By Melissa Mullinax
In her latest publication, “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women,” author Jessica Valenti attacks the concept of virginity and its perpetuation in America.
Covering a wide array of fields, Valenti devotes chapters to how politics, public school systems and pornography feed the “purity myth” and strengthen its influence.
In particular, Valenti specifically rails against abstinence only sex education as promoted by Republican presidential administrations.
She also addresses how race and class negatively affect young women within the “purity myth”.
Through a combination of surprising statistics and shocking anecdotes, Valenti builds a well-researched and unapologetically feminist argument against the idolization of young women’s virginity.
She argues that valuing women solely for their sexual actions, or lack thereof, is shallow, oppressive and detrimental to both women and men.
Valenti’s work reads like a cross between a scholarly journal article and shameless feminist propaganda.
Each of the chapters contain footnotes, which direct the reader toward a bibliography in the back of the book.
With a hefty amount of documentation, Valenti displays how well versed and knowledgeable she is on the subject of women’s rights and related matters.
At times, she cites her own blog, www.feministing.com, as a source of information.
In addition to the traditional numbered footnotes, which resemble any other type of thesis that demands research, Valenti also includes other types of footnotes, which are indicated by various symbols such as asterisks and crosses.
These footnotes serve a different purpose.
Instead of citing a source for the statement made in het text, the footnotes include personal stories or commentary.
While the comments and stories bring another layer of humor to the book as a whole, they simultaneously have the potential to undercut Valenti’s voice as an authoritative and serious writer.
Discussing a law proposed by a Virginia lawmaker which denies unmarried women access to reproductive technology, she adds in an asterisk footnote, “This is what I like to call the ‘no dick, no deal’ law.”
While certain readers, possibly even most people reading this book, may laugh along with Valenti’s crude and catchy comment, it still leaves them wondering how seriously she expects the audience to take her arguments.
All things considered, her shifting tone works for the general mood of the book.
Part of Valenti’s appeal is her ability to take a controversial problem, such a virginity, write her ideas into a book and maintain a political, ideological, and moral discussion, all the while invoking humor and her own experience.
Making no attempt to appear impartial or neutral, she brings herself into her work and acknowledges her own feminist bias.
At first glance, it appears that Valenti’s main argument in “The Purity Myth” is that women should have sex all the time and everywhere; however, she specifically addresses this misconception.
While she spends many pages in the book unabashedly attacking the Christian Right and its attempt to control women’s bodies through the propagation of patriarchy, Valenti also acknowledges that women may choose to abstain from sex for their own reasons, any of which are valid and which she respects.
The point is that women have a choice that is without shame and without guilt.
Valenti proposes that there is more to woman than her sexuality.
She suggests that in order to break the prevalent classification of women as either virgins or whores, society must recognize a woman’s ability to make her own decisions as a complex and competent individual.