By: Alexandra Kinias
Twenty four years old Radwa had just graduated from college and hired as an art teacher in a private school in Cairo. For Radwa it was very important to restore her virginity before she got married to the man who proposed to her through a family friend. She desperately needed a Hymonorophy a.k.a Hymenoplasty to re-connect the tissue of the hymen, but couldn’t afford to pay for this procedure that takes about 30 minutes under local anesthetic from her small salary. Radwa’s lover of four years, whom she had a sexual relation with but wouldn’t marry her because she was not a virgin, paid for the expenses. It was his wedding gift to her. Unfortunately, this is not an episode of a Mexican soap opera. It is a real story that often happens in the Middle East. And Radwa is among the lucky ones who found someone to pay for the surgery.
For many years, girls at the age of marriage who had lost their virginity to a loved one, only to be abandoned by him, lived in absolute misery. Some committed suicide. Others faked their virginity, by spilling red liquids on theirs beds, and spent fearful hours worrying that the grooms would discover the trick. The consequences would be to be returned back to their parents’ house, like defected merchandise, with a scandal that would send them to the grave. Any girl, who refused to get married, raised the suspicions of her family that she was not a virgin. There was no other logical reason for her not to want to get married except covering up the mistake of losing her honor.
Honor, that’s what it is all about. In a region where religious scholars are more respected than scientists, and where women are blamed for God’s wrath and natural disasters, the existence of women’s hymen on their wedding nights is the sole proof of their purity, chastity, innocence, and honor. It is what separates an honorable girl from a prostitute. The girl’s virginity is a natural certificate, a social declaration of good behavior and her proof of innocence from having pre-marital sex.
Hymenorophies are not only wide spread in the Middle East, but also among girls of Middle Eastern and Asian descendants who live in European countries. These immigrants still live under their own codes of ethics and traditions where a family’s pride is boiled down to nothing else, but their women’s virginity.
With these operations, women finally found a solution and with it they could bury their pasts forever. The irony is that rarely you find a man with no pre-marital sexual relationships. These men have lost their virginity to a woman whom they most likely abandoned to get married to a certified virgin.
Doctors started these operations out of pity for the girls, but eventually these procedures became lucrative business. In Britain, the half hour procedure costs $2400. In the Middle East, prices are not that expensive, but they are still beyond the reach of a lot of women.
But China is always there with affordable solutions, even to supply fake hymen to women who had lost their virginity. When these new Chinese merchandises flooded the markets of the Middle East for $15, men started to lose their minds. A leading Egyptian scholar demanded that the importers of these fake hymens should face death penalties. As an engineer I have learned that every action has a reaction, equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. In a society where women are not forgiven for losing their virginity, even if they were raped, as a reaction these operations were born out of the necessity for saving their lives. I still don’t see how the magnitude of the deceit behind restoring the virginity can equate to the magnitude of taking someone’s life for losing it.
Burying the past to protect their future is the only way for these women to survive in such unforgiving societies that otherwise wouldn’t give them a second chance. Who would blame them?