Category Archives: parenting

Virginity and Body Autonomy: Two Women’s Stories

Debbie says:

Virginity, as Hanne Blank so thoroughly convinced me years ago, is a concept so ambiguous that it is almost meaningless. But nonetheless, it’s of deep importance to millions of people, two of whom have written about it this week, and the two posts resonate beautifully with each other.

NOTE:  Both of these posts are exclusively heteronormative; I apologize, and I hope folks for whom the heterosexual aspects don’t work will appreciate the underlying message.

Anna Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to her younger self: “Dear Anxious Virgin, Your Time Will Cum.”

Your parents are cool with letting your older sister date. Your high school has a strong sex-ed program where you’re learning that it’s okay to want sex. Your health teachers educate you about contraceptive methods. The teen magazines you consume voraciously are all run by third-wavers who challenge the word “slut.” Your friends talk openly about their experiences. You agree with these things on a political level. You are sex positive, you budding feminist you. You believe people should do what they want with their bodies. And yet, this ironically makes you feel guiltier that you aren’t doing what you want with yours.

Ashley Simpo wrote a more generalized, but still very personal piece: The Thing About Your Daughter’s Virginity.

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

Instead we teach our daughters that despite having wet panties and perked nipples and all the necessary emotions and “equipment” needed to engage sexually, that they should hold off — not because perhaps she doesn’t have the time to deal with the physical realities of sexual activity (i.e. remembering to take a pill, having your naughty-bits rubbed raw on occasion, having to maintain a new standard of personal hygiene, keeping up with your menstrual cycles and knowing what questions to ask a potential sex partner) but because the boy won’t respect her, or Jesus won’t like it or she may end up pregnant or itchy or dead or sad.

The two pieces, one about a white girl growing up in Canada and one about an African-American girl growing up in East Oakland, can almost be read in counterpoint. Fitzpatrick’s experience of believing she should want sex but not being ready for it balances Simpo’s experience of wanting sex against the advice of people around her. Here’s Fitzpatrick:

You invite him over. You initiate the makeout. You bring him to the bedroom. You start undressing first. “This is it,” you think, “this is when you finally get it over with.” (The fact that you think of sex as “getting it over with” should tell you all you need to know.) And then you lie on your back and he starts to enter you and even though he is very nice and even though you thought you wanted this, you start to PANIC and hyperventilate and he gets up and gets you a glass of water before even getting dressed (bless him) and you are considerate enough to wait until he leaves before you start spewing your guts out while hunched over the toilet, feeling the opposite of sexy.

And here’s Simpo:

No one ever told me that my body belonged to me and that I could do with it what I pleased.

And so within the act of feeling liberated and stirred after my first few sexual encounters, I also felt dirty, disrespectful, deceitful and disappointing. No one tells young girls to do what they want with their bodies because they know that at some point young girls are going to want to have sex. And God forbid a girl should open her legs and explore her sexuality….

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

What makes the connection between these two pieces so strong is that Simpo’s recommended advice works as well for girls like Fitzpatrick as it does for girls like herself. If both of them had taken the same advice–consider only whether you want to have sex with him–they would almost certainly have made different choices, but both of them could have made the choice with more confidence, less self-blame, and less baggage.

“Your body belongs to you and you can do what you please.”

Wouldn’t that message change the world?

Thanks to Lizzy for the pointer to the Simpo article.

Bogus Science, Outright Lies, and the Social Control of Mothers

Laurie and Debbie say:


If you watch TV in Brazil, you will see a series of ads that

depict a baby suckling on an unhealthy food instead of a breast.

One ad features a baby nursing on a burger, the second has an baby feeding on a doughnut, and the third has an infant nursing from a cup of soda. “Your child is what you eat,” reads the campaign’s tagline in large cursive letters across the woman’s chest. “Your habits in the first thousand days of gestation can prevent your child from developing serious diseases,” it continues.

The ads, which are outright lies, are sponsored by the Sociedad de Pediatrica de Rio Grande del Sul, so a Brazilian mother may not realize she is being lied to, and threatened.

(Parenthetically, gestation is about 270 days. If it’s a mistranslation, and they mean the first 1,000 days of life, you would still have to breastfeed until the child was three for that number to be useful. But that’s a side issue.)

More important, only a few substances are known to cross the breast milk barrier, and they don’t include sugar and fat. According to Diana West of La Leche League, the body’s milk production is designed to be relatively consistent so that the nutrients in whatever food a mother consumes go first into the milk. If there is any nutritional deficit, it will be experienced by the mother. “She’s the one that gets robbed, not the milk,” said West.

So what are the pediatricians really doing? Let’s look at another example, this one from the U.S.


… almost all public health campaigns, whether sponsored by states, social movement organizations, public health institutes, or the associations of alcohol purveyors tell pregnant women not to drink alcohol during, before, or after pregnancy… at all… or else.

If you’ve heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, this sounds like reasonable advice … until you dig into the numbers.

… only about 5% of women give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS. This means that many mothers drink excessively, and many more drink somewhat (at least 16 percent of mothers drink during pregnancy), and yet many, many children born to these women show no diagnosable signs of FAS. Twin studies, further, have shown that sometimes one fraternal twin is diagnosed with FAS, but the other twin, who shared the same uterine environment, is fine.

So, drinking during pregnancy does not appear to be a sufficient cause of FAS, even if it is a necessary cause (by definition?)

The article on mothers and alcohol goes on to quote a 12-year-old (!) book by Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility, which identifies a host of co-factors in fetal alcohol syndrome, including “poverty, malnutrition, high parity [i.e., having lots of children], and advanced maternal age.”

So, again, telling mothers that they must not drink at all during pregnancy is an outright lie. Even telling them that excessive drinking usually leads to FAS would be an outright lie.

What purpose do these lies serve?

First, like so many other things, they serve to control women. We know as feminists that when women gain power, huge efforts are immediately applied to curb that power. Just as acceptable sizes for women get smaller and smaller as women’s power gets bigger, acceptable behavior for women (in this case mothers) gets more and more constrained as more and more women take control of their lives (including their choice to have children).

Second, they prey upon the vulnerability of new mothers. Pregnant women and new mothers have long been known to be the most “compliant” population the medical profession sees. No one wants to feel like what’s wrong with her new baby is her fault, so if you tell her something she can do to prevent a possible problem, she’s very likely to take you seriously. (Isn’t “compliant” an interesting word in this context?)

Third, it continues the social trend to move “sin” away from harming others, acting violently, or other historical sinful acts and toward what we consume, what we eat and drink. It’s very convenient for the power structure if we worry more about what we put into our mouths than what they put into their pockets.

Finally, as we are learning to see everywhere, it takes the focus off the ways we as a society translate social problems into individual problems. It’s so much easier, and cheaper, and less demanding for us to tell pregnant women not to drink than for us to look at the issues of poverty and malnutrition. It’s so much more facile to tell nursing mothers not to eat fast food than it is to think about what food they have available, what choices are within their budget, and who is paying for the baby’s needs.

Shaming isn’t just cruel (though it is cruel); it’s also extremely convenient for the capitalists.