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The Christmas myth is centered around the notion of gift-giving at the purest and most exalted level. God so loved the world that he gave his only son and all that. Joseph so loved Mary that he married a pregnant single woman about to have the child whose father was reputedly not human but divine to save her from shame—you know the drill. And Mary so loved the Lord that she agreed to carry his child—he was going to save the world, after all—without giving up her virginity to anyone who was merely mortal.
All of which then gave birth to the notion that a woman’s virginity was the most precious thing about her, the most valuable gift she could give to her husband, whose intactness prior to marriage should be cherished and safeguarded at all costs. It was tied not just to her honor, but to that of her entire family. So, you know, your father could be a ruthless warlord chopping the heads off his rivals, and your brothers and uncles unscrupulous con artists shafting customers left and right, but heaven forbid you fall in love at 15 and kiss the boy in the village next door. That would be an incident of catastrophic proportions, destined to bring shame to your family for generations, all because you foolishly sacrificed honor for a silly kiss. And sadly, there are still communities around the world that cling to this antiquated belief, some barbaric enough to insist on reclaiming their family’s honor by putting the wayward (but otherwise perfectly normal) daughter or sister to death.
Mary has been held up for millennia as the perfect exemplar of womanhood. As the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton notes, “From a Christian/Catholic standpoint, the Blessed Virgin Mary remains the model for all woman at all times since the reality which she exemplifies is all-inclusive and transcends time and cultures. Mary is the perfected human being; in her women of all ages can see what it means to be a woman in communion with Christ. From her a woman of any cultural and social setting can learn that the fulfillment of feminine existence is not warranted by aspiring to become a copy of the masculine since such attempts always distort the female image and mission. Rather, Mary is the paradigm of a truly liberated woman, i.e. a woman who freely embraces her own calling and knows herself beloved by God and all generations. She is ‘a model of the ‘sequela Christi’, an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.’”
The goal, the Institute goes on to say, is that women should strive to emulate Mary. “Concretely this implies complete surrender in the form of a gift of self to God and others in virginal motherhood or motherly virginity depending on one’s state in life.”
This vision of womanhood, bathed as it is in celestial light, may seem appealing to many, but is, in reality, a dangerously backward mentality that subverts the notion of empowerment and agency to the rather nebulous “will of God,” which translates to a patriarchal figure of authority. No doubt theologians and believers will be all too happy to expound on how God has given us all free will, hence a woman can freely choose to remain pure and righteous, or squander her virginity and become a whore, that age-old saint or slut dichotomy. The consequences, according to this way of thinking, for prematurely and injudiciously offering your maidenhood to just any Tom, Dick or Harry, are dire and lasting, including being marked as “second-hand merchandise” no good man would want for his wife and the mother of his children.
And because this is a mentality grounded in double standards, naturally, a man was expected to accumulate as much sexual experience as he could, while a woman should have no other sexual partner in her life apart from her husband. Because the greatest gift she could give him is her virginity.
Why all the fuss over what’s nothing more than a membrane? Since Mary gave birth to the Messiah and miraculously remained a virgin thereafter, a woman’s purity has been equated with her morality; in other words, a woman’s integrity was totally dependent on her pussy.
In reality, the notion of virginity has been an effective, if cruel, tool used by the patriarchy to control (and objectify) women. As Angella d’Avignon writes in The Establishment, “Raising righteous daughters is no doubt generated as an act of care, but its trappings betray its origins — a narrative in which a woman or girl, however young (or old), is merely an extension of her father’s carriage.”
She goes on to say, “Historically, virginity was linked to controlling women’s bodies — through monitoring fertility or paternal ownership — and within this system, women’s bodies were (and are) presented as products for consumption, tools for labor, and a conduit for the continuity of a bloodline.”
Virginity’s value was, the author of Sex, Society and Medieval Women, scholar N.M. Heckel explained, to add in determining paternity because in olden times, “husbands needed some sort of assurance that the children borne by their wives were indeed of their blood, and taking a virgin wife was one way that a husband could increase those odds in his favor . . . Virginity’s monetary importance created a desire for ways to assure that a woman was indeed a virgin. Virgin brides generally came with higher dowries, making them more attractive to prospective grooms, and these prospective grooms, in return, were more likely to feel generous when it came to giving a return gift to the bride’s family. In order to help grooms ensure that the bride’s family was truthful about her ‘condition,’ many medical texts included descriptions of methods and processes that could be used to prove or disprove a woman’s chastity.”
At the end of the day, a woman shouldn’t be defined by who she has slept with, much less whom she “gave” her virginity to. And she should be able to attach whatever meaning she wishes to her virginity. If the man (or men) she’s sleeping with can’t deal with that, too bad.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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