Sunday, January 29, 2006

On 'America's Most Endangered Species: the Virgin'

peace, y'all

So, 'bout a week ago I made a post on something that was really flippin' buggin' me. And I've been watching the response with amazement. I seriously give "big ups" to God for inspiring me on that one b/c I have had even more reasons to think since.

One of the entries from that was Svend's America's Most Endangered Species: the Virgin. Excellent post.

Svend points out the dangers to young men's egos and actions when it comes to being virgin and young in American pop culture, where *ahem Romance* is pushed at you from, seriously, toddlerhood if not birth. Amen to that.

He says:
I suspect that Americans born in an earlier era or people born abroad are unlikely to grasp how deadly the combination of good old American machismo with a hyper-sexualized, increasingly secularized society is for the self-esteem of young men who abstain from sex. When you've grown up with bed-hopping heroes like James Bond and Captain Kirk as your icons of masculinity; and when you've grown up in a cultural mileu where the concept of male virginity is so relentlessly mocked that a movie like "The Last American Virgin" --a 1982 high school comedy about the quest to finally deflower America's lone remaining male teenage virgin; stop and think about the implications for societal norms there and consider what an incredible rupture it is with the past--is comprehensible it's impossible for your inner compass not to be warped to some extent, no matter how much you may aspire to live up to traditional values.

As an older sister to a still teenaged brother in college, I absolutely agree. I saw my LilBro going through a stage where he didn't really talk about girls with anyone, b/c he didn't want to get into the virginity topic. And plenty of girls find him attractive, so he had the additional issue of having them throw themselves at him. There are three of us who were raised in the same house by our mother (our older bro has a different mother and lives in NM). Seriously? We 'joke' with our mother all the time that she'd better watch out or she'll not have ANY grandchildren, because (so far) all of us made it out of teenages as virgins. That speaks to a couple of things: one, that we all felt like freaks in resisting that influence and culture that's been around from day-the-first; and also that Mama didn't play around when it came to discussing sex and values. Even within our family, the emphasis on resisting sex until marriage is rare. My father has 8 brothers and sisters and all of them have at least 2 kids. Only 3 of them have children who weren't pregnant/getting someone pregnant before marriage. And 2 of them still have kids under 20, which means I'm still holding my breath. That's just the evidence within my own family. Family is where you look first for values, so we aren't doing too well in teaching boys OR girls the inner strength and values necessary to not mind being unique sexually on top of the other unique qualities that teens tend to want to erase from themselves in the quest of doing and being what's popular. Make sense? Okay.

Then too, I don't know about LilBro, but when it came to us girls, Mama was all about information and openness. So I think we were raised almost with a 'backhomelandia'(credit to UmmZ) perspective on such things as sexuality and marriage. My sis and I heard as early as 9 years old that if and when we had kids we'd have to take care of them. Combined with the also-early knowledge of how babies get here, and we were just scurred to be even thinkin' about that sex thing.

Yeah, so that, combined with being tossed into that culture at 18 and really not knowing how to handle it except withdraw... yeah, I feel for my bro, b/c I sense that he might just give in to that influence to save face but also out of exhaustion. High school here in the states is 6-4 years of extreme sexual pressure anyway, nevermind if you're an athlete (LilBro was) and even worse when you've got the stone wall of values and parental displeasure at home backing you. Yeah, it's a great feeling but also... if I've built this image correctly you can see how a guy could end up feeling squashed.

Feel free to discuss that as you will. It's a random, off-the-cuff observation.

Svend makes a point of saying he wants the reactions of women, and I'm happy to oblige.

He remarks:
There is no question that young women are put under enormous pressure to "put out"--and then, ironically, punished for not remaining pure (a la the Madonna/Whore complex)--and there are all sorts of other kinds of unhealthy pressures on young women vis-a-vis their appearance, but I don't think women in this society face the same internalized *psychological* pressures to be promiscuous. Women are pressured in a myriad of ways, but I would argue that they tend to be more external (e.g., social pressure) and the price paid for not giving in to this pressure is milder. In a nutshell, from a very early age men are conditioned to base their most profound sense of manhood on their sexual resume, as it were. I do not think the same can be said of women. There may be every manner of pressure and enticement to get women to be sexually active, but they are not taught to hate themselves for not being sexually active or for "conquering" men.

I submit that in American culture today, an adult female virgin is treated as a quaint oddity, but not as a clinical disorder. She might even occasionally get an iota of respect. An adult male virgin, to the contrary, is treated like a freak of nature, something that I consider incredibly harmful to young men's psychological development.

I'm not implying one is less of a problem than the other, so much as addressing what I consider to be important differences.

To which my first reaction was: Breh, are you kidding?

1) With whom do you think all those boys are losing their virginity? Girls of the same age, if not younger. The being-into-younger-men thing isn't common among college- aged women imho. It doesn't hit until the 40's. If anything it's made worse by the girls' own internal pressures specially when those *ahem* romantic feelings are involved. Pressure from the outside (movies, music, media, peers) is added to the fact that those, um, normal human hormonal surges internally make her think she's crazy for saying no. Bingo: the culture doesn't make a huge point of resisting gratification, so if the woman in question doesn't have a strong sense of self and values virginity is gone long long before adulthood AND the girl probably will not want to face the why's of that.

2) The psychological pressures are there, my friend, and I'm a witness. In the community I came up in, anyhow, by the time you're 16 you're just expected to know your way around a man's body, how do perform certain sexual actions, and don't eeeeven come like you're innocent. Just as a female may be made to feel like a freak if she doesn't have the right hair or style choices, that very same external pressure can cause her to question her values to the point of making things up and lying about her status as a virgin- or abandoning it altogether. I think the words used were 'freak of nature'. Not only can that sentiment be felt but it can make certain girls targets for those predatory teenaged boys.

3) I clearly recall Ebony Magazine putting out an article when I was in college (eg not all that long ago) where a woman said, "I am a 23-year-old virgin" and that was supposed to be a really big deal. Now, she did get that respect. And that article led to some great discussions between me and some girlfriends and peer counselees on the lines of 'I wish I had waited, etc.' But I remember hearing a lot of voices in the college community being like, wow, you're missing out.

4) Unfortunately, in these times of perceived gender equality, yeah, women are compelled to measure themselves by the number of men they've had, and not just by men- women encourage this. I think it's a negative effect of that so-called 'equality'. Instead of having our own standards of judgment adult women in a lot of places adopt those appied to men. And that includes those sexual standards as well.

Ima stop talking now. Got more to say, but I feel like what I already said is prolly a bit jumbled cuz I'm not talking it, I'm writing it.

I'll probably bring a part II on this having to do with teenagers again, since I did teach 8th graders and many things along this line that I saw with them bothered me.


Submitted to the Radical Women of Color Carnival :

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the feedback, TT.

    A lot of interesting comments.

    Hey, I realize that I could be totally off base on women's experiences and pressures, being a man and all. And I tried to make taht clear by inviting comments from the sisters. Those observations about women were really just food for thought.

    Your point about adult women adopting the standards of men is an interesting one. I've definitely observed that phemonenon, with young women embracing misogynistic, male-centered attitudes.

    Not that boys should want to be this way, either, but there is something especially sad when you girls bragging about being "pimps", etc. No matter how much you dress this stuff up as being "empowered" and free, these attitudes work against women.

    Which reminds me of the whole white, suburban appropriation of urban/black culture. The sight of prep school kids from leafy suburbs doing a pimp strut and pounding fists like gangbangers in the middle of idyllic Georgetown campus still irritates the heck out of me. But I digress.