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.