America’s virginity obsession

America is obsessed with sexuality, which ultimately leads to the hatred and discrimination of women. According to a feminist author who spoke at Elon University Wednesday night, this obsession needs to stop.

According to self-proclaimed activist, Jessica Valenti, the problem is that girls and women are being taught that society links a woman’s worth to her sexuality rather than her values and characteristics.

Valenti, who was named one of the most inspiring women in the world by The Guardian, believes that there are overt and hidden ways in which our sexist society belittles women. One of these ways is what she refers to as “the purity myth,” which is also the title of one of her books.

To Valenti, the purity myth is all about America’s obsession with virginity, and how that obsession is hurting young women. Valenti refers to this phenomenon as a “moral panic” over women’s sexuality that is sweeping the country.

Valenti said it is a combination of forces – our media and society-driven virginity fetish, an increase in abstinence-only education and the tactical political backtracking of women’s rights that are among the primary culprits that have created unrealistic sexual expectations for young women.

It is these expectations that lead to society’s hatred of women.

“If we’re to truly understand the purity myth, we have to recognize that this modernized virgin/whore dichotomy is not only leading young women to damage themselves by internalizing the double standard, but also contributing to a social and political climate that is increasingly antagonistic to women and our rights,” Valenti said.

According to Valenti, this virginity “fetishism” has made its way into politics and legislation through anti-abortion laws, legislation that limits reproductive rights through assumption that women should be pure before marriage and a media that demonizes victims of sexual violence.

“The purity myth in America underlines more misogyny than most people would like to admit.”

While Valenti views the definition of virginity as abstract, she made it clear that its consequences for young women are not, and that is evident everywhere a young girl looks.

“Our daughters deserve a model of morality that’s based on ethics, not on their bodies,” said Valenti. “It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they’re sexually active.”  

Valenti believes that young people taking action is the best cure for this widespread panic.

“I really want people to take action – whatever that means to you,” said Valenti.

Valenti, the creator of Feministing.com, a site set up for younger feminists who felt their voices were ignored, blogs, authors books and speaks about feminism across the country, and on Wednesday night she encouraged her audience to do the same.

Although Valenti said that sometimes “we don’t have the energy to think in a forward fashion,” what it truly comes down to is spreading the word.

“We do have to change mainstream culture. We do have to think bigger,” said Valenti.  

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