Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday musings: death and virginity

Left: Tapestry on my living room wall. Mr Daisy thinks the sun looks like Mel Brooks.

The more I look at it, the more I agree with him.


It's been rather depressing around here lately, with the passing of souls near and far: Aunt Laura, Grand Old Man, Harriet McBryde Johnson, Sean Costello, and now...I am sorry to announce, Maya's Granny (Joycelyn Ward). She was one of my favorite bloggers and possibly yours, too.

You might want to pay your respects.


The "Secondary Virginity" movement (which brings derisive snorts from the DaisyDeadhead household) has gone surgical, if you can believe it. Yes, they are SURGICALLY REPLACING hymens.

Ellen Goodman writes on AlterNet:

This time the subject isn't spiritual revival but surgical re-virgin. The furor comes from Europe where there's a trend among women -- mostly immigrants and mostly Muslims -- to have their hymens restored for the marriage market.

This began with a recent case that has France in an uproar even by French standards. A Muslim groom who discovered on his wedding night that his wife was not what she claimed to be -- a virgin -- sued for and won an annulment. He claimed a breach of contract on the grounds that virginity was an "essential quality" of the woman he chose to marry.

This ruling outraged a country that bans headscarves in schools and has immigrants sign a pledge that describes France as a secular country where men and women are equal. It was described by a cabinet minister as a "fatwa against emancipated women" and identified by others as something that would pressure more women into hymenoplasty.

Now, why precisely one woman found guilty of fraud would drive other women into deeper fraud I'm not sure. But gynecologists in Paris report women coming to them for certificates of virginity, and medical tourist packages take women to places such as Tunisia where the surgery is cheaper. There is even a new Italian movie about an immigrant returning to Casablanca to "have her odometer brought back to zero."

All this is happening despite the fact -- Biology 101 -- that the presence or absence of a hymen may be unrelated to sexual experience.
And before we write this off as those-crazy-Muslims-are-at-it-again, don't forget the Promise Keeper faction here at home:
...American doctors are also offering to repair hymens in website ads promising privacy and like-a-virgin results -- thank you, Madonna.

Bioethicist Alta Charo squirms over the idea of hymen repair but then says we ought to "put it in the larger context of how far women will go to make themselves marriageable and sexually attractive." Just what will secular, modern women do to fit their own cultural stereotypes -- breast implant, anyone? What will they do to stay employable -- face-lift, anyone?

But there's something in the tale of fear, fraud and France that resonates with the darker side of the abstinence-only education movement here.

Government-promoted virginity lessons are not simply an attempt to protect our daughters -- and, oh yeah, sure, sons -- from a culture that sells sex like Pop-Tarts. Nor are they just about helping them delay and think twice about hooking up. They too are based on fear and control.

And consider the father-daughter Purity Balls dotting the country. At these deeply creepy events, fathers promise "to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity." How far is that protection from the protection racket where fathers oversee their female property until it's passed on -- intact or else -- to a husband?
And what, you may reasonably ask, is a Purity Ball? It sounds utterly horrid. Glamour magazine (of all places) ran a pretty good article about these balls last year, well worth reading:
Wilson’s voice is jovial [Pastor Randy Wilson, cofounder of the Colorado Springs’ Seventh Annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball], yet his message is serious—and spreading like wildfire. Dozens of these lavish events are held every year, mainly in the South and Midwest, from Tucson to Peoria and New Orleans, sponsored by churches, nonprofit groups and crisis pregnancy centers. The balls are all part of the evangelical Christian movement, and they embody one of its key doctrines: abstinence until marriage. Thousands of girls have taken purity vows at these events over the past nine years. While the abstinence movement itself is fairly mainstream—about 10 percent of teen boys and 16 percent of girls in the United States have signed virginity pledges at churches, rallies or programs sponsored by groups such as True Love Waits—purity balls represent its more extreme edge. The young women who sign covenants at these parties tend to be devout, homeschooled and sheltered from popular culture.

Randy Wilson’s 19-year-old, Khrystian, is typical: She works at her church, spends most weekends at home with her family and has never danced with a male other than her father or brother. Emily Smith, an 18-year-old I meet, says that even kissing is out for her. “I made a promise to myself when I was younger,” she says, “to save my first kiss for my wedding day.” A tenet of the abstinence movement is that having lovers before marriage often leads to divorce. In the Wilsons’ community, young women hope to meet suitors at church, at college or through family connections.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Listening to: PJ Harvey - This Mess We're In
via FoxyTunes


JoJo said...

The sun does look like Mel Brooks.

white rabbit said...

Fathers promise "to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity." :-O

Does that mean they lie on top of them???

irony deficiency here...

queen emily said...

The hymen surgery is so.. strange. I'm really curious about how the women themselves feel about virginity, about what the surgery's trying to achieve. Is it a drastic attempt to negotiate around patriarchal norms, in order to have sex without hitting the whore side of the virgin/whore binary? Or is about regaining virginity as an ontological category through surgery? Or both? I dunno.

And purity balls are eww eww eww. I wrote something about them awhile back that was fresh minty genius:

J at said...

Thanks for your words about my mom's passing. She (Joycelyn) would be horrified at the stupidity and cruelty of these practices.