Saturday, May 16, 2009

Salon's The virginity fetish

I'm all about sharing this week. So here's another article you should check out over at Salon called "The virginity fetish." The article explores Jessica Valenti's latest book called The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. "The virginity fetish" is an interview with the author about the book and she makes some very interesting points about how our culture views female sexuality as something both coveted and scorned.

You start the book by announcing that virginity … doesn't actually exist.

I did not know this [before I wrote the book]. I interviewed a woman named Hanne Blank, who wrote this great book called "Virgin: The Untouched History." She ran a Web site for teens about sex called Scarleteen, and the question she got most often from teenagers was, “I did such and such, am I still a virgin?” She was like, “You know, I don't know!” So, she went to the Harvard Medical School library to try to find a standard definition for virginity, and she couldn't find one. Apparently, there is no medical definition at all.

Virginity is completely culturally constructed, and obviously we each have our own individual understanding of what virginity is, but it's often a really limiting version of sexuality that doesn't include certain types of intimacy that are pretty important. Queer people are totally excluded -- if you're a lesbian with a number of partners, are you considered a slut? Probably not.


What do you think about the young woman who auctioned off her virginity?

I don't know why we're so surprised by it. This is going to sound terrible, but that's essentially the same thing the abstinence movement is saying: “Hold off until you can auction off your virginity to the person with the biggest ring.” It's really the same thing, only done in a more explicit and economically honest way.

I think it's really interesting whom we decide to call whores. [Natalie Dylan] is a whore because she's being really upfront and honest about it. But you would never think to call a woman who is getting married [for financial security] a whore.


How is it that a pop star like Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson can announce their virginity at the same time that they're successfully marketed as a sex symbol?

Because they're being exactly what pop culture wants them to be, which is the sexy virgin available for our consumption. We're able to watch them writhe around in music videos, but they're still good girls, so you can also prop them up as role models.

What was really interesting with Spears was that the media and public turned on her once she got pregnant, had a woman's body, became a little heavier, and could no longer be seen as this untouched virgin. People had to look at her as a full-grown woman and not a little girl. That's when they started to deride her and call her a whore, which goes to show that the women we fetishize most are not women but girls.

That's just part of it. It's a very insightful interview and I recommend that you read it in full. I'll probably end up buying her book at some point, but I'm a little poor right now, so I'll have to settle for interviews.