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Human Rights

Congratulations! You've won a grant shaped like a chastity belt.

Where, oh where, to begin with this story about a South African grant just for girls who remain virgins:

 

“The bursaries are for young girls who are still virgins,” said a municipality spokesman, Jabulani Mkhonza.
“It’s a new category which the mayor has introduced this year,” he said, adding that the goal was to encourage “young girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies”. Beneficiaries of the grant would be subjected to regular virginity tests, he added. 
“Those children who have been awarded bursaries will be checked whenever they come back for holidays. The bursary will be taken away if they lose their virginity,” said Mkhonza.

Let's see...
That tying poor girls' educational prospects to a grant shaped like a chastity belt is inhumane? 
That virginity tests are bogus and a gross invasion of privacy? 
That keeping girls safe and in school is better accomplished with sex ed?
That young women should get educational support regardless of sexual history?
That some of them have probably been raped and shamed over that? 
That there's no comment on the value of boys staying celibate?
Ugh. 

The good news: Women's groups are attacking the plan.

Just The Tip: Teaching Sex Ed to 4-yr-olds, Duggar grossness, Your Number, V-Myths and more...

Our weekly collection of interesting links from around the internets. Click on the titles to link. (Or, why wait? Get up-to-the minute news on our Facebook page)

Bill Nye explains The Sex

Not super informative, but how can you resist? Bill Nye's at the Museum of Sex in New York to explain the evolutionary purpose of sex. Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts STARTALK (MONDAYS 11/10c on NatGeo).


Jaclyn Friedman on Caitlyn Jenner and the complicated definitions of womanhood:

"Trans people are not magical gender warriors. We may politicize their bodies, but they are not obligated to play along. As with all of us, some may decide to become activists, but most won’t, and either way, none of them will exclusively do the most politically expedient thing every time they’re faced with a choice. Because they’re human. They don’t owe the world a revolution, or even an explanation. And they’re certainly not obligated to live up to the arbitrary standards of one random cis woman."


Inside the Duggars' Dark World

Young women are not only robbed of any sexual agency, this culture also teaches that "Women are objects, controlled and exchanged by men to create and affirm the men’s identities...Women. Are. Not. People." And it has implications for all of us. An essay by one of our fave virginity geeks, Jaime Hough.


I was interviewed for this piece (along with our How To Lose Your Virginity expert Hanne Blank) about busting virginity myths. Loved contributing thoughts along with lots of screen grabs from the film:

"Male virginity wasn't even discussed as a thing until the 20th century," Therese Shechter, creator of the documentary How to Lose Your Virginity, told Mic. "Whether a man was sexual or not had little bearing on his character or value."
"The concept of virginity is all too often tied to how we talk about women's morality and sexual choices," Shechter said. "I think people should define virginity however they want, or dismiss the concept it altogether if it's not useful to them."

Is You Sexual History As Impressive As You Think?

In other words, am I a slut or a loser? So lemme just go get a pencil. But first...What exactly does 'slept with' mean? And if our definitions are different based on which parts touched other parts, then what exactly are we comparing and tallying? And what constitutes a lot? I know, I know...this is just a dumb internet game, but can we all agree 'the number' makes no sense? Instead, why not ponder the first milestone of your sexual history with our own quiz.


In the Netherlands, sex education starts in Kindergarten

We North Americans do such a lousy job of teaching our young about sexuality. The Dutch are miles ahead of us:

“People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse [with kindergartners],” van der Vlugt says. “Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries.”

That means the kindergartners are also learning how to communicate when they don’t want to be touched. The goal is that by age 11, students are comfortable enough to navigate pointed discussions about reproduction, safe sex, and sexual abuse.

 

Be a VirginSpotter! Got a story you think we should talk about? Contact us or tweet at us here.

Just The Tip: Virginity In The News with Jane The Virgin, The Institute of Sexology, Indonesian 'virginity' testing, victorian sex myths that won't go away, and more...

Your weekly roundup of virginity-related stories in your world. Want to hear about them right away? Follow us on Facebook where we post daily. Got a story for us to post? Let us know!  

V-Card and Feminist Ryan Gosling

So honored to have our V-Card sharing space with Feminist Ryan Gosling at Sewanee University of the South after my "How To Lose Your Virginity Myths" lecture at the Bairnwick Women's Center Pinnacle Luncheon. Want me to come to your school? More info here.

 

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"There are no “but”s when it comes to women’s humanity. Not “but” you’re lonely, not “but” you’re horny, not “but” you’re nice, not “but” that’s how your grandparents met, not “but” she was naked in your bed. Women are people, and women just get to exist and set boundaries and say no. Always. Any time. Just like you."

Lindy West's essay for the Daily Dot is so powerful in the way it elegantly connects the dots between online harassment, rape culture, pick-up artists, and the way women are socialized to be 'kind' and 'receptive.' It's a must-read.

