Monday, April 16, 2007

The Right to Choose?

In Sunday's Book section of the Washington Post, I found a one-page write-up called called "Virgin Territory: Is virginity a real condition or was it invented to control women and their sexuality?" The author is Hanne Blank and her non-fiction (?) novel is entitled Virgin: The Untouched History. I totally love the title; I give it high marks off the bat.

I read the review and have a vague idea of the ideas to be presented and perhaps dispensed with, all leading up to accusations of men controlling women's sexuality for ... some reason that mostly eludes me.

Virginity, in particular, is an interesting cultural, if not physiologic, phyenomenon. I think I'm glad I "came of age" prior to the celibacy comittments that seemed ubiquitous a decade, 15 years ago. Without one, I never even considered any physical contact, you know, below anyone's waist, until well into my college years. Not to say I didn't THINK about it, it was just never even on the long list of possibilities for me. I had heard, and took to heart, my parents' messages about the risks of pregnancy and parenthood limiting the opportunities my life might prsent. If sex might mean no college, no career then it wasn't in the game plan.

So I arrived at college and immediately felt like a big celibate dork, even at a conservative, Southern, mostly debutante womens' only college. Ah, well, I've no regrets about that. The college or the virginity...well, maybe the school.

In recent history, I think the notion of virginity until marriage (imposed on women only, we all know) might actually have had some value. I think its a bad idea for anyone, male or female, to be indiscriminate sexually. Of course, in the early and middle parts of just the last century, women were married at 12, 13, 16, 18 at the most...they never had to struggle for very long with libido or hormones; hell they mostly had babies before sex drives. In a short time we've become a culture of mid-20's, early 30's marriages. I know it used to really piss off my grandfather when I'd point that out. Had he met my grandmother at 24 years of age, would he have really wanted to wait out a 2 year courtship? I asked my devoutly Nazarene grandmother once how she felt about her sex life at 28---did she consider it optional? A nice "perk" of wedded life? A duty to her husband? The woman giggled; clearly not.

Of course, there's the really interesting solution to that issue which is the miraculous falling-in-love at first sight, short courtship, take those pants off kind of deal... perhaps not the best approach to determining life-long compatibility, eh? Life-long decisions fueled by libidnous fire are very often poor ones. The often-touted 50% divorce rate in this country is largely driven by young couples marrying following very brief courtships. Whether that race to the alter is all about guilt-free sex is debatable but I'll be it plays out more often than it needs to. Yes, Dad, I know you and Mom married at 17/18 and are approaching the 50-year mark. There are exceptions and I'm glad to count you all among them.

So I think I'm a teeny bit interested in her book. I'd like to know about the sociologic origins of virginity. But I don't think that the idea of virginity, as I was raised to know it, has much of a role these days. I think our young people need to understand about their bodies, about how bodies will be ready for all kinds of things before their heads or hearts are and that fundamentally, in adolescence, the drive for physical contact is quite different for males and females and hardly any of them have any awareness of that. I don't think that most 16-year old boys can know how the chase and conquest might satisfy their feelings of "love" for a particular female just as I don't think young women appreciate that a man who wants to be intimate might only want that for a limited time or that they are often trading physical intimacy for emotional connection.

I'm not someone who thinks its a particularly good idea to agree to marry someone until you know something about them sexually. The range of behavior is rather broad and I'd sure as hell not like to get any surprises on my honeymoon, you know? A great sex life is obtained by mutual effort, sure, but things like fetishes and stuff you kind of need to know up front.

You know, a couple, five years ago or so, there was a lot of talk of state-level legislation being introduced to make it more difficult for divorces to be granted. Lots of state-mandated counselling, class work, bullshit. How about we make it more challenging to get a freakin' marriage license, right? How about we address problems before they become unwieldy?

I hate that we don't see or hear what I think are the meaningful messages about pre-marital sex. Personally I think those messages are best given and received between trusted family members but I'm laughing right now thinking of a recent South Park episode where the parents were outraged that the kids had questions that the school hadn't addressed.... And I'm sure I've embarassed my nieces and nephews more than once with unsolicited information...

Other Choices?
So I've spent some time thinking about myths of choice for women. Clearly there's a huge divide in this Country, and many others, over the right of women to end unwanted pregnancies---some 30 years after Roe v. Wade gave the constitutional answer.

Then there's the particular myth I've struggled with for several years which was given to us by the women's movement of the 60's and 70's. You can have it all, baby girl. You can have a husband, a family, and a career equal to those of men. I've said here before: perhaps its true if the woman doesn't allow herself to think she can have all those things at once. The workplace isn't ready to accomodate all the needs of a working mother---at least not a woman with more than one child. The needs are too great in our current work culture. I've got to tell you, this myth is a killer. I approached the possibility with more determination, more skills, more resources than most women. I was the one who suffered for it. My kids, the house, the employer, they did well enough. But not me.

I think women contribute greatly to the workforce. They are entitled to equal pay for equal work as their male counterparts; these are good objectives of the feminist movement and they've not yet been fully realized but progress is certainly being made. I bristle mostly at the rhetoric of the Movement that implies an obligation to do both, homemaker and professional, simultaneously. The implication that choosing otherwise minimizes the role of either and slows the work of the Movement.

I will say that I think only women can be Mothers and when possible, its best for a child to have both a Mom and a Dad. And I think that being a mother or father is the greatest work of anyone's life. I'd never disregard the important contributions a father makes in his childrens' lives. Given that our working culture has not completely shifted to accomodate the needs of working parents and we still live in this world where men are expected, even required, to support the family from outside the home, it mostly still makes sense for Mommies to stay home if its economically feasible. And that's a different rant entirely.

Good TV
I can't believe I didn't post last week about the return of The Sopranos and Entourage. Sigh. I'm so happy to have my friends back for Sunday evenings. I'm avoiding reading anything about what insiders know of the ending of The Sopranos 'cuz its just so much fun to speculate, to go along on the ride. But I'm thinkin' Tony's gonna lose his shit all together, take care of some ugly business and ride off into the sunset. I will say I was nearly as sad when Johnny Sacrimoni died tonight as when Adrienne was bumped off.


Special K said...

I read an interesting review about the virgin book too (
as I recall, it said that virginity began to be used as a tool of oppression over women because it was closely tied to (wait for it) property and inheritance (re: $$$) and being sure one's offspring were really... one's. Apparently she tries to cover the whole "history" of virginity, including today's bizarre "Chastity Balls" (great name!) and those ridiculous (and worthless) pledges people are trying to get (girl) teenagers to make all the time. If you read it, let me know...

Re: "Having it all", I've recently read some interesting stuff by some feminists that the goal of "having it all" has been assigned to them, by the media and sometimes general society, but it is not, in fact, a goal of the feminist movement. In my experience, it seems like most feminists are very sympathetic to how extremely difficult it is to work outside the home and also maintain a home. From whom are you hearing the rhetoric that women should easily handle careers and family? (BTW, my source book is a really great read called Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future)

Lyman said...

I hate that Tony might die or go to prison at the end of it all. I want to see him go ape shit all over the New York guys and take over as well.