As I've been dog-paddling around the liberal end of the blogging pool lately(you know it's the deep end, of course), I've come across numerous postings about the so-called Father/Daughter Purity Ball held in South Dakota. Apparently this originally aired on a NOW special on PBS. Essentially what these are is a formal father/daughter dance, where the father dresses up in a tuxedo and the daughter, aged 7-11 years, wears a beautiful ball gown and together they party the night away in style. At this point, I have no problem with the exercise. I would be charmed to attend a father/daughter formal with one of my girls. I think it would be a nice way to spend some future quality time with the young chicas, who already are growing up too quickly.
However, the dance is really only a facade for something much more sinister, sneaky and downright creepy. See these dances have a purpose (from Digby):
You have to see it to believe it. They are all dressed up like prom goers, the dads in tuxes and the daughters in evening gowns looking all grown up. They dance, they laugh, they giggle. And then father and daughter stand up, holding each others hands, staring into each others' eyes and the girls make these vows as if in a wedding ceremony.
So exactly what are they pledging, you ask?
I pledge to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.
And this is what Daddy says in turn:
I, (daughter's name)'s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.
This is not a joke; check out the link to Digby and you can see some actual pictures of the event!
This whole sick charade is nothing more than a further attempt by these conservative Christian fathers to gather the reigns of their daughter's lives and exercise a level of control that they have no business possessing. I have so many problems with this entire affair that I almost don't know where to begin. Oh...wait...yes I do. One look at the pictures of my beloved Livi and Cece and I know EXACTLY how I feel about this debacle.
First of all, this complete fetishizing of female virginity by conservatives is absurd. One thing I've noticed from my years following politics is that conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have a grossly unhealthy negative obsession with sexuality. Much of it comes from the Bible, I realize; the apostle Paul wrote some very kooky things about sexuality in several of his epistles. Of course, the overriding theme is that women must avoid sex at all costs unless married, and even then should never sin so much as to actually enjoy it for non-reproductive reasons. Typical claptrap one would expect from an ancient text written by prominent men in a patriarchal society.
However, a good chunk of the obsessive conservative condemnation of female sexuality also seems to come from a very peculiar brand of historical revisionism. There is this persistent conservative myth of the "virtuous young lady", chastely saving herself for her handsome prince of a husband. This seems to be accompanied by an equally persistent myth that somehow female sexuality is a liberal feminist invention of the 1960's. If only, the conservatives think, we could return to that idyllic time, when girls were chaste and demure, a huge chunk of our family social problems could be solved. That this female stereotype never really existed (or, if she did, in very limited quantity) has no bearing on the conservative longing for it. The ancient role of women as property, a woman belonging to her husband and a daughter belonging to her father, has manifested itself in modern America as a moral belief that female sexuality is sinful and taboo. Marriage restrictions on sex were always about property rights in the past; now they're about moral imperatives. It's another ill born of taking ancient teachings, much of it from the Bible again, and stripping away all context in search of moral laws. It's an attempt to make patriarchy morally justifiable.
Amanda at Pandagon puts in wonderfully stark terms exactly what this sort of patriarchal purity pledge is intended to convey:
It used to be enough for patriarchs to demonstrate their symbolic ownership of their daughters by the whole giving away thing at weddings. I suppose that so many women like me are out there not being given, taken, purchased or laid claim to in any way that in order to restore the karmic balance, these poor girls have go through a series [of] "Daddy owns this virginal vulva" rituals before they get passed off to their new owner.
And make no mistake, this is about daughters - these are father/daughter purity balls where the father, unable to lay claim to his actual flesh and blood through the way he laid claim to his other female property, his wife, instead has an elaborate ritual where he extracts a promise from her that her vagina is his until he sells it [as] she marries someone he presumably approves of.
