Have you heard about Purity [sic] Balls? Jessica Valenti wrote about them in a recent edition of Religion Dispatches. A link to the full article is here. I’ll be talking about it today on Blog Talk Radio, but it’s important enough that I want to discuss it here, as well. The premise is that a young woman pledges her virginity to her father in a ceremony that seems to be a blend between a prom and a wedding. Valenti writes:
As a feminist, I found the purity balls themselves the most difficult to watch. Young women and girls are dressed in ball gowns, their hair professionally done. They pose with their fathers under white arches decorated with flowers, like prom dates. And the midst of all this revelry, they promise to remain virgins and their fathers, in turn, pledge to be the protector of that “purity.” Some are given rings—it reminds me of a wedding ceremony.
I asked my father to watch a video clip of the balls a few years ago; I was fascinated with them. At the time, I was concerned that I was overreacting (perhaps I was just a jaded feminist?), so I figured who better to ask than my dad. He made it through two minutes.
My father was visibly upset for some time afterward. He told me how difficult it was, as a dad, to make sure that you were respectful of your daughters as they grew up, especially in areas concerning sexuality. Seeing those lines very deliberately crossed—and with such pomp and circumstance!—made him feel a bit queasy.
It’s worse than just pledging virginity, however. Valenti writes of viewing a documentary about Purity Balls in which a women understand their value lies not just primarily exclusively in marrying a “Godly” man and bearing his children. They don’t pursue higher education because they perceive it as unnecessary given their not just their primary, but in fact their sole responsibility to serve as breeding stock. Female children are home schooled not in subjects related to their education, but rather in their responsibility to be breeding stock. Etiquette lessons are from books such as a 1920s manual on how a lady should bend to get a drink from a drinking fountain. These girls are no prepared through this “education” to do anything but voluntarily become their father’s property and then have their deed transferred to their new owner at marriage. Valenti again:
The Wilsons claim to be offering an antidote to the hypersexualized pop culture that targets young women—but by defining girls so concretely by their virginity, they’re ensuring that young women will continue to be judged by what they do or don’t do sexually. The women who take virginity pledges and go to purity balls are promising that their bodies aren’t their own, but instead belong to their fathers and future husbands.
I’m sorry, but this is just sick and twisted. A young girl pledging her virginity to her father is completely inappropriate and sends the message that a father owns his daughters sexuality. That’s abuse, “pure” and simple. It’s the language – but not just the language – that bothers me along with all that it implies. “Pledging your virginity to Daddy” should make the flesh of every father crawl, because implied in it is that Daddy now owns your virginity. That implies he has the right to dispose of it as well. Our sexuality doesn’t belong to our father, or our mother, or anyone else at any age. For too long, thousands of years, even pre-dating Christianity and Judaism, we have connected the value of a woman to her genitals – most especially the presence or absence of a hymen. Can she provide an indisputable first-born son? Is she a virgin, because if she isn’t she is a slut, period. In our culture, and in most of the world, Men who are promiscuous are studs, women are tramps. Why is it that a woman who has had a man’s semen in her vagina is now dirty, but a man whose penis has been covered by the vaginal secretions of dozens of women – and has potentially been exposed to dozens of STIs in the process – isn’t? It calls to mind the days when husbands were bribed with a dowry to take women off of their father’s hands as if they were property – and a liability at that – to be disposed of, a day that still exists in much of the world. It ignores the reality that first marriages are occurring later in life and seeks to return to the ill-advised practice of marrying young just so a woman can have sex of which her father approves – despite the fact that a father has no place in the love-making of his daughter, either physically or psychically. Can we really, once and for all, move forward, or will we continue to allow the sick and twisted agenda of the right to propel us backward in human sexuality, in civil rights, in voting rights, in the access to healthcare for the least of these, and a host of other issues? I cannot sit by passively and watch the progress that so many fought and yes died for to be turned back by a group of misogynist sexual deviants and homophobes masquerading as people of faith.