Standing in line at a fancy grocery store, I spotted a display (among many).
EXTRA EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL! It proclaimed.
Excuse me? I thought. Extra extra? Isn’t that a little unnecessary?
That is to say, I never really understood the concept of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to begin with. Is it made from olives that aren’t allowed to touch other olives? Are they modestly shielded from life’s elements by tarps?
And Extra Extra Virgin Olives – what on earth does that entail?
Or does the “virgin” refer to the oil itself? Has it never been mixed with another oil, commingling and developing new, brassy flavors? I certainly hope not, one takes for granted when one buys olive oil that it is, in fact, olive oil, and not some other hybrid. But then it seems that they shouldn’t have to bellow about its virginity so explicitly.
Having all these thoughts in the line at the store, I suddenly reached a breaking point. I wanted to tap the older woman in front of me on the shoulder and ask her my question, maybe she’d know the answer. But no, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to stand up in a shopping cart, I wanted to address the store at large, I wanted to shout it to the heavens: “Isn’t just being a virgin enough for you people anymore?”
It’s not just olive oil – women, too, now, are expected to come with a label that reads Extra Extra Virgin.
Much of society appears to have decided – rather abruptly, if you ask me – that it is not enough to wait for a person, time, and place that connote “right” and “safe” before you have sex for the first time. To make the whole process more efficient and less painful, the decision-making process has been streamlined – good news! You’re no longer required to make those pesky decisions; we’ve done it for you.
Place: Hotel Room.
I could say a lot of things about the abstinence program. I could say that repression, sexual or otherwise, isn’t healthy. (See this movie to learn how it leads to broken families, insanity, and arguably the Great Depression.)
I could say that it makes people ashamed of what’s perfectly natural, and thus leads to self-loathing.
But I think I’m going to focus mainly on how creepy it is.
Let me give you some background: I’m kind of a Daddy’s girl. My father is arguably the most awesome guy on the face of the planet. When I was a little kid he took me to the park; taught me how to swim; taught me how to ride a bike and then took me bike riding; took me out to get frozen yogurt; gave me rides on his shoulders; played catch with me (although his less-than-perfect-aim has been well documented: he once accidentally hit me in the stomach with a baseball, knocking the wind out of me; and once accidentally hit my brother in the eye with a tennis ball, resulting in a quick trip to the eye doctor)(both my brother and I are fine, by the way).
He can fix anything, and if he runs into something he can’t fix, he knows somebody who can. In work, he’s always been like our personal family Superman, bringing down bad guys and championing what’s right. And even though he’s always threatened to scare my boyfriends with elaborately frightening scenarios I think he once saw in the movies, now that I actually have a boyfriend hanging around, my dad kind of likes him (they talk about computer stuff).
So, as you can probably tell, I love my dad. And my dad loves me. But I don’t talk to my dad about sex. It’s not that I’m having sex and hiding it from him (or having any at all, actually, hidden or otherwise); or that I’m worried that if I mention it he’ll become a crazy man and scream at me to “protect my flower,” or something. It isn’t anything like that. It’s just……….ewww.
Why would I talk to him about that? When we watch TV and a sexy scene comes on, one of us will almost invariably leave the room due to embarrassment and awkwardness. From what I understand, most father-daughter relationships work this way: As long as I’m okay, he doesn’t want to think about, much less hear about, my having a sex life; and for my part, I don’t want to think about, much less hear about, him having a sex life. As Dave Barry once put it: “Most of us have trouble believing our parents ever had sex, even when they conceived us. Deep down inside, we believe that our mothers got pregnant because of fallout from atomic testing during the Truman administration.”
So, with this dynamic, you can see that I am not the type of person to put on a fluffy pink ball gown, elaborately braid my hair and adorn it with a tiara, take my father to a dance, and promise him, in front of everyone, that I am absolutely, 100%, definitely going to remain a virgin until I marry whatever random guy I wind up marrying.
But apparently some people do this.
In a chandelier-lit ballroom overlooking the Rocky Mountains one recent evening, some hundred couples feast on herb-crusted chicken and julienned vegetables. The men look dapper in tuxedos; their dates are resplendent in floor-length gowns, long white gloves and tiaras framing twirly, ornate updos. Seated at a table with four couples, I watch as the gray-haired man next to me reaches into his breast pocket, pulls out a small satin box and flips it open to check out a gold ring he’s about to place on the finger of the woman sitting to his right. Her eyes well up with tears as she is overcome by emotion. The man’s date? His 25-year-old daughter. Welcome to Colorado Springs’ Seventh Annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball, held at the five-star Broadmoor Hotel. The event’s purpose is, in part, to celebrate dad-daughter bonding, but the main agenda is for fathers to vow to protect the girls’ chastity until they marry and for the daughters to promise to stay pure. Pastor Randy Wilson, host of the event and cofounder of the ball, strides to the front of the room, takes the microphone and asks the men, “Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?”
You can read the full article here but I’m going to pretty much rip it all apart for you right now.
If you’re creeped out already, allow me to make you even more so:
Randy Wilson’s 19-year-old, Khrystian, is typical: She works at her church, spends most weekends at home with her family and has never danced with a male other than her father or brother. Emily Smith, an 18-year-old I meet, says that even kissing is out for her. “I made a promise to myself when I was younger,” she says, “to save my first kiss for my wedding day.”
It’s just as I always feared! With even kissing left socially unacceptable, I am – along with, I think, almost all of you – the slut my morally upright peers have always warned me against becoming! Is there no hope? Repent! REPENT! Surely God can un-ring a bell!
Maybe you don’t think this is creepy yet. Okay, you think, this is a little on the bizarre side, but surely it’s just a means of fathers bonding with college-age daughters, a means of the daughters placating them, gently cooing of COURSE I’m a virgin, Daddy……
But, oh, the worst is yet to come.
