Working in a bookstore is hard for a bibliophile. It’s even worse to work in the receiving room, seeing and touching every book before it gets put out for the customers.
This is what I do. Often, I tell my friends that working in receiving is like Christmas every day. I open a box and there is a brand-new book, begging to be flipped through.
Now, since I have to open a lot (and I mean a lot) of boxes, plus get other tasks done, I cannot stop and look through every book that piques my interest. Instead, I set aside anything I want to take a closer look at when I’m off the clock. (And, yes, I often make a snap judgment on the book’s cover, but really, who doesn’t?)
Last March, while working, I opened a box and found a brand-new title written in stark white against a black background: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. I don’t buy as many books as one may think I do (that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!) but this one I knew I had to. I knew before I even opened to page one that I would want to mark passages as I read them and make comments in the margins. Sure enough, that is exactly what I did.
The bulk of my reading is done in the morning before work. I sit at the dining room table, sipping at my coffee, reading and slowly waking up. The mornings that I read The Purity Myth I could have skipped the coffee altogether because the book had me so fired up.
From chapter one, Valenti argues how the idea of virginity and the expectation of staying pure until marriage is detrimental to young women (because, Valenti points out on several occasions, it is up to the female to be the “gatekeepers” of purity because boys will be boys and cannot help themselves).
Man, I wish I could portray the disgust in my voice.
Throughout the book, Valenti relentlessly argues against different societal ideals, from abstinence-only education, to idolizing famous virgins, to purity balls and so much more.
Take, for example, Jessica Simpson and Brittany Spears. Both publically declared she was a virgin and was waiting until marriage. Yet both were made up to look sexy in tight shirts or shorts. Who remembers the media coverage of Brittany Spears when her boobs grew in (or, as the media argued, were put in)? *in my best hick impression* “She’s a virgin, folks, and she’s a good girl waiting to get married before giving it up, but check out that rack. Think that’s real?” In the societal eye, what could possibly be more sexy than a virgin?
How ass-backwards is that?
Valenti’s description of purity balls shook me to no end, though. Growing up in a household where we didn’t practice or even talk religion sheltered me (thankfully) from purity balls. At these lavish events, young women pledge to their fathers to wait until marriage for sex. In turn, the fathers pledge to “hang onto” their daughters’ virginities until a proper husband comes along. At that point, the fathers give the virginities to the husbands, not even back to their daughters to give to their husbands themselves. Some of these balls even use a little pink box as a symbol of the daughters’ virginities (because, as Valenti points out in the first chapter, virginity is pure myth – pardon the pun). The fathers take the little pink boxes (ugh) and pledge to hold onto them. What is most shocking to me, though, was that sometimes girls as young as six participate in these balls. Who, at the ripe age of six, knows what her feelings will be about sex as she grows? Who at six even knows that the concept of virginity even is?
It makes me sick. This is a blatant portrayal of how men control women’s bodies, how they have “ownership” over them and we willingly (willingly!) give it to them. Are we not free-thinking humans in our own right?
The absolute worst part about purity balls, though: they are federally funded.
There’s so much more to the book and I can’t write about all of it here. It is a book worth buying, even during a recession, because it gets its readers thinking and gearing them up to take action.