between Western genital surgeries and FGM by exposing how Western cultural values also regulate the female body.


feminism; gender; international; culture; FGM

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Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology (CGJSC)
Revue canadienne des études supérieures en sociologie et criminologie (RCESSC)

ISSN: 1927-9825