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Nov 17, 2011
by Bianca Laureano
There’s always talk about virginity, at least it seems that way. The idea of virginity and who is a virgin has been discussed for generations. It probably will continue for more generations after today. Earlier last week Samantha wrote about virginity in the article “Myths About Virginity in Glee’s ‘First Time’” and highlights 4 myths about virginity connected to the show. One of my homegirls, Ellen, also wrote about virginity focused primarily among queer youth and answered questions such as “how does a gay or lesbian person ‘lose’ their virginity?” and also discusses Kurt “losing” his virginity on Glee.
I greatly appreciate all of these posts because I stopped watching Glee seasons ago. This was around the time they were just not getting a lot of things right for me as a viewer. Like many folks, I decided to spend my time not working on shows that are actually entertaining and not enraging. Nonetheless, I still find these examples important to know about and to possibly use as opportunities to start conversations.
So this post is also about virginity. It’s about virginity because I went to see an advanced screening of the film Immortals (in 3D) which was the highest grossing film this weekend bringing an estimated $68 million worldwide. Now, I admit that I would not have seen this film had I had to pay for it, you can read my full review here, but there were very interesting conversations around virginity represented that got me thinking for today’s post.
The narrative of virginity in the film were connected to the gift of seeing the future that the Oracle had (played by Freida Pinto) who is protected by three High Priestesses of various ethnic backgrounds throughout the film. The High Priestesses are there to deter those who wish to harm the Oracle and confuse them to which woman is the actual Oracle. Now, we are expected to believe the reason she has this gift is because she is touched by the gods and that it is only hers until she no longer is a virgin.
Yes, we’ve heard this story before. Lots of pressure on a woman and her virginity. What I did not expect was the Oracle to decide to give up her gift (seeing the future) and thus have sex. She decided that the pressure of seeing the world through other people’s eyes was too much. She wanted to see the world through her own eyes. As a result she decided to have penetrative vaginal intercourse, or so we are lead to believe.
What strikes me as interesting was this connection of responsibility and pressure connected to virginity. Isn’t that the truth?! There are so many ways that young women, especially young women of Color’s, virginity is connected to their being honorable, pure, good, and eventually being gifted with a relationship (often with someone of another gender), support, and everlasting love. It’s very much a constructed message directed mainly at young women. There are also many ways we and society, judge youth who engage in sexual activities and assume they are not aware of what they are doing. Sometimes they are often asked “why” they would want to engage in such activities. I’m not sure many folks would be ready to hear all the answers. Often, I find, we say “I don’t know” because it’s the closest thing we have to understanding what self-determination feels and sounds like.
So what if we looked at virginity from a different lens. From the lens of getting rid of pressure to be pure and honorable, desiring to have control over one’s life versus doing what others tell people to do. I’m basically talking about agency and self-determination here. If we looked at virginity and the choices some young people make in no longer maintaining/claiming/holding onto their virginity as a form of self-determination how may the messaging and work we do change and shift? What new challenges may we encounter? Who will be excluded from this approach (i.e. people who do not have a choice to maintain/claim/hold onto their virginity because of sexual abuse, rape, child marriage, etc.)?
I’ve thought about this topic for a very long time. How virginity is connected to a sense of morality and decency. My personal conclusion is that a lot of our understanding and ideas about virginity are connected to conquest and colonization. Some books that have helped me think more about this topic include Dr. Eileen Suarez-Findaly’s Imposing Decency: The Politics of Imposing Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico 1870-1920, and Hanne Blank’s Virgin: The Untouched History. When I think about how complex virginity is, that is when I begin to understand we cannot just have one definition, one response, one reaction, and one right way.