My Mama Taught Me Well: a Response to a Response Regarding Virginity

By Carly Priest

I am the author of the 1972 column piece “Not All Virgins Wear White,” originally published in the February 10th issue of The Crusader. Though I foresaw some pushback, I did not expect two response pieces the following week, and truth be told, I am thrilled two people thought my insights provocative enough to merit a response. I felt compelled to write a response to the critique after reflecting on the arguments presented in one of the pieces from last week, “Response To ‘Not All Virgins Wear White’” because I feel I have a teaching moment. For the sake of organization, I’ll go paragraph by paragraph to make my original article easier to understand, and to offer my critique of the critique (whew, that’s a mouthful).

In the opening sentence of the first paragraph, the author of “Response to ‘Not All Virgins Wear White’” describes the overall content of my article as: “the Virgin Mary and the reception of virginity in modern culture.” Considering my primary argument—virginity proves a social construct as the byproduct of a patriarchal society that attempts the policing of female sexuality to assert dominant control— I would suggest the author use the word “perception” instead of “reception.” Actually, the use “reception” indicates a fundamental mischaracterization of my argument: in my consideration of virginity as a social construct, I argue virginity as a concept does not exist as an independent, overarching virtue that remains static in the face of ever-shifting society.  Society does not “receive” the issue of virginity; it perceives virginity as a conceptual theory—building constructions upon that theory—to apply them accordance with time and space. Fundamentally, I argue virginity does not emerge as a singular concept independent of mankind, but one constructed relative to other social establishments.

In paragraph two, the author declares my argument invalid over definitional understandings of virginity and chastity. The author writes: “virginity is simply abstinence from sexual relations, chastity is a state of mental purity and holiness as made evident in 1 Peter 2:11.” While such may be evident in 1 Peter 2:11, I contend that since the 1300s, middle and modern English both understand chastity as “purity from unlawful sexual intercourse; continence.”[1]

The third paragraph argues I sing a tune of “loaded sexism,” which displays a fundamental mischaracterization of sexism. First of all, “loaded sexism” is a made-up term. Assuming the author attributes some definitional significance to the concept of loaded sexism, what’s the difference between loaded sexism and regular sexism? Ostensibly, “loaded” refers to the author’s belief I can assume sexism only occurs against women when I argue the construction of virginity serves to police female sexuality. Even operating under such assumption, if sexism literally means “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination…on the basis of sex,”[2] how can one instance of sexist behavior emerge as more “loaded” in a direct comparison? Such seems no far cry from the idea of “reverse” sexism, which, in the literal, non-gendered application of the word makes no sense.

As the fourth paragraph mostly quotes my own writing, I will proceed to the fifth. The author writes: “[the] first logical fallacy is that since other traditions do not believe in chastity, chastity’s only value is oppression.” To again clarify the OED definition of chastity—“purity from unlawful sexual intercourse; continence,”[3] I will again reiterate my point: though modesty codes apply to both men and women, they historically apply very much more so to women. Take the story of Mary Magdalene— the BBC reports that “Mary Magdalene is mentioned in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, but not once does it mention that she was a prostitute or a sinner.”[4] However, in the 6th-century, Pope Gregory the Great said Magdalene was a reclaimed sinner (which the Catholic Church officially recanted in the 1960s).[5] I make this point to offer a practical examination of virginity as it can function in biblical understanding: if the assumption of Magdalene’s prostitution arose without biblical basis, what other assumptions might there be regarding women who have “fallen from grace,” so to speak?

Also in the fifth paragraph, the author asserts I am “laboring under the delusion that morality comes from circumstance, not a matter of nature” as an interlude to their thoughts on moral relativism. The author asserts correctly: “moral relativism declares that separate individuals and/or societies can each declare their own separate standard of morality…in this line of thought, a society of racist, genocidal slavery would be morally sound. If moral relativism is acceptable, then slavery must also be accepted.” Though a simplistic example, the author’s explanation does a decent job to illustrate my belief that virginity proves a social construct: we need not imagine a racist, genocidal society because we’ve lived it. Take the U.S. slave trade, the Indian Removal Act of the 1830s, the forced sterilization of those mentally-handicapped: these egregious things only occurred because most in society considered it justifiably moral. I mean really—fifty years ago, miscegenation was “immoral” in several U.S. states. The author goes on to say: “there can be only one standard. And as for chastity? Again, there can be only one standard”— to which I reply: one standard insofar as the author’s own conceptions confirm.

Here’s the thing: operating under an exclusively Christian framework for analysis—as the author indicates in the final paragraph: “every good Christian man and woman, regardless of denomination, is called to not only abstain from sexual acts until marriage, but also to maintain mental purity at all times. Even non-Christians should understand this merit” is moral relativism. In such statement, the author asserts their own assumption that the Christian framework for morality proves most correct. While I argue that virginity operates as a social construct based on a generalized theoretical application of moral relativism, this author’s rebuttal stems from logic rationalized through the lens of a Christian moral relativism. Whether or not the author’s intent, the assertion: “even non-Christians should understand this merit” reads ignorant at best, xenophobic at worst.

