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Virginity and Morality

July 12, 2012

By Alexandra Curran

While recently flicking channels, I came across My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a documentary on TLC which explores the lives of gypsy teenagers about to be married. Although this premise immediately sent off feminist warning bells in my head, I admit I was intrigued to learn about gypsy culture. It was not the bedazzled dresses or the youth of the bride and groom that interested me, but the vehement desire of male gypsies for a “pure” bride. As one teen noted, “no one wants spoiled goods, we all want good girls.”

This sounded strikingly familiar. In college I hear a lot about purity and chastity. These qualities, both in gypsy society and in our own are inextricably linked to the qualities of goodness and virtuosity. “Good girls” are virgins. This could be for a number of reasons. Religion definitely influences our society’s values.  Joseph would have quietly ended his marriage to Mary had she not assured him that she conceived her child through the Holy Spirit. It seems that even Mary, who is consistently honored as the most virtuous of women, would be worthless if she was “spoiled.” Our history of patriarchy also influences our attitudes. Throughout history, it did not matter if a man had premarital sex, but only if a woman had. Henry VIII executed his fifth wife Katharine Howard because he could not be made to look like a fool for having married a “spoiled” woman. Historians have since summed Katharine up as a promiscuous and ignorant girl. They disregard her complexity and instead define her by her sexual “promiscuity.”

We have definitely made progress since the days of Mary, Joseph, and then Henry and Katharine. Yet as a college student, I can tell you firsthand that virginity is still on the minds of many young women. This bothers me for two reasons. Firstly, it upsets me that women are shamed into feeling dirty and immoral for having sex. Secondly, when women are “slut shamed” they relinquish their agency and allow others to control their minds and bodies.

“Slut shaming” often begins in high school. We have all been there. Two people have sex for the first time. The young man is immediately high-fived by all of his buddies and congratulated, while the young woman is call a “slut” or a “whore.” What many of us don’t understand is that not only is this an obvious double standard, but it also implies that sex can define our morality. The young woman who has sex is consistently associated with badness, wrongdoing and a lack of morality. We neglect the fact that sex is a physical act and a natural bodily function at that. We neglect that every species on earth reproduces. And we neglect that women are far more complex than their virgin status. Yet, a man is expected to have sex. He is also considered to possess a variety of other traits that define his morality. But a woman is immediately judged after she loses her virginity, as if the hymen was the physical essence of her morality. This logic ignores all of our other qualities and instead defines a woman’s worth by her level of promiscuity. This teaches young women to cherish their virginity because they will be “ruined” without it.

By allowing this shame to impact their decisions, young women relinquish their agency. It has been my experience that many of my peers abstain from sex solely because of their parent’s disapproval. Instead of teaching their daughters to be responsible young women whose worth is immeasurable, such parents use shame to manipulate their daughters into remaining virgins. In effect, they convey the message that a young woman should not be trusted to make decisions on her own because if she makes the wrong one, she could be “ruined” forever. By giving in to these shaming tactics, young women relinquish their control over their bodies and minds. They allow others to decide when they have sex, how they have sex, and who they have sex with instead of making that decision independently.

Please don’t get me wrong, the purpose of this entry is not to encourage everyone to go have sex immediately. It is instead to ensure you young women that you and only you should be in control of your bodies and that your goodness means much more than virginity ever could.

About our guest blogger:

 Alexandra Curran is currently an undergraduate at Boston College studying history and gender studies. As an advocate of women’s rights, Alexandra hopes to promote the feminist movement and raise awareness about women’s issues. She plans to one day represent women and children as a lawyer.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    November 8, 2012 8:30 am

    Great article! This has been on my mind a lot lately because of its prevalence in what seems like almost every demographic. Even among other women who I’ve met who describe themselves as “feminist.” I’m actually really anxious to initiate a project aimed at defeating slut-shaming but I’m afraid I’m going to have to go it alone. Sex and sexuality in our culture despite being in our faces all day long is still taboo and trying to advocate for healthy attitudes towards sexuality–especially for females is considered crazy. Alexandra and fellow readers, if any of you are interested in initiating a project with me, I’d love to work with knowledgeable collaborators!

  2. Laura Costa permalink
    July 12, 2012 2:27 pm

    Wonderfully said. Having been to college 20-some years ago, I had no idea that college students today think about purity and chastity or that young women are still refraining from having sex because of their parents’ disapproval, thereby, choosing not what’s best for them, but what others want from them, a practice best left in childhood. As you suggest, much of the problem stems from our society viewing girls and women in one dimension, the sexual one, and not as the complex and moral beings that all people are.

    Maintaining control of women’s bodies through shame and fear has been a long and effective tactic for retaining power and status, by both men and women, around the world and throughout history. It is only through insightful observation (such as yours), frank discussion and brave action that we have begun to change people’s thinking and this power structure. With the recent attacks in this country on women’s rights, minds, and bodies, never has there been a more important time to remind people that it is the individual who is always best at making her own choices. Thank you, Alexandra.

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