Sunday, May 6, 2007

Performing Purity - Father/Daughter Purity Balls

  • For a long time, Western religion has advocated a split between body and mind; the body has traditionally been viewed as something that pollutes the purity of the mind or soul. In this time of HIV/AIDS however, it is possibly very important to be able to convey that the purity of one's mind is lined up with a body purity. A fascinating new movement has started emerging in the U.S. to demonstrate that both body and mind are in agreement - at least when it comes to the sexuality and virginity of young girls in certain evangelical Christian circles. A new twist on abstinence rallies, father/daughter purity balls have been staged for the past seven years or so. Girls as young as six and young women into their mid-twenties go to a "purity ball" with their fathers (or uncles, or grandfathers), in an elaborate and formal affair that has many appearances of a wedding celebration.The father (or stand in) pledges a 'covenant with God' that he will protect the purity of his daughter and that of generations to come. The girls and young women will often silently affirm their pledge to purity through the ritual of laying a white rose at the foot of the cross. Pictured above is a "purity dance" with the symbolic bride and the girls demonstrating through dance their devotion to remaining chaste until marriage. In true capitalist fashion, there is a whole market industry around purity ball kits (don't ask), prom-like pictures of dad and daughter on their date, and the cost of the event which can run a cool hundred bucks per father/daughter.
I'm trying to make sense of this phenomenon, and attempting to look at it with a kind of detached cultural interest (without much luck). I recognize this is a hyper-response to a commitment to abstinence (albeit in highly gendered terms) I just can't get beyond the fact that the father/daughter thing regarding her sexuality is more than a little creepy, and am disturbed by the lack of voice of the young women who are participating. I understand this is a traditionalist backlash, and that women's sexuality is always one of the first things to be contained, owned, subdued and controlled when it feels like culture is shifting and challenging the status quo. Still though...not seeing any "mother/son" purity dances coming up. And doesn't an "Oedipal Ball" sound like a grand idea? Slouching teenaged boys shuffling around and dancing in formal wear with their mothers or grandmothers while their moms pledge to keep an eye on their sons' sexual purity (and that of grandsons to come, uh, I the future.) Yeah. I thought so. Not bloody likely.
  • (For some smart commentary on the purity ball "survivor" kit, see this brilliant post on Feministing. Or, if it all still seems too strange to be true, you can see what Wikipedia has to say.

1 comment:

The Scott said...

Challenging youth to wait until they are an adult is one thing. Scaring the heck out of them, and telling them a condom is a provision for sin is irresponsible. Did you know the Lovers in the Song of Solomon have sex in Chapter 2, but don't get married until Chapter 3? The kind of ignorance Church leaders have about this sort of in-your-face premarital sex in the Bible has gone on too long. If you want to know more, go to my website. It's cheaper than a Purity Ring and a lot more fun than abstinence.

-The Scott