Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fathers, Daughters, and Purity Balls

The other day PZ Myers had a brief post about the incredible ickiness (that's the clinical term) of Father-Daughter Purity Balls.  These are celebrations in which a teenage girl pledges to remain a virgin until her father approves her marriage.  Everyone is dolled up as though for a wedding, with men in tuxes, and girls in fluffy bridesmaid dresses.  Well, that's not the weird part.  Quinceaneras are superficially similar rites of passage, and they don't strike me as creepy at all, maybe because, while the original purpose was to announce a girl was available for marriage, the modern function of these celebrations seems to be to introduce the daughter of a family to her community as a young adult while also honoring her cultural heritage; a quinceanera marks her debut into greater society. 

At Purity Balls, on the other hand, Daddy and His Little Princess participate in a formal ceremony during which they exchange rings and kisses on the mouth after she promises God & everyone else present that Daddy will be her "boyfriend" until she is given away to her future husband.

This is the belief system underlying patriarchy taken to its logical extreme: that a woman "belongs" to a man (a father, a husband, possibly later a son) who controls her sexuality.  For all the problems and social injustices we face in the 21st century, most of us have come to recognize that no one can legitimately claim ownership of another person's (living) body.

I can almost guarantee that if my own father were still alive, he'd find "Purity Balls" as viscerally abhorrent as I do although he would have had a hard time articulating exactly why.  Even attending my Campfire Girls' annual Father/Daughter Buffet was excruciating for the poor guy, although he enjoyed sharing activities in which our gender difference played no part (riding motorcycles, camping and boating).  My father, for all his faults, was a man who absolutely respected his daughters' sexual and physical boundaries.  (He could be a little uptight, in fact.  Once, having returned home after a two year absence, I flung my arms around him at the airport and he was so mortified that it was like embracing a marble column.)

Neither did my father ever tell me I should expect to find a man who would treat me "like a queen."  In fact, to the extent to which he advised me about my future, it was to nag me to take more math and science classes and quit wasting my time with my head in a novel, and not get married too early. Once, during a long car ride home from college, he confided that he hoped I would find a job I liked because "working would have made your mom a happier person." 

In other words, my father more than anyone made me a feminist. 

Someday, if I can do so tactfully, I'm going to ask my fundamentalist Christian neighbors what they think about these "purity" covenants. Or maybe I won't because... well, maybe there are some things I just shouldn't know.

Meanwhile, the little girl below is clearly having none of this nonsense! 


  1. Haha. This reminds me of this blogger called Jesse who runs "secular patriarchy." He's basically a total romantic, but also a total woman repeller in real life (his own words.) He pretty much wants nothing more than a woman he can put on a pedastal and worship, and thinks patriarchy is the way, as in patriarchy women recieve their right to chivalry and and and :P

    I guess someone should tell him that his current antics aren't gonna make him any better with women

  2. As protective as my father is, he also finds the idea of purity balls quite strange.

    He is a typical caring Dad. He strongly believes in strength, independence, discipline, and intelligence - and encouraged in me all these values. He is always proud of my accomplishments and progress. At the same time, he would never approve of a partner he didn't think would treat me well. He is a feminist without even knowing much about the American political movement.

  3. Purity Balls have got to be one of the most revolting things I've ever heard of.

    Little girls promising that only daddy will be her boyfriend? No creepy overtones there? I wonder how the mommies feel about this?

  4. The mom in the linked video claims to be completely on board with it, but yeah... It's a set up for incest, mother/daughter competition, and any kind of family dysfunction you can imagine.

    1. I was later reading the comments on Pharyngula, it seems a lot of people are seeing what I'm seeing.

      If nothing else it's setting up very unrealistic expectations for marriage, unless anyone believes that a woman's lot is of one of perpetual childlike submission to a male authority figure. Oh, wait...

  5. Well, as a former fundamentalist, I can say with certainty that none of this would have flown in my neck of the woods. First, those dresses were quite revealing (elbows AND collarbones? Heck no.). Second, dancing? That's just one step away from the sex, and there'll be none of that, tyvm. Third, girls don't need to know about sex until the night before their wedding (the younger the better, amiright?). These purity balls are just looking for trouble.

    Now, my personal non-fundy opinion? These things are creeeeeepy. Emotional incest, almost certainty. I don't think there's anything wrong with encouraging your child to remain abstinent, but I do think there's something horribly awry with fetishizing a young girl's sexuality and objectifying her to that extent.

  6. A little confused here - your Dad was encouraging you to take more math and science classes - and you chose not to.

    Then, in a later post, you claim that there are a lack of women in the engineering field?

    Didn't I make the point that that is because women choose not to enter it?

    Am I wrong?

    Am I missing something?


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