Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Balls Of Purity

They're baaaaaaaccccckkkkk! Time magazine discovered the existence of Purity Balls, and did a story about them, a year and a half after the fashion magazine Glamour did so. I wrote a couple short pieces at the time, expressing my disgust at the very concept. Since they are now "news" because Time has discovered them, I thought it appropriate to find my original pieces, and to say a bit more about them.

First, however, props to digby for writing about them first, over two year ago. I think her most recent commentary is spot on, especially as regards the kind of silly writing Nancy Gibbs did for Time. Before going too much further, I would also recommend Duncan's comments as well. We shall return to one specific thing he wrote in a moment, but first I would like to turn to the "pledge" the father's recite at these Freudian Nightmare Events:
I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

There is so much to talk about here, one wonders where to begin. First, the whole "covering my daughter" thing - this is an invitation to incestuous pedophilia. Sorry, but I can't read it any other way. "High priest in my home"? I'm assuming, since he's a man, the Holy of Holies is the crapper off the master bedroom; please don't let the incense out. . . As for influencing generations to come, one could spend pages and hours doing both hilariously gross double entendres about this, or simply point out that it would be a negative influence, as in "Please don't allow me to be involved in such creepy crap ever again."

From digby's original piece comes a part of the pledge the girls make, and I will highlight one portion (the italics should be a clue) that I would like to take a bit of an issue with:
GIRLS RECITING PLEDGE:...to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me...and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

I would respond that the only thing God "requires" of any of us is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. That's kind of a quote from that whole Bible thingy, but being a pagan myself, I suppose it's not fair of me to throw the Bible in an alleged Christian's face.

One point in atrios' comment I would like to lift out for amplification follows:
Generally our culture has a tremendous fear, almost revulsion, of the idea of female sexuality and sexual desire. Much of that is channeled to and projected onto teen females, where all sensible people agree that maybe it's not such a good idea for them to have sex for reasons they can't quite articulate but can usually be summed up with "if you were a parent you'd understand."

Being a parent of two young girls, I would argue that even if I were not such, I would be appalled by this kind of thing. Digby is correct when she points out that this has nothing to do with "purity" or even "sex" but is all about "the man" - a kind of primal patriarchy in which any woman under a roof is property to be guarded and protected by the male "high priest". Yet, like all such right-wing events that deal with this issue, the confusion and contradictions abound. As I wrote in my follow-up piece last February:
The second thing to notice about these ceremonies is their public nature. We often prefer to keep our sexual behavior, and our decisions about it, as private as possible. One of the cultural right's complaints about American society is its highly sexualized nature. Yet, here, right here, a very public display - an entire ceremony, complete with all the trappings of a festive occasion - regarding the sexuality of young women. Moving from the private sphere to the public sphere in this way creates an entirely new set of problems; now we have a social event in which the sexual behavior of young women becomes a matter not just for public scrutiny and comment, but examination.

If sex is such a private business, why in the world would such a public event take place? Obviously, because it really isn't about sex - yet it is so loaded with talk about sex and offers so much taboo-pushing in re the father-daughter relationship one wonders how they can square this particular dodecahedron.

One bit of information of which I was not aware, originally, was that some of the girls involved in this are as young as six. That's wrong on so many levels, but most basically - how in the world can a six year old understand what any of this is about, except perhaps doing what Daddy says, which creates a whole set of problems considering the boundary-blurring nature of the whole thing? It really is quite disgusting.

I titled this post as I did because the focus of these events, while they deal with the father-daughter relationship in a way that makes me feel quite uneasy, is the man. As a father, I cannot imagine putting either of my daughters in a position where they would pledge their sexual purity to my care in such a direct way. If these fathers were honest, and consistent, they would trust their role as parent in a more conventional way as a good deterrent to behavior of which they disapprove. Even with all the hormonal insistence and cultural and peer pressure to become sexually active early, I really don't know how a pledge really makes much of a difference, other than adding to the burden of guilt a young person goes through as they struggle through the conflicting arena of adolescence. It might even be nice to do a sociological survey of the success rate of this kind of thing - how many of these girls end up making it to their marriage beds unsullied by any previous contact with that dirty implement of boys and men.

Isn't it odd how there is this conflicting message being sent about sex? It is so special and so sacred it is to be avoided until absolutely necessary. Should any of these families follow through on these pledges, what possible understanding of sex can these women have when they reach marriage? I guess, like middle-class Victorians, they shall close their eyes and think of George Bush.

These are extraordinarily scary, not-very-vaguely unsettling things.

Virtual Tin Cup

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