Tag Archives: virginity

Virginity, Violence and Male Entitlement

31 May

I’ve seen a number of articles written this week by men – nice, well-intentioned, feminist men, I’m sure – about how they empathize with Elliot Rodgers.

Oh, of course they’re disgusted by his actions and of course they think he was a terrible excuse for a human being, but, well, on some level they get it. Because they know what it’s like to be a lonely dude who feels isolated and unloved. They know what it’s like to want female attention but not know how to get it. They know what it’s like to be embarrassed and ashamed at finding yourself still a virgin at the age of twenty two. So while they condemn his actions, they can’t help but somehow feel a little bit sorry for him.

I can find it in my heart to feel many things, but being sorry for Elliot Rodgers will never be one of them.

I feel sorry for his victims, whose lives ended because of a misogynistic asshole’s wet dream of “retribution.”

I feel sorry for the victims’ friends and families, who have to live with their loss every day.

I feel sorry for Elliot’s family, because of the guilt and shame and sorrow I’m sure they’re experiencing.

I feel sorry for the staff and students at UCSB, who will no doubt struggle to feel safe on their campus after this horrible event.

I feel sorry for all the women everywhere who are reminded on a daily basis how little value their lives have in the eyes of so many men.

I can even manage to feel sorry for the men who empathize with Elliot, because I’m sure that recognizing that part of yourself is difficult and frightening.

I cannot, however, feel sorry for Elliot himself. I don’t especially care how sad and lonely he was. I can’t find it in me to feel badly that women rejected him over and over. I definitely don’t have time for people who seem to think that all of this could have been prevented if only Elliot had gotten laid.

I was a virgin when I was twenty two, by which I mean I’d never had penetrative sex with a man (or any kind of sex with anyone, to be honest). And yes, I believe that virginity is a social construct and not an actual thing, but at the time it was very real to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my virginity, and I definitely felt unwanted, undesirable and unattractive. To make things even worse, there was (and continues to be) this persisten myth that any woman can have sex whenever she wants, because all men are animals and will fuck anything they can. But they didn’t want to fuck me.

And you know what? Literally at no time ever did I think, gee, I should go on a killing spree.

I never felt entitled to men’s bodies just because I wanted them.

I never blamed all men everywhere for my inability to get it on.

Never. Not once.

And while I understand that there is more social pressure for boys to be sexually active than there is for girls, that doesn’t mean that girls experience any kind of expectations surrounding their sexual initiation. To be honest, being a twenty two year old virgin made me feel like a freak – no one else I knew was as inexperienced as I was, and the older I got, the harder it became to admit to my peers that I’d never even seen a guy’s junk, much less done anything with it. By the time I got to university, whenever I told people that I’d never had sex, they gave me the once-over, like, what is wrong with you.  I worried that I had some kind of sell-by date, like there was an age that I would hit when no one would want to touch my virginal self with a ten foot pole. I just wanted to get the damn thing over with already so that I could get on with the rest of my life.

But I never considered blaming all men everywhere for my problems.

See, the difference is that I didn’t feel like sex was something that men owed me. I didn’t believe that other women, the women who dated the people with whom I was madly, hopelessly in love, were unfairly co-opting something that was rightfully mine. I didn’t think that being nice to men meant that I was entitled to date them. I was miserable and lonely, but I didn’t try to pin the blame for that loneliness on anyone else, let alone an entire gender.

The problem with all of the talk surrounding how nerdy and awkward Elliot was as a teenager and how he just didn’t have anyone to tell him that sex isn’t all that important or that things would get better is that these discussions minimize the role misogyny and male entitlement played in this tragedy. Elliot didn’t murder six people because he was too shy to strike up a conversation with a woman; he murdered them because he felt that he deserved unlimited access to women’s bodies and if he couldn’t have that then by god he was going to kill those women and the men who dated them. This is a man who had fantasies about putting all women in concentration camps and slowly starving them to death. This wasn’t about his virginity – although I’m sure that played a part in what happened – it was about his belief that women owed him sex just because he was a man.

Yes, the idea that being sexually active is directly tied to a man’s masculinity is toxic. Yes, this is a hard thing for men to live with. Yes, being a twenty two year old virgin (unless you’re doing so by choice) will impact your self-esteem. But Elliot Rodger didn’t go on a killing spree because he couldn’t get laid – he did so because he was infuriated that he wasn’t being given the attention and respect that he felt he deserved.

I know that we need to talk about toxic masculinity and the ways that it hurts men. That is something that I feel incredibly passionate about. But right now I’m not ready to have that discussion, or at least not framed around some kind of empathy with how desperate and lonely and confused Elliot Rodger was. Right now my priority is talking about all of the ways that women are dehumanized in our culture, and the ways that dehumanization affects us every day. I want to talk about how our culture teaches men to dominate women, and tells them that violence is the way to do this. I want to talk about the dangerous consequences that women are painfully aware of every time they tell a man no. And maybe this is all part of the same discussion, but right now I just don’t have room to consider how Elliot Rodger might have felt. Because, as weird as this might sound, this isn’t really about him or his story. This isn’t about rationalizing or empathizing or sympathizing with a man who believed that he needed to punish women for not wanting to sleep with him.

