One of my female friends recently shared Lindy West’s article on Jezebel, “Female ‘Purity’ is Bullshit.” To her credit, she admitted that it was not a perfect article, but evidently, something about the piece resonated with her. It resonated with me, too, but perhaps in a different way.
Beneath all the requisite cussing and feminist outrage, it is clear that Ms. West is on to something: the odious double standard that exists in modern society vis-à-vis sexual purity on the part of men and women. West introduces the catalyst for her article, an apparently chauvinistic piece (though the link does not seem to work any longer):
I came across two things today that hurt to read. The first was a dumb collection of dumb shit written by a dummy, entitled “Why Good Girls Have Become As Extinct As Unicorns” (NSFW). In it, the anonymous male author explains that modern women are disgusting sluts who deserve to be taken advantage of, so if you manage to find a “good girl” (ideally by grooming her from kindergarten onward), you should legally cleave to her and imprison her in your bungalow posthaste before some other dude snatches up “your” prize. You can always cheat on her later when she gets “boring,” which she definitely will, because she’s not a person, she’s just a vagina. This is “the mindset of men in the 21st century.” Deal with it, ladies.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that there is a lot of truth in that last bit. For whatever reason, we have accepted the idea that a man’s sexual prowess is a badge of honor while a woman’s is a scarlet letter. This simply won’t do, but not for the reasons Ms. West assumes. Her “comprehensive look at female purity and why it is bullshit” is rather, well… uncomprehensive, actually.
You Can Tell Something Is Bullshit If All of the Justifications for It Are Bullshit
Okay, guy, so why do you feel like you want/need/deserve to settle down with a “pure” woman? I’m genuinely listening.
West’s hypothetical conversation with your average Joe leans heavily on the physical aspect of things, though she does acknowledge his vague desire for certain character traits as well (though not without taking a random jab at southern, conservative Christians in the process). In the end, she unearths the man’s candid motivations:
“No! I just mean that I struggle with the same powerlessness and insecurity that all human beings do, so as a coping mechanism I take advantage of our culture’s patriarchal power structure and exorcize my feelings of worthlessness by perpetuating shame-based proprietary attitudes over women’s bodies. Basically I’m obsessed with controlling women’s lives because I can’t control my own.”
Now it’s my turn to call bullshit on this one.
If I were attracted to a girl, I think it is fair to allow me a little concern over her sexual history, not because of any stupid reasons about stretched out vaginas or sluts being gross. God help me if I ever make such a poor argument! No, it is fair that a man be concerned about a woman’s past for the same reason that she ought to be concerned about his: as it is unjust to consign all promiscuous women to the trashbin of “slut,” so is it equally unjust to brand all promiscuous men as “pigs.” Both are human beings with inherent dignity not contingent upon their sexuality.
As a man, I can’t deny that the thought of all those other men’s genitals inside my wife does cause me a certain visceral reaction, but that is merely my base nature protesting. Even a philosopher cannot spend his entire life in the abstract, so I’ll beg your indulgence for such a passing thought. Surely, this is not limited to the male psyche as there must be women out there who feel the same way about their husband’s body.
Even if men tend toward the physical and women toward the emotional, though, we are all physical and spiritual beings, and my concerns lie more in the realm of character. A person’s dignity may be independent of his sexual activity, but it is true that our physical actions can either affirm or deny that dignity. To put it another way, if you dressed up like a fool and started capering around on the sidewalk downtown, I’m not going to crucify you because you are still a human being with an inherent dignity that I must still respect, and yet your behavior cannot help but tell me something about your character. What you do without reflects what you are within. It is you who obscure your own dignity by acting in such an undignified manner, even if your dignity still remains within.
And so it goes with all other actions, especially with regards to sexuality.
Of course, I suppose if, like one of my coworkers, sex is as passé to you as shaking someone’s hand and holds no metaphysical component, then none of that should really matter. But for me, anyway, it’s about more than just atoms rubbing against each other; for me, that friction results in the spark of the transcendent.
Men Are Lying
Ms. West then asserts,
Men can’t actually care whether or not women are “pure,” because there is no way for “purity” to be verified. It’s just not a real thing, and chasing some phantom virtue for your entire life is a great way to ensure that you waste your goddamn life. By Professor Unicorn’s own admission, above, even if you claim to be “pure” he will probably just assume you’re lying, and even if you can somehow prove your purity he will get bored with you eventually anyway, because boner. This entire “conversation” is just an effort to rig a system in which men get to determine female worthlessness no matter the input. There is nothing you can do to be pure. Meanwhile, they get to do literally whatever they want with anyone, to anyone, at any time. The double standard is so blatant it’s almost too boring to point out.
