Purity Balls: Creepy for 1000, Alex

A bad.hack (read more about it here) is a manipulation of a Christian system either using illicit means to achieve an end, or achieving goals that leave the system worse off and less open than before. Read on for the hack!

I'm all for any event that gets families closer together and parents having a stronger sense of ownership over their children's lives. But I get creeped out when we harken back to the days of father's ownership over their daughter's bodies and giving them up for dowries and such.

So, in other words, this story at the New York Times creeps me out: Dancing the Night Away: Purity Balls.

The first two hours of the gala passed like any somewhat awkward night out with parents, the men doing nearly all the talking and the girls struggling to cut their chicken.

But after dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.

Anyone else creeped out a bit by these images? Sorry to post such a visceral response, but there's got to be some theological or social reason behind my gut reaction. Read on for more on purity balls and abstinence pledges, and how they are, with the best of intentions, hurting women and youth.

First, do boys go to these things? Are there boy purity paintball events? (Please don't say Promise Keepers) Apparently, they don't need protection from the evil hook-up culture.

Then, a few quotes that jumped out at me:
“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”
Um, no. Characterizing women as passive and helpless will not lead to ownership over their sexual identities.
"premarital sex is seen as inevitably destructive, especially to girls, who they say suffer more because they are more emotional than boys."
Um, again, no. This characterizes girls as lacking a positive sexual understanding, and boys as lacking an emotional attachment to their sexual understanding. Stereotypical, but neither are true.

Finally, here's the worst part: this isn't directly about the girls' virginity at all, is it? Everything I read from this event focused on the fathers. And as a commenter wrote at Feministing (could be NSFW images and language):
You know what? At it's core, this is not about female virginity at all. It's about male honor, which apparently rests between a woman's (or girl's) legs.
Read what the dads are saying. It's all about them.
OK, so those are my subjective reactions. Now, here comes the Science! [/Ben Affleck]

Youth who take abstinence pledges are more likely to put off sexual escapades, but when they do so, they are much more risky.
Although young people who sign a virginity pledge delay the initiation of sexual activity, marry at younger ages and have fewer sexual partners, they are also less likely to use condoms and more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex, said the researchers from Yale and Columbia universities.

"The sad story is that kids who are trying to preserve their technical virginity are, in some cases, engaging in much riskier behavior...From a public health point of view, an abstinence movement...may inadvertently encourage other forms of alternative sex that are at higher risk of STDs."
While we want to knee-jerk and say it is our youth as a whole that are massively experimenting in alternative forms of sex, a recent study shows that is just not true. There's a whole laundry list of studies showing the harmful impact of abstinence-only programs at No More Money: a website lobbying for no more funding for these types of programs.

So, not only are purity balls and abstinence pledges devaluing women, rendering them as passive maidens who need saving from a malicious culture, but also they are hurting them with ignorance. ARGH.


Let's take a deep breath..................there.


Purity balls and abstinence pledges are bad.hacks. Why? Regardless of the real-world effects, the theology behind them devalues women while idolizing their virginity, makes women victims and renders them passive in decision-making, and basically is patriarchal. More importantly to systems, the focus on fatherly honor mirrors a medieval-age feudal honor system that only still exists in.......well, ransom atonement theologies. Hmm.

But this isn't to say they aren't onto something. I think purity balls and abstinence pledges are hitting at a missing aspect of youth lives, but I'm pretty sure this expression isn't it. In what ways can we address this gap in ways that are meaningful?
  • In a Feminist Theology class I took in seminary, a fellow seminarian created a ritual celebrating teen girls who began ovulating. It sounds weird, but the service liturgy was very powerful. I'm all for a positive father-daughter ritual, and our culture needs more rituals to support these transitions into new ways of being and new biological ways of living too! Perhaps a reader can point us to religious resources dealing with teenagers and pubescence?
  • Perhaps just subtle shifts in these event's theologies. There needs to be stronger emphasis that girls' worth to fathers has nothing whatsoever to do with their sexual activity. By removing the shame and guilt from women's perceptions of their bodies, then they will have the proper self-image and self-appreciation to say "no" when the time comes (and it will). Just tweak the theology a bit, just a bit...please?
  • It is just criminal to take a abstinence pledge without age-appropriate sex education. If they don't know what they are pledging against, then how will they recognize it when the time comes? The higher numbers of oral sex say to me that youth don't see it as sex because they can remain virgins...while still being at-risk for STDs. Stop killing our children.
To me it makes a lot more sense to teach one’s children honesty, integrity, responsibility, chastity (in the broad sense of the word), forgiveness and all those things — all those things that make one a fully functioning adult, and sex is just one part of that.

True purity involves a lot more than virginity. This just seems a bit unbalanced.
So, that's my Tuesday rant. Sorry it came so early in the morning. Thoughts or reactions? Any resources celebrating these biological changes for youth? Thanks in advance!

4 comments:

Peter Benkendorf May 27, 2008 at 8:29 AM  

Let the war on abstinence-only begin. Check out www.abstinencethecondom.com

Hits the hypocrisy nail on the head, while advocating smart and safe sexual decision-making.

And watch for their next product "Purity Balls" coming to a sex shop near you!

Matt Algren May 27, 2008 at 9:17 AM  

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I heard about these dances and pledges a few years ago and 'creepy' was the word I used for them too.

Worse, I've found that parents who are big into things like silly dances and reading pledges are less into things like responsible education and talking to their children. For example, a few years ago at my church there was a dual monologue read that had to do with oppression and war, and at one point one of the women says, "And then they raped us." then moves on. It says no more about it. Link here to the full piece. (I can't believe I found it based on one phrase. The internet really does have everything!)

Anyway, several fathers complained afterward because of that line not because of their little children (most of whom were in the nursery or kid's church), but because of their pre-teen daughters.

Their pre-teen daughters who didn't know what the word "rape" means, and the fathers were angry because now they'd have to explain it.

Now I'm not a Dad, but it seems to me that pre-teen is waaay too late to be teaching a girl about sexual violence. And I worry that "Purity Balls" could and do lead to a similar problem, that parents will have the attitude that after they read their "pledge" they don't need to talk about sex with their kids anymore.

Dave May 27, 2008 at 2:28 PM  

I'm a dad of both teen boys and girls. My wife & I preach the same thing to both sexes. The best thing is to wait. We do not encourage premarital sex, and tell them the truth, not just about STD's, but about it gives a false sense of love, and a false sense of worth.
I gave my daughter a purity ring for her birthday last week. She just turned 15 and already sex, and more specifically moving to fast, and getting too emotionally attached in a relationship is the issue.
One thing us adults need to do is to assume our teens are living in the same world we did as teens. It is not, it is not even close. Sexuality plays a huge part of the teen life. They are constantly bombarded by sexual images on tv, myspace, E!, radio, mp3's, posters, magazines, cell phones w/ cameras, etc.
Fathers do have a role and responsibility with their kids, and especially daughters. In a similar manner dads (and moms) need to stress to their sons the importance of protecting a girl's purity.
I know too many parents who just tell their kids to "have safe sex". And that's just what they do...minus the "safe" part. To be honest how many adults are responsible enough to have "safe" sex, let alone a forgetful 16 year old?
If parents don't value their daughter's purity, who will?

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