Special proms for prepubescent fundamentalist girls

| June 26, 2006 | 3 Replies

In “What is Conservative Culture?” (July 3, 2006 issue of The New Republic), Rick Perlstein reports that a new kind of prom has spung up in some fundamentalist communities.  It’s

not for high school seniors but for prepubescent girls. They dress up in party dresses and take their fathers as dates. After the fox trot, the daughter reads to her father from a card: “With confidence in His power to strengthen me, I make a promise this day to God, my family, myself, my future spouse, and my future children; to remain sexually pure until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my spouse.” The father responds: “I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

I had a few reactions to this idea.  First of all, with all of the effort the conservatives exert to make birth control pills and devices unavailable, I can see why they also need to put this enormous energy into keeping their daughters “pure.” 

Now, about that language, until she gives herself to her spouse as a “wedding gift?”  That sounds to much like chattel.  Do those fathers affix seals on their daughters to to certify that they have been properly “covered” and “protected.”  If the girl becomes a gift, are these Christian husbands free to do anything they want with their “gifts.” 

By the logic of the article, the wedding marks the end of purity.  Does that mean that married Christian girls are unpure? And where is that line between being pure and not pure?  First base?  Second base?  Do these thirteen year old girls understand what the term “pure” means?  I don’t. 

I woud rephrase this prom declaration and put it in writing so that everyone understands everyone else.  I would define in writing whether French kissing destroys purity.  What about watching a steamy movie? What about (caveat: Fundamentalist parents, please skip to the next paragraph) autoeroticism?

And shouldn’t there be a few caveats communicated to these de-sexed debutantes?  For example, not all girls get married right out of high school.  Do these young women realize that they are denying themselves what many people consider to be the ultimate pleasure, potentially for decades?  If I had my say, I would insist upon the use of a special written disclaimer form:  “I understand that many people consider sex to be the ultimate pleasure.  By signing this, I am giving up the chance to experience this ultimate pleasure for a length of time that might exceed several decades.  If no one proposes to me, which is likely given that my father will constantly be “covering” me, I acknowledge that I will die a virgin. Signed, Ashley, aged 10.”

Finally, how about a “Progressive Prom” where the girls promise to be empathetic to the plight of the poor and disenfranchized and where each of the fathers promises to trust his daughter’s judgment, whether she be 10 years of age or 15 or 25?

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Category: Religion, Reproductive Rights

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    The problem of defining "purity" for teenage girls is even more difficult than merely worrying abut French kissing, steamy movies and autoeroticism. According to this article (http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-10-19-teens-technical-virginity_x.htm), most teens who have had oral sex still consider themselves to be virgins. Likewise, teens have so re-defined sex (see, here, for example) that many parents are now clueless about teen beliefs and attitudes toward sex (see, here, for example).

    Add to this debate the varying amounts of blatant hypocrisy — indeed, outright prevarication ("condoms are dangerously ineffective") — that comes from Fundamentalists, and I wonder what sort of guidance they believe their pledge of "purity" actually provides. More like wishful thinking on the part of excessively paternalistic fathers.

    What most amuses me (and bothers me) about Fundamentalist notions of sex education for teenagers is when they demand the removal of sex ed programs from the public schools, as if this alone will stop teenagers from learning about the subject at school. Unfortunate as it might be, public schools will teach teenagers about sex whether it is taught in a classroom or not.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's an email I recently received and my response on this topic:

    Erich

    dude, I read what you wrote just for the hell of it.

    who really cares what some Christian parents do to help their kids from screwing up their lives early. I mean seriously, would it be better to let them do whatever with the possibility of getting pregnant, or have an STD. Is that your solution Mr. Anti-Christian?

    Your articles are beginning to get lame.

    My response:

    Are you suggesting that my earlier articles weren't lame?

    How about teaching girls how to NOT get pregnant rather than making little girls make silly promises they don't understand? And if your solution is to tell them not to have sex, you've got thousands of years of ubiquitous failure based on that method.

    By the way–I hope you aren't assuming that I think it's a good idea for teenaged girls to have sex. I think that's generally a bad idea, especially for young teenagers. Just because their bodies are ready it doesn't mean that their minds are ready. There is also, as you suggest, the risk of STD's which is something that young teenagers should not have to concern themselves with.

    Therefore, abstinence is a terrific beginning to sex education, but it is naive to think that that approach serves a young woman all the way until marriage.

     —

    This reader labelled me an "anti-Christian" because I dared to question this particular method of dealing with a serious issue (unintended teen pregnancies and STD's).  I must say, though, that many of my Christian acquaintances would also scoff at this method. I know they would react this way, because we've discussed similar antics of fundamentalists before.  To label me "anti-Christian," then is incredibly presumptuous.

    Name-calling seems so very counter-productive to me.  In this blog, I have repeatedly asserted that I highly respect more Christian believers than I can count.  Many of them are even famous for their great deeds.  Most of them are relatively unknown to the world at large, though I know them and admire because of their intelligence and generosity.  I don't give any Christians any points for calling themselves Christian, however.  There are too many lazy, ignorant and destructive Christians out there (mixed in with the numerous intelligent, sensitive, generous and otherwise admirable Christians) to judge Christians by that simple label.  I refuse to assume people are kind and sensitive just because they characterize themselvs as kind and sensitive.  Quite a few Christians argue that people who go to Christian churches other than their own are not actually Christians. The author of the email to which I am responding once asserted, for example, that Roman Catholics are not Christians.  I've also heard fundamentalist leaders making this claim on radio shows and in person.  Even if we could determine who qualifies as Christian as a matter of "spirtuality," experience tells me that it is impossible to predict a person's personal character, politics or level of generosity based upon his or her assertion that he or she is a "Christian."

    Therefore, the category "Christian" is too broad to be useful to me.  Instead of worrying about labels people apply to themselves, I try to judge people on their inner qualities and their conduct.  I know that this is radical thinking to many, but here is what I believe:  Doing good deeds in the name of Jesus is no more admirable than doing good deeds because it is the decent thing to do.  Good deeds motivated by the fear of hell are arguably less admirable than good deeds done because they are simply good and decent things to do. Acting in conterproductive ways in the name of Jesus does not make that conduct admirable.

    It's absurd to claim that when I wrote this post I was attacking all Christians.  Most Christians are not so naive to believe that it is meaningful to force pre-pubescent pre-hormonal girls to make promises that will potentially span decades of emotional, intellectual and physiological growth.  I was attacking what seems to me to be a self-congratulatory method constituting form over substance.  While they are at it, why don't the fathers make their 10-year old daughters commit to marrying a particular type of guy, having specific numbers of children or taking up particular types of careers.  Make them promise that they'll never question the religious beliefs with which they were raised.  Make them promise that they'll won't ever watch inappropriate movies and they'll never ever get fat.

    If it looks like I was slashing away with gusto, it is because these same folks who arrange these proms are the same ones who work hard to prevent young girls from having the information and means to keep from getting pregnant.   Although I believe that abstinence is a terrific beginning to sexual education, "abstinence-only," has now been proven to be ineffective.  To use a prom to compel prepubescent girls to publicly commit to an ineffective method of preventing pregnancy and STD's is an absurd and wretched abuse of intelligence and power.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    In the Anderson Cooper video, the father of a teenage girl tries to explain that virginity is not the focus of a “Purity Ball.”

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