The Purity Myth

I typed this a couple of days ago and just now realized I never actually posted it.

I just read read this a few days ago over at hessianwithteeth.

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.

Apparently I might be the only one who did, but I wrote answers to all the questions, because they do get me thinking.

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

It’s a largely unimportant concept to me, but I’d define a virgin as a person who has never done any kind of sexual activity with another person. (Not sure how to be entirely clear about what is and isn’t “sexual activity” without getting more explicit than I want this blog to be, but I’d definitely define it more broadly than some seem to; and limited definitions of it combined with putting emphasis primarily on “virginity” can flat-out encourage riskier behavior.) And that definition is primarily an attempt to improve on the highly flawed older definitions while retaining the concept. But these questions are making be doubt whether there’s any point in the concept existing at all.

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

Being a guy who’s naturally about as passive as our culture tells girls they’re “supposed” to be, I think I’m less affected by this than most people.

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

Critical thinking, equality, and above all the importance of consent.

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

I’m sure I encountered expressions of the idea to some degree, but it can’t have been enough to ever really indoctrinate me, because the first time I saw it stated really bluntly, my reaction was an immediate “that’s nonsense and why would anyone of either sex want to think of it that way?”

“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?”

Get rid of the entire idea of “slut” and the sexualization of “innocence”.

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

Make better pornography. The kind that isn’t terrible and degrading is hardly unpopular among those who see it; the quantity of it that exists is just low enough that it gets lost in the shuffle.

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

No, and I think they’re a terrible, harmful idea.

“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?”

Are there people who support abstinence-only education and don’t support sexist gender roles?

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

Victim-blaming, “legitimate rape” comments, and the idea that women who enjoy sex “can’t be raped”.

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

It would reduce or eliminate the things named in answers to the previous question.

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

What I think it means is merely the literal meaning of the words. But the cultural expectations for a man are even more rigid than those for a woman; men are expected to be tough, stoic, and aggressive. The more specific things get the more insane and self-contradictory they get. (For example, you’re “supposed to” look good without looking like you actually care what you look like.)  And these expectations are harmful to both men themselves and to the women they interact with.

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

The combination is pretty messed up. The ideas that men are supposed to want sex and that women are supposed to not want it, put together, are a major component of rape culture.

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

We can change the way such things are depicted in fiction; we can have more characters who defy the “virgins are innocent, sluts are dirty” categorization. Non-virgins who still treat the next time they have sex as a big a deal as their “first time”, “ethical slut” characters who lack any of the negative traits associated with “slut” stereotypes, male characters who like “slutty” female characters as potentially long-term relationships, virgins who are not nice people, asexual characters.

(Some of those potentially run toward the opposite direction if taken too far.)

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

I don’t know anyone who actually fits the notion.

“Imagine a world without “purity” and virginity. What does it look like?”

Better than this one.

Probably about the same amount of sex, but a lot more openness about it and a lot less shame.

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