Thursday, February 22, 2007

Maidenhead revisited

Continuing our dialogue on whether it is right to promote virginity (or — as I prefer — chastity) more to young women than to young men, Elizabeth Kantor begins her response to my "Women on the virgin" post by arguing that men and women experience different kinds of fallout from premarital sex.

It is precisely because of these differences, she says, that chastity should not be taught the same way to everyone — regardless of modern ideals of equality of the sexes. "Has the belief that men and women are essentially the same been a great support and encouragement for chastity?" she asks.

No argument there; different sexes call for different approaches. I believe it is possible to have equality without sameness, so I don't see why one would need to teach chastity — let alone math — the exact same way to men and women, providing the end results are the same.

But Elizabeth's not talking merely about teaching chastity in different ways. She believes in elevating female virginity above male virginity as the ideal expression of chastity:

Why shouldn't a young woman appreciate the fact that she has a bodily integrity that's as yet unbreached, and decide it's important to her to maintain that integrity?

That's a very old-fashioned way of talking, but I think it's truer than most of what we hear on this subject today.

A special concern for female virginity was a crucial part of a widespread attitude of respect for men and women's very different qualities, which gave individual men and women support for better choices.

I'm for bringing it back.
 [Full post]
Something about that reference to "a bodily integrity that's as yet unbreached" awakens my inner Amanda Marcotte.

Marcotte, I'm certain, would attack such a philosophy as hymen-centric [link contains obscene language]. What disturbs me is that she would be right.

I'm having a hard time putting this into words, because I respect where Elizabeth is coming from, but there is something very discomfiting for me about a philosophy of chastity that is based upon women keeping their hymen. This is exactly what I have been trying to counter in writing The Thrill of the Chaste — the idea that technical virginity is the same as chastity, or that only virgins can be chaste. (As St. Francis de Sales has noted, St. Mary Magdalene was no virgin, but, once she began to live a holy life, she joined the virgins who followed after the Virgin Mary and was no less chaste than them.)

There are women who, through no fault of their own — tampons, horseback riding, falling halfway off a stage at a Jewish summer camp in Bruceville, Texas, in 1978 — have no hymen. Is their "bodily integrity" less pure?

If the answer is no — that bodily integrity is based on chastity and not connective tissue — then why is it a "special concern" for women and not for men?

What men do with their bodies affects their integrity every bit as much as what women do. Please, let's leave the hymen talk to the Marcottes of this world (who, with due respect to Elizabeth, do it so much more colorfully than either she or I can) and encourage everyone, men and women, to understand the true, nontechnical meaning of chastity.


UPDATE: Elizabeth has posted a thoughtful response. She writes that she doesn't "think it's quite accurate" for me to write that she believes "in elevating female virginity above male virginity as the ideal expression of chastity." I apologize for mischaracterizing her views. What had confused me was her using examples of only female virginity when discussing her ideals. At any rate, I greatly appreciate her engaging in this discussion with me and will let her latest post be the last word. I believe she and I agree on core values; any disagreements we may have are in the area of emphasis.