Sunday, May 10, 2009

Apparently, there's TOO MUCH PURITY in America.

So I was at my local B&N and this book jumped out at me. The Purity Myth: How America's obsession with Virginity is hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti. Certainly a provocotive title, of course, so I decided to take a look inside to see if there was anything interesting.
Sadly, no. While Valenti is a decent writer (and apparently a bit of big name, being the founder of, there didn't seem to be anything here that will convince the opposition.

The Purity Myth is an angry book. Valenti opens with the story of her own loss of virginity - and immediately expresses anger that anyone would judge her or ascribe any meaning to the act at all:
"I was once that teenage girl struggling with the meaning behind sexuality, and how my own virginity, or lack thereof, reflected whether or not I was a good person. I was the cruelly labeled slut, the burgeoning feminist who knew there was something highly wrong with a world that could peg me as a bad person for sleeping with a high school boyfriend while ignoring my good heart, sense of humor, and intelligence."

Valenti follows with what is a fairly straightforward on all the usual targets, a basic rehashing of any women's studies course - the attack on patriarchy, the assertion that gender roles are artificial, the attack on "manliness," etc. But what most sticks out to my skimming of the book was Valenti's fury, and even hatred, of the abstinence movement. Of course, Valenti asserts that this movement springs wholly from the sinister machinations of right wing religious nutjobs - but occasionally some of the anger leaks out to the girls themselves who happen to think, unlike Valenti, that the sexual act is something more than a "healthy expression" (to use Valenti's words). At one point, she sneers that "Facebook is peppered with purity groups that exist to support girls trying to 'save it'". Who started those groups, I wonder? Were they all pastors and Republican operatives? Or perhaps, just perhaps, they are started by young women who don't have a deeper appreciation of sexuality than Valenti seems capable of?

If Valenti really did respect young women's rights and choices as much as she claims, you would think she would respect those young women who think differently than her about these matters, instead of mocking them as brainwashed dupes.

What seems to make Valenti so angry, really, is that there is anyone in America who still thinks that virginity is special, or that not having sex whenever you want, however you want, with whomever you want, can be a good and healthy thing. Such thinking seems foreign to her, and she makes no effort to understand it.

The primary lesson to be drawn from this, in my opinion, is this: the anti-abstinence, pro-sexual revolution people have a rather mishapen and small view of sex - precisely the view that they accuse their opponents of having. As an example, I present Valenti's own depiction of her own "first time." Don't worry, it doesn't get too graphic:

I've often wondered what that date marks -- the day I became a woman? Considering I still bought underwear in cutesy three-packs, and that I certainly hadn't mastered the art of speaking my mind, I've gotta go with no. Societal standards would have me believe that it was a day I became morally sullied, but I fail to see how anything that lasts less than five minutes can have such an indelible ethical impact -- so it's not that either.
Really, the only meaning it had (my emphasis)...was the meaning that Josh and I ascribed to it. Or so I thought. I hadn't counted on the meaning my peers, my parents, and society would imbue it with on my behalf.
Read through the lines here, and you see that Valenti really doesn't regard the act as meaning much at all. She's free to think whatever she likes, of course - but what angers her is that anyone else could think differently. For the post-modern movement, sex - the sexual act - means nothing at all. It's recreational. Any other meaning placed to it is undoubtedly artificed, probably by men.

Now, what I believe is that sex, whatever else may be said of it, is an inherently powerful and momentous thing. It is the only act by which human beings can create life. It is the most powerful aspect of human nature - it has the potential to be life-saving, or life-destroying.

This isn't just my view, of course - it's the view of most cultures and most people, today and throughout history. It is, you could say, the "default" view. People have to be educated out of it (if you want to call it that).

I believe that to really understand the mindset of people like Valenti, you have to guess that, deep down, they also know that sex really does mean something. That's what makes them so angry. For all their disgust with religious folks, they themselve subscribe to a religion (secularism) that holds that sexuality is nothing more or less than a bodily process, one that can be manipulated for pleasure, but certainly nothing that is, shall we say, special in and of itself. Valenti and her followers constantly accuse their opponents of thinking that sex is "dirty" - but the truth is that their opponents have much more regard for sex than they have. Valenti mistakes respect for fear. I, on the other hand, think that Valenti's casualness with sexuality is as morally foolish as, say, handing your kid the car keys when they don't have a license.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what her opinion is then of rape. If sex means nothing than why is the rape of a woman more horrific than punching her? Why upon hearing of someone being attacked would a person say "Thank God she wasn't raped". Would Valenti say rape is no worse than any other physical attack? If she would say it is, than why?