Scoring points with cancer deaths and rape

I was going to do a piece on the recent reports that there has been a small increase in hymenoplasty operations (also known as “virginity repair” operations, though they don’t really repair anything), but there wasn’t really enough data available to write one – they were based on unreleased data, and the only parts the papers quoted were a statistically insignificant variation in NHS operations (from 24 to 30) and the hearsay of private doctors. Since without the data, I couldn’t really say whether any of the articles were justified, I decided to leave it (Minority Thought does have a good piece about how The Express spun it into an anti-Muslim story though).

Today, however, Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail decided that this complete lack of data is no obstacle to a 500-word piece attacking the NHS, Muslims and that pesky lack of modern morals.

Three months ago, Bill Phelps became a widower — he watched, helpless, as his cancer-stricken young wife Nikki’s life slowly ebbed away.

Nikki, 37, a former teacher and mother of two-year-old twins, was denied the drug that might have saved her life, as it was deemed too costly by her NHS Primary Care Trust.

The problem with this is that she did get the drug she needed on the NHS, though admittedly only after the papers campaigned, but before that she was receiving the drug privately. Throughout the entire course of her disease, she received the drug. She died as a result of the progression of the disease, not a gap in her treatment. For Platell to co-opt this woman’s death and claim she died as a result of the NHS’s actions is awful, and I’m tempted to just end the post here.

I wonder, then, how Mr Phelps feels after reading yesterday’s report that the NHS is happy to foot the bill for young women to have ‘virginity repairs’?

If Platell had read the article she’s referring to, she’d have seen that:

‘The NHS does not fund hymen repair operations for cultural reasons. All operations on the NHS are on the basis of clinical need.

‘Operations to repair the hymen are only carried out exceptionally to secure physical or psychological health.’

Given there’s valid surgical reasons behind the NHS funded operations, I’d hope he wouldn’t mind, though that still doesn’t stop Platell building up a strawman NHS to attack.

How can it be right that the mother of his two little boys was condemned to death by an NHS that put women’s desire to appear ‘untouched’ before the right of a mother to live as long as she can to raise her children?

The NHS was not paying to satiate “women’s desire to appear ‘untouched’”, it was paying to help people who have actual mental distress.

Latest figures show that there has been a 25 per cent rise in hymen replacement operations carried out on the NHS over the past four years.

And, while there is no way of knowing the ethnic, cultural or religious background of the women undergoing these procedures, we do know that there has been a three-fold increase in Muslim women having the operation done privately — fearful that a future husband might discover they were not a virgin on their wedding night.

No. According to the article, some private surgeons have reported a threefold increase in the number of operations, and noticed that quite a few of their patients were Muslims. An increase in people having private hymenoplasty operations is still disturbing, for what I hope are obvious reasons, but the NHS is not funding them.

The 25% increase, by the way, is from 24 to 30. That’s only an increase of 6, which appears to be statistically fairly insignificant – without the full data I can’t tell though.

Might some of the rise in NHS cases be for the same reason? The NHS insists that it carries out the procedure only ‘to secure physical or psychological health’.

The same justification is often used for state-funded cosmetic procedures such as breast reductions.

Yes, on breast cancer sufferers and women whose breasts are heavy enough to cause pain. Both of these would seem to be entirely eligible for surgical intervention. Note by the way that both hymenoplasty and breast reduction are procedures carried out exclusively on women (or in the case of breast reduction, perceived as being for women only). There’s a point to be made somewhere here about plastic surgery being seen as an entirely female and entirely useless field of medicine, but I’ll leave that to someone more knowledgeable.

Whatever the case, I find it astonishing that at a time when women are dying because they can’t get cancer treatment, other women are having their virginity repairs paid for by the State.

Second verse, same as the first.

Let me be clear: I have every sympathy for a woman, of whatever cultural origin, who is so fearful of an oppressive partner that she would seek surgery to restore her ‘purity’.

We must never forget that it’s certain men who are to blame for this, as they demand a standard of behaviour from their wives, sisters and daughters that they would not dream of applying to themselves.

This is a clever deflection. By claiming sympathy (quite warranted) for people who want to “restore their ‘purity'”, she manages to carefully duck professing sympathy for people who, for whatever reason – rape, a change of lifestyle, or, yes, cultural pressure – have actual mental illness brought on by the state of their hymens.

But how can we defend aesthetic breast procedures, sex- change operations or hymen repairs at a time of crippling national debt, and when we have some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe?

NHS breast procedures are not aesthetic, and sex-change operations are clinically indicated for psychological reasons, as is hymen repair. The cancer survival rate is based on a study from a couple of years ago (which used decade-old data), whose authors later pointed out that countries who appeared to have a worse cancer survival rate – the UK, Denmark and Austria – were also the countries which didn’t report less life-threatening tumours – skin melanomas, for example, as well as very early-stage breast cancer – as cancer. Since they only reported the potentially deadly cancers, their death rate of course appeared higher, leading the authors of the study to stressWhat we are slightly concerned about is where people have tried to present the data as a league table when there are these important caveats to consider“.

The article ends with a rather nasty postscript:

If it’s imperative for a woman to be a virgin bride, then may I suggest a simple and less painful solution? Don’t have sex before your wedding day.

And may I suggest, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, that you take a flying fuck at the moon?

  1. #1 by ukenagashi on Saturday, 31st July 2010 - 15:09 GMT+0100

    Love the Kurt Vonnegut quote.

