“The onus of purity falls squarely on the shoulders of women-identified bodies — and why is that?” wonders Angella d’Avignon. It’s a very good question that seems to have been definitively answered by Christianity’s version of the creation myth: the story of Adam and Eve.
Virginity, historically the means by which societies established and entrenched male ownership, achieved its popularity in the Middle Ages, the result of Roman Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. For example, d’Avignon notes, the concept of chivalry “was established in defense of the honor of a maiden (otherwise known as a virgin), and sought to train men that would protect these fair ladies.”
“The notion of purity — especially when it’s coerced or projected onto a young girl — relegates her worth to a reductive and dangerous dichotomy. She’s either pure or she’s not, and if she’s not? She’s a slut,” says d’Avignon.
Today, the Purity Ball, a dance in which fathers vow to protect their daughter’s chastity until they’re married, carries on the tradition and our obsession.
Unfortunately for women, American culture now “openly conflates sexuality with morality — as Jessica Valenti writes in her book, The Cult of Virginity, mistakenly “idolizing virginity as a stand-in for women’s morality.”
Patriarchal capitalism has long relied on the commodification of women’s bodies, and “If a woman’s body is an object, then virginity is a condition,” argues d’Avignon, and whether “we have sex and who we have sex with are all that’s valued.”