The New York Times has a piece today about hymen restoration surgery (most fucked up quote, from a French practitioner: "I have colleagues in the United States whose patients do this as a Valentine's present to their husbands.") that is a new trend among Muslim women, particularly in Europe. Those woman, as you might guess, are looking to avoid the fate of the Muslim woman whose husband was allowed to annul their marriage because she wasn't a virgin or, you know, beatings or honor killings or being shunned by your family and expelled from your community, stuff like that.
But, naturally, the article finds people willing to say things like "Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past," which is great, except then you have to remember that this is France where they banned headscarves in schools to make the Christians more comfortable and fought a big ugly war in Algeria not so long ago and where Muslim people live, not entirely self-imposed, in ghettos, so maybe they have just a little bit of tolerance and understanding to get to? But I digress.
The point is that, basically, doctors are aiding and abetting the perpetuation of a system that places an inordinate value on chastity in women, to the point where bloody sheets are still required, but it is a system in which the women are choosing to participate. Many of the women are paying a great deal of money to "reconstruct" their hymens, with the help of their families or, in one case, her lover and fiancé, so one is a little hard-pressed to argue that they're all being oppressed (though some of them are) as much as they are accepting (or avoiding through guile) the consequences of the social system by which they are choosing to order their lives.
William Saletan makes a good point in Slate, which I'll just paraphrase. He says, in effect, that bemoaning the fetishization of virgins and trying to prohibit women from getting this surgery neither provides substantive help to these women nor effectively combats the centuries-old fetish. In the absence of the ability to utterly change the system that requires proof of virginity, we should allow them to choose to safely fake what they think needs to be faked. And, perhaps in time, the women themselves who had premarital sex that required surgery to avoid humiliation and/or a beating (or worse) won't foist the same hypocrisies on their daughters. Or maybe their granddaughters. It is a really old system.