We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

You do not own your genitalia

But then I suppose you already knew that. After all, state’s often think it is justified to outlaw consensual sex-for-sale (unless it is part of a package involving marriage, of course). Now however, it seems even what you do with your private bits in a non-sexual way is the business of a bunch of priggish regulators.

You think not? Well that is what Georgia’s political masters reckon (that is Georgia in the USA not the one in the former USSR). It is now illegal for an adult woman to get a genital piercing. Now I realise that the USA already claims de facto ownership of its subjects (a much more realistic term than ‘citizens’) even when they wander off to foreign lands, but I though that these notions of owning folks only applied to the fruits of their labour, not their actual bodies (yes, I realise this may be wandering into a touchy area given the USA’s interesting history of intrapersonal economic relations, particularly in places like Georgia).

Now if some woman is subjected to non-consensual genital mutilations, I have no problem regarding that as criminal, but will someone tell me how a bunch of legislators can think they have the right to tell a woman what she can do to her own labia and clitoris for her own private aesthetic reasons? To me the law itself is an affront, but far more shocking is that every single one of the members of the Georgia legislature feel they have the right to tell a woman what she may do with her own body for her own private ends.

(via Jessica Lyons: Naturalis)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

48 comments to You do not own your genitalia

  • Oh for god’s sake. This moronic piece of legislation cost what? Enforcing it will cost what? Getting it struck down will cost what? I suppose that the nitwits who got this through consider themselves fiscal conservatives, among many other risible things.

    While we’re on the topic of priggish and stupid American laws, has everyone heard about the vendor of “marital aids” in Texas (George Bush’s home state) who is being prosecuted for giving an undercover cop instructions on the use of a vibrator? The case involving this luscious little piece of entrapment probably will go all the way to the Supreme Court, assuming the defendant and her supporters can keep the money flowing in. Guess who’s footing the prosecution’s costs?

  • The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum

    Traditionally it’s been the duty of the government to “legislate for the general safety”. If there’s been a number of infections from such piercings they might very well be within their moral right to have done this. Note also that such legislation may also reasonably close the door on women “voluntarily” undergoing piercing that their male relatives ordered them to “volunteer” for *if* you see what I mean and I think you do. ^_^;

    [Shrugs]

    I’m not saying that either is necessarily the case but I wouldn’t be money against either or both being the reason this was done either.

  • S. Weasel

    You can’t get a tattoo in Massachusetts. Amputee fetishists can’t get a limb lopped off anywhere (but there’s a bit of a black market for it in Mexico, I gather). Personally, I think you ought to be able to poke your own eyes out with a stick if you want, but as government outrages go, I’m not. Outraged, that is.

    What does outrage me is the following quotation from the article you cited:

    The bill would make such mutilation punishable by two to 20 years in prison. It makes no exception for people who give consent to have the procedure performed on their daughters out of religious or cultural custom.

    Apparently, SF Gate thinks we should make an exception for people who consent to mutilate their daughters. My definition of “consent” is somewhat narrower.

  • Great. And send them to prisons, where mutilation – and worse – will happen to them without their consent, and under the watchful yet incompetent eye of the local government.

  • toolkien

    Traditionally it’s been the duty of the government to “legislate for the general safety”. If there’s been a number of infections from such piercings they might very well be within their moral right to have done this.

    This is partly where this stems from I think. It’s why tattoos are regulated (or outlawed). I see it is a step in the chain, “we’ll note the activity and the cases where a ‘negative’ result occurs, then, we’ll regulate the activity ‘to assure safety’, then we’ll complain about the cost ‘to society’, then ban it altogether.” Of course the solution is to not regulate it and get the State out of the equation altogether. Personal responsibility is just that, and if you want to poke metal through your body, for whatever reason, religious or not, or lop a limb, or have ink injected under your skin, more power to you. If you get an infection or hepatitis, your loss. If you don’t think your actions through beforehand, your loss.

  • S. Weasel

    I certainly hope he’ll be mutilated, and worse, in prison, if it turns out he’s guilty (he denies it). The legislation was drafted in reaction to this story:

    A father accused of performing female genital mutilation on his then two-year-old daughter was indicted by a Gwinnett grand jury. Khalid Adem, 28, was indicted Friday and charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to children. Adem, arrested in March of 2003, is accused of using scissors to circumcise his daughter… The child told a doctor that Adem had performed the procedure in his Duluth apartment while Adem’s friend held her legs, Fetner said.

