If you’ve been hanging around here for a little while, you’ve probably heard me talk about purity culture a time or two. And, if you grew up in evangelical Christianity, you’re also probably a little more than familiar with it. If you’ve read Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, raise your hand.
What’s interesting to me is how purity culture is becoming a “thing” outside of Christian culture. I recently read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti, and while she focuses on abstinence-only education in the US, she does more than casually allude to evangelical purity culture. There’s been a number of documentaries come out about it recently, and ABC’s Nightline Prime is doing a special on it tonight (I have it set to record). I’ve seen a few articles show up in newspapers and newsblogs, and I have to admit to some amusement when I see reactions to these pieces.
Yesterday afternoon, Cosmopolitan writer Frank Kobola wrote a very short piece: “Teen Girls are Dating their Dads to Save their Virginity.” It was short on substance and long on incredulity, and I think that reflects an attitude I’d like to address.
Most of the reactions I’ve seen mirror Kobola’s. Disgust. Disbelief. Then, usually, mockery. To many people, it just seems so obvious that this entire “purity ball” concept is pretty dang creepy. The fact that there’s many thousands of people in this country who don’t find it creepy at all just seems a little impossible.
So, when they hear someone say something along the lines of “I’m going to take my daughter out on a date, show her how a man should be treating her,” it’s a little hard for them not to immediately start talking about it in pedophilic terms. And when someone like Ron Johnson says:
You keep this [ring] on your finger and at this point you are married to the Lord and your father is your boyfriend . . .
Kobola says lol wut? and then writes an article about it mocking the entire idea. Predictably, the evangelical response is along the lines of “it’s not like that! You’re twisting it into something it’s not! You just don’t understand what we’re trying to do!“
And, I think the evangelicals in this case are probably right. Kobola probably doesn’t understand what it is he’s seeing in the slightest. So it makes it difficult for people like me– people who actually do understand — to talk about purity culture. Because I know better than to mock it.
Something that dangerous shouldn’t be mocked.
Purity balls are not a “prom for your hymen.” They are an incredibly public event about something that should be intimate and private. They force fragile girls into taking a vow– in a room full of old men– of chastity, to keep themselves pure for God. This extremely public event, disguised as a celebration, is a tool used to cajole girls into keeping their virginity. It is an annual reminder that their cultural value is predicated on whether or not they’ve had sex.
And yes, this is the kind of thing that “grown-up daughters discuss in therapy,” but not because their father was a pedophile or molested them, but because they have been ripped apart from the inside out when they were shamed by their entire communities, ostracized by their families, for not being able to keep a promise that the vast majority of people can’t possibly keep.
Sometimes, we end up in therapy because we were raped and we have no idea that’s what happened to us until we’re sobbing in an office when someone for the very first time says what happened to you is not your fault and we can’t believe it because, no, it is our fault. We’re the daughters of Eve. We are the temptress, the seductress, the succubus. We were dressed immodestly. We gave our heart away. We didn’t keep ourselves pure, like we swore to our fathers and before God that we would.
Purity culture needs to be exposed for everything that it is, everything it teaches, and everything that it does to the women and men growing up in it. I understand the you have GOT to be kidding me reaction, but this is not something that can be so easily dismissed.
It’s not a joke. It’s an ideology that destroys lives.