Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Patriarchs, Purity, and Virginity Tests



Some art is constructed out of pure rage.

Did you know girls are jailed in Afghanistan for failing "virginity tests"? That tests for so-called "virginity" are used all over the world to determine whether a woman qualifies for employment, or education, or even marriage? Even here, a woman's sexual activity can diminish her worth in the eyes of her community, or even the laws that are supposed to protect her.

I'm not surprised, of course. If there was one message that came to me from all directions with surprising agreement, it was that the best gift I could possibly offer my future husband was an untouched vagina. Tampons were viewed with suspicion not merely as a health hazard, but because they posed the risk of "prematurely" stretching a hymen, which could mean no bleeding on one's wedding night. Horrors!

Deuteronomy 22, which I had read more than a dozen times before my own wedding night, assumed that a bride's parents would hang onto the bloodied honeymoon sheets (euphemistically called "the tokens of the damsel's virginity") to produce as evidence should her husband later try to worm out of the marriage by accusing her of having had premarital intercourse.

And in this Old Testament gem, Moses himself orders the Israelite army to use virginity tests as an act of war. It's rather horrifying in any translation, including the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh (1917):
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones,
and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children,
that have not known man by lying with him,
keep alive for yourselves.    Numbers 31:17-18

The Good Book, indeed.

Even Jesus, in the story supposed to illustrate his compassion and respect for the woman he met at the well, quickly brings up her sexual history ("you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband"), establishing her unworthy position in the patriarchal hierarchy with a single sentence.

It was a revelation to me to realize (not that many years ago) that a woman's value is not, in fact, tied to her sexual experience, OR to her lack thereof. That my sexual history is my own, not a gift I present to a partner. And a woman's sexual experiences, consensual or otherwise, ought certainly never influence society's interest in her safety or well-being. 




Fuck you, Moses.


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