 

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Among the many reasons to watch the new CW show Jane The Virgin (aside from the amazing Gina Rodriguez) is the show's sex positive and pro-choice messages, which Cosmo points out is a big step forward for the Latina community.

"A TV show can't change everything about how the Latino community talks about sex and reproductive rights, but it's heartening to see one that reflects the change that's already happening. And while Jane's decision may ultimately not have been your decision, it's a decision she was able to make — not her mother's, not her grandmother's, not her boyfriend's. The show hasn't trivialized or moralized abortion talk; it's normalized it."

I especially love the show for the way it portrays real-life abstinence choices, freely made with actual information, as well as the way it confounds the stereotypes around 'older' virginity. OK, at 23, Jane isn't at all old, but you all are sending me older virgin emails at 19. So. Also, I have a special crush on vain but hilarious Telenovela star Rogelio De La Vega played by Jaime Camil. If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch it here for free!

 

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Turkish textbooks remove diagrams of genitals

Turkish news outlet The Hurriyet Daily News reports that some Turkish schoolbooks have replaced diagrams of genitalia with cute photos of mothers and baby animals. While pictures of baby polar bears definitely help SEO, they have no place in science books. It's just another disturbing instance of Turkey's increasing conservatism under Erdogan, but keep in mind these censored Turkish sex ed texts are not unlike US abstinence programs which erase information about contraception and gay people–when they're not vilifying them, that is. I hope they still have Our Bodies, Ourselves.

 

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The Telegraph reports that women who are trying to join Indonesia's police force are routinely subjected to 'virginity' testing. The women report that

“My group of about 20 girls was asked to enter the hall and was asked to take off our clothes, including our bras and underpants,” a 19-year-old woman told the organisation. “It was humiliating. Only those who had menstruation can keep [wearing] underpants… A female doctor did the virginity test ... the 'two-finger' test."

The story makes a point of asking what virginity has to do with good police work, but fails to mention that any and all so-called virginity tests don't test anything except how retrograde and ignorant the testers are. Aside from that, these tests were supposed to be abolished in Indonesia in 2010–and they are a violations of human rights.

 

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The UK's Wellcome Collection is doing a year-old exhibit on sexuality called “The Institute of Sexology”, which they describe as:

"a candid exploration of the most publicly discussed of private acts. Undress your mind and join us to investigate human sexuality at 'The Institute', the first of our longer exhibitions. Featuring over 200 objects spanning art, rare archival material, erotica, film and photography, this is the first UK exhibition to bring together the pioneers of the study of sex."

I love their NSFW video, which makes the study of sex look classy and illicit at the same time, with scads of naked bodies and naughty words. Totally worth the trip to London, in my opinion!

 

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We got vibrators

From Autostraddle's Rebel Girl series, 5 Bad Theories on Gender and Sex From Way Back When That Still Impact us Today, from with the totally bogus universal theory of gender difference, making European women's bodies the 'normal,' and the ongoing pathologization (is that a word?) of female sexuality.

"The American Psychiatric Association didn’t drop the term hysteria until the 1950s, and hysterical neurosis remained there into 1980. The impacts of the mass misdiagnosis are far-reaching: women today are still labeled “crazy,” and it’s a seemingly natural part of our gender roles."

On the plus side, we got vibrators.

 

V-Card Diaries: Sally "In Lebanon, people raise their girls on the idea that they can not be sexual beings the way boys are."

Today we're highlighting Sally in Lebanon, who gets a reaction like a 'you're a hooker' if she talks about sex in front of boys. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here. A little about myself:

Hello, my name is Sally. I'm from Lebanon, in the Middle East. I am a 19-year-old female.

How I define virginity:

Virginity is overrated. Especially for girls, people raise their girls on the idea that they can not be sexual beings the way boys are. Virginity for me is meaningless. I still didn't have sex though but I will soon, but I look at other older females that have sexual desires they can't obtain because of the whole traditions and religious crap.

Here's my story:

I 'm an atheist but I come from a Muslim background. My country is well known for it's diversity ( we have around 18 sects). And apparently all of them still think Virginity is a sacred thing, including the new generation. Even masturbation. I doubt if more than 20% of the population knows about it. When I talk about sex in front of boys they tend to give me some sort of you're a hooker or why are you so reckless with your life, they TRY to make me believe that Virginity is like doing drugs or even worse.

Middle eastern man tends to believe that his wife MUST be a virgin (even though he sleeps with tons) and if he really loves a woman but she's not a virgin, he won't marry her! Or if he wanted to, his parents ( which play a big role in a typical Arab man's life) will hammer his head till they force him to dump her. Not to mention that some tend to kill the female who loses her Virginity because her virginity represents the whole family (yep those still exists which really annoys me). So why an innocent soul who just wanted to discover herself would be murdered because of a f*cking hymen ?!!

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”–Margaret Atwood

“If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you” “If we can’t solve our problems we must DESTROY our problems...One day incels* will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system. Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU." Elliot Rodger, as quoted by The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the first to call the shooting a hate crime.

