Fight the Mental Burqa: Dr. Phyllis Chesler and Christian Patriarchy’s “Purity Balls”
2010 April 1
The video captures the exuberance of the beautiful girl as she accepts an offer to dance. The man grasps her about the waist and they look into each other’s eyes. Her up-do is exquisite and her strapless gown, a perfect fit. It seems so romantic until I notice that the man is old enough to be the girl’s father. I read the video description and my stomach lurches – the man IS the girl’s father.
The elaborate spectacle, dubbed a “Purity Ball,” honors the child’s promise to place her physical and emotional chastity under her father’s protection. The Balls claim to provide cultural support to young women whose Christian morality is challenged by pretty much everything in the pop-culture surrounding them.
Part of the pledge taken by the father at the Ball states:
“I, (daughters name)’s Father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”
One Purity Ball website explains the purpose of the ceremony:
“The Purity Ball is a memorable ceremony for fathers to sign commitments to be responsible men of integrity in all areas of purity. The commitment also includes their vow to protect their daughters in their choices for purity. The daughters silently commit to live pure lives before God.”
Beyond the obviously bizarre spectacle of prom-queens slow dancing with their fathers, the essential problems with Purity Balls are intellectual. Purity Balls teach women that they are not capable of assessing and choosing to conform to a moral code of conduct on their own. Surrendering responsibility for personal behavior to another person undermines the foundation of Christianity itself. It negates individual accountability for adherence to a Christian way of life. The Balls reinforce the concept of women as fragile, contingent beings who cannot govern themselves and are not fully able to regent their own body, heart, and mind.
I do not object to parental supervision of adolescents or to parents teaching their children the value of objective moral standards, but to conditioning them to view their sexual identity as other than their own responsibility.
“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,’ Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. ‘They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”
The most insidious consequence of Purity Balls is that, in spite of their claim to combat the view of women as objects of pleasure, they teach girls that their value, in the eyes of God and potential future husbands, is synonymous with their physical virginity.
At the Purity Ball, polished and gift-wrapped for future husbands, girls are not honored for accomplishments of mind or contributions to the good of others. They are gratuitously assured, “You are beautiful and precious in God’s sight because you have never had sex with anyone! And we don’t want you to lose what makes you valuable, your virginity. Daddy is going to take care of you so that one day, we can give you to a man who will also value you because you are pure!” In other words, you are a body.
If inner virtue was the object of the celebration, the guys would be at the Purity Balls too. There are no purity balls for boys.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler dramatically illustrates the consequences of this misogynist measure of a woman’s value. In her article “An Honor Killing that Was Not an Honor Killing After All” she analyzes the case of Harmohinder, a young Pakistani woman who discovered that her boyfriend, Sair, was actually married, his 17 year old wife expecting their first child. When Sair refused to take her as a second wife, Harmohinder murdered Sair’s wife and baby.
Without condoning the murder, Dr. Chesler examines the cultural reverence of female virginity and the consequences of any society equating it with a woman’s intrinsic value.
“Why is Sair’s immorality not considered a crime? Even a sin? His lust, his lies, his arrogance, his sense of entitlement, led to the murder of one pregnant woman and to life imprisonment for the female murderer. Perhaps Harmohinder had also been a virgin. Perhaps she thought that her life would become worthless if Sair did not marry her—no excuse for murder, but it suggests that the kind of culture which prizes virginity above a woman’s life is also part of the problem. As is the culture which mainly allows men, not women, to be sexually promiscuous with absolutely no consequence.”
“All across the world, women uphold and enforce misogynistic customs. They support the Islamic Veil; worse, women also support child, arranged marriage. And, like those women who support female genital mutilation for their daughters, they have a pitiful point. No one will marry a non-mutilated girl; poor families cannot support unmarried daughters. It’s as simple and as cruel as that.”
“For example, in Yemen this past Sunday, thousands of Yemeni women, their faces covered in religious veils, demonstrated outside the parliament to oppose proposed legislation banning the marriage of girls under seventeen. From their point of view, many families are desperately poor, and selling (or getting rid of) girls as young as eight years old is common. Many of the demonstrators taunted the educated women’s rights activists as “old maids” who have no children. The veiled women demanded Shari’a law, which allows for child marriage.”
The rising “Christian” Patriarchy movement embraces this same materialist view of women as radical Islam. Both teach that women are essentially contingent upon men, the property of men, answerable to men for what is the private domain of their own conscience, their personal relationship with God.
Purity Balls, like burqas and veils, deny the independent, intellectual nature of women. The last thing young American girls need is a Christian version of Shari’a that attaches family or church honor to the marketable quality of “their women’s bodies.”
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