These Father/Daughter Purity Balls ride off into the far sunset of ridiculousness already begun by the abstinence-only crowd. They've gone beyond demonizing sex (though they certainly continue to do that) into a sort of extra-marital religious sacrament, which these young girls, likely having a poor understanding already of that to which they are agreeing, are completely hoodwinked. I suggest a poor understanding on the part of the young girls because I find it very hard to believe that any parents willing to engage in such theatrics as these balls are giving their daughters an A+ education in human sexuality. And I say they're being hoodwinked because, in spite of the flowery language and deceptive feints at father/daughter bonding, these pledges really have little to do with what's best for the daughter and everything to do with insecure fathers attempting to control the future personal lives of their pre-pubescent daughters.
Now, I'm not advocating that teenage girls or boys engage in frivolous sex. There are very real consequences to sex, both emotionally and physically, and its not something that should just be dismissed casually. I fully intend, as embarrassing as my traditional Midwestern side will find it, to teach my girls about responsible sexual behavior. There has to be a firm grounding for any adolescents in the practical and realistic aspects of sexuality, which this abstinence-only cultism fails to address in any way. Some people, myself included, do remain virgins until they are adults. However, I can adamantly state on my own behalf that it certainly wasn't out of any moral fortitude as much as lack of opportunity and fear of facing my parents with a pregnant girlfriend.
I, like any parent, would love to see my daughters only share their intimate selves one day with the man (or, possibly, the woman) who becomes their life-long love, mainly because I don't want them to ever experience the emotional pain of a relationship gone wrong. Unfortunately, I can't live their bad days for them, and they'll probably have some heartbreak on a few of those days. So be it. My daughters' sexuality is their's, not mine, and while I will teach and encourage responsible behavior, I certainly will never take ownership of something that belongs only to them.
That's the real essence of these Purity Balls: that a girl's sexuality belongs not to her, but to her father, until such time as a suitable substitute for that father can be found (at his discretion, of course). It's about controlling the lives of their daughters down to the most minute detail, ensconced in their antiquated beliefs about female sexuality. I pity these young girls, who've been led to believe that their sexuality is both evil and their most identifying characteristic. I shudder to imagine what that does to the psyche of these young ladies, especially when they reach an age where they more clearly understand what it is to be a sexual being. What feelings of discomfort or even revulsion they'll harbor for the fathers who pledged ownership of these girls' sexuality I can only imagine.
One last aspect of this that makes it even more crass and creepy is the cottage industry popping up around it. More from Digby:
The Heart to
Heart program, created by jeweler Joe Costello, differs from other abstinence
programs in some important, unique ways.
First, the "key to
her heart." This beautiful heart has a smaller heart in the front. Behind that
heart is a keyhole. When making the covenant with your daughter, you explain
that the covenant is between her, you and God. Since God has placed her in your
care as a parent, you and only you can hold the "key to her heart."
Again, this is taking something that could be beautiful, a gift from a father to his daughter, and turning into a perverse obsessing over a young girl's future sexual behavior, all wrapped up in a nifty felt box. Furthermore:
You then explain to the child that you will hold the key to her precious heart until the day of her wedding. On that day, you will give her away like at all weddings, BUT in doing so you will also "give away" the key to her heart to her now husband. The key and lock are actually functional and your son-in-law will place the key in the heart to open it.
Even more repulsive! It's not enough for these insecure, sex-obsessed conservative fathers to control their own daughter's sexuality. They must also be certain that their daughters NEVER have any control over it themselves. Only the introduction of a future son-in-law, one father-approved to take over ownership of his chattel, can "unlock the key to her heart". It's very telling that the jewelry piece representing this pledge is a lock and key. The girl's status in the arrangement is very clear. And it's obviously not her "heart" the father is concerned with...
As a final spiteful poke at these patriarchal religious nutters, I have to remark that this entire ceremony and ideology is just infused with an incestuous creepiness. Any father so concerned about his daughter's future sex life that he's requiring oaths and wearing of symbols of bondage needs to seek some professional help. Probably one that uses medical texts instead of religious ones...