Pain as Performance: Re-Virginisation in Turkey

In an article for our June special issue “Pain and its Paradoxes”, “Pain as Performance: Re-Virginisation in Turkey,” Hande Güzel turns to an analysis of acute pain related to re-virginisation, a surgical process of hymenoplasty that women in Turkey undertake to satisfy social expectations regarding virginity upon marriage. These expectations lead to the performance of what Gul Ozyegin terms the “virginal façade,” whereby women adopt two personas, one to their families as a virgin girl and one to their friends as a sexually-active woman. While acknowledging Elaine Scarry’s argument about the difficulties of truly understanding another’s pain in The Body in Pain (1985), Güzel takes as central the notion that pain can nevertheless be communicated. Conducting in-depth interviews with fifty-three medical professionals and analyses of online support forums for women seeking hymenoplasty, Güzel seeks to understand how the meaning-making process associated with re-virginisation is a collective endeavour that provides support to women who prefer to trust their own bodies rather than medical professionals who, as one interviewee explains, work in a field where fraud is a real concern or where practices that amount to the medical profession’s claiming of ownership over womens’ bodies occur. This collective meaning making process can risk eliding the subjectivity of acute pain while providing support for women who must shoulder the burden of the emotional labour and physical pain associated with re-virginisation.

In the clip below Güzel describes the significance of pain and its performance for the process of re-virginisation.

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