Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"My heart belongs to Daddy": The Virginity Movement and "Purity Balls"

A friend of mine posted a set of unimaginably disturbing links about "the Courtship Movement", which, as she pointed out, is well-intentioned but has somehow managed to flip the "squick" button for a lot of us. I'll be borrowing liberally from the links she used (and I hope she doesn't mind!), and adding my own editorials as I go.

Preaching abstinence to teenagers is not inherently a bad thing. In this sex-crazed world, it's important for kids to know that they do have the option to JUST SAY NO, and that it is nobody's choice but their own. I was a teenager in the '90s, and I seemed to run with a bizarrely "pure" crowd (I do hate that word; as was mentioned in my friend's original post, it makes it sound as though a girl/woman who has chosen to engage in sexual activity becomes less valuable somehow - "used goods", as it were). Yes, there was sex, but everyone in my group of friends was paired off, most of us carrying our relationships into university, and some of us beyond and into marriage/cohabitational bliss. None of us drank underage, there were no drugs, no smoking, no sleeping around... It sounds utopian and probably outright untrue, but there it is. I was there. I know. We were an aberration, I suppose; those of us who chose to have sex were responsible and monogamous, and those of us who chose not to weren't looked upon as "lame".

But therein lies my problem with preaching only abstinence, which is the central theme of books such as "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", apparently a popular read in this Courtship Movement. Kids will be kids; covering their eyes and not educating them about all of their options, and the most responsible way to handle each of them, simply isn't realistic. (I was going to add, "...in this day and age," to that statement, but I suspect there was just as much premarital sex happening in Jane Austen's years as there is now; the main difference is taking a literal roll in the hay on ye olde plantation versus "all those clumsy, sticky fumblings in the backseats of cars" - thank you, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.)

Here's where the squick factor comes in. Long have we known of events like the traditional Southern Cotillions, the coming-out parties that announce a young debutante's "arrival" onto the scene. Now, though, there are glitzy bashes that, on the surface, look just like a cotillion or a prom, but are something altogether different. And are, in my opinion, freaky as all hell.

Introducing "Purity Balls", in which girls of various ages pledge their virginity. To their FATHERS. (Also known, according to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, as "Father Daughter Purity Balls" or "Purity Weddings". Just...ugh.)

A quote from the article to which I linked above:

In a chandelier-lit ballroom overlooking the Rocky Mountains one recent evening, some hundred couples feast on herb-crusted chicken and julienned vegetables. The men look dapper in tuxedos; their dates are resplendent in floor-length gowns, long white gloves and tiaras framing twirly, ornate updos. Seated at a table with four couples, I watch as the gray-haired man next to me reaches into his breast pocket, pulls out a small satin box and flips it open to check out a gold ring he’s about to place on the finger of the woman sitting to his right. Her eyes well up with tears as she is overcome by emotion.

The man’s date? His 25-year-old daughter. Welcome to Colorado Springs’ Seventh Annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball, held at the five-star Broadmoor Hotel. The event’s purpose is, in part, to celebrate dad-daughter bonding, but the main agenda is for fathers to vow to protect the girls’ chastity until they marry and for the daughters to promise to stay pure. Pastor Randy Wilson, host of the event and cofounder of the ball, strides to the front of the room, takes the microphone and asks the men, “Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?”

Cue my gag reflex.

Until I read my friend's blog entry,I had no idea such parties existed. I'd always thought it questionable that nuns wore rings on their "wedding finger" to signify their marriage to God, and my stomach has always turned a bit at the sight of little girls walking down the aisle in miniature wedding dresses to meet the priest at the front of their Catholic church and become "confirmed" (which, to me, is synonymous with "owned") by the religion. But these are only my opinions; I feel strongly that everyone should have their own, and not have someone else's shoved down their throats (or in turn shove theirs down anyone else's). I am against organized religion (which is not the same as being against faith or spirituality; a lot of people make that mistake when I say such things), but I can, in many cases, understand why others choose to subscribe to a certain religion or set of beliefs.

This whole Purity Ball, thing? No. No. That I cannot understand.

To quote my friend's entry: "I'd be pro- these events, albeit with reservations re: the tackiness of turning an important private spiritual decision into A Public Display That Looks Like Yet Another Damned Prom, except for one thing: the girls don't make this promise to themselves, or to their God. They make the promise to their fathers (and here's an insider view that will explain why)."

She hit the nail on the head as far as one of the reasons this concept bothers me so much: These girls should be making this decision for themselves, or, if they're doing it in the name of their religion, making a promise to their deity. Wearing a ring that marks you as your father's property until you're married, though...? Oh, yep, there's that nausea again.

