She presented to the ER with not only “grossly swollen” external genitalia, and pain so extreme that she had to be put under general anesthetic just so her physician could perform a gynecologic exam. She was so swollen that, according to the legend to Figure 1 (which you can find online, as the article is freely available), “she was unable to pass urine, and the vaginal space was obliterated by edema.”Whenever removal of body hair (or most beauty rituals performed by women for that matter) comes up in feminist discussion, there is always a good portion that involves women explaining that they conform to those standards but only because it is their choice, not because they want to live up to the patriarchal ideal. Maybe that's true, but I doubt it. We are all victims of the patriarchy and even the most strident of us feminists have issues that aren't quite resolved.
For example, I shave the legs and pits. I will tell people that I do it because I love how my legs feel right after I shave them, and that is true. But if that was the whole truth, then I wouldn't have a problem wearing skirts when I haven't shaved them. I wear skirts almost everyday, but not if there is stubble on my legs. That has nothing to do with how it feels to me physically, but it is because the ideal has been ingrained into my brain and I haven't been able to break that bit of social programming.
As for shaving the girly bits, about once a year or so I forget how much pain it causes me and I go bald. It feels really nice for about 12 hours, and then I remember why it is that I don't do this. For weeks after there is itchy regrowth, ingrown hairs that become infected, and without it's protective covering, the bits become prone to yeast infections (I know- oversharing, deal with it). The women I know who do this all the time don't deny these problems, but they see it as a "cleanliness" issue. For some reason it has gotten into people's heads that pubic hair= dirty, smelly pussy. I wonder if these people have ever heard of water and it's magic cleansing powers. They also claim that you get used to it after a while. but I've been shaving my legs since I was 12 and they still get itchy with ingrown hairs. How long would I have to endure the much worse discomfort of shaving the bits? 20 years of shaving the legs hasn't made me used to it.
And that brings us to circumcision (on males, that is).
The guys in my family aren't circumcised, and that includes my son. Maybe because of my paternal grandmother's Eastern European heritage they missed the whole 1950's push towards circumcision as a hygiene practice. But they aren't. And when the Kid was born 12 years ago, and still sometimes today, I get no end of grief about how wrong I was not to circumcise him. Here's an example of a conversation I once had with a guy about this:
Guy: That is so wrong.
Me: Why? We're not Jewish. Why should I have had him snipped?
Guy: Because it's dirty. Think of all the crud that gets stuck in there.
Me: Oh my god, your totally right! Think of all the crud that gets stuck under your fingernails. You should cut off your hands instead of, you know, grabbing some soap and water!
This is how nearly every argument I've had with people over the circumcision thing has gone. This whole conversation could apply to waxing the bits for hygiene purposes too (though for washing girly bits, if you must use soap it should a be mild, glycerin- free version. Consider that your sex parts tip for the day).
The girl in the original story, the one whose "vaginal space was obliterated", after the first infection could not possibly have been doing it because it felt good. She was willing to risk her life a second time for a pornified ideal. Not just discomfort, but toxic shock, possibly lethal. We might not all have reactions that bad, and none of us are completely free from behaviors that are socially programmed and we all have to examine those behaviors to at least understand why we have those behaviors and decide if it might be healthier to change them.
(note: I know there are studies that say circumcision may lower the transmission rates of HIV in males. But so do condoms. I think I'll teach the Kid about safe sex practices and if he decides he wants to get circumcised as an adult to lower his HIV risk- I'll smack him on the head once with a box of trogans and then let him do what he wants. )