This is the third blogpost that I have started in a week, but the difference is that I am 100% confident that this one will actually be published. Why? Because this one is about the utterly ridiculous idea of the "Purity Ball" and the other posts are more serious and researched. Frankly, I feel like a good, old-fashioned, off-the-cuff rant today.
I heard about Purity Balls quite a while ago, and honestly, the whole idea was so very absurd that part of me hoped it was simply a joke so it got shuffled on to the back of my rantisphere. Then this article came out today and I found myself confronted by this absurd and revoltingly sexist concept again. In a nutshell: a couple of church-affiliated blokes back in the 1990s got a little bit concerned about the increasing infection rate of STIs amongst younger people, so came up with an ingenious idea: they were going to have young women pledge their virginity until marriage and additionally get their Dads on board as guardians of their daughter's chastity. The logic with that was of course if you reaffirm a girl's father as the most important man in her life until she gets signed on over via contract to her husband, she's less likely to be engaging in naughty stuff... To make this concept even remotely attractive to the young women, these blokes decided to dress the entire thing up in formal wear, chuck on some Christian rock, and have some weird presentation ritual for the young women in amongst it all. Wikipedia (source of all reliable information) also mentions that at some of these balls, the young women carry in a giant cross, and take their pledge with their father kneeling next to them under a pair of crossed swords (nope, leaving that one alone...). Why didn't they have these events back in my day?
In addition, thanks to my addiction to old and new Degrassi, I found out about "Purity Rings"; a ring someone who has taken a pledge to maintain their virginity until marriage proudly wears. And in more evidence of my addiction issues with teen drama, I found out about Purity groups through Glee. Yep, there is an entire movement out there reinforcing the benefits of "virginity" by leaking them through our airwaves and into the minds of impressionable youth. I have been told that both boys and girls do take these pledges, but until a heap of Purity Balls for young men start where they are swearing their virginity to their mothers, I'm going to interpret this "chastity chic" movement as one that is mainly targeted at young women.
So what exactly is wrong with a young woman choosing to not have sex? Absolutely nothing, in my opinion, provided that the choice is an actual "choice" and isn't about regulating or controlling her body, or portraying her as impure if she does have sex, or as a potentially evil temptress of men, or an STI-spreader, or putting unfair and unequal responsibility on her compared to the men of the world, or reinforcing the institution of marriage as a "must", etc etc. And these pledges reinforce all these things in my opinion. There is nothing here except for vile sexism, pure and simple.
Let's take the concept of "virginity" to begin with. Anyone else find this whole idea rather problematic? On the surface it seems to state that one is considered a virgin until they have sex, but what exactly is sex? Can a girl lose her virginity if she engages in oral sex? What about if she tries anal sex? Solo sex? Does a woman who only ever sleeps with other women ever lose her virginity? What's more, when a virginity is "lost", what is actually lost? I think, in the main, and whilst occasionally it gets redefined to be more inclusive of same-sex experience, it is pretty socially-reinforced that a girl loses her virginity once her vagina (whoops, there's that word again!) is penetrated by a man's penis. So up until the point where you are penetrated you are "pure", then following that moment you are impure. Madonna/Whore here we come! When it's all sold like that, and becomes an action of a woman submitting purity to a man, it frames the action as dirty, frames any other experience that a woman may have engaged in as secondary, and basically promotes the penis as central to a woman's sexuality. Is virginity then really something that we should be pushing on to young women, or are there better lessons about sex and all it entails to teach?
Next in this entire concept of Purity Balls etc is the idea that a father is the guardian of his daughter's purity, until such a time as she marries in which case her husband is allowed to take that purity. So straight away, a young woman undertaking this ritual is taught that her virtue and her respectability, not to mention her worthiness in the eyes of God, is directly tied to the rule of man. She is also being taught that her virginity can be traded from one man to another. This whole idea just makes me ill. For starters, I love and trust my father but at no point in my entire life have I wanted him to know the details of my sex life. Nor has he been so controlling of my alleged bodily integrity that he would wish to know. Additionally, if I wasn't a sworn political spinster who is not fond of limiting labels, I would most certainly not want some bloke thinking he is the saviour of my virtue because he decided to drag me down the aisle in yet another bizarre ceremony. This whole idea reinforces that a woman, her bodily autonomy and her status is secondary to a man's and I question how it is even allowed in allegedly "civilised society".
So what of a young girl's body? Well firstly, it appears that many of these purity balls are held right around the age when a girl starts her period, and let's not even get me back on that rant again... Secondly, as stated, reinforcing female purity was seen, by two blokes, as a way of stopping the spread of STIs so it's reinforced that it's a girl's fault rather than a boy's if a case of the clap does the rounds. Thirdly, her constructed femininity is reinforced as a desirable state because she's clearly not rocking up to the purity ball in cargo jeans and a singlet top; she's only pure if she is in a white dress. So not only are these girls taught that their sexuality and their virtue is directly tied to the men in their lives, but their bodily sub-ordinance is reinforced in as many ways as possible. And people actually want their daughters to go through this?
This whole concept is frightening, quite revolting, and utterly reeks of the patriarchy. I stand by what I said earlier: there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing not to have sex. But this choice needs to be contingent on her deciding what sex actually is, which values are important to her, and her retaining autonomy over her own body. It certainly does not need to be dictated to her by a coterie of men, some holding swords over her head, as a way of controlling her and her body. The sooner these rituals, "celibacy chic" and anything else are eradicated and proper, woman-focussed and controlled education can begin, the better. Yet according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, purity balls are starting to pop up around Australia...
EDIT: Couldn't resist adding this to the post