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The moralistic notion of chastity till marriage July 8, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Feminism v Patriarchy, Religion, Society.
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It makes a lot of sense to discourage teenagers from having sex. After all, they have neither the financial capability nor the emotional maturity to deal with unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. But moralistic conservatives do not see this issue with such practical sensibilities. (If they did, they’d be all for comprehensive sex education programs – which not only keep teenagers from having sex, it also helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs in those who do.) Instead, conservatives tend to attach the notion of morality to premarital sex, self righteously assuming that they are in a position to judge the sexual practices of others. The emphasis on virginity and “saving yourself” till marriage as a virtue in itself is disturbing and distasteful in both the misogynistic expectations it places on women and the nasty historical origins of the practice.

 

A man who requires his wife to be a virgin

 A man who requires his bride to be a virgin is at the very best an insecure man who cannot handle comparison, or at the very worst a controlling possessive misogynist who felt the need to control his wife’s body and sexuality even before they met. Marriage is a pact for the future, not for the past. The need for loyalty and commitment within the present relationship does not necessitate the ridiculous assumption that you should have a say in the past choices of your significant other. That is simply a sign of possessiveness, insecurity, and a chauvinistic desire for the territorial ownership of women and their bodies.

 We only have to look to glaring examples of such men: those who explicitly seek mail order brides who can “prove” their virginities. Notions of “purity” and “innocence” are simply euphemisms for the obvious reality that these women are valued for their subservient, demure nature and sexual inexperience. With society’s obsession with virginity (especially equating virgin girls as desirable and non virgin girls as whores) we are creating misogynistic expectations for women and perpetuating the notion that marriage is an unequal relationship between a dominant male and a submissive virgin bride.

 That is not to say that men are immune to society’s virginity obsession. In Singapore at least, there is an almost equal societal expectation for both men and women to remain virgins till they get married. But this does nothing to ameliorate the problematic issues that will arise out of glorifying virginity and demonizing fornicators: the notion of marriage as the “ownership” of your spouse, the possessive control of your spouse’s past, and worst of all, the flawed belief that your status of virginity says anything about who you are. Whether conservatives like it or not, the truth is that having sex before marriage doesn’t make you morally repugnant, and being a virgin all your life doesn’t make you a saint. Character judgments based on virginity are simplistic, inaccurate, and frankly, rather lazy.

 

The nasty historical origins of “chastity till marriage”

 Way back before the advent of reliable birth control or paternity tests, requiring your future bride to be a virgin was a means to ensure that you do not end up handing over your land or property to someone else’s child. Before marriage, girls and their sexuality were in effect the property of their fathers, and upon marriage, this ownership would then be transferred to their husbands. We see evidence of such beliefs in the bible:

Deuteronomy:

 22:13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,

 22:14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:

 22:15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:

 22:16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;

 22:17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

 22:18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;

 22:19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.

 22:20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:

 22:21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

 Translation: If a man hates his wife, he can claim that she wasn’t a virgin when she was married. If her father can’t produce “the tokens of her virginity”, the woman will be stoned to death at the door of her father’s house by the men in her city. Thus it is clear that in such a culture, women were seen as property, and their virginity was supposed to be guaranteed to their husbands by their fathers.

 

Deuteronomy:

22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

 22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

 Translation: if a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, he must pay her father 50 shekels of silver and then marry her. From here we see that rape is not a crime against the woman, it is a crime against her father, because he is the one who owns her and her virginity.

 Though the examples I mentioned were from the bible, this misogynistic notion of women as property is by no means limited to religion. Confucian and African cultures also have practices involving virginity testing and proof of “deflowering” on the wedding night, where if it were discovered that the bride were not a virgin, her family would face considerable shame and the marriage could even be annulled. Under Anglo-Saxon law, rape law was a form of property law, whereby the rapist was punished by having to make compensation to the victim’s husband or her father, depending on who exercised ownership over her. In effect, rape was treated as an act of trespass on a woman’s body, which was male property.

 Today, such reasoning is not only archaic, it is simply sexist and offensive. Yet we still see similar cases made for the promotion of chastity until marriage, where the woman’s body and virginity is “reserved” for her future husband and rightful owner.

 But as long as we respect that women are people too, with the freedom to make their own choices, we cannot dictate one way or another whether and when a woman should have sex. A woman’s sexuality is of no one’s business but her own. To take it a step further, a person’s sexuality is of no one’s business but their own, and society’s obsession with chastity till marriage is simply a self righteous intrusion onto an individual’s personal choices.

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Comments»

1. AF - July 8, 2009

I agree with you 100% (or more if that were feasible). Society naturally requires certain standards of people – don’t murder, rape, steal and so on – but those are actions that are “anti social” and affect other’s freedoms. Once a girl (or a boy) reaches adulthood, how DARE these bloody people try to tell them how they should conduct their PERSONAL relationships! By all means (as you say) educate and explain, but DON’T indoctrinate!

But then, knowledge is power and bigots don’t like others to have power or knowledge, because they might think for themselves and disagree.

Go girl. You tell ’em! Great post!

2. laïcité - July 8, 2009

@AF

Thanks for your support! :) I completely agree with your point too… everytime any form of censorship of information is defended as an attempt to “protect” teenagers or even adults, it really is because of the fear that we would start to think for ourselves and question the status quo.

3. Sex And The Single Girl « Adam Frayle Blog - July 8, 2009

[…] This is a post that I came across by a young woman and it’s absolutely superb. To my mind, it pretty much says it all about the current moves by some of the diehards and bigots (particularly in the US) to try to put the rabbit back in the hat. Women have finally really discovered the true joy of sex and sexual liberation and attempts to indoctrinate them in daft, outdated and frankly insulting ideas about sexual chastity are, I hope, doomed – thank God! Please read the article here, it is so well worth your time… […]

4. Rob F - July 9, 2009

95% of Americans have premarital sex, and 77% of them have it before the age of 20. Clearly, trying to prevent people from having sex before marriage will be about as successful as trying to lose weight by legislatively amending the law of gravity.

And I agree that this obsession with virginity is misogynistic. I suspect that the reason social consies will continue to ignore the failure of their efforts because unwanted pregnancy and STD’s will punish the (mostly women,) for having sex. Slut shaming, indeed.

5. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 9 Jul 2009 - July 9, 2009

[…] Discourse – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: Does proposed property tax law make sense??? – Laïcité: The moralistic notion of chastity till marriage – Irreligious: Did our brains create God? (Part Three) – Singaporean Skeptic: Singapore regressing […]

6. Serene - July 9, 2009

Aye aye! I couldn’t have said it better.

7. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 28 - July 11, 2009

[…] Daily Discourse – Civic Advocator: Politics of Fear – this lush garden within: Disgusting Singaporeans on Stomp – Singapore Social Activist: Vizkikal Season 3 Episode 1 – Sgpolitics.net: PAP MP Charles Chong hides behind K. Shanmugam’s pants – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: Anti-Singapore articles in Malaysiakini… – The Wayang Party: Are locals shunning jobs at Tze Char stalls? – Chemical Generation Singapore: NEWater and New Security – Hear Ye! Hear Ye!: From iron fist to velvet gloves to boxing gloves – TOC: Singapore to have one of the highest defence budget in the world in 2009 – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: Does proposed property tax law make sense??? – Laïcité: The moralistic notion of chastity till marriage […]

8. Some good blog posts « No To Rape - July 14, 2009

[…] Laicite makes insightful observations on the historical norms supporting marital immunity for rape: […]


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