1. The state or condition of being a virgin.
2. The state or condition of being pure, fresh, or unused.
3. Informal: any naive, uninitiated, or uninformed state.
A discussion I had on a TV show (Celebrity Fanzone) that I co-host with two other intelligent ladies got me thinking. This is a breakdown of the news headline, in case you missed it:
“A South African mayor has awarded college scholarships to 16 young women for remaining virgins to encourage others to be “pure and focus on school.”
The scholarship was introduced this year and has been awarded to young women from the Uthukela district in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. According to mayoral spokesman, Jabulani Mkhonza, each year the mayor’s office awards scholarships to more than 100 promising high school and university students from the area. The young women who applied for the scholarships voluntarily stayed virgins and agreed to have regular virginity tests to keep their funding. “To us, it’s just to say thank you for keeping yourself and you can still keep yourself for the next three years until you get your degree or certificate,” Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko said. The grants will be renewed “as long as the child can produce a certificate that she is still a virgin.” The scholarships focus on young women because they are more vulnerable to exploitation, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Such nonsense. This idea is sick and perverse on so many levels:
It assumes that the spread of STIs and HIV is largely to be blamed on women.
It essentially reduces a woman to what is purported to be her only worth, her virginity, though the discussion is really about her education and empowerment.
Regular virginity tests are invasive and a violation of the human body.
A woman, with an intelligent and creative brain with the potential to revolutionize the world, will be awarded a scholarship, which doesn’t give a shit about her brain but whether she has had sex. The article describes the women who have been awarded this scholarship as having decided to ‘voluntarily’ keep their virginity. Of course, it isn’t always voluntary; they “ agreed to have regular virgin tests to keep their funding”.
Perverse, isn’t it? I could go on and on about this. But it got me thinking. What is virginity anyway? Society generally defines it as when a penis breaks into the hymen of a vagina. But what about oral or anal sex? And why don’t those count as sex?
A friend of mine used to have anal sex even though she hated it in a bid to protect her “virginity” and her “purity”. She was in constant pain when she allowed anal sex, but according to her she was at once protecting her ‘virginity’ and pleasing the man by giving in to his sexual demands. This was her attempt to abide by a standard that in reality and in logic is meaningless. Let’s not forget to mention her suffering in the process.
Virginity is a social construct created by systematized male bias which places women on the edges of the dinner table while men (mind you, “real” men) gouge on the juiciest parts of the turkey. When I say virginity is a social construct, I mean it is something that does not exist in the real world the way gravity does. There is the unarguable, biological fact of the hymen, as well as a man who is a virgin because he has engaged in neither oral, anal or virginal sex. However, the social institution and fanfare ( as well as the contrived taboos ) that have been created around that biological fact, which punishes women and rewards men for losing it is one entirely based on a system of skewed perceptions and not factual designations. The adverse effect of this is that women suffer terrible consequences when they do not live up to this thin-as-air standard.
Women are slut-shamed and disgraced if they do not live up to the standard of ‘Virginity’ before marriage. Virginity has become a cover by which women’s bodies are policed and demonized. How a woman dresses, who she is seen with, how many people she has had sex with, are tantamount to societal scrutiny and judgment. But the truth is, it is none of your business!
It is a bit too convenient how a lot of demons and witches preached about tend to be female; and how they set out to ‘trap a good man with sex’. In movies, the portrayal of a prostitute is as a seductress who lures you into ‘the sin of sex,’ totally ignoring the socio-economic factors that surround prostitution. Let’s not even mention Tyler Perry. The woman as the seductress and temptress is an old trope which goes as far as the creation stories in the Bible. Remember Eve and the forbidden fruit? And Samson and Delilah?
The Bible is one place that this ‘purity oppression’ had been codified and given divine sanction. In Deuteronomy 20, it is written that if a married man finds that his wife was not a virgin, she should be stoned to death, 20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house.”
In history and in some cultures around the world, women are whipped or stoned to death if they are found not to be virgins, even if they were raped. This is because a woman is ultimately equated to her virginity, her sexuality and nothing more. This is her ultimate, and only honor. Worse, she is given the responsibility to carry the honor of her whole family on her sexuality, when sexuality should be private and personal journey to be shared with whom you choose.
A woman who owns her sexuality and is vocal about it is usually stereotyped into the boxes of ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘ashawo’, “Shashi” and a myriad other names. The sexual double standard here is that men worldwide are not slut shamed for owning their sexuality. Actually, it is part of becoming a “real” man, because the penis and its power (measured by its sexuality) is the ultimate symbol of manhood. The powerful phallus is re-created in various, subtle ways in architecture, literature, etc. Thus, men themselves are reduced to sexual symbols; how big the penis is, how many girls a man is able to ‘smash’ and how many hearts he can break are all ultimately sexual definitions of defining manhood. And men and women are much, much, much more than their sexuality. We built civilizations for goodness sake! The human, both female and male, have created complex systems of living on this earth with complex conceptions such as democracy, capitalism, socialism, religion, and more. Why should the vastness of the human mind be reduced to just its sexuality?
Finally, the concept of virginity is based on a nonsensical logic: Women must remain pure and virginal to be honorable and achieve ultimate womanhood. Men must explore, own their sexuality and realize the power of their penis in sexing women to achieve ultimate manhood. How successful would a polygynous man be if all women were to remain ‘chaste’ and ‘pure’? And here comes another double standard…some women must be sacrificed, that is, their ‘honor’ must be taken away in order for men to achieve their ‘ultimate manhood’ as defined by society.
Sexuality should be a personal journey, unriddled with the oppressing notions of virginity. It should be a person’s choice to define sex for himself or herself, approach it in his or way, with the underlying guide of total respect for humanity, other people’s bodies and respect for consent, without the pressure of societal expectations that are very flawed a lot of the time.
It’s not just women that suffer. It’s men, too. I say we do away with the social, prison-like, unforgiving institution of “virginity”, no?
If you have any comments or arguments, please post below and let’s talk!