So-called ‘informed consent’ laws treat women like they’re children

Dancers in Virginia strip clubs are now, once again, required by law to wear pasties. For those of us who aren’t totally versed in exotic under-things, this means that they have to wear small, adhesive patches to cover their nipples. Nipples, apparently, are very dangerous things, and Virginians have Rep. John Cosgrove to thank for protecting them from this horrible threat, according to the Washington Times.

Now Virginia consumers don’t have to worry that when they go to a strip club, they might see an entire exposed breast! The threat of the female nipple can be reduced to a yellow alert.

When you think about it, though, aren’t exposed breasts exactly what consumers who go to strip clubs are paying to see? Cosgrove must not think he’s protecting the patrons, but the dancers. Otherwise, he’d be introducing legislation requiring that infants be blindfolded when they’re breastfed.

If Cosgrove sees female strippers as exploited women, his action does little to actually help them. It affects all strippers, not just the ones who are there because they have little alternative. And it reduces the problem of exploitation within the sex industry to the visibility of a nipple, which is an irresponsible oversimplification of the issue.

To really help the women that are only in the sex industry as a result of exploitation, he could work to reduce the kind of sexism that keeps women from some jobs, and work on a remedy for the kind of poverty that forces people to work jobs that they wouldn’t ordinarily. This way, Cosgrove could help the women in the sex industry who are actually there because of lack of options, without undermining women who are there by choice. He could also avoid arbitrarily stigmatizing one female body part.

Issues involving the sex industry are difficult because one must walk the line between protecting workers from exploitation and empowering workers to make their own decisions. I’m not typically an advocate of the kind of objectification of women that goes on in strip clubs, but I’m also not in favor of women being patronized by lawmakers who think they’re our fathers-elect. And I’m not even going to get into the double standard that is evidenced by the ubiquity of the male nipple in public places.

The point is that laws like this underline the idea that many laws regarding female sexuality are less about protecting women than about controlling female bodies. In some states, a woman (or man) can’t even buy a vibrator. Whom does that protect, and from what?

The law treats women’s bodies differently than it treats men’s, and a lot of those differences have to do with sexuality. The things we regulate about women’s bodies range from how much of a breast is legal to what can go into or out of a given orifice. In this way, the silly legislation about pasties and the more serious bill pending in Kentucky right now purporting to be about informed consent for abortion are related — they’re each just another way to control women’s bodies.

Informed consent for any medical procedure is a good thing, but the government seems to think that women need extra, biased and occasionally inaccurate information when it comes to reproductive health. The latest planned addition to the informed consent laws would require that an ultrasound be performed prior to abortion, and that the doctor show the images to the woman seeking the procedure. The fact is, an ultrasound is already performed before abortion procedures; the only change here is that women will be forced to look at the images, whether they want to or not, to obtain a medical procedure.

I can’t find another medical problem with such stringent procedures for informed consent. If lawmakers are so concerned about women and consent, maybe they should work on creating laws that can do justice for victims of rape and sexual assault. To me, this attempt to turn the empowering idea of informed consent into a state-sanctioned guilt-trip is just another barrier to women’s choice.

Each of these laws pretends to protect women, but put into practice, none of them do. Mandated pasties do nothing to help women who may be exploited somehow through exotic dancing; they only undermine the choices of women who actually choose that as a profession and insult female bodies. Not to mention, I would imagine that they’re pretty uncomfortable.

Forcing women to look at ultrasound pictures doesn’t make them more “informed.” If they want to see them, they can ask to. If they don’t, that shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving a medical procedure. A law that mandates viewing the pictures as a requisite step toward the procedure is based on the sexist idea that women don’t understand the decisions they make. If these laws are really about protection, they’re frightfully sexist, paternalistic and ineffective. It looks like they just end up putting barriers between women and their decisions.

Kathryn Hogg is an English and women’s studies senior. E-mail [email protected]