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A shared intimacy
The hymen and its blood: a writing of the virginal female body
From rudimentary subterfuge to the elaboration of “Chinese” artificial hymens
Intimate surgeries 
Apprehension of hymen repairs by the medical profession
Apprehension of hymen repairs by young women
Religious positions in the face of surgical repairs of the hymen
The 1987 Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences Debate
The religious assents of 2007 and 2009

From the use of “Chinese” artificial hymens to the practice of surgical repairs of the hymen (hymenorrhaphy and hymenoplasty), this article examines the interstitial spaces that make it possible to negotiate the social imperative of premarital virginity. Beyond the description of the uses in force, it is a question of analyzing the semantic construction of the speech of various actors (young women, medical profession, religious authorities), by showing how a moral logic is worked out with the repairs of hymen, which in turn invokes the principles of repentance, protection and common good, as well as the notion of physical and psychic purification. It is ultimately important to show how intimate surgeries pose medical techniques at the intersection of cultural norms and individual, social and religious arrangements,

hymen as a protective screen, a case of virginity, a vaginal wall, a very fine and invisible veil which, in the face of hysteria, stands between the inside and the outside of the woman, consequently between desire and accomplishment. It is neither desire nor pleasure but between the two. Neither the future nor the present but between the two. It is the hymen that desire dreams of piercing, of bursting in a violence that is (at the same time or between) love and murder. If either took place, there would be no hymen [...] With all the undecidability of its meaning, the hymen takes place only when it does not take place, when nothing really happens [...], when the veil is torn without being
1Designating in its Latin etymology, both an anatomical membrane and the union of two spouses, the hymen is invested, in the countries of the Arab-Muslim world, with an important emotional and social charge. I will discuss here two surgical repairs of the hymen, hymenorrhaphy and hymenoplasty, based on ethnographic surveys that I carried out in Tunis and in the governorate of Gafsa (urban and rural areas) between 2001 and 2016, both with young women and health practitioners working in private practices or in public care spaces, such as hospitals, dispensaries and family planning centres.

2After having contextualized from a religious, legal and social point of view the imperative of prenuptial virginity, I will analyze the social uses of hymen surgeries, the way in which they are apprehended by young girls and the medical profession, as well as than the bodily gender norms they underpin. On the basis of Muslim legal opinions produced between 1987 and 2009, I will explain the way in which certain Sunni eminences were led to draw from scriptural sources and Islamic law for principles making it possible to legitimize recourse to surgical repairs of virtue and to make the latter techniques of purification and absolution.

3I will ultimately show how intimate surgeries pose medical techniques at the intersection between cultural norms and individual, social and religious arrangements.

4The virginal norm is often considered, in the common sense, as a religious norm. However, its religious character is ambivalent. Because if the Koran clearly states that the sexual act outside the conjugal framework is perceived as a sin ( zina ) and proscribed 1 , there is no question of the virginity of the spouses strictly speaking, nor of the proofs that must be bring the young woman on the wedding night. The androcentric writings of some great Islamic theologians as well as the prophetic tradition have nevertheless worked towards a certain enhancement of female virginity 2 , which remains significant in the discourse of most of the interlocutors questioned.

However, this is not indicative of true premarital sexual freedom. Witness the status of cohabitation which, if not prohibited by law, is often judged as a "marriage not in accordance with the law" ( zawaj 'ala khilâf al sigha al qanuniyya ) or an "offense of prostitution" ( jarima al bigha' ). On the instructions of the Ministry of the Interior, many hoteliers also refuse to accommodate an unmarried Tunisian couple. This repression is also present in the public space where a young couple can sometimes being arrested for “undermining good morals” or undergoing an identity check, accompanied by questions about how the two partners met and possible threats to report the young girl to her parents 4 .

7Despite a penal code that has improved the lot of women, the area of ​​sexuality therefore continues to fall essentially within the public domain and women's sexual freedom remains globally subject to a close will to control.

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The Year of the Maghreb
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17  | 2017 : Dossier: Gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Maghreb
Dossier: Gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Maghreb
Surgical repairs of the hymen in Tunisia. Purification and absolution techniques?
Surgical Reconstructions of the Hymen in Tunisia: Techniques of Purification and Absolution?
Ibtissem Ben Dridi
p. 119-132
https://doi.org/10.4000/anneemaghreb.3208
Summary  | Index  | Map  | Text  | Bibliography  | Ratings  | Quote | Quoted by  | Author
Summaries
FrenchFrançais
From the use of “Chinese” artificial hymens to the practice of surgical repairs of the hymen (hymenorrhaphy and hymenoplasty), this article examines the interstitial spaces that make it possible to negotiate the social imperative of premarital virginity. Beyond the description of the uses in force, it is a question of analyzing the semantic construction of the speech of various actors (young women, medical profession, religious authorities), by showing how a moral logic is worked out with the repairs of hymen, which in turn invokes the principles of repentance, protection and common good, as well as the notion of physical and psychic purification. It is ultimately important to show how intimate surgeries pose medical techniques at the intersection of cultural norms and individual, social and religious arrangements,


Top of page
Index entries
Key words :hymen , virginity , surgery , hymenorrhaphy , hymenoplasty
Keywords:hymen , virginity , surgery , hymenorraphy , hymenoplasty , Tunisia
Geography:Tunisia
Top of page
Plan
A shared intimacy
The hymen and its blood: a writing of the virginal female body
From rudimentary subterfuge to the elaboration of “Chinese” artificial hymens
Intimate surgeries 
Apprehension of hymen repairs by the medical profession
Apprehension of hymen repairs by young women
Religious positions in the face of surgical repairs of the hymen
The 1987 Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences Debate
The religious assents of 2007 and 2009
Conclusion
Top of page
Full Text
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“[The] hymen as a protective screen, a case of virginity, a vaginal wall, a very fine and invisible veil which, in the face of hysteria, stands between the inside and the outside of the woman, consequently between desire and accomplishment. It is neither desire nor pleasure but between the two. Neither the future nor the present but between the two. It is the hymen that desire dreams of piercing, of bursting in a violence that is (at the same time or between) love and murder. If either took place, there would be no hymen [...] With all the undecidability of its meaning, the hymen takes place only when it does not take place, when nothing really happens [...], when the veil is torn without being. (Derrida, 1972, p. 262).

