Posted by: turtlebella | 11 October 2007

Controlling, mutilating bodies

Recently I was reading a post over at brownfemipower’s Women of Color blog about a 15 year old girl, Katie Thorpe, who has cerebral palsy and whose uterus is being removed, by the request of her mother. Because, as far as I can tell, dealing with the annoyance, inconvenience, pain, and general taboo-ed-ness of menstruation might be too difficult. And perhaps because she needs to be protected from any pregnancy that might result from her being raped. And because the mother wants her child to stay a child.

I need to say something in this space because this is an issue that deeply upsets me and has come up before, with the case of Ashely X. I have a real problem with the medical profession, well-meaning parents, and society in general deciding that sexual organs of disabled women should be removed. To me, this means we, as a society, are complicit in what I think is the mutilation of girls and women. Lots of people agree that women should have ‘choice’ regarding their bodies. But is it only okay for middle/upper class, white, able-bodied, cis women to make those choices?, as queen emily asked in the comments at bfp’s. I have a feeling that this all comes down to our (society’s and personal) extraordinary squeamishness with, and fear of a) disabled people and b) sexuality and c) the combination of the two. Confronting this prejudice-that disabled girls and women shouldn’t or can’t be sexual beings is vitally important. This isn’t easy – when is it? – but I believe we cannot let this kind of thing slide on by.

I do not have the answer(s). I have neither the expertise nor the experience to arrive at a solution, if a single one exists. But I do know that we need to think about this more as a society, because more and more girls bodies are controlled and manipulated and mutilated in the name of our own convenience. Please read Book Girl’s post and go to Penny’s blog for a list of bloggers talking about this with more eloquence and knowledge than what I have.


  1. it seriously is getting scarier and scarier every day. thank you for posting.

  2. i know, right? I knew this kind of treatment wasn’t going to stop with Ashley X, somehow. But I hoped? In vain, perhaps.

  3. i agree with your thoughts/comments.

    but i can also see how things might get tricky and very very controversial – parents of mentally retarded adults who must care for their children so long, might not want to be caring for their children’s children also. i think the question i ask myself is this: would i feel the same or differently if people were forcing their children to take birth control rather than surgery?

    what do you think?

  4. I agree, it *is* tricky and difficult. And certainly controversial! I think that there is a difference between surgery and birth control, although the issue of ‘choice’ is probably the same. I think the problem is that a hysterectomy is a pretty serious surgery with a long recovery time and seems so drastic. The most horrifying aspect of this case and the Ashley X one is the desire to infantilise the girls- the parents don’t want their children to change and ‘grow up’ – this is really kind of sick to me. I mean, few parents want their kids to grow up (much less have sex! oh no!) but we don’t allow parents of ‘normal’ kids to perform invasive procedures to delay or avoid puberty, the very idea is ludicrous. So is it okay to do so for people who are mildly or moderately or severely disabled or retarded? Where do we draw the line?

    And I think that’s the problem– where the line is. There are people with CP and disabled folks who have healthy sexual lives. A number of disabled bloggers and bloggers with CP have pointed this out. But there are A LOT of people who don’t want to admit this, including care-givers (parents and professionals) and some in the medical community. And so who decides where the line is? Usually those with power. And that power, it hasn’t been used very well in the past (sterilization of Native American people, eugenic movements/programs in this country and abroad where mentally ill people were sterilized, wide-spread use of hysterectomy on women who were diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ and other behaviors that were not considered socially acceptable, and quite widespread use of hysterectomy when it’s probably not medically necessary). So I think forebarence (is that a word?) is called for.

  5. We have a relative (on my husband’s side) who is mentally retared (but functions fairly well). She’s married, but her mother talked her into being sterilized so that she and her husband couldn’t produce kids.

    I don’t know–it’s difficult to think about–sterilization is so final, and such an issue of power. Yet my husband’s cousin and her husband would be very unable to care for a small child properly.

    The problem is finding that tricky line in the sand–the place at which we cross over and into the territory of dangerous eugenic practices.

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