SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Virginity obsession grows stronger and weirder. Also, Ariel Gore talks about women and happiness, and Andre Bauer advises starving people as forcible birth control.
Links in this episode:
This episode of Reality Cast is largely going to be devoted
to virginity. I have a huge
backlog of fascinating stuff exploring American culture’s relationship to
virginity, so I thought I’d devote two segments to it. But that’s not all! The interview this week is with Ariel
Gore, who has a new book out about happiness and women.
Rachel Maddow reported on the guilty verdict in Kansas v.
Scott Roeder, and read the statement from the Tiller family, as well as noting
next possible steps.
Roeder’s extensive connections to the anti-choice community
are nothing to blow off. If some
anti-choice activists did conspire with him, they shouldn’t be able to get away
with this, especially since there’s already been anti-choice moves to target
other doctors for harassment.
Thanks to Jessica Valenti for letting me know that she was
on a VH1 News Presents special called "The New Virginity". The show was an investigation of this
new-ish trend of making virginity a big deal in the public eye. I say new-ish, because obsessing over
the virginity of famous women has been a marketing tool since the 90s, at
least, when there was a big deal made over Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson
being virgins. Now there’s a new
round of teenage pop idols that are doing the virgin thing as a way to market
It’s interesting, because obsessing over virginity is sold
to the public as somehow being not about sexualizing young women. Which makes a rough sort of sense,
because the point of being a virgin is that you haven’t had sex. But in reality, the virgin thing is
actually a very titillating thing.
The virgin has become an icon in a male-dominated society because she’s
a sex object. Historically,
virgins are cherished because the man who finally gets to marry and have sex
with the virgin gets to feel like she’s his and only his sex object. Virginity obsession isn’t about
respecting women or looking at them as something other than a sex object at
all. It’s about reducing women to
their sexuality. It’s
objectifying, and therefore it fits neatly into other kinds of objectification.
The provocative pictures of Miley Cyrus fit right into
this. She’s naked, but pulling a
sheet over herself, a little coy.
In this image, you really see that virginity is a specific sexual
fantasy, and it’s really kind of a misogynist one, because virginity only makes
sense in the context of men owning and controlling women, as the segment after
the interview demonstrates. But what’s interesting to me is that the new
virginity proponents are aware of the misogynist origins of the concept of
virginity, and the fact that virginity is a sexual fantasy, and they’re trying
to find ways to redefine it to escape those implications.
For instance, they’re promoting the relatively new idea of
male virginity. The Jonas Brothers
are also being sold to tweens, and they made a fuss out of how they wore
virginity rings. Which meant that
one of them got married really young.
Well, not women. Tween girls. It remains to be seen if there will ever be a male figure of
virginity not aimed at an audience that isn’t mature enough to see how the
obsession with virginity is a sexist sexual fantasy aimed at women. For a tween girl, a male virgin to look
up to is a man who isn’t threatening, a guy you can fantasize about dating
without worrying about the scary sex stuff. So far, the adult public’s relationship to famous virgins is
to sexualize the gals and laugh at the guys, because male virginity is still
contextualized as somewhere between a burden to the virgin and a joke to the
rest of us.
And another way they’re trying to redefine virginity to make
it seems less sexist and less like a sexual fantasy is to create this concept
of a "second virginity", where you get to be re-virginized by not having sex
from here until you get married.
It’s what Bristol Palin is on the road selling, and it’s even being
utilized by some shocking types.
Staub sounds like the victim here, but of course, being a
known sexual woman in the public is often fraught. And so she’s now embracing this new virginity, going public
with how she’s born again and saving herself until marriage. Taking women who’ve had sex and granting
them another virginity probably feels to the religious right that’s pushing
this like an excellent way to desexualize the concept of virginity. But most of the public hee-haws at it,
so I don’t think they’re going to get far with this redefinition project. Also, at the end of the day, they can’t
escape the fact that virginity obsession is objectifying, and therefore will
always roll up into creepy sexual fantasies, no matter how hard they deny it.
The last segment was about the mainstream obsession with
virginity, and how the religious right that’s interested in mainstreaming their
ideas is trying to desexualize and defemininize the concept, in order to make
it more palatable to a public that doesn’t like to think of itself as
sexist. But within the subculture
of American fundamentalism, sexism is not only not shameful, but expected. And so they’re getting away from simply
using the word "virginity" and moving towards the word "purity", which is
basically like old-fashioned virginity.
It’s something only women have, it’s explicitly about male control over
female bodies. And it’s creepy. The big trend, as you no doubt are
aware, is for fundie fathers to take their daughters to these so-called purity
balls, where they exchange vows, the girl vowing fidelity and the father vowing
to control her sexuality until he hands it off to her husband. TLC ran a documentary about it.
You learn a lot about where virginity obsession comes
from. For instance, a large part
of it is this notion that women don’t experience sexual desire, and that their
motivation to have sex is strictly to please men.
Taken too literally, he’s saying that if your daddy doesn’t
tell you that you’re totally do-able, you’ll go out and have some guy confirm
it by doing you. Again, there’s no
escaping the fact that virginity is a sexual fantasy, and so when you encourage
men to think a lot about their daughters’ virginity as this object that needs
protecting, you are encouraging them to look at their daughters in an
inappropriately sexual way, as this guy basically comes out and says. But he has to, because the only other
option seems to be admitting that women may have sex out of desire.
What’s interesting to me is that in this subculture, they
seem to be much more explicit that this isn’t so much about fighting back
against a sexualized culture, which I think is kind of a silly goal anyway, or
about defining young women as more than their vaginas, which is a great idea
but one they’re clearly against because they define your entire purity as a
person by your vagina. It’s about
control. And boy hoo do they admit
that this is about control.
It’s not the sexual objectification. It’s the opposite that bothers
them—that women have choices.
This is about stopping that and returning women to an objectified state,
where their choices are limited, and the only desires they’re allowed are those
that pertain to being decorative, existing to be looked at by others and
sexually desired by others.
When you literally cannot see women as having a purpose on
this planet besides being an object that provides visual pleasure, sexual
pleasure, and offspring to men, then it does introduce a serious problem in the
father daughter relationship.
People don’t mean that it’s literal incest. It’s just that this is a clear-cut case
of a virginity fetish, since having sex with a virgin is the sexual fantasy
underpinning this entire phenomenon.
These men see themselves in the role of sculpting sex objects to fit the
fantasies of the kind of guys they’d like to have as son-in-laws, basically men
who share their desire to control women.
And because they approach their daughters primarily as sex objects, it
seems incestuous, even if they don’t actually assault them. We also have reason to believe that men
who literally believe that women don’t want sex at all, but just want to be
wanted, may have real issues understanding the importance of sexual
consent. After all, if you think
no woman really wants to, then all sex in your mind has an element of force to
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, they want to control all
your choices edition. Lt. Gov. of South Carolina Andre Bauer is all for banning
abortion. According to his
campaign website, the reason why is, "He believes every child deserves the
chance to explore the world we live in and experience God’s creations." Then why did he say this in a town hall
He then went on
to shame a 10-year-old for giving birth, even though at 10, she’s almost surely
a rape victim. This was never
about life. This is about shaming
people, hating women, and above all, about control.