Artificial Virginity Device Sparks Backlash In Egypt
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, to a strange controversy in Egypt. And we should warn you that it involves some explicit physical description. A company is advertising a device that claims to simulate virginity. Conservatives are not happy about this.
As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo, the device highlights a double standard in Egypt when it comes to premarital sex.
PETER KENYON: The online ad from gigimo.com promises women no more worry because they can restore their virginity for just 29.95. The ad says the product fits in the vagina and upon penetration oozes a bloodlike liquid. Add a few moans and groans and you will pass through undetectable, promises the Asian Web site in its somewhat mysterious English.
Virginity is a very real issue for Egyptian women, as illustrated in the popular film "The Wedding," released earlier this year.
(Soundbite of film, "The Wedding")
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: It's the story of Abdullah and Gamila, a young couple who signed their marriage contract years ago, but couldn't afford the marriage ceremony that would, by tradition, allow the union to be consummated. The couple has been having sex all along. And after gossipy neighbors call Gamila a tramp, her father warns Abdullah that the following day he must prove to the whole neighborhood that Gamila is still a virgin. Complications ensue.
In Egypt, those women who can afford it may resort to surgery to restore their hymens before their wedding night. But news of this new, inexpensive device sparked an intense backlash. A lawmaker from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said it would be a mark of shame on the government if it didn't keep the devices out of the country.
An unscientific sampling of opinion on the streets of Cairo found widespread acceptance of a double standard, which is hardly restricted to the Arab world: purity applies to women, but not men.
Nineteen-year-old Ahmed Rifaat says no matter how much he loved a girl, he would drop her instantly if he found out she wasn't a virgin. Then he was asked, well, shouldn't it be the same for a man?
Mr. AHMED RIFAAT: (Through Translator) No, it's not a big deal if the guy is not a virgin. I'm not speaking about Islam. I'm just saying it's normal. But she has to be a virgin because she's a girl. She's a girl. That's just the way it is.
KENYON: Sitting next to Ahmed is his cousin Aya, who laughs at Ahmed's logic, but seems resigned to the prevailing view that forgiveness for premarital sex is a one-way street.
Ms. AYA: (Through Translator) For me, men and women are the same. The only reason he said it's normal is because he's a guy. But I would never marry a guy who wasn't a virgin. Well, maybe if we were really in love and it was just once and he was honest about it, maybe I could forgive it.
KENYON: At the offices of Enigma magazine, Egypt's upscale fashion and society monthly, managing editor Amy Mowafi has heard all this before. She's the author of the popular column and now bestselling book, "Fe-mail - that's F-E-M-A-I-L -The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Good Egyptian Girl."
Mowafi says Egyptian men still have a huge complex about virginity, from the poorest rural villages to the wealthiest Cairo suburbs.
Ms. AMY MOWAFI (Managing Editor, Enigma): No matter how Western he may appear, it's very exceptional to find a man who is willing to accept a woman who has had, quote, unquote, "a life before marriage." And the objective, unfortunately, for an Arab woman, remains marriage. I mean, there's a quote I often use, is that as an Arab - an independent Arab woman - you can break as many glass ceilings as you like, but you can never break your hymen.
KENYON: Mowafi has her own issues with these artificial virginity devices because she doesn't believe technology should be a substitute for confronting hypocrisy.
Ms. MOWAFI: And the problem with a device like this is it makes it too easy for the woman to play by the rules of society instead of standing up and saying, no, you need to understand that I am a good person. And it should not all come down to this issue of a hymen.
KENYON: The owners of the Web site did not respond to questions, so it's not clear if any artificial virginity kits have actually been ordered from Egypt.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.
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