    Reactive legislation is often a bad thing, but this law was intended to prevent genital mutilation. The rider about piercing was an amendment. When asked about it, the guy who drafted the law clearly had never heard of voluntary piercing by adult women and was much shocked. You can laugh at his naivete, but it’s hard to see him as a boot stamping on a human face forever.

    Laws, of course, seldom prevent behavior, they only establish the penalty for behaviors. But I don’t think the penalties for aggravated battery and cruelty to children are sufficient to cover genital mutilation, the whole purpose of which is to mess up the sexuality of little girls for life.

    It amazes me that, confronted with this story, anyone would choose to focus on the woman who will have to drive next door to Alabama to get a labia ring, rather than the child who had her clitoris snipped off with scissors.

  • Frank P

    The freedom to fuck yourself up accidentally in cause of some ill-conceived enterprise is a freedom worth preserving as reckless enterprise often leads to the law of unitended (good) consequences.

    The freedom to fuck yourself up through wilful self mutilation, for no good purpose other than exercising free will, is a freedom that isn’t worth the wank you won’t be able to enjoy after you’ve cut off your own dick or clitoris.

    Not sure there is a great deal of purpose in legislating against it though, because if someone is that nutty it won’t deter them, but rather lead to the added masochism of imprisonment and all that entails.

    However, the liberal use of the provisions of the Mental Health Act might be appropriate, if ‘sectioning’ isn’t a rather tasteless pun in these circumstances.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Um, “none”, you need to check your sources. Texas is actually surprisingly sexually libertarian. The state you really mean is Alabama.

    And Perry, if you think marriage has much of anything to do with consensual sex, you’ve clearly never been married.

  • Charlie, my sources are just fine, thanks. See here:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/12/16/MNGEA3O52I1.DTL

    In Alabama it is (was?) illegal to possess (sell?) a vibrator. In Texas one apparently can possess them, even sell them, but it is illegal to give instructions as to their use. It is for this heinous crime that someone is being subject to the full force of the law.

    Many states that have large urban areas, as Texas does, can be viewed as sexually liberal. Unfortunately, in many of those same states there are priggish laws on the books, and prigs willing to enforce them. Remember last year’s Supreme Court decision striking down the homosexual sodomy laws of–guess where–Texas?

    The point about the need to prosecute clitoral excision is well taken. However, I’m not inclined to issue free passes to legislators so incompetent they cannot draft laws that distinguish between mutilating the genitals of girls under the age of consent, and decorative piercings. The road to hell is paved with good intentions–and bad laws.

  • Amelia

    This is my state, a great state. The bill with the amendment has not yet passed the senate nor has it been signed by the governor. The amendment will probably fail. Apparently the senator who wrote the original bill is steamed. Please refrain from making condemnations of a bill before it gets passed. Makes you look ignorant about basic civics. I must say though that it doesn’t bother me that someone would have to drive to Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South or North Carolina to get their clit pierced. Seems a reasonable burden, although the penalties seem too steep if they apply equally to voluntary as well as involuntary.

    I like the underlying bill which proposes a strict sentence for involuntary mutilation of females. I absolutely refuse to recognize this abhorrent practice in my state and I do not give a flying damn about cultural diversity in this instance. Good for Georgia.

  • Julian Morrison

    Why do they need a new law against forced genital mutilation? Surely existing laws apply? Wounding, kidnap, torture, medical malpractise, plus damages for trauma and permanent loss of function. Why add a new law?

  • Amelia

    Julian good point, existing laws may suffice. If there is a distinct reason, other than political posturing, I imagine that it has to do with difficulties with proving the mens rea element of child abuse. Corporeal punishment is after all not a crime. Does the parent from such a culture intend to harm? Or maybe the penalty here is simply stiffer than for other abuse cases. I was a prosecutor for a very short time, but have not practiced criminal law since then so I really do not remember the penalties provision for child abuse.

    One thing to point out though regarding Georgia criminal law is that the prosecutors and the judges have a great deal of discretion regarding sentencing. Two year minimum to twenty year maximum leaves a lot of wiggle room. Further is it two years “to serve” or is probation an option? Personally if someone had done this to me or my daughter I wouldn’t find civil remedies very compelling. Indeed, even with strict criminal penalties, I would be very tempted to take the law into my own hands.

  • Guy Herbert

    Well, a separate law would be needed if a parent or guardian’s consent would normally override a child’s actual lack of consent or legal incapacity to do so. Which is common and reasonable with medical treatment, under which rubric much appalling mutilation used to be practiced in Britain too, till we got our own exceptionalizing law.

