The Purity Myth


I am currently reading The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. I’ll talk more about the actual book in another post. I found this questionnaire at the back of the book. I thought I’d fill it out and share my answers with you. I’d encourage others to do the same, because these questions really do get you thinking about gender assumptions.

How do you define virginity? Where do you think this definition came from?

I don’t. I believe virginity is a social construct. My view of virginity came from my education. Particularity psychology, sociology, and philosophy of gender courses.

How do you think the ethics of passivity affected your life, or how do you see it play out around you?

It affected my life greatly. It affected my life when my school friends stopped wanting to play outside at recess because they were too old to play. It affected my life when the boys wouldn’t play with me because I was a girl, and girls don’t like to play those sorts of things. It affected my life when I was told to sit and behave while the boys weren’t scolded for running around. It affected my life when I felt so much pressure to be perfect that I forgot how to share my emotions, because getting frustrated and not knowing how to do something meant I wasn’t perfect.

What values-other than “purity”-should we be instilling in young women to ensure they grow up to be active moral agents?

We should be teaching them critical thinking skills so that they can figure out what is right and what is wrong. We should be teaching them that they have agency, and they can speak up if they see something wrong. We should be teaching them about consent, and what their options are if someone takes their consent away. We should be teaching them that they are the equals of their male counterparts. We should be teaching them that they don’t have to compete with one another.

Were you brought up to think of female sexuality as somehow dirty? How did it effect you?

Of course. It affected how I viewed my female peers. If they had sex, they were sluts, if they didn’t, they were good. If affected how I saw my own value. It affected my relationship with my male peers, because I was told not to trust them, so I didn’t. It affected my ability to figure out my own sexuality, because I was supposed to push it deep down and pretend it didn’t exist, regardless of whether or not I was straight.

How can we create a more positive vision of women’s sexuality? What about younger women’s sexuality-how can we do the same while not falling into the trap of sexualizing youth?

I think the only way to create a positive image of female sexuality is to create proper equality between men and women. So long as women as seen as the second sex, female sexuality will be seen as secondary to a man’s. That means that male sexuality will be considered normal, but female sexuality will be seen as abnormal.

How can we battle back against mainstream pornography that degrades women while still valuing women’s sexuality and feminist expressions of it?

Make it illegal to make female stars look like they’re younger than 18. Put restrictions on the amount and type of violence that can be shown. Severely restrict rape porn. And improve the stories.

Did you (or does your child) attend abstinence-only classes? What did you think?

No, and my children never will. If I learn that my child’s school is trying to teach them abstinence -only, I will prevent it from continuing however I can.

How can we get word out in our communities and beyond that abstinence-only education teaches more than “don’t have sex”-but sexist gender roles?

I’m still trying to figure out how to convince people that those gender roles actually are sexist.

How do you think the purity myth manifests itself in violence against women?

Women who are raped are accused of asking for it, or being sluts, or lying to excuse a “mistake.” Women who are abused by their spouse are told that they should try to not make him so angry next time, or are blamed for being beaten. Many are asked why they didn’t just leave. All of this buys into the purity myth. Only virgins can be raped, because the rest of us must want it. Good girls don’t get beaten by their spouse because they keep him happy.

In what ways can we use dismantling the purity myth to also fight back against rape culture?

If women aren’t seen as asking for it, then maybe rape cases will be taken more seriously. Maybe more rapists will be convicted and more schools will teach about consent. Maybe if women aren’t seen as sluts for having sex, then it will be more difficult to blame a woman for the violence that happens against her. Maybe if sex isn’t seen as dirty, then people will realize that rape isn’t about sex.

What do you think it means to “be a man”? Do you think that definition is useful, dangerous, etc.?

I think it should mean that one labels oneself a man. But I think it instead means to hide emotions, act tough, and avoid being compared to a woman. I think it is incredibly damaging, because it teaches boys that there is something wrong with being female, and it teaches girls that their value is less than that of the boys.

How do you think masculinity contributes to the purity myth? How have you seen this played out in your own life?

Femininity is seen as the opposite of masculinity. Masculinity is seen as superior. I think that the superiority associated with masculinity contributes to purity, because girls are taught to be submissive to men. They are taught to value masculinity over femininity while being told to be perfectly feminine themselves. Girls are taught that men won’t value them if they aren’t pure.

What are some tangible ways we change the culture of virginity fetish?

Women wear make-up to look younger. Long hair is valued over short hair. Female characters act childish, especially in animations. Female costumes are often made to look childish. Sucking lollipops is sexualized.

Who are some young women in your life who counteract the current notion of apathetic, un-engaged youth?

