What is virginity? Might seem obvious, but there in no clear answer.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says sex is “an act performed with another for sexual gratification.” Sounds pretty broad, yet a lot of us think it’s penis-to-vagina penetration that ends virginity.
What about gays and lesbians? What about young women and men who take virginity oaths but do oral and anal? What if a woman’s one and only lover were a man with E.D.? (That can happen!)
I spent about a week (at Harvard’s medical school library) looking through everything I could – medical dictionaries, encyclopedias, anatomies – trying to find some sort of diagnostic standard for virginity… I am not finding anything close to a medical definition for virginity.
Feminist author and blogger, Jessica Valenti, points all this out in her book, The Virginity Myth. And when she asked people to define “sex” she got no consistent answer. Indeed, America once had a great debate over whether Bill Clinton “had sex” with “that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” He said oral didn’t count. Others said it did.
Odd that there’s no clear meaning when we’ve talked of virgins since ancient times, when so many keep promoting it, and when virginity becomes a synonym for girls who are “good,” as in, “She’s a good girl.”
Even if she is both mean and virginal, she’s a good girl, Valenti points out.
But if she’s kind and non-virginal, she may be punished for her supposed badness — even when she has no control.
In some parts of the world girls and women are murdered in honor killings because they were raped or because they did not bleed on the marriage bed — and hymens may be broken from things that don’t even resemble sex, like exercise.
Even when girls aren’t being killed they may feel shamed for their lost virginity. Elizabeth Smart has explained that she “felt so dirty and so filthy” when her captor raped her that she understands why someone wouldn’t run away “because of that alone.”
As a young girl one of Elizabeth’s teachers had compared sex to chewing gum:
I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.” And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value… Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.
And then there are sexually naive but slut-shamed 11-year-olds who have no idea what “ate me out” means even as they’re accused of having been thusly eaten.
So women are shamed and killed and feel so dirty that there’s no point in escaping a ruthless captor – all because of virginity, or the lack thereof — even when “virginity” is unclear!
Virginity: a myth that can kill and cripple, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
One of my students wrote this and gave permission to post.
Assiya was sixteen when a “family friend” sold her to two Pakistani criminals who beat and raped her over the next year. Eventually the criminals traded her to the police in exchange for pinning one of their robberies on the girl.
Assiya had thought her troubles were over. But instead, the officers took their turn beating and raping her for several days before letting her go.
The police weren’t worried Assiya would tell. She was expected to commit suicide, as sexually assaulted girls had always done to rinse the dishonor of sexual assault from their families.
But instead, Assiya did the inconceivable. She accused her attackers.
This story is shocking. Why would anyone, or any culture, expect a raped girl to commit suicide? As though the shame were hers.
Yet sometimes America doesn’t seem so very different.
Cut to the U.S. where fourteen-year-old Samantha Kelly’s mother told police that her daughter had sex with eighteen-year-old Joseph Tarnopolski. He was arrested, though it’s unclear whether the charge was statutory or forcible rape.
After a local Fox News affiliate identified Kelly by name, she was bullied so much at school that she finally committed suicide. Yet another reminder of the stigma victims can face when they report this crime.
It’s sad to see that even today, in Pakistan and in America, rape victims can be shamed into killing themselves.
Popular Posts on BroadBlogs Cheerleader Ordered To Cheer Her Rapist, and Other Stories Are Women Naturally Monogamous? Sex: Who Gets Screwed?
The upcoming French vote on the burqa ban has got me thinking. We hear talk of how women should keep their culture. But did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?
Meanwhile, some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.
Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in garments like burqas or niqabs (facemasks).
Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?
Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be nice?
Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and the one who escapes, escapes the stoning?
In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?
Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore the family honor?
Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?
And who benefits?
Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black and blue blobs, and not human beings?
It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.
But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.
Also see: Early Islam’s Feminist Air
Don’t Reject Your Culture, Even When It Mutilates You
The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated
Cultural Relativism: Must We Be Nazis to Criticize Them?
Why Are We More Offended By Racism Than Sexism?