Femalia

Femalia is a book of 32 full-color photographs of human vulvas, edited by Joani Blank and first published by Down There Press in 1993.[1] A reprint edition was published by Last Gasp in 2011.[2] The photographs were taken by Tee Corinne, Michael Perry, Jill Posener, and Michael A. Rosen. The photographs are presented without commentary, except for Blank's brief introduction to the volume as a whole.[3]:431

Femalia
EditorJoani Blank
IllustratorPhotographs by Tee Corinne, Michael Perry, Jill Posener, and Michael A. Rosen
CountryUnited States of America
LanguageEnglish
PublisherDown There Press, Last Gasp
Publication date
1993
ISBN0-940208-15-6 (first edition)
WebsiteFemalia (second edition)

History

The word used as the book's title, femalia, was taken from the novel Vox by Nicholson Baker.[1][4]:143 The photographs by Corinne and Perry had been taken years before the book's original publication in 1993; those by Posener and Rosen were taken specifically for inclusion in the first edition of Femalia.[1]

Femalia grew out of Blank's long-term work as a feminist sex educator. She felt that medical and pornographic images of the female genitals were inadequate to her purposes.[3]:430 In her introduction to the first edition, Blank lamented the absence of readily available photographic representations of the vulva other than heavily edited images in male-oriented pornography, and the resulting feeling on the part of a majority of women that "in one way or another, their genitals are not quite ‘normal’".[1][3]:430

Feminist response

Feminist authors have sharply contrasted the portrayals of vulvas in Femalia with those in typical male-oriented pornography and in biomedical sources.[5] Femalia's portrayals are characterized as accurate, honest, open, and truthful, as exhibiting "stark reality";[5]:86–87,362[6][7] as promoting a positive view of the vulva;[8] as emphasizing the diversity of the vulva in different women,[5]:166,202,360,379[6][7][9]:181[10]:36[11]:264 as well as the diversity of opinions and perspectives about the vulva on the part of both men and women;[8]:13 and as emphasizing female autonomy.[5]:222[10]:36[12]:25 By contrast, portrayals of the vulva in pornography and in biomedical science are characterized as stylized and uniform, excluding women whose genitalia do not match their models.[5]:86–87,360[6] Pornographic portrayals are further characterized as commodified,[5]:202 and medical portrayals as sterile.[5]:86–87 Feminist sex educators have advocated perusal of the images in Femalia as an exercise to help women to regard their genitals in a more positive light.[8]:13[13][14]:69

Civil liberties

Librarian Sanford Berman has cited Femalia as an example to illustrate his thesis that libraries engage in inappropriate self-censorship, often motivated by concerns about controversial sexual content, in deciding which books to stock.[15][16] Berman comments, "A detailed, artistic picture of a seashell adorns the cover. Were the contents strictly shell photos, the book might make it into at least some libraries. Shells, yes. Vulvas, no."[16]:51

Science and medicine

Research on depiction and perception of female genitals

In a study of systematic differences in the depiction of female genitals in online pornography, anatomy textbooks, and feminist publications, Femalia was used as one of three sources of sample depictions in the feminist-publications category.[17]:76 This study found a statistically significant difference between online pornography and feminist publications in depicted protuberance of the labia minora, with greater mean protuberance shown in the feminist publications.[17]:77 It also found greater variation in measured genital proportions shown in the feminist publications than in the other two categories of sources.[17]:77–78

Femalia was used as one of two sources of sample depictions of female genitals (the other was Penthouse) in a psychological study of the relationship between women's aesthetic perceptions of female genitals and their attitudes toward gynecological examinations.[18]:21 More specifically, the examinations in question were Pap smears, and the relevant attitudes were anxiety, embarrassment, and likelihood of making or keeping an appointment for a Pap smear.[18]:22–24

Educational role in clinical practice

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has published a guideline document, authored by Dr. Magdalena Simonis under authority of the RACGP, intended to inform healthcare professionals about female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS), such as labiaplasty, and to advise them about management of patient requests for FGCS.[19] In this document, Dr. Simonis identifies lack of appreciation of female genital diversity, not only on the part of the public but also on the part of healthcare professionals, as a contributing factor to the demand for FGCS.[19]:2–6 She advocates the use of Femalia as a tool for patient education about genital diversity,[19]:9,13 in part because it depicts female genitals without digital enhancement.[19]:9 Dr. Simonis has further referenced this educational use of Femalia in slide and poster presentations intended to promote better management of the demand for FGCS on the part of healthcare professionals.[20][21]

Medical anthropologist Eric Plemons has stated that:

The feminist commitment to ostensibly unmediated representation of ‘natural’ female genitals is one whose value has also been recognized by medical experts; Femalia has had an unanticipated life in clinical literature.[3]:431

Plemons documents the use of Femalia as a resource to demonstrate the existence of female genital diversity, and to educate both clinicians and patients as to the range of normal vulval appearance. He attributes its widespread use by healthcare professionals to their belief that "it is one of very few photographic collections of ‘normal’ vulvas that exists".[3]:431