    Love you more though. Oh my god, how do you even wade through the dreck to write a coherent article on it? How do you ENGAGE it? Even reading it I could feel my temper rising uncontrollably.


  2. #2 by wickedday on Saturday, 31st July 2010 - 23:48 GMT+0100

    The bit that jumped out at me was the phrase “aesthetic breast procedures, sex- change operations or hymen repairs”. I have to give her points for sneakiness – way to insinuate yet another prejudice into your spiel – but fuck that with brass knobs on.

    Yeah, people get cosmetic breast surgery. Yeah, people get cosmetic genital surgery. No, there is no such thing as a cosmetic (code for: ‘frivolous’) sex change.

    You touch on this briefly, but I . . . aargh. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 – the one that basically made trans people equal human beings in the eyes of the law – is for my money one of the greatest achievements of modern British legislation. We should be proud that people who need them can get their sex-reassignment surgeries free on the NHS. And yet you still have Norman fucking Tebbit going on about how sex-reassignment surgery is ‘mutilation’ and Amanda Platell making it plain that she considers it a . . . cosmetic frivolity? I guess if she’s going to tell hymenoplasty patients that they should just have kept their legs closed, she’d be A-OK with telling transsexual people to just suck it up and, er, continue to live miserably in a body that doesn’t fit.

    Oh, and tiny nitpick: men can and do suffer from cancer of the breast tissue, though they’re in a tiny minority compared to female sufferers. And get mocked about it (I mean what the fuck?) which I suppose confirms your point that all things ‘female’ are frivolous and unimportant.

    • #3 by atomicspin on Sunday, 1st August 2010 - 0:12 GMT+0100

      Thanks. I meant breast reduction is an exclusively female procedure (though come to think of it, that’s not entirely true either) rather than breast cancer. I’ve reworded it to hopefully be a bit clearer.

      Good point on the sex change operation. I’d completely missed that among everything else going on in the article.

      Incidentally, the Gender Recognition Act is one of the benefits Britain’s got from participation in Europe – it was a European Court of Human Rights ruling that led the UK to introduce the act. I wish I could point to it as an example of a human rights success to the people who frequently attack the human rights courts, but sadly they’re not exactly the types who’d be delighted by transgender equality.

  3. #4 by Zoe Brain on Tuesday, 3rd August 2010 - 1:24 GMT+0100

    One problem with the Gender Recognition Act 2004: the laughably misnamed “Equality Act 2010” makes it quite clear that those with Gender Recognition Certificates aren’t of their target gender, not really. Here’s some quotes from the explanatory notes:

    “A counsellor working with victims of rape might have to be a woman and not a transsexual person, even if she has a gender recognition certificate, in order to avoid causing them further distress.”

    A distinction is made between “women” and “transsexual persons”, and presence or absence of a GRC is irrelevant.

    Moreover, it’s quite legitimate, perfectly understandable in fact, to exclude such people from being provided sex-specific services. Another quote:

    A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.”

    That it’s not about a masculine appearance being upsetting to the victims, but pure transphobia, is illustrated at

    Trans women who are raped are out of luck. Rape crisis centres are for women, not “transsexual persons with Gender Recognition Certificates”.

    • #5 by atomicspin on Tuesday, 3rd August 2010 - 11:25 GMT+0100

      Jesus, that’s appalling. I can only hope Lords or the High Court strike out those clauses – or at that rape crisis centres tell the government where to stick it and keep providing services to trans women who need them.

      Does the law say anything about trans men? I mean, they need access to rape crisis counselling as much as anyone, but since they of course appear masculine – being men and all – centres could use this as justification to bar them too.

      Thanks for pointing this out to me.

      • #6 by wickedday on Wednesday, 4th August 2010 - 23:09 GMT+0100

        @Zoe: Yeah, I saw your post (via QT) the day after this conversation happened. It’s disgraceful, and I’m with atomicspin in sincerely hoping that the courts deal with it as soon as possible (though given their past record on prosecuting crimes against trans people, hope is really all it is).

        The other thing that gets me is how exactly are they proposing to enforce this? If a woman volunteers at a crisis centre (or anywhere) looking like a woman, with ID saying F and her bank accounts and whatever in her female name, how do they propose to go about establishing whether she’s cis or trans anyway? There’s not necessarily any mark on her ID that will out her. So this is going to be disproportionately directed at people who don’t pass, and with passing as twisted into beauty standards as it is, that means it’s going to hit non-white people and the poor (those without the resources to maintain a sufficiently passing presentation) disproportionately hard.

        With regard to rape crisis centres, I don’t know what they’ll do. They’re losing a lot of funding soon as it is (shows how much this government cares about protecting its people – though if the emergency budget gets invalidated for failing to consider its impact on women, that could be altered. Maybe. Unlikely) and . . . I don’t know.

        • #7 by Zoe Brain on Thursday, 5th August 2010 - 2:40 GMT+0100

          What will Rape Crisis Centres do? I imagine that most will do nothing. Just because they’re legally allowed to discriminate doesn’t mean that it’s compulsory.

          The rest will just have a question – “Are you transsexual? (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010).

          Employers providing sex-specific services will do the same. Businesses providing sex-specific services will just have signs saying “Tranny-Free Zone” – though not in those words. More like “We deeply regret that we are unable to provide services to persons who are transsexual within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.”

  1. Video about Hollyoaks’ new trans character « This Wicked Day

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