I just came from XoJane. There’s an interesting article about a 22 year old woman who’s admitting to be a virgin. Of course, there’s debate on the topic. Is it pro or anti-feminist to be a virgin at the age of 22, in 2014 society, where the average age of sex is 16 and falling for girls? (It’s better for girls to wait until they’re out of their teens to engage in coitus.)
There are readers arguing on XoJane that not having sex is not empowering or feminist. I understand why many might think this. I have heard from many women raised in the “Sex and the City” era that they associate empowerment with sex–lots of it, with many men.It make sense that many see “virginity” as anti-feminist. Virginity is often treated as antiquated/the domain of religious zealots. As one guy told me years ago, all the “hot” girls are having sex at fourteen.
In many respects, these people are wrong. Virginity has emerged as the strongest message of empowerment for young women in a sex saturated society. In an age when girls are rewarded for sex (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian) and encouraged to make themselves sexually available to men at an early age (lose your virginity by 16) and pushed to be sexual (porn stars in the public eye/celebrity women bragging about their sex lives), virginity is a way to fight back.
It’s tough to be a virgin in this day and age–all the reasons why staying so past 17 is a triumph. This is why I have a problem with the “sex-happy/obsessed” feminists. They embrace the message of girls making themselves sexually available to men. A few years ago, a Duke female student (not the current porn star) had her power-point presentation thesis leaked. The entire presentation centered on her sexual exploits with many different (about 10) male students at Duke. As quickly as it went viral, she was offered book deals and doing interviews for Jezebel.com where she was touted as truly empowered, despite claiming she passed out/was drunk during many of the encounters.
Feminism says it is about choice–whatever that choice is. In this angle, choice trumps standards, good taste, etc. In her book, The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti argues that we should support sex workers because they are women, but in an article for The Washington Post (2008), she argues that we should not support Sarah Palin simply because she is a woman. Sarah Palin’s decisions (anti-abortion, etc) hurt women.
I can make the same argument for sex workers. Their work hurt women; or, at the very least, put pressure on women to turn themselves into sex workers. It was not so long ago that sexercise was all the rage, and middle-class housewives were putting stripper poles in their bedrooms. Even fellatio (oral sex) was once the domain of the sex worker, but thanks to the popularity of pornography, it has become the “expected norm” for all women..
The problem with sex workers is that they tell us they are empowered by sex work (Belle Knox, Sasha Grey, Jemma Jemison, etc). Despite this, we still believe they are “victims” of male patriarchy. Of course, the truth could lie somewhere between, but if we take their words for it, they are empowered. The magic word for feminists and male-supporters of sex workers is “empowered.” I once listened to Hugh Hefner explain how Playboy Playmates were independent women in control of their own sexuality–this, despite the fact that Hefner has made a fortune selling the nude bodies of these “playmates.” Joe Francis (Girls Gone Wild) makes the same arguments.
Is selling the female body empowering? Who enjoys it when women get naked for Playboy? Perhaps the problem is that the empowerment of females through sex cannot be separated from the sexual degradation of females for the pleasure of males. When is pornography degrading to women? It’s a Pandora box of debacles.