Thursday, 24 July 2008

Daddy sez, no bois in ur bed til u wed

I like to think of myself as reasonably liberal when it comes to the subject of sex. I believe that people to should be able to have sex with as many or as few people as they want, the should be free to have sex with people of either gender or any sort of prop they desire, they can even choose to not have sex at all if that is their thing. Quite frankly what goes in other peoples' bedrooms is none of my damn business. But every so often I see something on the internet that makes me think 'eewwh that's so weird and wrong and actually really creepy.'

Before I get accused of spending far too much time in the seedier parts of the internet, I first saw the story about Purity Balls in the New York Times a few months ago and have been meaning to write about it. But after Time magazine published their take on this weird phenomena I decided it was time to rant.

So what's a purity ball? Here's the basic gist of it: girls aged between about 4 and 18 get dressed up and attend a ball with their fathers.* They talk, they eat, and then the fathers read a vow "before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity." But wait there's more! After dinner comes a ballet performance, where ballerinas clad in white tutus drag in a large wooden cross, which they they then drape in white material and a crown of thorns. This is the point where the fathers and daughters process under crossed swords to kneel while the girls place a white rose, representing their purity, at the base of the cross.

There are many things I despise about the concept of purity balls but here's the worst one, the idea that a little girl is a delicate flower who needs male protection from the big bad world. WTF? I thought that feminism had flushed out the idea that fathers have ownership of daughter's bodies or has the Christian community been overrun by so many erect teenage penises that fathers feel they must shield their daughters from them?

Or could the actual problem not be with teenage boys or in fact teenage girls but with their fathers? In the articles the founder of the purity ball concept was not so much about daughters but about fathers who 'didn't know what their place was in the lives of their daughters.' I suppose on some level I can actually appreciate the sentiment of the fathers. As misguided as it seems, a big part of the evening is acknowledging that some fathers (for reasons that are sometimes beyond their control) often fail to have any meaningful involvement in their daughters' lives.

But the answer to this lack of involvement can't be found through trying to reassert patriarchal control over their daughters' sexuality? Surely there are other aspects of their daughters identity that fathers could use to connect with their daughters. Taking an interest in her ballet classes, rugby games or the books she is currently reading is a far more conducive to establishing the bonds needed to raise girls with the confidence, self-worth and street smarts to only go as far as she's ready to when her brain starts getting jolts of teenage hormones and huge helpings of peer pressure.

And what if she fails to remain pure? While the NYT article at least states that many teenagers who say they will remain abstinent will end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers, Time seems relatively unconcerned since the girls are twice as likely to graduate from college albeit with a nasty case of herpes. Moreover what if girls 'purity' is sullied through rape? Doesn't the usage of the term 'purity' (as opposed to abstinence) with its associated stigma of the 'unpure' make that horrific experience so much worse?

But the biggest question I have in this process is where the hell are the mothers and sons? If staying a virgin until marriage is seen as being so important why is it only promoted to little girls? Oh that's right. Despite the whole she-bang being symbolically centered on the daughter's body, it's so clearly the men who are unable to keep it in their pants. As one of the dad attendees of the ball said,

"It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I'm holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won't be cheating on their mother."

It must be such a sacrifice for you to not cheat on your wife. So glad you're on top of that now despite all the other indiscretions you might have had before.

* Or step-fathers or even more freaky, their future fathers-in-law. Don't worry son, I got you a virgin!


Anna McM said...

This is beyond gross. How sad that some dads should try to remedy their lack of engagement with their daughters by attempting to control them.

hungrymama said...

Ugh. Surely the creepiest end of a pretty creepy movement.

Psycho Milt said...

Or could the actual problem not be with teenage boys or in fact teenage girls but with their fathers?

Bingo. The thought of doing this with my daughter wouldn't even be good comedy, let alone something to take seriously.

Dana said...

I find it so confusing and disturbing that people think this is a good idea - and that if you explain sex to kids they'll go do it.

As far as I can see, explain to your kids that it's normal to want to engage in sexual activity, that it's OK whenever you want it, to make sure your sexual partner also wants it - and make it as clear as possible that it's normal to want sex but not feel ready for a long time after you first want it and kids will probably wait longer. It'll certainly be more pleasant.

I was interested in pretty damn hardcore sex from about age 12, but it took months with my first boyfriend at 16 (he was a virgin at 18) to actually have penetrative sex - because it took a long time of experimenting to really really feel comfortable with it (and I wanted to be on the pill and use condoms, something I procrastinated about).

I had a friend who made up stories about how many guys she'd had sex with from age 14. She pressured her boyfriend at 16 (a friend I set her up with :\) and called him names for not being into it... we fell apart but I guarantee her first experiences with sex were not pleasant, because she'd convinced herself of this strange reality of sex that I could never dissuade her from. She had no self-esteem and I hate to think where she is now (she was never the smartest cookie and I know I talked her out of doing a lot of stupid things as a teenager).

If she'd seen sex more as something to enjoy and less as an exchange of power (that she was determined to control) I'm sure it could have been a lot different.