"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, July 27, 2013

speak now #27: australia's war on labia

Now Playing: Comforting Sounds by Birdy (nobody has gained or accomplished anything)

Did you know?

Under Australian law, labia minora are too obscene for pornographic images, and must be 'healed to a single crease', either digitally or surgically.


The labia are two sets of lips that surround the clitoris, meatus and vaginal opening. The inner lips are closer to the vagina and are called the labia minora. The outer lips are next to the labia minora and are called the labia majora. The labia majora are typically bigger and fleshier than the labia minora, and in some women they can cover the labia minora. In other women the labia minora is longer and protrudes from the labia majora. The labia are a normal, functional part of the vulva, are highly sensitive and made of erectile tissue. The appearance, size and shape of the labia vary between people and can tell you pretty much nothing about whether or not a person has had sex or not, is having lots of sex or none at all, or has had children.

Labia and porn:

Under Australian law, softcore porn magazines are widely available under an M15+ rating, and allow full frontal nudity if they do not have too much 'genital detail'. Because pubic hair is rarely a feature in contemporary pornography, the labia minora is visible in the genital slit of some porn stars - this means that the majority of the vulvas depicted in these kinds of publications are edited, because our law denies the existence of an entire body part, or at least thinks that a normal, natural part of the biofemale body is 'obscene'. The Classification Board denies that they have much say in how magazines choose to edit their images, but magazine publishers claim that 'the only acceptable vagina as far as the Classification Board is concerned is one that is 'neat and tidy' in their eyes. They basically consider labia minora to be 'too offensive' for soft porn'.

Male interference and entitlement:

This information comes largely from a documentary that was released a few years ago called Labiaplasty, which looks into Australia's unique and uniquely offensive pornography laws. Everyone involved in this disturbing notion that genitals are too offensive for a form of entertainment pretty much focused on genitalia were...men - the plastic surgeon, the photo editor, the magazine publishers, the member of the Classification Board. The only women involved in the debate of whether or not labia are offensive was the reporter and, well, the hundreds of nameless and sometimes faceless women who grace the pages of these magazines, altered beyond recognition and  beyond the realms of reality.

The influence of pornography:

In an age where it is virtually impossible to get access to realistic images of bodies and genitalia without social stigma, and in a society in which knowing your own anatomy and having even the vaguest idea of what is and isn't normal is still taboo, porn is not only an outlet and a form of entertainment, but also a sinisterly biased and confusingly misinforming educational medium. The only vulvas we see are the vulvas shown in these magazines that are extremely accessible and widely viewed; pornography is informing our ideas of what is and isn't right, and like all mass media consumption we often fail to analyse the imagery critically, to see that the images presented to us aren't real, and aren't normal. The target demographic of these magazines; young, straight men - are also our society's sexual abusers, rapists, sexists and the most intolerant of the diversity of human bodies and sexualities, and part of this attitude is because we've edited out of their masturbatory fantasies essential body parts and facts of life.

More than just a touch up:

The kind of editing in softcore porn is more than just deleting a few pimples or shaving a few centimetres off a waistline. This is editing out an entire body part - a body part that no biofemale doesn't have. It's like editing a nose off a face; the labia minora is there for a reason, and it takes invasive surgery and crippling insecurities to get rid of it. There is nothing wrong with any of these women who are constantly getting edited; the Classification Board is saying that there is a part of every single woman that is too obscene for people to even know of its existence.

'Neat and tidy':

The kind of vulvas seen in porn - hairless and 'healed to a single crease'...quite frankly, only infants have those kinds of vulvas naturally. This trend for neat and tidy vulvas with no hair, no wobbly bits, nothing that would suggest any kind of growth or sexual maturity is...really quite disturbing and almost pedophilic. And to hear men say that vuvlas that aren't 'neat and tidy' are obscene says a lot about attitudes towards female bodies - the constant pressure to lose weight, get rid of hairs, make this bigger, make that smaller, make this disappear entirely - the internalized sexism of our society means that we will never be content with what women look like in the way that we've settled for what men look like. Laws like these send a clear message to the women of Australia that they must alter themselves and put themselves through an ordeal of insecurity and even surgery before they are good enough to be fantasized about.

Silent laws and quiet taboos:

The tragedy of laws like these is that people are almost totally unaware of them; whilst many porn consumers are vaguely aware that most people don't look like porn stars, it is still embedded into the subconscious that bodies are meant to look a certain way - the way they look in porn. Everyone has their own sexual preferences, and these preferences will inevitably be influenced by society and the media we consume as a society - but when the media is telling us to worship silicone breasts and to totally forget about the existence of whole body parts, or to think of any part of the human body 'obscene'...you have to wonder of the impact this has on gendered interaction in our society.

Sex positivity, feminism and pornography:

Sex positivity and feminism are broad churches, and there are many different feminist and sex positive stances on pornography. As a sex positive feminist I believe pornography has the potential to be a healthy outlet and expression of sexuality, and a useful tool to facilitate a broader conversation of human sexuality and a greater knowledge of the diversity of human anatomy and sexuality. At the moment, however, pornography is the antithesis of what it could be - it perpetuates harmful, derogatory and even violent ideas of what sexual interaction looks like, consistently promotes unrealistic, altered bodies and ignores the great diversity of healthy human bodies, and instills paranoia, insecurity, intolerance and entitlement into the gendered interaction of our society. For pornography to become a legitimate part of the sex positive movement we really have to pull away from our obsession with digital editing, with unhealthy and unrealistic bodies, and our fear of diversity; there's nothing wrong with the concept of pornography, but the way in which this concept is executed has become tragically exploitative, derogatory and removed from reality.


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