This is about how society views women, and how unbelievably frightening it is to live under that lens.

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

My virginal self at age 20, not thinking even a little about murdering all men

 

 

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Virginity Is A Social Construct

19 Dec

Jezebel published a piece today with the title “Nearly 1% Of Women Claim They Were Virgins When They Gave Birth,” and, because this is Jezebel we’re talking about here, they used this as an opportunity to shame and belittle the women who say that they became pregnant while still virgins. And just so we all understand what author Erin Gloria Ryan means by virgins, she writes that they are women who,

“… were unpenetrated by the peen of a man when they became pregnant.”

She further explains,

“This doesn’t include women who became pregnant via in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination; these are women who gave birth the old fashioned way and were like *shrug! SERIOUSLY GUYS I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED!”

Then (incorrectly) asserts,

“Getting pregnant without sex is virtually scientifically impossible, yet dozens of women in the study (who were teens when the research began) swear up and down that their babies happened sans man. This is the biological equivalent of claiming that your glass of drinking water spontaneously began boiling itself without the presence of heat. I mean, maybe it’s Unsolved Mysteries-possible, but it’s highly doubtful that 0.8% of all glasses of water boil themselves. Come on.”

Also, just so that we’re really super clear on how Jezebel views these women, the article was posted to their Facebook page with the following header:

Nearly 1% of women insist they were virgins when they gave birth, which means that nearly 1% of women are delusional.

Oh, Jezebel. Jezebel. I know all the cool kids have already said it, but damn. You sure do suck at feminism.

First of all, it is definitely scientifically possible to become pregnant without having penetrative vaginal sex. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s possible – all you need is for a someone to ejaculate on or in close proximity to the vagina, or else have some other thing with sperm on it – a finger, say, or a sex toy – penetrate the vagina. Yes, these are unlikely ways in which to become pregnant, but they’re not within the same realm as water spontaneously boiling.

Second of all, can we not have this discussion without calling women stupid or crazy or just flat out accuse them of lying?

Third of all, can we please stop talking about virginity as if it is a real, measurable thing?

Virginity is not a thing. Not really. It is a social construct meant to make people, especially women, feel badly about their sexuality and sexual experience. It is a way of policing other people’s bodies and passing judgment on how they use them. It is, at its very core, a way of controlling and subjugating women.

One problem with the idea of virginity is that there’s no hard and fast way of deciding who’s a virgin and who isn’t. Many people would define loss of virginity in a very heteronormative sense – a sexual act where the penis penetrates the vagina. But does that mean, then, that a queer woman who has only ever been with other women is a virgin? Is a gay man, who has only ever had anal sex, a virgin? Most people, when pressed, would agree that no, those folks aren’t really virgins, even if they’ve never had penis-in-vagina-style intercourse. The flip side of this is that many rape victims don’t feel as if they have lost their virginity even if they’ve had penetrative intercourse forced on them. They consider themselves to be virgins because they don’t consider what happened to them to be sex. So taking all of that into consideration, how do we then define virginity?

Some people have said that performing any sexual act constitutes losing one’s virginity, but that seems like much too broad of a definition. Kids start experimenting with sexual play and experimentation at a fairly young age, so does it then follow that anyone who’s kissed someone of the opposite sex or shown them their genitals has de facto lost their virginity? I’m not sure that this idea makes any more sense than saying that virginity can only be lost through one very specific sexual act.

Another problem is that there is literally no way of knowing if someone is a virgin or not. Oh, people will tell you that you can check if a woman’s hymen is broken, but that’s not a reliable indicator at all. A hymen can be broken without any kind of sexual intercourse, through sports or through some kind of injury. Not all women are born with hymens. Not all hymens tear during penetrative sex. And yet we’ve all been sold this idea of torn flesh and blood on sheets as some kind of definite rite of passage for women. This idea – that you can somehow tell if a woman has been sexually active – has contributed to the oppression and subjugation of women for pretty much all of recorded history. It’s given men a way to control women, to make them ashamed of their bodies their sexuality. It’s led to a double standard where it’s fine – even encouraged – for boys to gain sexual experience, but women who are sexually active before marriage or have sex with too many people are considered to be slutty or damaged goods.

Finally, why is virginity so damn important to us? We don’t have nouns for who or what we were before we hit any other life milestones – there’s no term to refer to a person before they can walk or talk or read and write – all of which I would argue are more important achievements than getting laid – and yet it’s the sex that we focus on. Why do we put so much more weight on this one small facet of human life than we do on any of the others? Why are we still making a big deal out of who is a virgin and who isn’t?

This is the discussion that we should be having – not about whether women are lying or delusional about their virginity, but about why we still use this damaging term. We need to talk about why the idea of virginity continues to hold such sway over our cultural consciousness, and why so-called feminist websites a perpetuating the thought that virginity is a tangible, definable thing. Most of all, we need to figure out a better way to talk to kids about their bodies and their sexuality, because the way that we’re doing it now clearly isn’t working.

Even Mary agrees - virginity is bullshit

Even Mary agrees – virginity is bullshit