1972: Not All Virgins Wear White

By Carly Priest, Opinions Editor

I have some real beef with the Virgin Mary, and I don’t mean with Mother Mary herself. I take issue with whomever decided to promulgate Mary as an abstinent miracle-enabler first, raiser of the King of Kings second. It’s not the figure of the Blessed Virgin Herself, but the behaviors the concept of virginity codifies then tries masquerade western social norm. To hold the social construct of “virginity” up to the light of knowledge reveals a tradition of policing women transparent and paper-thin.

Ah, the birds and the bees. Virginity, as understood within heteronormative framework of Catholic Canon proves the byproduct of archaic Judeo-Christian society that unnecessarily policed the sexuality of women to assert dominant control. As indicated through the diverse range of cultural and sociological understandings of virginity worldwide, any given conceptualization is the product of the place and time of its origin. If not an indication of the sheer magnitude of what constitutes healthy sensuality, the concise and deferential deviation in the myths of chastity we see across indigenous traditions on a global scale must surely show that the one widely-adopted by those traditions who follow the King James Biblical tradition offers only one of many.

The myths we associate with virginity preemptively assign intrinsic human value to women. As the western, widely-adopted tradition of a bride in a white dress decrees, virgins wear white. Because they are virgins.  Truthfully, the socio-cultural connotations of virginity permeate well outside the realm of Catholic Church tradition. For decades, widespread opposition to birth control found root in preserving maidenhood from obscenity. In Shakespeare’s Othello, villain Iago suggests to Othello that his beloved wife, Desdemona, might be a common whore. Othello, so consumed with rage and envy, strangles Desdemona before she has the opportunity to prove her maidenhood with blood on the bedsheets—the consequence of a broken hymen from a first experience with heterosexual sex. Tragic.

That’s the other thing—the understanding of virginity only includes vaginally-penetrative, heteronormative sex. For a single conceptualization of “virginity” to remain applicable, or even valid under authority of some uniform higher power, cultural conceptions surrounding the mythic mysticism of virginity—and virgin deflowering— must remain insoluble. They do not: for virginity to exist as an independent concept— concrete in definition and universal in applicability—as it is assumed by those within Catholic social teaching and fundamentalist Christian circles, the fact that all sexual acts precluding the actual prospect of male-female vaginally penetrative sex proves problematic. If like  we assume virginity a universal concept with tangible ramifications for all those who disobey its tenet clutch, then logically, virginity should include all sexual activity. To cross-examine from a heteronormative understanding—there should be no leeway for those—male or female—who defy tradition. According to Catholic tradition, the question surrounding Joseph’s virgin-status remains noxiously open-ended. Catholics are free to believe that Joseph was a widower or a virgin—the only answer set in stone is that Mary remained a perpetual virgin throughout her marriage to Joseph. Crowned the Virgin Mary to explain a miracle, Mary remains one for the rest of her life, an unwavering example of chastity women should follow. I know not all Catholics— in fact, I would argue most Catholics of our generation do not see premarital sex as a grave sin—but what role do denigrate words like “slut” and “whore” play to keep Mary a Virgin and Joseph ambiguous? Are you kidding me?

1972 is a weekly opinions column dedicated to social justice issues. Send your submissions to crusader@g.holycross.edu to be featured.

Photograph Credits: Wallpaper Safari

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