1Designating in its Latin etymology, both an anatomical membrane and the union of two spouses, the hymen is invested, in the countries of the Arab-Muslim world, with an important emotional and social charge. I will discuss here two surgical repairs of the hymen, hymenorrhaphy and hymenoplasty, based on ethnographic surveys that I carried out in Tunis and in the governorate of Gafsa (urban and rural areas) between 2001 and 2016, both with young women and health practitioners working in private practices or in public care spaces, such as hospitals, dispensaries and family planning centres.

2After having contextualized from a religious, legal and social point of view the imperative of prenuptial virginity, I will analyze the social uses of hymen surgeries, the way in which they are apprehended by young girls and the medical profession, as well as than the bodily gender norms they underpin. On the basis of Muslim legal opinions produced between 1987 and 2009, I will explain the way in which certain Sunni eminences were led to draw from scriptural sources and Islamic law for principles making it possible to legitimize recourse to surgical repairs of virtue and to make the latter techniques of purification and absolution.

3I will ultimately show how intimate surgeries pose medical techniques at the intersection between cultural norms and individual, social and religious arrangements.

A shared intimacy
1 . See verses 29, 30 and 31 of the 70th sura.
2 . See in particular Bokhari ([9th century text ], 1977) and Ghazâlî ( [12th century text], 1989).
4The virginal norm is often considered, in the common sense, as a religious norm. However, its religious character is ambivalent. Because if the Koran clearly states that the sexual act outside the conjugal framework is perceived as a sin ( zina ) and proscribed 1 , there is no question of the virginity of the spouses strictly speaking, nor of the proofs that must be bring the young woman on the wedding night. The androcentric writings of some great Islamic theologians as well as the prophetic tradition have nevertheless worked towards a certain enhancement of female virginity 2 , which remains significant in the discourse of most of the interlocutors questioned.

3 . I would like to thank Sami Ben Abderrahmane, magistrate at the Administrative Court of Tunis, for having enlightened me (...)
5Under Tunisian law 3 , the non-virginity of the wife can neither be the subject of the annulment of a marriage, nor the subject of a "divorce for prejudice" ( ṭ alâq lil ẓ arar ) . The groom takes sole responsibility for the divorce, which is considered to be "a whim divorce" ( ṭ alâq insha' ) to his fault. The law considers that the damage is suffered by the woman, her intimacy having been publicly revealed.

4 . The frequency of these controls depends on the places, the periods and the political parties in power.
6However, this is not indicative of true premarital sexual freedom. Witness the status of cohabitation which, if not prohibited by law, is often judged as a "marriage not in accordance with the law" ( zawaj 'ala khilâf al sigha al qanuniyya ) or an "offense of prostitution" ( jarima al bigha' ). On the instructions of the Ministry of the Interior, many hoteliers also refuse to accommodate an unmarried Tunisian couple. This repression is also present in the public space where a young couple can sometimes being arrested for “undermining good morals” or undergoing an identity check, accompanied by questions about how the two partners met and possible threats to report the young girl to her parents 4 .

7Despite a penal code that has improved the lot of women, the area of ​​sexuality therefore continues to fall essentially within the public domain and women's sexual freedom remains globally subject to a close will to control.

5 . On the notion of honour, see in particular Bourdieu (1972), Pitt-Rivers (1983 [1977]), Ferchiou (198 (...)
8The requirement of virginity, on which family honor depends 5 , however, does not focus so much on the premarital sexuality of young women as on a tiny part of their anatomy: the hymen.

The hymen and its blood: a writing of the virginal female body
9The common language that names virginity and its loss is significant : the term sbiyya, which qualifies any young Tunisian girl before she takes a husband, literally designates “the one who keeps her hymen ( sba )”.

6 . The terms put in quotation marks in this article come from the discourse of young girls or (...)
10A young girl who has lost her virginity before the wedding is designated in Tunisia by the term mkasra , which evokes a broken, broken, destroyed object, which can no longer be used. The mere rupture of the hymen thus has repercussions on the designation of the young girl as a whole. She also evokes this bodily injury by saying that she “broke” ( tkassart ) 6 .

7 . On this biblical practice which permeated both shores of the Mediterranean, it is possible to (...)
11Despite its very relative reliability, more or less significant social practices depending on the times and social backgrounds have given bleeding from the hymen the value of irrefutable proof of preserved virginity. The display of bridal gowns ( suriyya ) stained with virgin blood is the earliest and most notorious example of this tight bodily control . Although bridal shirts are very rarely displayed in public today, they continue to be important and to be requested from the couple after their honeymoon, in order to be seen by family members and in-laws. . The persistence of this control is illustrated in a story told to me in 2016 by a gynecologist working in a working-class suburb of Tunis:

“The couple had been married for five days without the marriage being consummated. The young woman had not allowed herself to penetrate the first evenings and the young man had ended up losing his sexual potency. Returning from a five-day honeymoon, the couple absolutely had to show the suriyya . They wanted the blood to be real, which led them to ask me for surgical defloration done above the bridal gown. If I tried to reason with them and asked them to take the time to calmly establish their relationship, the newlyweds didn't want to know. I had to deflower this young woman in the OR, above her shirt. »



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