Current DPhil in Medical Law: Q and A with Saarrah Ray

Portrait of Saarrah Ray

Current DPhil in Medical Law: Saarrah Ray

What is the title of your research and what is it about?

The title of my DPhil thesis is ‘Reconceptualising the “Designer Vagina” as Violence Against Women: An Argument Supporting the Criminalisation of Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery in the Jurisdiction of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’. My thesis will provide an in-depth argument establishing that female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) is an unjustified violence against women which should constitute a criminal offence. My legal argument will track the current law on offences against the person. It will consider (1) whether FGCS is actual bodily harm or more serious bodily harm, so that it falls within the category of harm which should be criminalised and for which generally consent is not a defence (2) whether FGCS falls within the exemptions recognised in the law for when consent can provide a defence, and (3) whether effective consent can be given to FGCS.

Who is your supervisor? 

Actually, I am lucky enough to have two amazing supervisors! Professor Imogen Goold and Professor Jonathan Herring.

How did you come up with your research topic?

My research topic stemmed from my activism in the anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) movement.

What have you found in your research so far?

Some forms of FGCS caught by the definition of the ‘designer vagina’ involves amputating parts of the genitalia to hyperfeminise it as a whole and (sometimes) involves restricting female sexual enjoyment which is also the purposes of some forms of FGM.

Why do you think your research is / will be important?

Scholars have challenged the objective test in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 because it establishes a double standard in the current treatment of FGCS and FGM. These practices seem not so disanalogous if we take seriously the depth and harm of the socio-cultural pressures that informs women how to feel what their vulvas and vaginas should look and function like. It seems difficult to imagine that a woman would truly choose to undergo FGCS for no medical purpose without external pressures that remind her that her body is not good enough. My thesis will argue for an understanding of FGCS that concludes that it is an unjustifiable practice that harms women for no sufficient reason, and that FGCS performed to make women’s healthy vulvas look ‘neater’ and vaginas feel ‘tighter’ cannot be surgery justified for women’s benefits or interests.

What do you like to do outside of your research?

For fun I read books about vulvas, vaginas and histories of sexuality. I also like to bake, though most cakes I bake turn out dry or raw. I have a little obsession with collecting funky pieces of jewelry—the more colourful the better!

Where can we find out more about your work?

I have written a blog post on why I think the ‘Husband Stitch’ should be recognised as FGM:

My opinion on the ‘virginity myth’ is also featured in this The Independent article written by Eloise Hendy: