Ivy Hymens: Why glorifying virginity is bad for women

If you didn’t catch the New York Times Magazine piece, “Students of Virginity”, make sure to check it out. It serves as a good reminder as to why the abstinence-only, modesty, chastity, or whatever they’re calling it at the moment, movement is bad for women.
The piece – which examines the abstinence movement in ivy league colleges – focuses mostly Harvard student Janie Fredell, an outspoken member and speaker with True Love Revolution. What I found interesting is that Fredell tries to explain her penchant for virginity-worship using a feminist analysis:

“People just don’t get it,â€? Fredell said. “Everyone thinks we’re trying to promote this idea of the meek little virgin female.â€? She said she was doing no such thing. “I care deeply for women’s rights,â€? she said…She had awakened to the wage gap, to forced sterilization and female genital mutilation — to the different ways that men have, she said, of controlling women. One of these was sexual. Fredell had seen it often in her own life — men pushing for sex, she said, just to “have something to say in the locker room,â€? women feeling pressured to have sex in order to maintain a relationship. The more she studied and learned, the more Fredell came to realize that women suffer from having premarital sex, “due to a cultural double standard,â€? she said, “which devalues women for their sexual pasts and glorifies men for theirs.â€?

Okay…but isn’t the problem the double standard – not the sex? (Shameless plug alert.) If we don’t like that women “suffer” from sexual double standards, how is not having sex fighting back? Seems more like giving up to me. Of course, Fredell also frames her views with the idea that it’s just men who want or “push” for sex and uses bad science to boot – but that’s a whole other post.
Jill hits on the nail on the head:

I can recognize that it is hard to remain abstinent, especially in the face of a very sexualized culture. I appreciate and applaud the personal strength of individuals who decide abstinence in the best choice for them. But what I can’t support is the constant attacks on sexually active people. People who have sex do not feel a constant need to tell abstinent people that their human dignity has been compromised, or that they’re dirty, or that they are secretly unhappy, or that they’re headed for total life ruin.

Indeed. It also doesn’t help Fredell’s “feminist” argument that abstinence-proponents rely on the virgin-whore dichotomy to shame women into being chaste.

For example, last fall Fredell participated in a debate at Harvard with Lena Chen, a student sex blogger.

The women themselves saw their encounter as a meeting of two feminist positions, roughly encapsulated by a headline that appeared on another sex blog: “Harvard’s Jezebel Takes On Campus Virgin Mary.�
…The debate between Fredell and Chen was described on Ivygate, a blog about Ivy League news and gossip. The blogger dutifully recorded that both women looked their parts — Fredell “modestly dressed in jeansâ€? and Chen wearing “a miniskirt that left little to the imagination.â€?

Charming, yes? Even better:

[P]eople wrote in to Ivygate, calling Lena Chen a “slut,� a “whore,� a “total whore,� a “whore whore slut.� And then someone by the screen name of Sex v. Marriage wrote in to say that “most guys out there would rather end up with a girl like Janie.�
Fredell was happy that the event had drawn a large crowd. She told me later that she considered it one of the revolution’s finest moments.

I’m sure she did. But guess what? Perpetuating the virgin/whore stuff hurts all women, not just the “whores.” Until women’s morality is divorced from their bodies and sexuality, we’ll continue to be defined by what’s in between our legs – instead of in our hearts.

Join the Conversation

  • Mina

    “When the abstinence-until-marriage argument comes up (with which I’m very familiar, having been raised Mormon), I have a go-to statement that I’ll share here. It’s a bit simplistic but it’s fast and it actually gives abstinees pause, which is rare:
    “Christianity was founded during and adopted by the Roman Empire, making it a theocracy, meaning the state and religion were one. Before birth control, ‘bastard’ children and orphans had to be dealt with by the state/religion, so the simple solution was to make adultery/pre-marital sex illegal and reprehensible before god.
    “Translation: if you’re going to have sex, you have to be married and prepared to take care of the consequences. No dependents on the state, please.”
    OTOh, didn’t it end up “if you’re going to have sex, you have to be married, and who cares how unprepared you are to take care of the consequences?”?
    I’m reminded of how some people out there condemn extramarital sex *and* have unprotected marital sex while unprepared for more children then claim to be no factor whatsoever in their children’s plight.

  • http://WWW.BostonProgressive.blogspot.com Craig R.

    G/d, I remember reading this about how screwed-up it seemed.
    You want to be “chaste” until marriage? fine, your choice. But this touting is just more of the same shit as “purity balls” and the “ring thing.”
    And I’m looking at from the advantage of being male and all the inbuilt bias and societal advantage it gives me.
    The commenter quoted (if we can assume it wasn’t just a sock puppet) as saying “most men” would prefer the “virgin mary” over the “slut” to marry is just *so* beyond rational. Whatever happened to looking at the person as a whole entity, not just whether or not they have an intact hymen. And the attitude just reeks with wanting to own the woman’s sexuality and keep the privilege and control.
    As for Fredell’s statement that oral sex is “disgusting and disrespectful?”
    WTF? So it’s now disgusting and disrespectful to want to give your partner enjoyment? Either to give or receive? *That’s* indicative of two things — a really screwed-up image of the body as a whole and a really skewed perception of what “respect” is about.
    But I’m not surprised at that attitude, given the repressive way that the RC church is now (again, and increasingly) actively diminishing the role and responsibility of women in the church’s hierarchy and place in the congregations.
    For the record, if the choice of a life partner were hinging on just the aspect of whether or not they had had a prior sexual history, I’d take the person who actually had some awareness of just what their bodies would want.
    And that could be *either* of the two places on the spectrum, depending on the whole person, not just if they were “saving themselves” or were “an easy lay.”

  • TikiHead

    (Commenting on your intro graphic)
    “Guard your Diamond????”
    Diamonds are number 10 on the Moh’s Scale of Hardness! (http://www.amfed.org/t_mohs.htm)
    What a poor metaphor!
    You could leave your diamond hymen on train tracks, and you’d end up derailing a train, leaving your diamond hymen unscathed.
    (You could also have a side business inscribing people’s possessions with their SN numbers, but that’s irrelevant)

  • Mina

    “For the record, if the choice of a life partner were hinging on just the aspect of whether or not they had had a prior sexual history, I’d take the person who actually had some awareness of just what their bodies would want.
    “And that could be *either* of the two places on the spectrum, depending on the whole person, not just if they were ‘saving themselves’ or were ‘an easy lay.'”
    Right on! For example, I’m a virgin and waiting until sex to have some idea of just what my body wants would mean needing someone else’s permission to think about my own sexuality. o_O

  • GoodGolly!

    After visiting the True Love Revolution website, I feel for these women who place sooo much emphasis on the sexual act itself. If they are expecting some sort of epiphany when they lose their virginity, they are going to be VERY disappointed. Their emphasis on the whole “bonding” thing reminds me of an imprinting lab we did in HS biology. We got some chicks, and tried to get them to imprint on us so that they would follow us around. Our chick liked my lab partner’s argyle socks, and followed him everywhere. Our instructor was sick on the day we were supposed to be graded, so the chicks were had no human contact all weekend. On Monday, they followed each other around and had completely forgotten us.
    When I was 11, my mom gave me this advice: “Sleep with a man before you marry him. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats you in bed. After you have sex with them, they CHANGE.”