Saturday, August 23, 2008

Modern Surgery and Patriarchy

Right now, JusticeWalks has a post on her blog called “Anxiety” where she discusses her feelings about an upcoming procedure she will be undergoing. In it, she makes a connection between the body trauma associated with surgeries and the experiences of those women of color from our past who have suffered under patriarchal systems. She writes,

I am concerned about people having access to my unconscious body - seeing it, touching it, judging it - when I am totally unable to defend myself against insult or violation, unable to cover my burns or hide my disfigured hands and feet, unable to speak back in my voice, which has always obscured my hurt, but which has always gotten the more important point across, whatever it was at the time. I am pretty sure I will be menstruating when I have the procedure, and I am especially concerned about people having access to my unconscious, menstruating body.

However, what really struck me was where she wrote,

It almost seems like blasphemy, for me, with my protections of intellect and eloquence outside of these finite circumstances and barring trauma, to feel so haunted by the thought of spending a few hours of my life as vulnerable and exposed as some women spend their entire lives.

That really hit home for me. It made me consider something that I have only discussed with less than a handful of people in my life. Every time I am anesthetized, I wake up feeling raped. On the one hand, I know that I’ve agreed to the procedure, but that doesn’t erase the body trauma that I feel knowing that I have been handled, examined, cut, and penetrated—all while I was completely out of control and unable to withdraw my consent. I remember when I woke up from my third surgery and there was a catheter that had been inserted into me. I suppose I should have realized they would do this but I do not like the fact that, when explaining the upcoming procedure on my back, my chest and my neck, nobody mentioned the fact that I my vagina would be partially shaved and penetrated. To me, that just seems like something that should be specifically pointed out prior to any surgery where this might take place. I mean, should we just EXPECT to be penetrated while we’re unconscious? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over that. Even though I will be eternally grateful for how they saved my life, I still can’t help but think about it all.

My first surgery was performed by a black, female surgeon. That procedure didn’t leave me feeling quite as bad as the third surgery would later on. I wonder if the differences in my reactions were related to the fact that I knew that it would be a woman cutting and penetrating my body, a woman of color, just like me.

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