I’ve been reading a lot about chastity balls these days. A chastity ball is something like a wedding ceremony, but with a twist. Here, a father and daughter exchange vows – the father swears to be faithful to his daughter’s mother, while the daughter swears tha she’ll remain a virgin till the day she gets married. The father may also slip a ring onto his little one’s finger, to be give to her husband the day he deflowers her.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but this whole idea of a chastity ball revolts me. There’s something so primitive about this whole idea of ritualising an act which should remain personal. If a girl decides to remain a virgin till she gets married, that’s all very well. But why make such a production of it? Might as well slip one of those dreadful medieval contraptions known as Chastity Belts around her waist. And keep the key.
Why is such importance attached to a woman’s virginity anyway? Sex is not dirty when men indulge in it, so why should different rules apply to women? Many of the people who took part in this ceremony claimed that it reinforced their Christian values. I’m sure there’s more to Christianity than that. How about Mercy, Charity etc.? Why not have a ceremony in which all the participants swear to pay a tithe of their earnings to some deserving cause?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Christianity. Anything that brings spiritual solace to people is good, say I. But I do have a lot against primitive sexual politics which say that a woman is virtuous only if she’s chaste. Why is a woman’s virtue so inextricably bound to her sexuality?
It’s worldwide problem. I’ve read of some sub-saharan cultures which condone the horrific practice of female circumcision. To put it crudely, the clitoris is split or sawn off. The idea is that a woman is supposed to have sex only to reproduce, not for pleasure.
Then there’s the whole idea behind the application of vermilion in the parting of a woman’s hair (sindoor). The red of the vermilion signifies the red of the blood that flows when a woman loses her virginity. I remember reading a Marquez story (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) in which the marital bedsheet with specks of blood on it is displayed in public, like a trophy. No blood means that the new bride is a loose and dishonourable woman and her husband’s family will then avenge this insult to their honour.
Recently, Indian television channels have been running the trailers of a new Hindi movie called Namastey London. The premise of an English Mem falling in love with a Desi Babu has been done to death, but that is not what I’m quibbling against. A line in one of the trailers goes, ‘A virgin from London..’. Why stress the fact of her virginity? What if she weren’t a virgin? Would she be less deserving of the audience’s love and sympathy?
The reason why we have all these stupid and demeaning practices is because we make such a big deal out of sex. I’m not advocating promiscuity, but we’re definitely in an age now where we know more and therefore can act more responsibly. We don’t really need society’s sanction for acts that are essentially performed behind closed doors.
A little note: Why are run-less overs in cricket called Maiden Overs? ‘Coz nobody scores in them. A cheap and low joke no doubt, but it just goes to show how deeply ingrained such sexual politics are in our collective psyche that we don’t even notice them anymore.
[UPDATE: My friend Madhura Kanekar just brought something to my notice…sexual politics in the blogosphere. Please show your support for Kathy Sierra.]