    I note that the much milder male genital mutilation of circumcision is generally not covered by such laws, presumably it rarely causes great enough suffering in later life to overcome cultural objections to banning it. If Julian Morrison’s approach of relying on existing law did work, would it not extend to foreskins too?

  • Charlie… I have indeed been married and that is why, if you had actually read what I wrote, you would see I regard marriage as often no different than ‘sex for money’. But like prostitution, marriage generally involves consensual sex. In fact very much like prostitution

  • S.Weasel: that is why I wrote “Now if some woman is subjected to non-consensual genital mutilations, I have no problem regarding that as criminal…”

    But they did rather more than that, didn’t they? The fact a bunch of ignorant jackasses can make something consensual illegal just like that is the problem

  • S. Weasel

    It’s a genital mutilation bill that had a piercing amendment attached to it. All the national articles have been AP boilerplate about the piercing issue. Hmmm. If we’re lucky, the AP writer will pull coins and hardboiled eggs out of our ears next.

  • Amelia

    Whoa nelly! “Ignorant jackasses.” Again the bill is not yet law and may not become law in its current form with the amendment. Thus, it is not illegal yet. Most crazy amendments come out in the give and take between the houses and joint committees.

    I actually like my current state representative. She is a retired school teacher who takes three months out of her year for the ripe salary of somewhere around $23,000 to serve me. I have her home phone number (its in the book) and might call her tonight to ask her about this. Once again the underlying law against involuntary female mutilation seems reasonable to me.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    marriage generally involves consensual sex.

    That’s not the way I heard it from my ex-wife….

  • Sigivald

    What cooler heads have already said; a stupid amendment to a bill that isn’t even close to being law, especially in its current form.

    While it’s useful to point out the power-grabbing mentality of The State, it’s also useful to be a little clearer about what’s actually going on in point of mere fact.

    While the effects of an Evil Self-Serving PowerGrab and those of Well-Meaning Semi-Incompetence are similar, they are not actually the same, and we certainly shouldn’t conflate the two modes of action.

    (PS, regarding the intro to the writeup… the vast majority of genital piercing is in some way or other “sexual”. It’s just not Getting Fucked, you know?)

  • Sigivald

    What cooler heads have already said; a stupid amendment to a bill that isn’t even close to being law, especially in its current form.

    While it’s useful to point out the power-grabbing mentality of The State, it’s also useful to be a little clearer about what’s actually going on in point of mere fact.

    While the effects of an Evil Self-Serving PowerGrab and those of Well-Meaning Semi-Incompetence are similar, they are not actually the same, and we certainly shouldn’t conflate the two modes of action.

    (PS, regarding the intro to the writeup… the vast majority of genital piercing is in some way or other “sexual” (Genitals, sexual? No way) … It’s just not Getting Fucked, you know?)

  • Doug Collins

    Amelia wrote, among other things that make sense, this:
    ” Please refrain from making condemnations of a bill before it gets passed. Makes you look ignorant about basic civics. ”

    With which I cannot agree.

    Before a bill is passed is exactly when one should condemn it if condemnation is warrented. Unless you are a Supreme Court Justice, your condemnation will do little good afterward. The average person may perhaps vote the rascals out, but the evil they do lives after them.

  • It is telling that those who bolted on this ludicrous amendment and those who defend it or play it down seem not to understand the difference between voluntary and coerced action.

    Perry’s title is quite right. Regardless of the idiocy of a law banning genital piercing, it betrays a mentality which doesn’t recognise self-ownership. Those such as

    S. Weasel: Reactive legislation is often a bad thing, but this law was intended to prevent genital mutilation

    or

    Ameila: I must say though that it doesn’t bother me that someone would have to drive to Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South or North Carolina to get their clit pierced. Seems a reasonable burden, although the penalties seem too steep if they apply equally to voluntary as well as involuntary.

    appear to share this view. Look: the crucial issue is the consent not the mutilation. If someone wants to voluntarily mutilate his or her genitals what business is it of the states? lf you presume to tell an adult what he or she may do with their own body, you are asserting some ownership of that body.

  • Amelia

    Doug you are correct. Very important to debate these things before they become law.

  • Aaargh! sorry about the multiple underscore. It was only meant to be “not

  • S. Weasel

    Ummm…Frank, you do realize there are two entirely different issues here? The “genital mutilation” that the original bill was intended to address is the sort where Muslim girls of various ages are subject to genital mutilation of various severity in order to make sexual intercourse as unpleasant as possible for them for the rest of their lives, whereas the afterthought amendment regarding “piercing” is when some silly cow wants a ring through her labia majora.