Like every one I know. The young women in my life care deeply about feminism and LGBT rights. They discuss politics. They care deeply about the society in which we live.
Imagine a world without “purity” and virginity. What does it look like?

Awesome. Men and women would be equals. There would be no glass ceiling. Women wouldn’t be seen as potential mothers first and foremost. Rape culture wouldn’t exist. And everyone could act as masculine or as feminine as they wanted to without fear of negative consequences.

*While I only discussed men and women, this can be applied to people of all genders, and intersex people as well.

Advertisements

29 responses to “The Purity Myth

  • D.T. Nova

    I meant to post this Monday but forgot: I wrote my answers to all the questions here:
    http://novasaber.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/the-purity-myth/

    Like

  • unculturedsisterhood

    Interesting responses. This purity myth is a good wealth-builder for men, at least in communities like mine where bride price is paid. The ‘purer’ a woman is, the worthier of a higher value and of respectability. And it in terms of violent manifestation, these good women deserve and yearn to be beaten by their spouses. Because they are pure women. With this logic, it is the impure ones who fight back and seek a place for themselves that isn’t determined by male-centred culture.
    I look forward to reading your blogpost on the book.

    Like

  • incoherentthoughtx

    And I don’t think the abstinence-only education is completely bad. I think there’s a right and wrong way to do it. I think this one pretty much fits the right way:

    Like

    • hessianwithteeth

      Short version: So for the first half of the talk Crystalina is talking about peer pressure and unhealthy relationships, which for her largely revolved around party, sex, alcohol, he friends, and her series of boyfriends. There is nothing wrong with that in principle, but she talks about this in as sex in trade for love, and how she could have avoided this if only she respected her body, but really what happened from my listening is she realized she did really want to have sex and party with her friends in the ways she felt she was expected too.

      Worse still while she talk about all this bad relationships filled with bad communication, and misunderstanding of what she even wanted she basically say’s through the talk that when she stopped having sex everything else fell in place, but what she doesn’t emphasize was how she took control of her life, set goals, and decided what she wanted and stuck to it. That’s what I want to take from the story, but no it’s all really about not having sex, and saving your virginity for your future spouse. The important lessons are swept under the rug in favor of conflating not having sex with respecting yourself. While there is some truth of this for the speaker there is no reason to think that it will hold for every other kid learning about their sexuality. Not to mention the heteronormative theme running through, and the sexism buried through many of the ideas she pushes.

      Now if you’re interested here the play by play of the video.

      First she starts off talking about a story peer pressure, and what amount to emotional abuse from her younger self’s first BF. Not issue of sex, but issues of being teenagers. It is always a bad idea to do things just because everyone else is doing it. This is true for sex and for jumping off a roof onto a trampoline too, and for playing Pokémon, and half of the shit we end up doing as children.

      I also take issue with her saying we know when we are being used. This is certainly true for many of us, myself included, but we can be naive, or deluded or mislead into thinking otherwise. And buying into myths about the sacredness of sex is a great way of tricking people into thinking its more then what it actually is, and that sex is amazing for everyone. Sex is different for everyone so trying to over simplify the narrative does not do the next generation any favors.

      Then she pulls out the I lost something that day that I’ll never get back card. I’m spoiled goods why bother. Which why I can understand why she would say it as a child she still seems to think it’s true to some extent. 😦

      3:00 So many internalized sexist ideas bundled in here. at around 3 minute in. I’m paraphrasing here -Boys I don’t think it was your doing is wrong. I think you treated me like I deserved. I didn’t act like a lady back then, dress like a lady…-
      Ya because how you act and how you dress makes it so that men don’t have to respect your or your agency. They can just fuck you when they like because your acting like a slut. That might not be what she said, but that’s what I’m hearing.

      Now at 3:30 in I’m worried she’s going to continue to confuse this idea of sex and unhealthy relationships, because up till now she been talking about really unhealthy relationships. She was trading sex for love and relationship, and she and her partners where not being honest with one another. This is a bigger issue and definitely should be part of a child’s education, but unhealthy relationships revolve around bad communication, and not understanding what you want. Not around sex.

      4:00 Yep slut shaming sucks hard, but it’s a culture problem born out of the puritan culture in the 1800’s, still not a problem about sex, but a problem related to sex, and being woman.

      4:10 we once again talking about you doing something out of peer pressure and expectation of your peers not because you want to do it. Like I said before. That’s never a good idea, though it is hard to convince children and teens of this.

      7:00 awesome now you’re trying to live for yourself excellent. I may disagree with point here and there, but it’s your life and your calling the shots, and not letting guilt shoot down your self-esteem so you stop even trying. That the take away here, not abstinence. Oh wait the video isn’t over… damn.