I feel your pain, Ms. West, I really do. This man, at least, isn’t lying when he says that he has experienced the same frustration. In our culture where men are expected to be sexually experienced, how many girls do you think will believe me if I tell them that I have reserved my virginity for them? How do I know that a girl won’t get bored with me because I’m not as “experienced” as she is?
However, I have to disagree with the idea that purity is “just not a real thing” or that “there is no way for ‘purity’ to be verified.” Again, let us move above the realm of the physical and consider that, perhaps, purity is a disposition instead of a physical state. True, we may not be able to “prove” purity, but this attitude is reflective of the modern obsession with scientism. At the risk of sounding New Agey and overly sentimental, I believe that a discerning person can tell when he comes in contact with the divine, and what is purity but the presence of God living in someone’s soul? As a Catholic who takes Jesus at his word (or at least tries very hard to), I believe him when he says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
I know Ms. West would likely interpret such a passage as typically chauvinistic and patriarchal, but I apply this standard just as much to myself as I do to women: “3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Watch this video, and tell me that we can’t know when someone radiates purity.
Women’s Unhealthy Choices Are Nobody’s Fucking Business
Everyone makes unhealthy choices sometimes.
Life is long and complex.
Ain’t that the truth?
Everyone has sex with partners they regret, and strays out of their comfort zone for the wrong reasons, and enters into self-destructive relationships with the best intentions. But those choices are unhealthy for the person making them, not for anyone else.
Er, not quite. At least personally speaking, at this moment in time, I do not fall into the category of “everybody.” And as convenient as it would be if the fallout of our own errors were limited to ourselves, this simply isn’t true. It’s a blunt analogy, I’ll admit, but the terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers engaged in “self-destructive” behavior that had serious consequences for thousands of other people. We would like our own sexual mistakes to be limited to ourselves, but that pain you were feeling earlier about the double standard? That’s proof right there that our decisions to have sex have consequences for our future sexual partners, too.
And those choices have no bearing whatsoever on anyone’s worth as a human being. Sometimes perspective, born out of pain, can actually make life richer. Your good choices are yours and your bad choices are yours too.
Ok, now you’re back on track! O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem (O happy fault which merited for us so great a redeemer)! And this is the beauty of the God I know, in that he has the power to take even our sins and to pull some greater good from them.
So, Ladies (and Gentlemen!)…
I can wholeheartedly agree when West says,
Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital.
And I offer my most sincere apologies for the behavior of so many men when I hear stories like this,
I got catcalled outside the coffee shop in the middle of writing this article—my brain mired in thoughts about purity and sexualization and objectification. A dude drove by in a car, leaned out the window, and yelled “EXCELLEEEEEENT!” (I will concede that it’s possible he just mistook me for Rufus.) So what is it—am I supposed to be modest and pure, or do I become a sexual commodity as soon as I step outside in a belted muumuu and janky flip-flops? Well, the two aren’t nearly as incongruous as they appear. A catcall is entirely about reminding you that you are not yours. The purity myth is entirely about reminding you that you are not yours. The fetishization of female purity in a world where catcalls are an acceptable form of communication telegraphs one thing very clearly:
“Women, stop sexualizing yourselves—that’s our job, and you’re taking all the fun out of it.”
Why a man would conduct himself promiscuously and then demand continence from his future wife, I will never be able to understand; I can only speak for myself, but I am a servant of Christ and Mary, and I hope (not expect or demand) that my future wife will have held herself to the same standard to which I hold myself. And if she hasn’t, then I pray for the grace to be able to take the log out of my own eye, since God knows my soul is not always pure, even if my body remains untouched.
Ms. West rightly senses that something has gone amiss in our culture, but she throws in the proverbial towel and concludes that women should be able to conduct themselves just as promiscuously as men and that purity is a pie-in-the-sky fairytale that should be ignored.
I, on the other hand, propose that the street runs both ways.
Gentlemen, I’ll leave you with some advice from St. Josemaria Escriva. “There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.”
Ladies, there are still unicorns and shining knights out there. God knows I’m trying, and I’ll keep fighting. I hope, instead of “[fucking] all of it” like Ms. West advises, that you’ll keep fighting, too.