Why Are “Purity Balls” So Very Wrong?
As children grow, parents probably want to instil confidence, love and creativity in their kids, tell them they are great children, that they can achieve anything if they apply themselves, and set them free to take on the world, as confident, well-rounded and realistic children, once they reach a certain age. Children should be taught the wonders of the universe, the beauty of nature, the frailty of life, and be allowed the ability to experience life for themselves. I’m not a parent, so I’m speaking idealistically here, but I think we’d all agree that this is a good guideline for child rearing, and it’s by no means exhaustive. Parents are responsible for the welfare of their children too, but at what point does responsibility cross the line into possessiveness? How much protection can a parent offer before it infringes on the child’s ability to grow up and be well-rounded?
A growing trend in the USA, along with the equally questionable “No Sex Movement“, is to hold an event called a “Purity Ball“, which involves dressing up a young girl in what looks like wedding attire, a wedding-like dinner and dance, and an exchange of vows between a father and daughter, that she will remain chaste until marriage. In exchange, the father makes an oath to protect the girls, presumably from the advances of young boys, and to ensure that she remains “pure” until she is betrothed to a man of the father’s approval. The girl is sometimes presented with a “purity ring” as a token of this agreement, which can be removed once the girl is married.
On the one hand, it’s nice to see fathers taking a real interest in their daughters’ lives, which in today’s society can be a rare thing indeed. On the other hand, in the case of the Purity Ball, the fathers’ interest in their daughters crosses over into something akin to ownership, where they hope to halt the natural progress of the child’s growing up, becoming sexually mature, and “God-forbid”, becoming sexually active. While the father vows to protect the daughter, which is in itself somewhat an admirable trait, this kind of “protection” means stowing the daughters away from the real rigours of the world, its dangers, and along with it, the joys of self discovery which go along with growing up.
What is more strange is that some fathers take their daughters to these Purity Balls as young as 4 years old, seemingly to get in before they even know what sex is, to further shelter them from the evils of procreation, temptation and sin. If this all strikes a fundamentalist biblical Christianity, you’d be right. Again, like the “No Sex Movement” which promotes chastity and “purity” over having sex, the Purity Ball promotes virginity for the daughters until they are married before God in a church somewhere.
One can only assume that since these girls are sometimes taking these vows at such a young age as to not understand what it is they are even saying, what it means, and how they will feel about it later in life when their hormones kick in, that when they do finally discover sexual urges that they will fall prey to that old tool of religious indoctrination, unworthiness, dirtiness, and failure.
What gets me most about Purity Balls is what they mean symbolically. Taking a vow with your father to remain “true to him”, in a ceremony that is very much like a traditional church marriage ceremony, promising something to a father that he actually has no ownership over whatsoever, is just about as creepy as it gets. It keeps the girl subservient to her father, and reeks of incestuous symbolism. It makes the skin crawl…
Though I have been aware of the concept of a Purity Ball for some time, recently a series of quite striking father/daughter portraits have emerged on the internet. At first they seem like slightly awkward, but real father/daughter moments, but in context they speak of an undercurrent of repression, ownership and judgement. The photos, by Swedish photographer David Magnusson, are featured in a recent article in The Guardian, where author Jessica Valenti discusses America’s obsession with sex, says that the photos:
Valenti goes on to say:
Also from the article, as a caption to two of Magnusson’s photos:
As you can see from the girls’ own words, it is a topic which is shrouded in falsehoods and a forbidden fruit, much like that of the apple in the biblical Genesis myth.
But as I’ve said, I’m not a parent, so I thought I’d ask around some of my closer friends in the secular, atheist and agnostic fields what their thoughts are about Purity Balls, what the implications are of them, and what it means for the girls involved moving forward. Below are some of the answers I received. Firstly we hear from the fathers.
Freelance author Dan Arel:
Blogger Mr Oz Atheist:
Podcaster and author Jake Farr-Wharton:
“While I will always be open and honest about the facts of sex and sexuality with my children, I do not own or covet my daughter’s sexuality – which is the premise behind the phenomenon of purity balls. All you can do is teach your kids and prepare them for when they’re ready to take over – chaining them to their virginity for no reason and with no evidence of a benefit is repugnant.”
– Jake Farr-Wharton, Author of ‘Letters to Christian Leaders – Hollow Be Thy Claims‘, podcaster at The Imaginary Friends Show and Secular World Podcast, @JakeFarrWharton
Twitter regular Think B4U You Tweet:
And finally, it’s just really creepy.”
– Think B4U Tweet, @IRaiseUFacts
Long time atheist commentator Andrew Skegg:
“There is nothing magical regarding virginity that demands it be protected outside the civil and religious ceremonies of marriage either. Purity Balls (where father’s coerce their daughters into promising not to have sex until their married in front of their family, peers, and their god) are an projection of a superstitious belief that woman become ‘unclean’ should they ever have sex without a god’s blessing. Like other ancient myths, this is a sexist and misogynistic view which should be relegated to the pages of history to be looked upon by future generations with shame and regret.”
– Andrew Skegg, @askegg
I also heard from some mothers on the topic.
From Cathie Sloman:
-Cathie Sloman, @PurpleMouse
From Candice Bell, podcaster and blogger:
As you can see, I’m not the only one who disagrees with the idea of Purity Balls, and of all the reasons for this, I think the most compelling argument comes from ideas surrounding ownership of women’s sexuality. What are your thoughts?