Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adventures in Women's Studies: Purity-Mongers Strike Again

Earlier this week, I guest lectured in a Gender and Pop Culture class using the research I did for my honors thesis--the Duggars, Quiverfull, purity movements, and the like. It went quite well as usual, and we ended the class by watching the new 45 minute documentary of Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. She analyzes the obsession with a woman's purity and how this in fact sexualizes women and girls even more by placing their entire worth between their legs. Excellent watching. Find a way to view it.

In any case, it just so happens that Valenti was also just on Anderson Cooper debating with Randy Wilson, who is the male half of the couple that created the infamous Purity Balls, ample footage of which can be found on you tube. The usual arguments were made (brilliantly on Valenti's part, weak and insane on Wilson's in my humble opinion), and much merriment was had by all the feminists. Then they discussed a you tube vlog that went viral at the end of last year, posted by a 13-year-old Canadian girl about slut shaming.

Slut Shaming: the act of shaming a woman as a slut for her actual or perceived sexual activity based on rumor, attire, or knowledge of her personal life; most important to note is that it is solely aimed at women

She should be explaining this to a majority of the grown women I know. She breaks down how it contributes to sexism and rape culture and basically does the universe a service by putting this out there for her audience. The after-show "continued discussion" featured several audience members quietly losing their shit over how this 13-year-old was discussing sex and sluts. "She's so young." "She's advocating sex at 13." "She's too young to know anything about this." Okay, I usually have some issues with the current youth movement's insistence on supporting youth rights as extensively as they do. Don't get me wrong. I do think that young adults should be taken seriously, but they are still young adults, which means they do still need guidance and not all of them are as capable and mature as the movement would have you think. However, this girl is obviously quite knowledgeable, and the fact of the matter is that she never advocated sex for 13-year-olds. Not once. She never said she was having sex. Not once. She never even said that all her friends were having sex. Again, not once. What she advocated was well-informed, consensual, safe sex for those who are mentally and physically prepared to deal with the act and its possible consequences--an excellent thing to stump for as far as I can see. These women (and notice that it was only women) who basically attacked her mentally blocked everything she said except "have sex," instantaneously morphing a mature, well-thought-out, brilliant message that should be standard fare in any household into a blanket endorsement of child sex. In the process, they absolutely lost the message, one that they would have done well to absorb. There are kids having sex at 13 (and younger in some cases), and they have internalized the larger culture's ideals that a woman having sex at any age is a slut but a man is a stud. This is not new, but it is still a problem and needs to be addressed as such by women of all ages.

Valenti's main argument is that by focusing our attention completely on whether or not a girl or woman has had sex or not is painting her as nothing more than a sexual creature, which is exactly what the purity movements claim that larger society does and what they claim to be fighting by shoving the purity ideal down the throats of people at every turn. What they need to understand is that no one is attacking the idea of not having sex. That's fine. But they also need to understand that they need to stop attacking the idea of having it, which is also fine. A woman is not only the area between her legs, not just the number of times she's been intimate, and not solely the length of time she remains celibate; she is a complex creature with wants and needs every bit as important as her sexual activity or lack thereof. In short, can we please start telling our daughters and sons that the body is an amazing thing that houses the wonders of the mind and soul, which are truly the markers of a person's worth, and that there are better things to worry about than how many times the kid in the next row has or has not done the deed.

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