After undergoing a week long sex-education unit in my seventh grade health class, my creepy health teacher passed out two promise cards for us girls to sign, which stated that we promised to remain abstinent until marriage. While we were told to sign one for ourselves to keep in our purse, we were also expected to leave our John Hancock on one of the cards to turn in as an assignment – no questions asked. As my classmates complacently signed their names on the dotted lines, I remember thinking how ridiculous this task seemed – why was my stance on virginity anyone’s business? If only my feminist hero, Jessica Valenti was around then!
Feminist blogger (Feministing) and author of Full Frontal Feminism and He’s A Stud, She’s A Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Women Should Know, Jessica Valenti’s latest book The Purity Myth tackles the issue of “how America’s obsession with virginity is hurting young women.”
And it truly is.
Let’s get real. Regardless if you believe in saving sex for marriage or not, it is very alarming in a disparaging way to see girls only being granted value or worth for staying sexually pure instead of for their character. Why should sexuality (in the sense of remaining abstinent) be highly coveted over a teen girl’s qualities or accomplishments that make her unique? In a society that continues to worship abstinence (with virginity programs across the nation and federally funded purity balls), Valenti points out that while virginity is acceptable, having sex is also okay because at the end of the day, a young woman’s choice should not decide her existence as being morally up to standard or not.
From the get-go in The Purity Myth, Valenti confronts the definition of “virginity” and how for such an abstract idea, the concept controls and impacts girl culture today immeasurably: “The Purity Myth is for women who are suffering every day because of the lie that virginity exists, and that is has some bearing on who we are and how good we are.”
By exploring different aspects that impact and damage the concepts of sexuality and purity for young women, Valenti shows that issues such as pornography, abstinence-only education, and the obsession with keeping young girls ‘innocent’ are relative to girl culture and the development of young women having healthy sexual perspectives. For example, when the messages of pop culture tell girls they need to be sexy and desirable, Valenti points out that those images often exhibited do not correlate with the lessons girls are getting from programs that promote abstinence-only education. In The Purity Myth, Valenti shows that the Madonna/whore dichotomy is never-ending, all at the expense of young women.
While I believe that abstinence is a personal decision both men and women need to make, I do believe that America’s expectations of how women should be pure is ultimately hurting girl-culture. I see guys in college hooking-up without ever thinking for a second about the consequences that come from their choices, but I see girls struggling with the role of being a good girl vs. the fraternity ‘slut’, constantly. Girls in high school battle with the idea of losing their virginity to their high school sweetheart, while the majority of guys just look out to make sure they aren’t the last of their friends to cash in their v-card. Why is sexuality an ongoing struggle for young women, but not their male peers?
Although America’s obsession with sexuality continues to grow and hurt young girls, it doesn’t seem to touch masculinity in the way that it does femininity. Remember the anecdote about how the girls in my health class had to sign promise cards to remain pure till marriage? The boys in my 7th grade class did not have to sign them. How is it acceptable or even fair to ask girls to remain pure while not asking the same of boys?
With The Purity Myth fighting to give young women value and worth beyond their sexual experience and the importance that society puts upon whether or not their hymen is intact, Valenti really hits the bottom line by showing that value does exist within young women and it’s time to start progressively moving forward to celebrate young girls and the characteristics that make them important, instead of focusing on sexuality which only seems to hold women back.
The Purity Myth is a must-read because it will not only change the way young women understand the sexualization put upon them, but it will also it will help all of us proactively empower ourselves in terms of our own sexuality.