Saturday, September 11, 2010

VIrgin/Whore: I wish we could stop talking about it

Fellow college-age blogger Abi wrote this post about “purity,” and about kids being kids, over-sexualization, etc., and I have some things to say about it. Her whole post can be found here:

First of all, I don't like “purity.” I really don't like it. This concept has been used right up to the present day,as a way to make women act in a certain and prescribed manner. There should be no expression of sexuality because that threatens patriarchal control over women's lives. These ideas, when run through the modern Christian right-wing movement, make people say things like this, from Abi's post:

What does it matter if I have sex with every guy I'm attracted to, or even not attracted to? Why shouldn't I? Girls and guys are crumpling to the demands of society, of peer pressure, of lust, and of pure emotion with no backing. It seems we've forgotten the power that comes with purity.”

Falling to peer pressure is bad. And the reason it happens is because society creates this pressure cooker, in which sexuality has to be proven, performed, gossiped over, and salaciously relished.

The problem is, this pressure cooker is, at least partially, created by an adherence to “purity” and virginal behavior as the ideals that women should aspire to. If you're supposed to be a “good girl,” who doesn't exercise her sexuality or flash any skin, and then you deviate from this norm, it becomes a big frackin' deal that everybody has to discuss, gossip, salaciously relish. It wouldn't be salacious if that unreasonable virginal ideal wasn't there, and if we could safely exercise our sexuality with whomever we saw fit.

If we didn't have to fit the modest mold of the virginal pure girl, then we wouldn't have the “bad girl” or the “fallen woman” archetypes, either, and we might have just that much more freedom without the fear of retribution, judgment, and hatred. If we, as a society, didn't create this framework to hold women and femininity captive, wouldn't everyone of all genders be that much freer to explore and play and flaunt as much as they pleased?

So where is the power that comes with purity? I can only see this emphasis on circumscribed sexuality as a highly negative force. Abi goes on to say the following:

I wore overalls until sixth grade. I didn't wear make-up until eleventh. I was running around and having a super childhood, and I didn't care to be older than I was, wear short skirts, talk on a cell phone, or chase boys. Now I look at young girls and they're all dressing like little whores “

First of all, I can't stand the narrative of makeup as a bad mature thing that you're not allowed to use until you're older. I'm glad that I got a ridiculous shiny purple makeup box when I was around 11 or so that let me turn my face into a work of art. I wanted peacock-blue eyelids and green lips and glitttery cheeks. I wanted to be a chrome-washed robot or a jeweled space alien, and that goofy technicolor kiddie makeup let me express anything I wanted in the safety of the bathroom mirror. Later, when I got involved in theatre, I learned the importance of makeup as a mask, as an illusion, that lets you become anything and anyone. Makeup is just a thing, and it can be used in negative ways just like anything else. But cosmetics are in no way intrinsically bad, and they can be amazing in many ways. Makeup lets you become both the canvas and the artist, so don't demonize the paints.

Secondly, I don't think it's okay to say that “all” young girls dress like prostitutes- or to use the word “whores” in reference to young girls, period. I don't think it's true, for one- in my personal experience as a babysitter and nanny, I have encountered very few little girls who didn't dress their age. The little girls that I've had the pleasure to take care of have been running around in muddy jeans and sneakers (and yes, overalls!), very much enjoying their childhoods. This is where I would say, at least on the basis of what I've seen, that the kids are generally doing all right.

But I do believe that over-sexualization is a problem, especially when it is foisted onto young people at an age when they aren't able to first figure things out on their own, and so they start mimicking what they see on TV and the internet and all the other oh-so-youth-corrupting forces of today. The cultural narrative that frames sex as a performance that you should start on right away if you want to be cool and accepted has obviously got to change.

It is precisely because of this performance-oriented attitude that I think we, as a people, need to stop holding "purity" as the only acceptable way to perform sexuality. If we uphold purity as an ideal, we stifle self-expression and the healthy exploration of an essential part of life.

So, over-sexualization is bad, and so is the imposition of “purity,” and they are two sides of the same coin. Every time we, as a society, impose either side of this dichotomy, we are getting up in young people's sexual business, which is totally unwise and utterly unfair to everyone involved. Don't impose strictures of shame and fear on exploration, experience, and physical learning. Instead, provide open, inclusive, available, and scientifically accurate sex ed, and let kids do their thing. Young people are not idiots, and they have opinions and brains of their own. They are not going to engage in behavior they're not ready for if they're given an open and safe cultural environment where they can choose how to develop and explore their sexual lives. 

It is so hurtful for the norm, the ideal, the aspiration, to be “purity.” That's what you're supposed to strive for, and if you fall short, then you're just a whore. But if you take away that expectation, that don't-you-dare-explore-because-it's-bad mentality? And you have a much more open and free space for sexuality in society, where young people can be sexual at their own pace, in safe environments, when they choose to do so.

This is all from a pretty hetero-centrist perspective, as you can tell. I am talking basically about straight kids, since queer culture (to make a large generalization) usually tends to be more sex-positive and less slut-shamey.

Other people have written about this issue far more brilliantly, so check out Jezebel has to say about a very creepy aspect of this whole business- purity balls.

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