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What Egypt's "Virginity Tests" Tell Us About Ourselves

The latest news on Egypt's "virginity tests" during the uprisings reveals a serious Madonna/whore complex. Unfortunately, we have one, too.

CNN posted comments from a senior Egyptian general yesterday, revealing that female protesters during Egypt’s revolution had been subject to “virginity checks.” That’s just as bad as it sounds: it involved stun guns and humiliating prodding in front of male doctors and soldiers. The general explained that the tests were to ensure that there were no false claims of rape from Egyptian authorities. (As if women can’t be raped unless they’re virgins.)


What smarts the most, though, is how the general defended the practice:

"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."

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He later assured CNN, “None of them were (virgins).”

Predictably, Amnesty International and other activists in the States are horrified. But this defense sounds suspiciously like the recent case of two New York City cops accused of rape, who were acquitted on the basis that the victim was too drunk to remember anything (even as the defense claimed she was sober enough to consent). It also reminds me of the way the New York Times covered the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl, where they made sure to mention how much “older” she dressed and how much makeup she wore. These women are “not like your daughter or mine.” They aren’t virgins. Therefore, it doesn’t matter when people rape them.

America loves to decry the misogyny of the Middle East—we seem to do it a whole hell of a lot across the political spectrum. And rightly so. Still, in cases like these, we should hold up a mirror to our own culture and admit what we’re capable of. People in the United States don’t literally subject women protesters to virginity tests, but we routinely separate the Madonnas from the whores and that isn’t so far off.

photo (cc) by Flickr user nebedaay

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