In paragraph six, the author asserts the following: “Changing standard tenets of beliefs according to society means your God is not your God, your God is society.” If that’s the case, I’d be intrigued to hear a defense of Vatican II and the major changes the Catholic Church underwent— including the transition from Mass in Latin to Mass in English.[6] According to Mark Massa, Church Historian in an interview with U.S. Catholic: “Vatican II in a sense saved the U.S. church.”[7] Massa specifically credits the changing of tenet beliefs in response to a changing society— from the language of mass to the inclusion of new hymns and the direction the priest faced while presiding—[8] with a reinvigoration of Catholic communities in the United States.

In paragraph seven, the author describes “[my] supposed understanding of the ‘King James Biblical tradition.’” Among other things, the author points out the confusing translation of Koine Greek and archaisms included in the King James Version. However, the critique ignores both the origin and influence of the “confusing archaisms” of the King James Bible— they are confusing because they are the product of a literal translation from Hebrew and Greek into English—that continue to have magnanimous influence on the English language today. [9] According to the famed British linguist, David Crystal (University College London), the King James Bible introduced 257 phrases into English idiom, compared to Shakespeare’s 100.[10] As to the influence of the King James Bible in religious society, scholars atBaylor University believe the work “established a universally familiar pattern of what “religious speech” should sound like in English. The model would be followed by virtually every alternative gospel and new prophetic revelation over the centuries to come.”[11] Simply put, tradition of the King James Bible extends well beyond what the author acknowledges in their critique. As the tradition and formative force behind the development of the English language, the King James Biblical Tradition: “spread [its] patterns of speech, thought and meter throughout the world. And the fact that this Bible, of course, proclaimed the core Judeo-Christian message and worldview meant that those were the irreducible, foundational ideas of the English-speaking world.”[12]

Finally, in the eighth paragraph, the author mentions the work of Dr. Ray E. Short to assert that those couples who have premarital sex are “more likely to break-up, divorce, or have affairs.” Not true. The most recent edition of Short’s book Sex, Love, or Infatuation: How Can I Really Know? was published in 1990.[13] Since then, the scholarly forefront of this particular research field— a nation-wide study conducted by the National Marriage Project by Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley in 2013[14] (that was neither peer-reviewed, nor published by any academic journal)[15] remains inconclusive. From a common sense perspective, correlation does not equal causation— especially with symptoms of depression.[16] Actually, a 2007 study by Ann E. Meier, “Adolescent First Sex and Subsequent Mental Health,” American Journal of Sociology found no causation between premarital sex and depression in adolescents, with the exception of a relatively small group: girls who have sex well before other female peers.[17] The study further reiterates the relatively small number that might be affected with a poignant call to action: “more important [than the findings] abstinence-only-until-marriage programs frequently suggest that young people should feel guilty or ashamed of sexual behavior and that teens who have had sex are less worthy than their peers who are abstinent.  This can only serve to further stigmatize sexually active teens.[18] Quite frankly, that alone provides enough indication of the damage caused by social constructions of virginity that isolate women.

 

[1] “chastity, n.”. OED Online. December 2016. Oxford University Press.http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/30924?redirectedFrom=chastity (accessed February 21, 2017).

[2] [2] “sexism, n.2”. OED Online. December 2016. Oxford University Press.http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/177027?rskey=sdFySd&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed February 21, 2017).

[3]”chastity, n.”. OED Online. December 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/30924?redirectedFrom=chastity (accessed February 21, 2017).

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/marymagdalene.shtml

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/marymagdalene.shtml

[6] http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/05/times-they-were-achanging-mark-massa-catholic-60s

[7] http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/05/times-they-were-achanging-mark-massa-catholic-60s

[8] http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/05/times-they-were-achanging-mark-massa-catholic-60s

[9] Tomkins, Stephen, “The King James Bible: How it Changed the Way We Speak” BBC News Magazine, January 17th 2011 (Accessed 20 February 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-12205084

[10] Tomkins, Stephen, “The King James Bible: How it Changed the Way We Speak” BBC News Magazine, January 17th 2011 (Accessed 20 February 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-12205084

[11] http://www.baylor.edu/alumni/magazine/0904/news.php?action=story&story=95758

[12] http://www.baylor.edu/alumni/magazine/0904/news.php?action=story&story=95758

[13] https://www.amazon.com/Sex-Love-Infatuation-Really-Know/dp/0806624604

[14] http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NMP-BeforeIDoReport-Final.pdf

[15] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/21/more-sexual-partners-unhappy-marriage_n_5698440.html

[16] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/21/more-sexual-partners-unhappy-marriage_n_5698440.html

[17] http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureID=1043

[18] http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureID=1043

 

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