Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review: The Purity Myth

As I mentioned before, I got a Kindle for Christmas which is helping me devour some good reads. One such book was Jessica Valenti's "The Purity Myth." As it came out in 2009, it's been on my radar for a while now and I'm so happy I finally got a chance to read it.

The premise of the book is simple: society places undue emphasis on the concepts of female purity and virginity (and these concepts don't even have a uniform understanding.) As Valenti's website says,

The United States is obsessed with virginity from the media to schools to government agencies. The Purity Myth is an important and timely critique of about why this is so, and why it’s problematic for girls and women. Analyzing cultural stereotypes and media messages, Jessica Valenti reveals the overt and hidden ways our society links a woman’s worth to her sexuality rather than to values like honesty, kindness, and altruism.
All in all, I found the book to be an easy to digest, logically laid out, and thoroughly researched read. I don't think there was much in it which I truly "learned"; its content made me nod my head in agreement and understanding, but overall the concepts were familiar to me. However, that's probably more due to the fact that I live as a woman in this culture, than any deficiency in the book. That aside, Valenti does a great job of pulling together all of the material (purity balls, pornography, a virginal ideal, etc.) into a seamless body of evidence.

Here are some things that I particularly loved:
1) Valenti ties the purity myth into the sexualization of very young girls (something I've written and am happy to learn more about!) She said:
But whether it's training girls to be women before their time or expecting women to act like little girls, when youth is the most desirable sexual characteristic and girls are the most desirable sexual beings, we all suffer.

2) Purity balls are founded on a creepy premise of men controlling young female sexuality. Daughters pledge their virginity to their dads, for his protecting. Even mother and son purity arrangements (called integrity balls) are aimed at controlling female sexual expression. On this, Valenti writes:
Instead of pledging their virginities to their mothers, however, the young men and boys in this ball vow not to sully someones' daughter or future wife.
How lovely.

My overall verdict on the book is that it should join the cannon of new 101 literature for any feminist.

In coincidental timing, Valenti was on Anderson Cooper's day time talk show discussing purity balls this week. I was unfortunately at work when it aired, but I'm hoping to catch it soon, and I recommend you do the same if you get the chance. In the mean time, I want to pass along this GIF, created by a Jezebel commenter that Valenti shared on her Tumblr. As she said herself, "My response when purity ball founder Randy Wilson tells me the events have nothing to do with virginity. (Thanks to the lovely commenters at Jezebel for this!) I hope one day I can have a gif where I look super sexy and nonchalant, but until then this will do."

I love it. Sometimes, you can't help but make a WTF face when you talk to these guys.

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