      7:15 Cool Jason, glad you wanted to wait till marage and did. That never apealed to me, while I defently wanted to know and like the people I have sex with. I was not closed to the idea of having mutually agreed sex, just for the purpose of having sex and the fun and release it brings. For me it didn’t work out that way, but again it’s about knowing what you want and aiming for it.

      7:30: Yep cause your body is a gift to your man, because your his property. I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, your vagina (or any other orifice for that matter) is some some gift to some man, it’s a part of your body and you should respect yourself enough to not see a part of your body as a gift to give. She might not mean it this way, but I greatly dislike the language regardless.

      7:40: Virginity is a social construct, you never actually had it in the first place. Your just more experience at sex then you would otherwise be. While I respect the comment about respecting your body. I do not respect the notion that abstaining from sex is the same thing as respecting your body. In my early twenties I was going a little bit insane from not having had any sex. Like masturbation was good for tiding myself over, but yes the first time I had sex, I was not disappointed. I knew damn well what I wanted, I knew how to be safe I respected my sex partner while also being clear about my intentions, both those which where romantic and those which where sexual. So far this talk would do nothing for me, and would not help me or someone like me one bit. And I can say very comfortably that after having sex consistently for just under two years now I’m overall happier and spend a lot less time horny, which before was becoming a problem. This my a TMI for you, but it’s also a reality for me, and one which is dismissed by this talk.
      8:49: You hopefully won’t care much about the mockery and laugher passed high school. But if you truly respect yourself, which means understand what you want, what you need, what it important to you, and are willing to stand up for those things. Then no you won’t give a single fuck about what they think because your doing what you want, and your respecting yourself, and so long as you’ve also figured out the respecting others part you’ll be good to go.
      9:00 marriage and vows are not necessarily going to be that great, or that important to you. It might be, but marriage isn’t for everybody, and even if it is it might not be remotely Christian in style.
      9:22 I don’t know why you’d respect every kid for being a virgin, It’s not like all of them had any choice in the matter, and what do you not respect those who have?
      9:30 I know lots of people who wouldn’t trade place with you, like me and many of my friends. Why because good consensual sex where all parties communicate and take care of one another is great :).
      9:35 Again Virginity doesn’t really exist there no way of knowing for certain if someone is some is a virgin, soooooo. Really all you have is a lack of experience, so I guess yay for ignorance?
      10:00 last story. Ya it’s a sad one, but this girl has more problems than just having sex, ya it would probably be best if she stopped having sex with boys are every party she goes too, but you need to talk to her about everything else I’ve mentioned, and purity culture isn’t necessarily going to do that. Again the moral of this story should be about respecting yourself and understanding healthy relationships, but instead we are told that having sex = not respecting ourselves, and not a single thing about safe sex is communicated EVEN THOUGH WE KNOW WE HAVE SEXUALY ACTIVE TENENS IN THE ROOM! You’re not doing them any favors by not teaching them about safe sex at the same time.

      Like

  • incoherentthoughtx

    I don’t agree with the teaching “once you have sex before marriage you’ll definitely have a crappy marriage and get divorce” but I also don’t think we should encourage people to use each other for sexual pleasures. Condoms aren’t always effective and STDs, HIV, and AIDS are always going to be out there.

    Like

    • hessianwithteeth

      Most people don’t use each other for sex. And the people who do will, regardless of whether they are taught abstinence or proper sex education. The difference is that in one case they won’t even bother with a condom, but in the other they will. Condoms may not always be effective, but they’re more effective when used than when they aren’t.

      Like

    • D.T. Nova

      But exaggerating the failure rate of condoms leads to more unsafe sex, not to less sex.

      Liked by 1 person

  • transforminglifenow

    When I was raped, beaten and nearly choked to death while wearing a too large sweat shirt and sweat pants, the policeman told me I deserved it for dressing sexy. Go figure.

    Like

  • Bryan McDonald

    Several questions: 1. Why do you oppose an abstinence-only approach. 2. Considering your previous profound and philosophical posts, how would you define the basis for your specific moral guidelines? Thanks!

    Like

    • hessianwithteeth

      Because abstinence-only education has been shown to lead to higher rates of teen pregnancy and STIs because kids aren’t given proper information. Abstinence-only education doesn’t stop teenagers from having sex, it just stops them from being careful. If they are going to have sex anyway, I think it’s best that they know how to protect themselves.
      My morals come from my society. I was raised to believe certain things are right or wrong. But I’ve also thought carefully about the things I believe are right or wrong. I believe that something is wrong if it hurts others. If it helps others, then it is right. And if it neither harms nor helps anyone, then it is amoral. At least, that is a simplified version.