The majority of the girls here are, as purity ball guidelines suggest, “just old enough…[to] have begun menstruating….” But a couple dozen fathers have also brought girls under 10. “This evening is more about spending time with her than her purity at this point,” says one seven-year-old’s dad, a trifle sheepishly. The event is seemingly innocent—not once do I hear “sex” or “virgin” cross anyone’s lips. Still, every one of the girls here, even the four-year-old, will sign that purity covenant.
Yeah. That’s right. Four. Years. Old. You want to talk about indoctrination?
I actually feel so much better. I thought these girls were going to parties and talking about sex with their dads, which would have been, in my view, gross. But now I realize: they aren’t talking about sex. At all. They’re throwing around the word “purity” without explaining one iota of connotation behind it.
When I ask Hannah Smith, 15, what purity means to her, she answers, “I actually don’t know.” Her older sister Emily jumps in: “Purity, it means…I don’t know how to explain it. It is important to us that we promise to ourselves and to our fathers and to God that we promise to stay pure until…. It is hard to explain.”
Looks to me like these girls don’t know what the authority figures around them expect them to do – or not do – to remain “pure”. I’m eerily reminded of the 1950s, in which the majority of girls knew next to nothing about sex, or even menstruation, because people figured, I don’t know, if they didn’t mention it, the kids wouldn’t find out about it.
Good thing we’re not asking the girls at these purity balls to sign contracts based on this premise they can’t comprehend!
Thousands of girls have taken purity vows at these events over the past nine years. While the abstinence movement itself is fairly mainstream—about 10 percent of teen boys and 16 percent of girls in the United States have signed virginity pledges at churches, rallies or programs sponsored by groups such as True Love Waits—purity balls represent its more extreme edge. The young women who sign covenants at these parties tend to be devout, homeschooled and sheltered from popular culture.
Oh. I see. Well, still, it’s really cute that these fathers are so sentimental about protecting their little girls from the Big Bad Wolves out there in the woods ( Princes wait there in the world, it’s true/Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too/Stay at home/I am home). Right?
The older girls at the Broadmoor tonight are themselves curvaceous and sexy in backless dresses and artful makeup; next to their fathers, some look disconcertingly like wives. In fact, in the parlance of the purity ball folks, one-on-one time with dad is a “date,” and the only sanctioned one a girl can have until she is “courted” by a man. The roles are clear: Dad is the only man in a girl’s life until her husband arrives, a lifestyle straight out of biblical times. “In patriarchy, a father owns a girl’s sexuality,” notes psychologist and feminist author Carol Gilligan, Ph.D. “And like any other property, he guards it, protects it, even loves it.”
Creepy enough for you? Because I have more.
Following dessert—chocolate cake or fruit coulis for the adults, ice cream sundaes for the girls—couples file into the adjacent ballroom. Seven ballerinas, including Christy Parcha, appear in white gowns with tulle skirts, carrying on their shoulders a large, rustic wooden cross that they lift up and rest on a stand. Lisa Wilson cries as she presents each of their three ceremonial dances, one of which is called “I’ll Always Be Your Baby.” Afterward, Randy Wilson and a fellow pastor, Steve Holt, stand at the cross with heavy rapiers raised and announce that they are prepared to “bear swords and war for the hearts of our daughters.” The blades create an inverted “V” under which girls and fathers kneel and lay white roses that symbolize purity. Soon there is a heap of cream-colored buds wilting beneath the outstretched arms of the cross.
Let’s, for a moment, ignore the enormity of the ickyness, shall we? Let’s focus on one detail: the inverted V.
For starters, it is the first letter in the word “vagina”, which I bet they never told you on Sesame Street.
And, because I am a well-established sinner, I have read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (aka Leonardo, Dan, and the Formulaic Religious Thriller That Has Been Read By Every Non-Catholic On The Face Of The Earth).
The “chalice” or V, historically, symbolizes womanhood. Guess why. Because it looks like – and literally symbolized for many ancient cultures – a womb.
But what does the chalice becomes when you turn it upside down (or “invert” it), boys and girls? It becomes the “blade” symbol. Which is a traditionally male symbol. And you don’t have to study Freud to deduce why that little triangle represents men.
So. You have your archetypically naive virgins. Each has a father and a white rose, which they are placing beneath a gigantic penis formed by swords. The analysis does itself – subservience to the macho, my daughter!
Here’s the money shot: In the language of the flowers, white roses mean “love that is pure or innocent.” Ah, but these flowers, the reporter notes, are “wilting beneath the arms of the cross.” A dried white rose means “death preferable to loss of innocence.”
Yes. Yes indeed. We are, in fact, moving – pardon my French – ass backward into the 1950s. Back into the era of disinformation. Even farther, if you like. To crusades, to chastity belts.
Although I think my mom has said it recently, this Inherit the Wind quote never gets old:
“Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”
Didn’t the fifties teach us anything? Didn’t we learn that failing to educate teenagers about sex is a very, very bad idea? Didn’t we learn that failing to explain safe sex can ruin multiple lives? Exhibit A: The Girls Who Went Away.
Girls who weren’t given information about sex. Girls who wound up having it anyway, one way or another – and, of course, it was unsafe, because it was nearly impossible to procure contraceptives, even if you were married. When the girls (inevitably) got pregnant, they were sent away to homes and forced to give up their children for adoption. Boom, lifelong scarring for mother, child, and everyone in their orbit.
Nice, abstinence program. Your fault.
But back to the olive oil. I stood there, looking at it in its extra-extra-virginity for a long time.
And I found myself bereft. Isn’t just being a virgin enough anymore?