Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Father/Daughter Purity Ball

[Picture courtesy of the creepy site.]

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...


Anonymous said...

This insane that a father would even consider making his daughter feel ashamed of sex if she were to break these "vows". Also the Mention of "Daddy owns this virginal vulva" rituals before they get passed off to their new owner." So I suppose these fathers are reverting back to the old stages of "women as property"...Husbands and fathers "own" their daughter or wife. This is the 21st Century. Women have rights now. Very Informative blog...thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

some people still have morals. maybe you should go to church sometime instead of criticizing those who do, or those who have faith.

Ruth said...

I do need to point out that wherever these folk are getting a "female sexual desire/pleasure is evil" notion (if you are accurately interpeting it, which I'm not 100% sure about), it is emphatically NOT from the Bible, not even St Paul's admittedly idiosyncratic writings. Paul writes quite clearly that a husband's body belongs to his wife (as well as vice versa) in the sexual satisfaction sense and that he should not withhold sex - hardly something someone would write who thinks female desire is evil. Paul thought sex was a very powerful, ergo morally risky, drive. Not sure he was wrong there :-) He said the same kind of thing about the wish for money and material gain: would you disagree with that quite so strongly?

Anonymous said...

Ruth is correct. The concept that "sex is evil" coming from the Bible is grossly in error. Like Ruth, I don't know the origin of that false concept, perhaps from the Vicotrian chastity belt era or from sex-deprived monks & priests who take an unbiblical vow of celibacy. The Bible simply states that sex belongs within marriage between a man and a woman. Many have tried to claim that the Bible is ancient fiction. Wrong again. It is the most studied & critiqued book of all time, and if athiests & non-belivers could factually discredit it, they would. Instead, they throw up a smoke screen & resort to repeating misinformed generalizations. In addition, social decline, break-up of the family, increased crime rate, sexually transmitted diseases, etc, can all be tied to decline in morality including sex outside of marriage. Time for digby to spend less time criticizing and more time gettting informed. And yes, I'll be taking my 14 year-old daughter to a Purity Ball soon.

gerardian said...

In response to the most recent "anonymoius," I do believe Paul's concern for sexuality was that it would take time and energy away from preparing for the end of the world, which he believed was immanent. Also, the Bible does not, as is so often claimed state "simply" that sex belongs within marriage between a man and a woman. First of all, you use the singular... Solomon, David, Abraham, Jacob, are but a few examples of men who were married to more than one woman. Both Abraham and Isaac had sex with women not their wives, but slaves in their households. Our friendly Beginner is right that Old Testament rules regarding sexuality were mainly concerned with property rights. Check out ch 18-20 of Leviticus: one of the relationships not forbidden is sex between a father and his daughter. The point I wish to raise with all this is that biblical sexual ethics are very different from sexual ethics among most Americans (I don't presume to speak for the rest of the world) today.

Anonymous said...

Sick and sinister? Are you kidding? You are clearly very YOU have some kind of 'daddy' issues?

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KSparks said...

These ignorant critics are the ones who believe it is OK to have their teenage daughters "exercise their sexuality" and when they become pregnant, immediately rush out to have her kill the child in a Planned Parenthood Clinic. The Purity Ball is a loving commitment between a father (who is still involved in their daughter's life) and his daughter to abstain from a possibly life altering event that could have devastating results.

Anonymous said...

I think that before one puts words and thoughts into someone elses mouth, and interpet their intentions one should ask them their meaning and intentions. From what I understand this in a pledge a young woman enters in of her own volition. The dad part is not an exercise of his will over hers but rather a vow to protect her, honor her, respect her. Today there is way to little of that towards the women of the world. A simple look at the violence against women would show anyone that is a pendemic in the world. I ask anyone who has a daughter if they would rather see their daughters raped, beaten, and enslaved to a life of violence? Why is it that something that is meant to be good is turned around and turned into something that is bad?

Anonymous said...

Think about it, would it not be a better life for all, to behave as God instructed, through the Bible. than after you are dead find out you were wrong about God. Than to behave as you wish, die and find out there is a God. Eternity is, well, like forever.

Anonymous said...

It is really sad how some of you portray this event. this is a way for a father to step out and take his responsablilty and protect his daughter. Yes sex is ones own personal busness but if more fathers would pull there head out of there job and there golf and there football and put it on raising there children the worldnt be full of 12 and 13 year old having babys. i am a father of two little girls and have given up a job that paid alot of money but i was never home. my job now pays the bill and gives my kids what the need and that need is a father home to lead them and guide them and to protect them. This is a vow for the fathers not necessaraly for the daughters. Its a father vowing to his daughter to lead her and protect her. To live the life that he wonts her to not by telling her this is what she need to do but by showing her by living it himself. Little girls need there fathers protection and guidence because what they see in there father is what they will look for in a future husband. Any father would wont they daughter to look for a gentleman that treats her with respect and if her father is willing to put down his selfesness and put his kids first then that is what she will stive for in a man.

Anonymous said...

So sad your daughter will never know what it looks like for her father to submit to the will of Jesus! Take it from someone who knows what is like to have a liberal father....I wish he had been more interested in the plans God had for me! Instead I grew up making unnecessary mistakes while my other sister was sexually abused! So excuse me but there are some of us the crave the teachings of God! All I can say is shame on you! Shame on you!

camobel said...

Thanks for this post, quite helpful material.

Skipuendi Tasteless said...

No where in the vow does it say the Father takes ownership of the daughter's vagina. That's your own interpretation of it.

Abstinence is still the best way to avoid pregnancy (and abortion that goes with it) and STDs.