Purity Balls

The New York Times recently reported on purity balls, in which girls don dresses, dance with their fathers, and pledge their virginities in “a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.” I’m all for father-daughter bonding, but this seems to be more about reinforcing patriarchal ideals than about spending some quality time together.

Ballerinas carried a 7-foot wooden cross into the ballroom at the Broadmoor.

“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”

If parents are worried about their daughters being led astray, wouldn’t it be more effective to empower them to make their own decisions than to teach them that they need to be “rescued” by their fathers?

Also, why are girls responsible for ensuring they stay “pure” while boys are out of the picture? Wouldn’t it make sense for boys to pledge their virginities too? Apparently premarital sex is believed to be worse for girls because they’re more emotional:

For the Wilsons and the growing number of people who have come to their balls, premarital sex is seen as inevitably destructive, especially to girls, who they say suffer more because they are more emotional than boys. Fathers, they say, play a crucial role in helping them stay pure.

Or maybe it’s because of the old-fashioned belief that girls belong to their fathers until marriage, when they are then passed on to their husbands.

According to the article, some girls come to purity balls with their future father-in-laws:

Stephen Clark, 64, came to the ball for the first time with Ashley Avery, 17, who is “promised” to his son, Zane, 16. Mr. Clark brought Ashley, in her white satin gown, to show her that he loved her like a daughter, he said, something he felt he needed to underscore after Ashley’s father left her family a year ago.

I think it’s great that girls like Ashley are shown support and love, and it sounds like events like these can help strengthen bonds between girls and their fathers or father-figures. However, the idea that girls need to “promise” themselves to their future husbands sounds like ownership.

According to the New York Times, the idea that abstinence pledges are effective in preventing premarital sex isn’t supported by research:

Recent studies have suggested that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy. But studies have also shown that most teenagers who take abstinence pledges, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers.

Maybe a better approach would be to focus more on forming close relationships and teaching teenagers to make good decisions and less on controlling and protecting daughters from the evil forces of the world.


May 21, 2008 - Posted by | Sexism |

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