    I agree that the latter should be her business and not the state’s, but if you think it is a social issue of the same intrinsic importance as the former, I would suggest you have a proportion problem.

    I mean, nobody seems as wadded up that tattooing is illegal in Massachusetts. Perhaps because skin isn’t as hip and brave to talk about as genitals…?

  • I am just as peeved about anti-tattoo laws. The only reason I wrote about the Georgia stupidity is that it is new news. No mystery there.

  • S. Weasel:

    You do realise the difference between mutilating a child and a woman voluntarily cutting herself? Is it your contention that consent to the procedure is irrelevant?

  • S. Weasel

    Frank, what part of “her business and not the state’s” do you not understand?

  • The bit where it is contradicted by:

    a social issue of the same intrinsic importance

    My point is that however unpleasant genital mutilation is, what is objectionable is that is carried out on nonconsenting children. If an adult woman voluntarily chooses to be “genitally mutilated” – and this may well be the case for women from certain cultures – this should not be illegal.

  • S. Weasel

    If an adult woman voluntarily chooses to be “genitally mutilated”

    Mmmm…I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m hardline libertarian enough to view consent as sufficient to justify any consensual act. Amnesty International describes a pharaonic circumcision as

    …clitoridectomy (where all, or part of, the clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of, the labia minora), and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to consent to this procedure unless you are insane, ill-informed or coerced. If pharaonic circumcision is a civil right, then so is having your penis surgically removed to wash away the sins that make baby Jesus cry, or acting out a murderous cannibal fantasy with a consenting internet pen pal.

    I suppose if you’ve got the neccesary…whatever to mutilate yourself, it shouldn’t be criminal. But at the point you need help hacking yourself up, I can imagine an appropriate regulatory role for government. Just in case your “consent” isn’t really. Call me a statist.

  • fnyser

    Where is the outcry from NOW? This is clearly at odds with the supreme court ruling on “medical privacy.” Nevermind that so much as getting a wart removed is regulated.

  • S. Weasel:

    I’m not sure it’s possible to consent to this procedure unless you are insane, ill-informed or coerced. If pharaonic circumcision is a civil right, then so is having your penis surgically removed to wash away the sins that make baby Jesus cry, or acting out a murderous cannibal fantasy with a consenting internet pen pal.

    You seem wedded to the notion of “civil rights” that the government distributes. This is the wrong way around. We have presumed freedom which is infringed by the government in various ways. The question is not whether there is a civil right to a “pharaonic circumcision”, rather whether carrying out such a procedure among consenting adults ought to be punished by the government.

    So long as no coercion is present I cannot see what business it is of mine or yours if a woman chooses this admittedly unpleasant procedure. The difficulty with “consensual killing” is that consent, by definition, is difficult to establish if one participant is no longer around.

  • S. Weasel

    So long as no coercion is present I cannot see what business it is of mine or yours if a woman chooses this admittedly unpleasant procedure.

    And you’ll know coercion is present…how?

  • S. Weasel: Coercion is hardly difficult to determine. If someone threatens you with violence, that’s coercion. If this was so difficult to establish, nobody would ever be convicted of any crime.

  • S. Weasel

    If someone threatens you with violence, that’s coercion.

    Yes, Frank, I know how to determine if I’ve been coerced. It’s less clear how the law will work out if a woman who elects to have her external genitalia sanded off and sewn shut was pressured into it by her father and brothers.

  • S. Weasel: Sure, no one ever said life was easy. That is why it is a nice idea of have courts so that you can indeed discover if consent was or was not really present.

  • S. Weasel

    Court? Don’t you have to…I dunno…break a law to end up in court? I guess we’d better get busy and draft a law against genital mutilation, then. Otherwise, why would our hypothetical mutilator/mutilatee be in court discussing consent?

  • HA

    yes, I realise this may be wandering into a touchy area given the USA’s interesting history of intrapersonal economic relations, particularly in places like Georgia

    Perhaps you need a reminder who set up the slave system in the COLONIES in the first place. It was you English who established slavery in your colonies so that you could have cheap agricultural products back in your isle. You guys ran this system 150 years before we kicked your oppressive ancesters out. It took us another 80 years and a terrible civil war to get rid of the slave system you foisted upon us.

    Slavery is England’s history too and for far longer than in the USA. You guys shipped over the slaves and you guys shipped over the Scotch-Irish who you had a long history of brutalizing in order to oversee your slaves.

    Why is it that the US is the only nation that has to wear the Scarlet S? Don’t give me your snide hypocrisy until you are willing to face up to England’s own responsbility ESABLISHING slavery in America.

