No blood on the sheets? No marriage.

French front pages have been plastered with the story of the annulment of the marriage of a Muslim couple after the husband discovered his wife had lied about being a virgin:

The wedding night party was still under way at the family’s home in Roubaix when the groom came down from the bedroom complaining that his bride was not a virgin. He could not display the blood-stained sheet that is traditionally exhibited as proof of the bride’s “purity”.

Mr X went to court the following morning and was granted a annulment on the grounds that his bride had deceived him on “one of the essential elements” of the marriage. In disgrace with both families, she acknowledged that she had led her groom to believe that she was a virgin when she had already had sexual intercourse.

French feminists such as philosopher Elisabeth Badinter have spoken out vehemently against the decision:

…women’s sexuality is a personal matter in France, personal and freely determined […] This decision will result in young Muslim women rushing off to hospital to get their hymens fixed. Instead of of defending women, defending these young girls, the court has increased the pressure on them

Her second statement may seem to be a bit of an exaggeration, but The Times claims that:

Although officially discouraged, the 30-minute operation is in increasing demand from Muslim women who fear the consequences of being unable to prove their virginity on their wedding night. Numerous agencies offer services for surgery trips to north African nations. One is offering a “hymenoplasty trip” to Tunis for €1,250 (£980). Internet sites and blogs are full of would-be brides in fear of the test of “the blood-soaked sheet”.

Either way, I certainly agree with Badinter and other French commenters that it is highly worrying to see what in France is a fully secular institution (you have to get married by the State, religious marriage is a secondary and optional extra) bowing to patriarchal religion. Although the court case was supposedly based on the fact of her lying about her virginity, rather than on her not having an intact hymen, neither would be an issue if it wasn’t for the patriarchal concepts of virginity and woman as property.

However, they are also calling for the decision to be overturned, while the case is being used for political point scoring in the French Assembly. The woman herself seems have been forgotten. What good would it do her to overturn the ruling? Her lawyer said she welcomed the decision as ‘a great relief. Despite everything, she is very happy; the decision has allowed her to regain her freedom’.

She’s already been shamed and humiliated by patriarchal custom and values, and should not be forced back into a sham marriage.

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