Purity punditry.


(Polite Conversation)



Z has been acting so abominably of late, I’ve taken to fantasizing of locking myself in the bathroom and screaming bloody murder. And then taking a nice long bath without my daughter stripping down and trying to jump in with me.


Yesterday, her tantrums were so paralyzing, I gave up on doing anything other than some household chores and cooking. I did manage to read (with quite a few breaks to soothe the savage toddler) some of Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic’s response posts to Lindy West’s post, “Female ‘Purity’ is Bullshit” at Jezebel. Let me pause here to say, although I admit to letting some four letter words fly in real life, for the most part, I skip them here on the blog. When I do use them, it’s quite deliberate and is usually for emphasis or when I’m quoting someone else. So, if you are the sensitive type to such foul verbiage, you’d best just stop reading right here and go read something else, preferably one of my old posts? For the rest of you, let’s get a little feel of Lindy’s opinion with the following excerpt.


Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. “Purity” is a lie. Do not even worry about any of this garbage, because it’s about as real as a fucking unicorn.



Everyone makes unhealthy choices sometimes. Life is long and complex. Everyone has sex with partners they regret, and strays out of their comfort zone for the wrong reasons, and enters into self-destructive relationships with the best intentions. But those choices are unhealthy for the person making them, not for anyone else. And those choices have no bearing whatsoever on anyone’s worth as a human being. Sometimes perspective, born out of pain, can actually make life richer. Your good choices are yours and your bad choices are yours too.


Would it be better for you in the long run not to send naked pictures of yourself to a manipulative sociopath? Probably. But that’s not because sending naked pictures of yourself is an inherently “bad” thing to do. Nudity isn’t bad. Sex isn’t bad. Nipples aren’t bad. Even chastity isn’t bad. Literally all of this shit is arbitrary. The only “mistake” is placing your trust in the wrong person, and the culpable one in that scenario is the person who chooses to be untrustworthy—not the victim taken in by it.


Our culture deliberately socializes women to be taken in. We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they’re not sexually attractive, they’re nothing. They’re garbage. They might as well not exist. We reinforce, over and over, that their attractiveness has an expiration date, so the only thing they can do is desperately leverage that attractiveness while they can. If they resist that conditioning, we sexualize them against their will, and if they give in to that conditioning—or worse, if they are raped by a predator—we reveal the trap: Now you’re a slut, and it’s your fault. Now you’re tainted. Now you’re worse than nothing. Now you might as well not even cry out when your rapist takes you to the gas station in a wig and sunglasses.


So, Girls, Fuck All of It


If you want to. Or don’t fuck any of it, if you don’t want to. Fuck women. Fuck men. Fuck no one. Point is, you get to fuck what you like, when you like, and your worth is not determined by some golden ratio of extreme boner tantalization vs. minimal boner touching. BONERS ARE NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. You are the boss of you.


Oh Lindy, pretty girl with a mouth like Tony Soprano. Really, apologies to those who are scandalized now, but I dun warned you! Anyway, while I get what she’s getting at, that a woman’s value is not and should not be based on the value imparted on her by others, or that her worth is contingent on the pristineness of her vagina, I think she essentially crashes and burns with that closing synopsis. Our actions have consequences, and they also have meaning. I also object to that second paragraph quoted up there. Not everyone has sex with partners they regret, and unhealthy choices often have a direct effect on other people. Sadly, I’m still trying to make or tails of a lot baggage leftover from childhood that came courtesy of my parents. Joe struggles with them, too. Jos, in her last months, was consumed by incidents that occured fifteen years prior. I’m trying to sort this stuff out so as not to inadvertantly pass them on to Z. Yes, our actions have meaning. No, choosing how to live your life is NOT arbitrary.


But Marc is so much more eloquent then me. In his first respose to West, he writes:


So when West says, “You can tell something is bullshit if all of the justifications for it are bullshit,” I am genuinely curious whether she would call bullshit on a justification for chastity which expresses it as a way in which we are truly ourselves, in which I must, by my own free will, integrate my sexuality into my entire human person. This implies, of course, that there is a person I am meant to be, and when I say “I don’t feel like myself,” “I’m just being myself,” or “be true to your self,” I’m not just flailing words around — there really is a self I am meant to be, an existence in which — if I choose to live it — I am totally fulfilled, an existence I strive for and do not arbitrarily determine, as in “I determine that my true self is an axe murderer, so I’m off to be true to my self.” No.


In a second post, he continues:


Lindy West argues that our concept of purity is sexist.


This entire “conversation” is just an effort to rig a system in which men get to determine female worthlessness no matter the input. There is nothing you can do to be pure. Meanwhile, they get to do literally whatever they want with anyone, to anyone, at any time. The double standard is so blatant it’s almost too boring to point out.


Again, I find myself in agreement. Expectations of “purity,” “virginity,” “modesty,” and “chastity” fall almost exclusively on women, in telling proportion with words describing unchastity — like “slut” and “whore.”  West, taking the voice of a purity-enforcing man, explains rather clearly why this is the case:


I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture’s patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women’s bodies. Basically I’m obsessed with controlling women’s lives because I can’t control my own.


Maybe, but I think the reason the “purity culture” is sexist — while not excluding West’s reasoning entirely — is a little deeper than just “guys like being assholes.” “Purity” is not just another chain to control women. It’s a bad reaction to a bigger chain, an unthought, unhelpful rebellion against a choking, thorny, bind that has women by the throat, a bind West mentions, but does not understand to be the motive for vague, controlling definitions of “purity:”


We condition girls (explicitly! Not even covertly!) to believe that if they’re not sexually attractive, they’re nothing. They’re garbage. They might as well not exist.


This is why “purity culture” is sexist. Our “purity culture” takes for granted the idea that purity is an absence — an absence of sex, an absence of sexy mannerisms, and absence of sexy clothes, etc. — and then asks the world to follow it. But meanwhile, back on the ranch, the world has made almost every characteristic of women an erection-inducing characteristic. So of course the weight of “purity” falls far more heavily on women. The demand for an absence-of-erection-inducing-sexuality finds in objectified women far more to demand an absence of. Any expectation of purity described primarily as an absence of sexuality will naturally fall most heavily on the most “sexualized, ” and the man who wishes a woman to “cover up” at the expense of her good, normal expression of sexuality is a man who has been educated — not by Christianity, but by an essentially pornographic culture – to believe that a normal expression of sexuality is and must be erection-inducing.


He then takes a look at virginity, making the claim that it is sexual, and not a simple lacking of sex. He holds out habited nuns as exemplars. All very interesting stuff. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to this very much dislike the purity culture within Evangelical/Fundie Protestant Christian culture. Comparing any person-man or woman- to a chewed up piece of gum, crushed flower or a spit-filled cup is just wrong. All of us are made in the image of God.

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