Friday, January 23, 2009

What Price Virginity?

For Natalie Dylan, the woman auctioning off her virginity at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch website (no, I didn't make that name up) the price has supposedly climbed up to 3.8 million dollars. I wrote 'supposedly', because there is no way of establishing the veracity of this information. Of course Dylan's own virginity must also remain in the 'supposedly' category, because an intact hymen doesn't necessarily establish virginity. Some virgins have no hymen or at least no intact hymen. Virginity can also be recreated with surgery. Amanda discusses these issues in some detail.

What struck me about the Daily Beast article Amanda linked to was the tone Dylan uses. She tells us that she has a degree in Women's Studies. Yet this is how she summarizes the changes in her values during her undergraduate degree:

This all started long before September. In fact, it started in college, where my eyes were opened by my Women's Studies professors and fellow classmates. I came to understand the role of "woman" spanning culture and time. At the university level, I was given permission to think differently and form a moral code of my own design. College opened my eyes.

Like most little girls, I was raised to believe that virginity is a sacred gift a woman should reserve for just the right man. But college taught me that this concept is just a tool to keep the status quo intact. Deflowering is historically oppressive—early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters' pimps.

When I learned this, it became apparent to me that idealized virginity is just a tool to keep women in their place. But then I realized something else: if virginity is considered that valuable, what's to stop me from benefiting from that? It is mine, after all. And the value of my chastity is one level on which men cannot compete with me. I decided to flip the equation, and turn my virginity into something that allows me to gain power and opportunity from men. I took the ancient notion that a woman's virginity is priceless and used it as a vehicle for capitalism.

This sounds like a conservative satire of what a Women's Studies graduate might say. What on earth is "the role of "woman" spanning culture and time"? How did "the university level" give her permission to create a moral code of her own design? And do most little girls really get raised to think of their virginity "as a sacred gift" that a woman should reserve for just the right man?

All this smells really off to me.

Indeed, the whole stunt smells bad, because losing one's hymen before the wedding night can still have frightening consequences to women in oppressive societies. Playing games on that theme certainly doesn't sound like something a future marriage counselor should do, and that's the planned occupation of Ms. Dylan (though right now she's of course in the field of sex work).

You may have figured out by now that I don't consider Dylan's stunt a feminist act. If anything, it is an anti-feminist act, reassuring us that women sell sex and men buy it and that the value of a virgin is higher than the value of a woman who admits to having had sex before in the same way a brand new car (or at least one with that new car smell) is more valuable than a second-hand car.

At least she gets to keep the money, you might argue, rather than having to hand it over to her father as is usually the case in traditional societies. Isn't that an improvement? An improvement over what, I might answer. It does nothing to help the women whose lives are at risk if they turn out not to have intact hymens for their husbands and in any case selling off one's virginity is not unknown in prostitution.