  • A_t

    S. Weasel, there are already plenty laws against involuntary genital mutilation… assault? grevious bodily harm?

    I think anyone who inflicted such treatment upon another person against their will would find there were already perfectly adequate laws to put them away for a long time, *provided* someone reported them. That’s the tricky bit, & I can’t see how drafting new over-reaching laws “designed” to deal with the problem, will make people any more willing to come forward.

    The idea that this law, which covers behaviour already illegal under several laws, will stop such abusive behaviour, is naive. The only purpose I can think of it serving is as a public message to anyone who might have been uncertain; “this is not acceptable”. I suppose on that basis, it may make people who thought the state wouldn’t help them come forward. The legislators could just have spent a little money on a campaign, oriented towards the appropriate communities, pointing out that such behaviour was illegal & punishable by law.

    And to all those arguing “hey, not being able to get your clit pierced is totally unimportant compared to child abuse”, you’re right, of course… but there’s no logical connection between the former & the latter. If the “voluntary piercing is illegal” clause had some use, i’d be inclined to debate the issue, but I don’t see how it will help even one child; it’s just a moralizing clause, stuck on the end by a bunch of weirdo puritans (how can you not have heard of genital piercings? TV in the US must be far more censored than over here… & why is it ok for a man to get a prince albert or piercing of his choice, but not for a woman? answer: they don’t know what they’re talking about at all. Just voting on the basis of ignorance. It would only have taken a moment to find out the facts, but hey… why bother?)

    I think Perry’s “ignorant jackasses” comment was spot on. No-one’s even vaguely disputing the main bit of the law, but that subclause is stupid.

  • Dave F

    Just to add my own bit here, er … well, under English common law genital mutilation is presumably OK when it is consensual. Some years ago there was a very high profile case in which a circle of middleclass male masochists were sent to jail for swiping each other’s scrotums with nettles, whacking nails through the parts, and administering unkind cuts to each other for mutual gratification (no, I can’t imagine it either). They were freed on appeal as consenting adults taking part in sexual activity, however abhorrent to non-practitioners.

  • S. Weasel

    answer: they don’t know what they’re talking about at all.

    Of course they don’t! It says as much in the article. The man who sponsored the bill was gobsmacked when he was told, after they voted, that women sometimes submitted to piercing voluntarily. No question, such piercing should be legal. No question, the issue is trivial to the brink of idiotic.

    The point is, the AP writer told you what to be outraged about, and off you go, yapping obediently. He manipulated your own sense of coolness wonderfully, you and your brave stand in favor of genital decoration.

    What he didn’t do is get within miles of any important questions. Like, is this an overreaction to a single incident, or is there a larger problem in Georgia? Are many little girls having their clits snipped off by daddy on the livingroom couch? Is there a lot of immigration from Nigeria in Georgia? If so, why? Are there other assimilation problems?

    Who cares? The Man is trying to oppress our labial fashion statements!

  • Re: the male masochists, I’ve seen the video, and it makes you wince. But if they enjoy knocking nails through their nuts, thats there business.

    I think us Brits can all be proud that the Law Lords agreed….

  • Bill Clinton

    S Weasel.

    The taste if irony is almost as sweet as the taste of a clean clitoris. What fun the self-mutilators are depriving themselves of way down in (on) … er … Georgia?.

  • Obviously, an amendment that is passed unanimously by voice vote means that they didn’t realize what was being discussed. I’m guessing that what they were aiming at was infibulation, fearing that this mild form of female circumcision where the girl is pierced with a needle would be the camel’s nose under the tent with regards to female circumcision.

    This sort of thing is why they usually have bicameral legislatures in free countries. One house passes and then the other house considers and ideally, the ill-thought out stuff doesn’t get through both screens.

  • TM Lutas writes:

    “I’m guessing that what they were aiming at was … ”

    Hard to say, really, without a transcript of the proceedings. What actually happened could have been something like, “Yeah, and piercing too!” Quickly followed by, “Huzzah!” “Hear, hear!” and other parliamentary noises. What an indescribable relief to know The Process will work out the kinks, as it were, when legislators vote for something in total ignorance of what they’re voting for!

  • Tattooing is legal, here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Has been for well over a year, as I recall.

    We can also own ferrets, too.

    No word if we can tattoo our ferrets, though.

  • I was just going to say that, Chris! Matter of fact, there’s a gorgeous shop right down the street from me in Cambridge, Mass. As for the ferrets, you’re on your own there…