Transsexual genital cosmesis

Femalia has been used as a way of assessing preferences for perineal and genital cosmetic appearance, to improve cosmesis in male-to-female transsexuals (trans women) undergoing genital sex reassignment surgery (GSRS).[3][22] Beginning in the year 2000, surgeon Neal Wilson began showing photographs from Femalia to his prospective GSRS patients and asking them to indicate which vulvas they found most aesthetically pleasing, as well as which ones they would choose for themselves. Dr. Wilson attempted to approximate through surgery the appearance of the photographs from Femalia selected by his prospective patients, even though he held that they set "impossible standards" because of the limitations of early 21st-century surgical technique.[3]:429[22] Dr. Wilson has republished, in an online journal article, the three photographs most often selected by his patients. He has also provided summary statistics concerning his patients′ choices of vulval photographs from Femalia, as well as a short narrative summary of the specific anatomical features that he believed to be characteristic of the most popular photographs.[22]

See also

References

  1. Blank, Joani, ed. (1993). Femalia. Photographs by Tee A. Corinne, Michael Perry, Jill Posener, and Michael A. Rosen (1st ed.). San Francisco: Down There Press. ISBN 978-0-940208-15-5.
  2. Blank, Joani, ed. (2011). Femalia. Photographs by Tee A. Corinne, Michael Perry, Jill Posener, and Michael A. Rosen (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Last Gasp. ISBN 978-0-86719-758-7.
  3. Plemons, Eric (2015). "Anatomical authorities: on the epistemological exclusion of trans-surgical patients". Medical Anthropology. 34 (5): 425–441. doi:10.1080/01459740.2015.1036264. PMID 25849147.
  4. Baker, Nicholson (1992). Vox: a novel. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-58995-4.
  5. Duncan, Rachel (January 2005). Genital sensation: abrasive bodies in feminist performance (PDF) (PhD dissertation). University of Leicester.
  6. Iglesia, Cheryl B. (May 2014). "AGAINST: The social vulnerability and cultural view of women as sex objects needs to end". BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 121 (6): 768. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12621. PMID 24738897.
  7. Lloyd, Jillian; Crouch, Naomi S.; Minto, Catherine L.; Liao, Lih-Mei; Creighton, Sarah M. (May 2005). "Female genital appearance: 'normality' unfolds". BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 112 (5): 643–646. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.585.1427. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2004.00517.x. PMID 15842291.
  8. Mullinax, Margo; Herbenick, Debby; Schick, Vanessa; Sanders, Stephanie A.; Reece, Michael (1 July 2015). "In their own words: a qualitative content analysis of women's and men's preferences for women's genitals". Sex Education. 15 (4): 421–436. doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1031884. PMC 4796748. PMID 27004044.
  9. Green, Fiona J. (2005). "From clitoridectomies to 'designer vaginas': the medical construction of heteronormative female bodies and sexuality through female genital cutting". Sexualities, Evolution & Gender. 7 (2): 153–187. doi:10.1080/14616660500200223.
  10. Braun, Virginia (November 2000). The vagina: an analysis (PhD dissertation). Loughborough University.
  11. Braun, Virginia; Kitzinger, Celia (2001). "The perfectible vagina: size matters". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 3 (3): 263–277. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.552.8931. doi:10.1080/13691050152484704.
  12. Braun, V.; Wilkinson, S. (2001). "Socio-cultural representations of the vagina". Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 19 (1): 17–32. doi:10.1080/02646830020032374.
  13. Savage, Dan (3 December 2014). "Labia of love". News and Views: Savage Love. Metro Times (Detroit). Archived from the original on 2017-08-26. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  14. Warburton, Rachel (2007). "Fucking our way to a better world: an interview with C. Gallant". Atlantis. 31 (2): 64–71.
  15. Berman, Sanford (16 April 2000). “Inside” censorship (PDF) (Speech). Minnesota Atheists meeting. Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, USA. Archived from the original on 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  16. Berman, Sanford (Summer 2001). ""Inside" censorship" (PDF). Progressive Librarian. 18: 48–63.
  17. Howarth, Helena; Sommer, Volker; Jordan, Fiona M. (December 2010). "Visual depictions of female genitalia differ depending on source". Medical Humanities. 36 (2): 75–79. doi:10.1136/jmh.2009.003707. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0013-4404-7. PMID 21393286.
  18. Schick, Vanessa R. (31 January 2010). Examining the vulva: the relationship between female genital aesthetic perceptions and gynecological care (PhD dissertation). George Washington University.
  19. Simonis, Magdalena (July 2015). Female genital cosmetic surgery: a resource for general practitioners and other health professionals. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
  20. Simonis, Magdalena (23 September 2015). Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery Toolkit for general practitioners and other health professionals (PDF). GP15: The RACGP Conference for General Practice 2015 (slides). Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Archived from the original on 2017-08-26. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  21. Simonis, Magdalena (13–16 September 2015). Female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS): a resource for general practitioners and other health professionals (PDF). World STI & HIV Congress 2015 (Poster P13.02). Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Archived from the original on 2017-08-26. Retrieved 2017-08-26. Abstract: Simonis, Magdalena (September 2015). "P13.02 Female genital cosmetic surgery toolkit for general practitioners and other health professionals". Sexually Transmitted Infections. 91 (Suppl 2): A193.1–A193. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2015-052270.500.
  22. Wilson, Neal (2002). "The aesthetic vulva: perineal cosmesis in the male-to-female transsexual". International Journal of Transgenderism. 6 (4). Archived from the original on 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
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