I realize that we incorporate parts of this into widely undisputed rituals in our lives already. The father who "gives his daughter away" at her wedding is, essentially, allowing his daughter to become currency that's exchanging hands, from one man to another. I'm quite sure it's not looked at that way by most of the people who do it - it's probably meant to be a sweet gesture, a moment where the little girl has grown up and left the nest, and her father is indicating that he trusts this new man to love her as much as he always has. But you see my point. And there's also the issue of a woman changing her name after marriage. She usually has her father's last name to begin with, and once the ink has dried on the contract wedding license, she takes her husband's name instead. (That too has always driven me INSANE, and mark my words: I will never change my name for any man, and my "chosen" name - the one I use as my pseudonym - is in fact my mother's maiden name.)

Anyway, back to the Purity Balls. (Doesn't that just sound wrong?) Here's an interesting article about these events also taking place for boys, and the differences between the two. As is pointed out early on in the piece, a woman's transition away from virginity involves an actual, tangible, physical change (remember all those lovely morning-after-the-wedding rituals that involve a man hanging his white sheets outside the honeymoon suite's window to show everyone the spot of blood, thereby proving he got himself a good one?), whereas boys remain physically "intact" no matter how much sleeping around he does. The article underscores the disturbing dissonance between a woman's purity (of body AND soul) and a man's integrity. Read it. It's...eye-opening.

All of this horrifies me. But I think my jaw hit the floor hardest when I got to this part of my friend's blog entry (in which she wisely points out that this guy can't write to save his life and makes it sound like he was 12 when he took his daughter out for a night on the town...): "Here's Jonathan Lindvall, explaining how he coerced his twelve-year-old daughter into putting him in charge of not just her sexuality, but her emotions: At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to "Give me your heart" (Prov. 23:26). I explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God s choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart."

I'm well past nausea now. I think I'll have to ask my father about this. I expect he'll shudder and tell me he was just as happy NOT TO KNOW, thankyouverymuch. And where, might I ask, are the mothers in all of this???

I could go so much further in-depth than I have; my friend's entry certainly did, and provided even more astonishing - and, to me, disturbing - revelations about what's going on in my neighbouring country (and probably here in Canada, too, really). But I'll leave the links and those articles to speak for themselves, I think. And tonight, before I go to sleep, I will silently thank my parents for teaching me what I needed to know, and trusting ME to make the choices I needed to make as I went along, always letting me know they were there if I had questions or needed guidance. I am not betrothed to my father until some other guy comes along, nor do I have to feel guilty if and when I choose to enter into a relationship with a man, and for those privileges I thank my parents, not a god or a church or an organization that seems to be built around making independent girls feel like used up trash.

I don't know that I ever realized just how lucky I was until I read about the Purity Ball that never got thrown for me.


casey said...

I had heard of these things before, quite a while ago... and I'm just as squicked now as I was back then. So squicked, in fact, that I can't even START on it - there's just NOTHING about it that's even remotely right.

I'm with you - I can (and have!) thanked my parents for teaching me, and then trusting me, to make my own damn decisions.

_madam_mina_ said...

I knew a little about this 9 years ago: In Biology class my Freshman year of High School I sat next to a very Christian girl. I noticed that she had a ring on her wedding ring finger with a jesus fish (I don't know what they are really called, sorry) on it so I asked her about it. She told me that it was a "Promise Ring" - I asked her what that was and she told me that it symbolized that she promised her parents that she wouldn't have sex until she was married.

I hadn't thought about it much since then until my other friend just wrote about this and I agree - I think it is very sexist and instead of empowering women with knowledge about how to protect their health and "hearts" it instead keeps them totally blind and puts their sex/romantic life into their father's hands *shakes head* This is an example of why I hate organized religion and why it makes me want to vomit.

Carlanime Bligh said...

You know, I still haven't picked my own jaw up off the floor yet. I keep trying to imagine my own father's reaction, and honestly: I would have been in therapy for LIFE if I'd suggested pledging my virginity to him. He'd have had me committed, I think.
It is all fascinating, though. If I could get my hands on a free copy, I'd love to read one of the books that sparked it off.

~Ehch~ said...

@CASEY: It kind of surprises me that I'd managed to dodge knowing much about this until now. You know of my penchant for finding the most horrifying things possible and then filling my brain with 'em. This ranks up there! Thank the heavens for parents who are sane (and that we got some instead of...whatever the hell those Purity Parents are!!).

@_mina_: Okay, I have to confess that I laughed far too long at the "jesus fish" remark, because a few of my friends and I actually looked it up several years ago to see if it had an actual name. It does. It's something like "Chiasmus". I'll have to go hunting again. Anyway, that's even more disturbing, hearing from someone who actually KNEW a girl who did this and was okay with it. Just...ew. No. I'm right there with you on the vomiting, girl.

@CARLA: I think your Dad would have probably wanted therapy, too! I haven't mentioned any of this to my own father yet, but you can bet I'll be updating you on his reaction when I do. If in fact I'm able to recreate in words the facial expressions I'm anticipating. GAH.

Anonymous said...

Came across a blog written by Jonathan Lindvall's DIL, Brittany. Brittany was betrothed to the oldest Lindvall son at the ripe old age of 18. Pictures of poor Bethany are on there. http://lindvalllife.blogspot.com/

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