“You should remain pure. Who took your virginity? Are you sure you don’t want to wait until you’re married?”
I think if I kept count of how many times I have heard these phrases –– which are said to women and young girls most of the time –– I would be a billionaire (not that I would want to be because they own most of the wealth that could be redistributed to the rest of the world- but this is not what this article is about). Phrases such as, “You should remain pure”, not only depict women as children (sweet, innocent, and dependent), but it also take away women’s autonomy in making their own life choices.
What exactly is purity and why do we associate women with these ideas? First, Merriam-Webster’s definition of purity is “the freedom from adulteration and contamination.” Examining the ways in which these ideas are implemented into our culture looks as such: In traditional weddings (thinking also about heteronormativity in which the norm would be for a man and a woman to marry) the bride wears a white dress with a veil that covers her face; white symbolizes and assumes that the bride is a virgin, thus she is pure and has saved herself for marriage. Another idea of purity is the myth that a broken hymen –– a thin membrane located on the opening of one’s vagina –– equates to losing one’s virginity.
Rapper T.I. spoke on the Ladies Like Us podcast and raved about “assisting” his daughter Deyjah Harris during her yearly gynecologist visits (once she turned 16) in order to have her hymen checked; to him, seeing an intact hymen meant that she was still a virgin. Medical doctors have debunked the myth that examining the hymen can serve as “virginity testing” because the hymen can break doing daily activities such as playing outside, and some individuals are born without a hymen. Although the doctor explained this notion to the rapper, he responded with, ‘So I say, “Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports, man. Just check the hymen, please and give me back my results expeditiously.”’ Not only was Deyjah pressured into granting her father access to her medical records while a doctor was present, but T.I. essentially claimed that his daughter’s body was under his control, so he deserved to see his results. This was not only an invasion of privacy, but also an act of sex shaming and sex negativity that affects Black women every day. It’s dangerous and irresponsible for women’s bodies to still be policed. Women do not have to constantly explain to others about what they do with their bodies, especially to people who do not understand how female organs operate.
Twitter users perpetuate this idea of purity when it comes to pictures of little Black girls and their clothing. Deeming them as dressing “too grown” and instantly sexualizing them furthers the idea that Black little girls need to dress and act a certain way to keep their innocence. Pressing sex negativity ideals on girls at young ages can turn into future doctor visits to have their hymen looked at to decide if they are still virgins, as we have seen from Deyjah’s situation.
Deyjah could have been terrified to speak up, so luckily allies on the Internet did. There can be room in this conversation for allies, but they should also be willing to accept criticism from those that they are standing with when confronting these issues of purity and virginity; stand with women, don’t speak over their issues, and if you have the ability to educate yourself about female organs, do so. It is not always the job of women to explain to others why virginity is a social construct, and how the hymen functions –– the two are mutually exclusive. More work needs to be done to erase ideals of purity pressed onto little girls in all aspects, so that they are able to grow up in a society where they are not dehumanized and sexualized.