Even the most open-minded person can see some other culture's ritual and think to herself, "Well that is just weird. And creepy. And weird." Which is how you may feel if you read the story in the New York Times about purity balls. And yes, there is a
slideshow. Here's the gist of it: Grade school- to college-aged girls get all dolled up and attend this dance with their fathers, step-fathers or fathers-in-law. They talk, they eat, and then the men read a covenant "before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity." Randy Wilson organizes this Colorado Springs event. He tells the men: "Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us. 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." God (heh) knows we're living in a "hookup culture," as the paper puts it. But why do little girls need to be rescued? Why are there no mothers or sons involved?
And pray tell, what does "purity" really mean, anyway? Apparently no one ever says the word "abstinence" at any of these events. But when the girls pray, they say some kind of vow. In her private moment with God, sixteen-year-old Katie Swindler says, "I promise to God and myself and my family that I will stay pure in my thoughts and actions until I marry," according to the Times. What if she has a thought that is purely sexual? What if she purely wants to make out? What if she likes a guy and wants him purely as a fuck buddy? Are these thoughts unpure?
Says one 54-year-old father, Terry Lee: "[The ball] inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I'm holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won't be cheating on their mother." Hmm, so is it for your daughter or for you? Who's the one having "hookup culture" thoughts?
But the girls do get something out of it. "Something I need from dad is affirmation, being told I'm beautiful," says Jordyn Wilson, 19. "If we don't get it from home, we will go out to the culture and get it from them." And so this is why the fathers pray with their daughters, walk under an arch of swords, and then watch as the girls place a white rose at the foot of a giant cross.
There are many awful things about the concept of purity balls, but here's the worst one: The idea that a little girl is a delicate flower who needs protecting from the big bad world. A girl is a flesh and blood human being, and humans learn by experimentation. Trial and error. You learn to ride a bike by falling and skinning your knee a few times. By knowing that if you get seriously hurt, you can turn to a parent for help. You learn what you want in a relationship by having a couple of shitty boyfriends (and a couple of awesome ones.) You learn how far you want to go, how far you are ready to go — physically, sexually, in a relationship, by trying a little bit at a time (first base, second base, etc). Teenagers have raging hormones that all but prevent "pure" thoughts. If you make a vow to God with your dad that you won't have "unpure" thoughts, aren't you setting yourself up for failure? Won't you be scared to tell your dad if you have any "unpure" thoughts? Or "unpure" actions? Aren't you automatically creating a rift? And what about your mom? Why no vow with her? Because women are weak and delicate, mere prey and playthings for men? Creating an environment in which females are helpless things in need of protection and "rescue" from men is inherently dangerous; what a a girl needs to know in this "hookup culture" is that she can fend for herself. Isn't a girl who has "unpure" thoughts but parents she can talk to — who aren't expecting her to be a white rose but an actual human — more likely to have the confidence, self-worth and wherewithal to only go as far as she's ready to?
(Don't even get me started on the focus of girls as the keepers of some kind of fetish-y object, the so-called holy state of virginity. As though safe sex would somehow ruin them. And again, why are there no boys involved? Are young men mindlessly running rampant through the Evangelical community, penises erect, so that the fathers must shield their daughters from them? And is a man's virginity not a white flower?)
Unfortunately, as the Times reminds us:
"Most teenagers who say they will remain abstinent, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers."
Earlier: How Exactly, Is Virginity A Concept?