An article appeared on Yahoo news this past week about Harvard
University students taking vows of celibacy in defiance of what they
see as rampant, indiscriminate and loveless sex across campus.
Some feminists, in particular, have criticized the group's message,
decrying it as anti-female and suggesting that a woman's perceived
innocence is the last vestige of a bygone era long since passed.
Harvard student Rebecca Singh said she was offended by a valentine the
group sent to the dormitory mailboxes of all freshmen. It read: "Why wait?
Because you're worth it."
"I think they thought that we might not be 'ruined' yet," Singh said. "It's
a symptom of that culture we have that values a woman on her purity.
It's a relic."
Is a woman's purity a relic of the past? Is her decision to be
discriminating with whom she shares her body symptomatic of an
anti-feminist patriarchal society? Does a woman's value have any
relation to the number of men she's shared herself with?
Let's explore these questions from a historical perspective first and
then contextualize it with the world in which we live today.
Pre-20th century, women, for the most part, were seen as a commodity
whose monetary value was linked to her virginity. A woman's innocence
was rigidly enforced by her family and community and her "bride price"
was severely compromised if her reputation was sullied.
We are also talking about a time, remember, when a woman's sexual
pleasure was confined to the suburban walls of heterosexual marriage
while the regulation of men's sexual proclivities was still very much
By the time the "swinging 60's" rolled around, traditional sexual
standards were flipped on their ear. Female contraception, suburban
backlash and perceived male repression precipitated a collective
female angst that took the form of sexual promiscuity and a violent
repudiation of the commoditized virgin mentality.
Does Singh, then, have a point? Is female purity in today's
highly-sexualized overly feminist society, a relic?
Statistics say yes. A recent study suggests that of married women, over 50% report having had an affair on their spouse, closing the gap on the 65% for married
men. A Dateline study conducted in 2004 reports that, on average, women report having had five partners by the time they get married. For men that number is 13. The number is probably a little low for women but even still it is significantly higher than even 50 years ago when most women were virgins, or close to it, upon marriage.
The study goes on to report statistics suggesting women are more
sexually adventurous than ever before; have experienced more taboo
forms of sex and have had more one-night stands than at any time
Statistics, however, as we all know, tend to lie. What Singh is talking
about when she decries female purity as anachronistic is the notion
that women are not or should not be sexual creatures. No true Meninist
believes this. In fact he believes the opposite.
It is a man's obligation to leave his woman fulfilled, lest she find
it in the arms-and other appendages-of another man. Still, sexual
liberation and female purity are not mutually exclusive. Our
hyperfeminist culture has lead women to believe that they can do
anything a man can do-work like a man, earn like man and, now, fuck
like a man. But biology cannot be eluded here. By their nature women
are required to be more selective in their choice of partners. This
has nothing to do with patriarchal social mores or old school
Puritancial thinking. A woman's purity, for lack of a better term, is
in direct correlation to her self -worth, her body image, her level of
responsibility and her potential loyalty in a relationship.
Singh's argument is consistent with Meninist thinking on several levels: 1.)
That women are and should be treated as sexual beings, not porcelain dolls
2.) That the notion of The Virgin Bride is anachronistic 3.) That sexual
gratification is a man AND woman's birthright. Where she falters is in
comparing purity with promiscuity.
Promiscuity can be forgiven, if Level 5 thinking is applied. All girls, to
be sure, go through their Girls Gone Wild slut phase from 19-24. Unless they
have their own sexual hang-ups, men should be able to overlook this time in
their woman's life as silly exploration. However, if by the time a woman
reaches womanhood (25+) and she still feels the need to find validation in
the arms of a man, then her purity, or lack thereof, certainly devalues her.
Any woman who feels the need to use sex to exert her authority
over men is operating on a very low level. Similarly, any woman who sleeps
with a large number of men feels a hole needs to be filled, so to speak. If
we define purity as a woman's essence, her being, her character and what she
can bring to a relationship, in both cases her purity is devalued. Singh's
argument is compelling but too simplistic. She equates purity with female
promiscuity. A Level 5 Meninist views purity as a woman's entire being and
any woman who views the privilege of having sex with her so casually has
lost value in his eyes. Similarly, any man who has the "any port in the
storm" mentality while trying to score at a bar, should be devalued in a
woman's eyes as well.
The definition of purity for a woman has changed. However, there is still a
definition. No longer is a woman impure if she has had a number of sexual
partners by her wedding date. Today a woman's purity is defined not in
numbers but in behavior and character. Tough the two are linked, Singh
ignores the biological basis for a woman's purity. The level of
responsibility, loyalty and discernment that a woman of class possesses
would not allow her to compromise her purity for a cheap orgasm. Are there women
who sleep with men just for sex? Yes, but these men are Level 5 Players who
offer her something, be it mind-blowing orgasms, charming repertoire or
worldly pleasures. She is not some bar trollop who will spread 'em wide for
any Jake with a Born to Lose tattoo.
For a woman of purity, the number of men she has slept with--and the quality
thereof--are always in inverse proportion to one another.
How does this relate to the Meninist philosophy? As much as this will anger
women to hear, this question cannot be answered by ignoring our inherent
biological differences. Biologically, men don't need to be as discriminating
as the women they have sex with.
And while feminist thinkers like Singh try to outrun biology and evolution, at the end of the day women will always be viewed through the prism of purity. While that definition has indeed changed slightly in the past 50 years, it certainly is not a relic.