I’ve been to meetings where speakers have gotten up praising God that their teenage daughters were still virgins. The only thing that kept me from going completely through the floor was the fact that the pronouncements were made at Christian women’s conferences where stuff like purity, chastity, godliness, self-discipline are highly touted. (Before you ask the question, the answer is no. Noone’s ever gotten up and boasted that their teenage son was still a virgin.) But still it’s unsettling to me to hear someone boast about a daughter’s virginity in a public meeting. For one, modesty is as much a virtue as virginity. Two, some things are private and the intactness (or not) of a daughter’s private parts is one of them. And three, well, gulp, what teenage girl tells her mother the whole truth? I didn’t.
Glamour magazine reported last year about the growing popularity among some evangelical Christians of “purity balls.” “Also known as “Abstinence Balls” and “Viriginity Balls,” these elaborate parties that young women and girls attend, gowns and all, with their fathers are evolving into the cutting edge of the teen abstinence movement. The theme is the girls’ sexual purity. The girls pledge to stay “pure” until marriage. The idea of confining sex to marriage is hardly new, of course. But at some of these balls a father presents his adolescent daughter with a tiny lock. The key will be given by the father to her husband on her wedding day. Creepy right?
I expect many of my readers to take issue, like I do, with the notion of male patriarchal control over a girl’s sexuality. Except that I have a daughter and have looked into the eyes of her beau when he’s come over to visit and seen that while I strike respect in the young boy, her father strikes fear and dread.
Five years ago, in a little-known provision of the Welfare Reform Bill, conservatives in Congress set aside almost half a billion dollars in state and federal funding for programs that attempt to steer young people away from sex—and away from any positive mention of birth control for that matter. With one year left for Bush’s pro-abstinence administration there’s a rush to safeguard the loins of America youth. I share the disdain of many toward Conservatives and their campaign to control female sexuality. But what if it’s true that the average young person has had dozens of sexual partners by the time they reach adulthood? Is anyone else frightened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic afflicting our African American youth? What does reproductive rights mean when we’re talking about a sexually promisicuous fifteen year old who doesn’t know crap from crapola (another one of my Aunt Dora’s expressions)?
You and I both know that “just say no” never worked. It didn’t work in biblical days. It didn’t work in my parent’s day and neither in mine. It doesn’t work now.
I’m a big fan of youth Rites-of-Passage ceremonies, but the notion of purity and abstinence balls strikes me as laughable. Especially since there isn’t any parallel ceremony where sons pledge their virginity to their mothers and mothers hand vials of saltpeter to their sons to help them keep their vows. Perhaps I shouldn’t be such a cynic. After all, I am a minister. Hey, I’m a minister who’s actually involved in the day to day life of a local church. I’ve had the privilege (and also the heartbreak) of watching a whole group of girls in my church grow up before my eyes. I’ve watched them grow from the eager face, ashy leg, snag-tooth six year olds they once were with cornrows in their hair and multi-color bubbles at the end of their nappy braids who brought their report cards for me, the pastor’s wife, to make a big deal over to now young, giggly, leggy, weave-down-to-their-backs, nubile, adolescent girls wearing skin tight jeans with thongs that peep up over their low riders.
If I had my way I’d round up all the teenage girls in my church, my daughter included, drive them out to a remote place on the outskirts of the city and stick them in a Red Tent, safe from the predatory stares and clutches of boys and men, safe from the predatory impulses of their own budding bodies. I’d keep them under guard there until, until, until… I don’t know how long. That’s the problem. (Girls were married off by the time they were twelve in biblical days. It’s possible today to reach your late 30s and have never married.) How long would I hold the teenage girls from my church in my imaginary Red Tent? Until husbands could be found for them? I know better. Until they learn how to use a condom or birth control pills? That’s only part of the problem. Until they know the difference between crap and crapola? Now there’s a thought.