      Like

      • Bryan McDonald

        Do you agree with abstinence till marriage?

        Like

        • hessianwithteeth

          Being as I haven’t practiced that, I’m gonna say no.

          Like

          • Bryan McDonald

            I read your recent post about using the Bible to prove the Bible’s true. I understand where you’re coming from and this question doesn’t spring from that but does refer from my beliefs.

            If a moral code is established by what helps and hurts or does neither, do you believe you could be doing wrong, even though you intend right?

            I’m more getting at my confusion with not having something as your foundation for right and wrong. I’ve always allowed theBible to direct my moral beliefs. How can you ever be sure it’s right or wrong?

            (By the way, I’m inquiring, not attacking) 😉

            Like

          • hessianwithteeth

            I have a foundation for my morality. It’s the same foundation you have, I just call it by a different name. The moral code of the Bible existed long before the Bible was written. In fact, it was the commonly accepted morality of the time. Today, we still use some of that same morality, but we don’t accept most of it. That’s because our society has moved forward. We generally agree that murder and theft are wrong, but we don’t believe slavery is okay, and we don’t think that marrying the woman who was raped is a proper punishment for a rapist. The only areas our morality may be different is related to our political standpoint. I don’t think marijuana should be illegal, neither do many of the people who vote the way I vote. But the people who vote on the opposite end of the scale tend to believe that marijuana should be illegal.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Bryan McDonald

            What do you mean by we have moved forward?

            What is the “way” you vote?

            And I’d have to disagree with our morals being the same except for politics. Lol one of the few things we discussed– abstinence– is clearly a difference in opinion. . and would have to be stretched to be described solely as a political view.

            Like

          • hessianwithteeth

            You don’t think the abstinence thing is political? Then why is it so strongly endorsed by conservatives? And why are liberals generally against it?
            By moving forward, I mean through time. We are in a later period of time. Things change, we learn more. That’s it.
            Are you American? If so, it’s a bit difficult to explain how I vote. Canada is far more liberal in general than the Us, but I’m more left-winged than most Canadians, if that helps.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Bryan McDonald

            I guess I was just distinguishing between morals and politics. Not necessarily saying there was no politics in it. I just think it falls to the morals more heavily.

            I believe in abstinence. I partook and it was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. I believe STDs are not spread because if misinformation, too little information, of too much information. It starts in the home. Two main ways of spreading: sleeping around before marriage; unfaithful after marriage.

            However, my decision is heavily cultivated in the Word of God that I believe is applicable morally no matter how far we “progress” forward. But I’d have to use the Bible to prove to you that the Bible is applicable 🙂

            Last two questions and I will stop the interrogation!

            1. Do you believe in the Bible?

            2. Do you believe in Creation, evolution, or neither?

            Thanks!

            Like

          • hessianwithteeth

            I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe the Bible. And I agree with evolution. My fiance (the other author of this blog, Withteeth) is a biologist.

            Like

          • Bryan McDonald

            Very interesting. Ok thank you for the discussion.

            Like

    • Arkenaten

      Bryan; if I may?

      1.What do you understand by the term, ”Word of God”?
      2. Do you believe the source material for your morality derives from the bible?
      3. Which god are you referring to, please?

      Like

      • Bryan McDonald

        You may.
        1. Word of God: Genesis to Revelation
        2. Yes
        3. The God of the Bible. The one true God.

        Like

        • Arkenaten

          1. You are aware that Genesis, for example, is largely fiction, yes? Even the descendants of those that compiled the Pentateuch in the in 7th century bce consider it so.
          You know that the Egyptian captivity exodus and conquest of Canaan are simply stories and have no basis in historical fact whatsoever, yes?
          You are surely not a biblical innerantist; a follower of Ken Ham and his brand of crazy?

          2. So you adhere to the morality of a genocidal maniac who annihilated the entire planet save one soon to be incestuous family?
          How do you think you will explain Noah’s incest to your two daughters? With dolls or diagrams?
          3 The God of the Bible: Yahweh. Oh dear ….And your only evidence of this monster derives from the bible – a largely fictitious collection of documents.

          Do you believe there is a degree of hypocrisy in this?
          And if not , why not?

          Like

  • milk and honey beauty

    Interesting. I love Jessica Valenti’s articles at “The Guardian.” Purity also relates to food choices, I think (especially for women) and coincidentally I just wrote about this over on my blog (if you’re interested!).

    Like

  • micheleology

    I’m a huge fan of Jessica Valenti. I agree that virginity is just a social construct. It’s not medically or scientifically proven that it’s an actual part of the female body. It’s a great read. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: