Herring and Class Struggle

Capitalism came late to Iceland. At the end of the 19th century this large, wind-swept, thinly populated island was made up of small towns, farms and seasonal fishing stations. Then European capitalists saw another Klondike in the herring-rich waters of the north Atlantic..

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Women's Oppression, Empowerment and Breast Implants

There is a link between the breast implant scandal[1] involving at least 400 women in Iceland and hundreds of thousands of women across Europe, and the 'Just Fearless, Women Empowering Women' conference coming to Reykjavik next week.

They are both sold as solutions to what’s wrong in women's lives but are the wrong answers to real problems.

Twenty years ago women had breast implants as part of reconstructive surgery after cancer or a few had implants because they worked in the porn industries. Now thanks to the rise of ‘raunch culture’[2] millions of women round the world are sold breast implants as the solution to the dissatisfaction they feel with their bodies. But 'ideas do not fall from heaven and nothing comes to us in a dream',[3] we have been bombarded with advertising images of ideal female bodies that mean most of us are too thin or more often too fat and we don’t have the right sized breasts. So we are sold the solutions from diets, exercise regimes, padded bras and then implants. The companies selling the cure for the insecurities they have helped create, including cosmetic surgery companies, do it for the enormous profits.  So it was inevitable that a company would eventually cut corners to save money and increase their profits. That company turned out to be Poly Implant Prosthese (PIP), founded by Jean-Claude Mas. Since 2001 his company has been filling implants with industrial-grade silicon suitable for mattresses which cost 1/8th of the price of medical grade silicon. This means that women with less money, working class women, got these implants rather than better quality ones.

The ‘Women Empowering Women’ Conference is selling the idea that we can fix our lives by starting a business. It says ‘this powerful summit dares women to tackle their personal and professional challenges, be FEARLESS, and plant their feet firmly on the path to success.’ In other words it’s made up of a bunch of motivational speakers, for whom this is a career in itself, plus local business women and the President of Kvenréttindafélag Ísland, the Icelandic Women's Rights Association, Helga Guðrún Jónasdóttir who used to be president of Landssamband Sjálfstæðiskvenna, the national Tory women’s network.

If they can get hundreds of women to pay 2.500 kr and more to pay 5000 kr to ‘meet and greet’ the speakers, then these conferences can be highly lucrative. This ‘empowerment’ is a poisonous idea that throws failure back on the individual as though we can all pull ourselves up if we really want to. It ignores class, access to capital/credit, personal disadvantages, financial crisis and cuts in social spending. It says if your business/life doesn’t work out as planned then it must be your fault - look how successful we all are.

The solution to the PIP scandal is relatively simple - the Government can pay for any women in Iceland who wants to have the implants removed and they can recoup the money from the surgeon who imported and fitted these implants.

The solution to capitalism feeding on and profiting from our insecurities can ultimately only be to get rid of capitalism. But right now we don’t have to stand for the relentless sexualised and sexist advertising nor the insidious ideas of right-wing women with something to sell.

[2] Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture
[3] Marxist philosopher Antonio Labriola 1966

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