Brittany Bowman: Why are men so obsessed with their daughters' virginity?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 6:26pm

Recently, musician and singer T.I. went on a podcast called Ladies Like Us on Nov. 5, and boasted about how his daughter’s hymen is still intact, and he knows because he forcibly takes her to the gynecologist. Here’s why that is problematic, and frankly, sickening. 

When Deyjah, T.I.’s daughter, turned 16, her father posted a note on the fridge stating they would be attending the doctor’s office within the next few days. When I first heard this story, I was straining to be optimistic, hoping this would be a case of teaching children and teens about sexual wellness and awareness by taking the time to familiarize them with their reproductive health resources. Instead, Deyjah’s father is inherently obsessed with maintaining his daughter’s socially-constructed purity and her virginity. Every year since she turned 18, he’s been driving her to the gynecologist as a post-birthday tradition. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that girls first see a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15, with a yearly checkup every year post initial exam. However, if reproductive health and overall health are maintained smoothly, there may not be a need to attend a specialized branch of medicine like the gynecologist. Many women’s health needs can be fulfilled by a primary care provider or even on the third floor of University Health Services at the University of Michigan, the Women’s Health Clinic. The Women’s Health Clinic provides comprehensive care for patients of any gender, and any patient seeking gynecologic information, STI treatment or post-sexual assault services can surely find some degree of help on the third floor. Granted, if the financial resources are available, it can be important to have a gynecologist. However, due to the potentially invasive nature of medical procedures or practices, gynecology visits can be intimidating. Some of the top reasons people make a gynecologist appointment are for overall physical health check-ups, pregnancy-related visits, irregular menstruation, breast or pelvic exams, pap smears, birth control, etc. Even then, the idea of making an appointment or going to the gynecologist is intimidating.  

For this reason, gynecologists and other medical professionals tend to stress the importance of not performing unnecessary procedures. One of these unnecessary medical procedures is a virginity assessment, or hymen check. There is no factual, scientific or medical basis for determining whether or not someone has experienced vaginal penetration, and therefore has “lost their virginity.” In cultures where female virginity is prized, many women and girls are subjected to these invasive examinations in order to ensure that they are still “pure.” In addition to there being no scientific or medical evidence of virginity, these examinations can be psychologically and even physically harmful to girls and women. Examinations are oftentimes done without proper patient consent, normally when the patient is coerced into the procedure by an elder family member or even a partner. 

It is the physician’s job to ensure patient safety and not violate commonplace HIPAA guidelines. When the physician seeing T.I.’s daughter attempted to get her consent for the procedure with her father knowing the results, the exchange was frighteningly forceful. T.I. stated, “Is there anything you would not want me to know? Oh, OK. See doc? No problem.” Madeline Brewer, an actress on “The Handmaid’s Tale”, tweeted, “This makes me feel physically ill. It’s  abhorrent … The level of toxicity and malice and control he’s exerting on his own daughters (sic) life and bodily autonomy and privacy. I’m sick.” T.I. was then informed again that there are other ways to tear the hymen, such as riding a bike or horse, running on the playground, playing sports, etc. Furthermore, sometimes people can be born without a hymen entirely — so the presence or absence of this thin piece of mucosal tissue is not indicative of one’s virginity. Each person is different. Presented with this information, T.I. promptly responded, “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.” You can notice in T.I.’s language that he objectifies his daughter by saying “the hymen” and “my results,” not a single mention of his daughter or the control she should have over her own body. 

If virginity is not measured on a factual nor medical basis, what is it? First, virginity is strictly a heteronormative concept based on the first episode of vaginally penetrative sex, which excludes anyone who does not participate in heterosexual intercourse. It’s a social construct that was ultimately manifested to control women and to make them feel bad about being sexually active. This ideal is ingrained in religion and cultures around the world and is almost always harmful to women and girls. From the time we are young girls, we are told that if we do not “wait for the right man” or “save ourselves for marriage,” we are committing a sin, or we are ruined or we are not worthy. This certainly led to the patriarchal double standard where it’s perfectly fine, even encouraged, for boys to lose their virginity and gain sexual experience, but girls who are sexually active are considered damaged, ruined, used or slutty by the exact same standards. Why is something so different to everyone — this thin mucosal tissue that can be compared to an earlobe — so important in determining a young woman’s worth? 

T.I.’s behavior towards his daughter and her body is possessive, sickening and controlling. He is deeply invading her privacy by making her attend the gynecologist with him, but the fact that he also went on a podcast to talk about it showcases his gross sexism and misogyny toward women and, ultimately, his own daughter. T.I. is obsessed with saving his daughter, but from what? This idea of psychologically manipulating and ruining his daughter to “save” her from an evolutionarily and physically normal process is profoundly disconcerting. What’s even more frightening is the possible reaction when and if he learns that his daughter’s hymen is, for whatever reason, not intact. T.I.’s daughter is not his property, nor is any other human being. Young women are fully capable of making their own informed choices about their bodies and their sexuality and certainly do not need to have their sexualities or bodies policed. 

Brittany Bowman can be reached at babowm@umich.edu.