"...Whether any theoretical mental illness had anything to do with his rampage, it doesn’t negate the fact that he grew up believing in a toxic form of masculinity. That he believed he was entitled to women’s affections and to women’s bodies - and that being deniedwhat he thought was his due meant that the best thing he could do is go murder as many people as he could to punish them. Because that was exactly what he was doing: punishing people for the crime of not fucking him. Of forcing him to be a virgin, of making him less than a man. Because that is exactly what the cultural narrative of masculinity says. A woman who is a virgin is a prize, holding her “special gift” for a “special person”. A male (not a man, a male) is a failure. He is a boy, not a man. He is a failure, because masculinity is rated in two axis’ - in our capacity for sex and our capacity for violence." –Dr. Nerdlove, Paging Dr. Nerdlove on Tumblr

"Because of the misogyny he so plentifully expressed, I read the manifesto looking for examples where he would have been rejected by women.  Oddly enough, there are none, unless we count a girl who pushed and yelled at him in childhood, because he first bumped into her.  Other examples are of the type where a woman he smiled at didn't smile at him, where a woman he said "hi" to didn't respond.  If female rejection was what he mostly blamed for his suffering, where is that rejection in his manifesto?  Or did he expect women to flock to him, without any necessity to make an effort to meet them or talk to them? I cannot say for certain.  But the impression I got is that he never approached women at all, that he expected women to approach him, and when they did not, he felt enormous pains of rejection." Echidne of the Snakes

"So what can we do to stop this? We can refuse to participate in policing other people’s sexuality. We can call it out when we see others doing it. We can petition the media to address the misogyny and sexual double standard when discussing these murders. We can talk about it- blog about it, post status updates about it, write school papers about it, talk to friends about it. When it happens online, we can report it. But we have so much work to do." Dr. Jill McDevitt, The Sexologist on Tumblr

"@virginitymovie: #YesAllWomen because being a man is not defined by whether you've put your penis into a vagina." One of our contributions to #YesAllWomen, many powerful ones at this thread

* Incel is short for involuntary celibacy. Not all incel groups or hubs identify with Men's Rights or Pick Up Artist beliefs, and can be very supportive and female-inclusive. I'll be writing about this in another post.

A great opportunity for young writers interested in sexual health & reproductive rights!

RH Reality Check is one of our favorite sites for news and commentary about reproductive rights, sexual health, and politics around women's bodies. We were particularly thrilled to do a Round Table with Sarah Seltzer and Melissa Tapper Goldman earlier this year, and a Realcast with Amanda Marcotte. If you fit the criteria for this opportunity (and we know some great V-Card Diaries writers who do!) please check this out:

RH Reality Check is seeking a few great writers age 15-20 to join us for the spring semester of our Young Writers Program. Writers receive hands-on editing and mentoring, and they are paid for their published pieces. Diverse candidates enthusiastically welcomed with jazz hands. Please note the application deadline is Friday, January 17. Only full applications received to youngwritersapply@rhrealitycheck.org by Friday, January 17 will be considered.

Go to their website for more information, and good luck!

Virginity testing of women accused of 'immorality' is standard procedure in Afghanistan

From a New York Times story by Heather Barr on increasing attacks on the rights of women in Afghanistan: Whenever a woman or girl is arrested on “morality” charges — and sometimes even when she is accused of non-moral crimes such as theft or assault — she is whisked away for a vaginal examination at a government clinic in the province in which she was arrested. There is no opportunity for her to refuse.

Because of frequent mix-ups and general inefficiency, some women are sent for the examination two or three times. The examination, carried out by government doctors, results in a report on whether or not the woman or girl is a “virgin.”

These reports are often used as the sole evidence to support “moral crimes” charges in court, aside from a “confession” taken down by a police officer immediately after the arrest, which is usually signed with a thumbprint by a woman or girl who has no idea what it says[...]

Forcing these women and girls to undergo invasive vaginal examinations, sometimes repeatedly, to ascertain “virginity” as evidence likely to be used against them in criminal proceedings is not only a form of degrading and inhuman treatment strictly prohibited by international law but also a violation of their basic fair trial rights.

All of this would be horrific enough if it weren’t bad science, but it is. “Virginity” tests have no medical validity. A medical examination cannot determine, with any level of accuracy useful to a court, a woman’s sexual history.

In other news, a group of men in India think rape is the result of poor choices made by women: “Wearing the wrong kind of clothes, eating the wrong kind of food, going to the wrong kind of places.”

 

On Anti-Rape Wear and Chastity Belts

Chastity belt locked AR Wear is a collection of undergarments that the creators say will give women and girls "more power to control the outcome of a sexual assault" "when something goes wrong" using specially designed webbing and straps the make the garments impossible to remove. They're crowd-funding the project and about halfway to their goal, and their site is full of positive comments, including making a disco shorts version. The creators have their hearts in the right place, but they've understandably come under a fair deal of criticism.

Things like the insinuation that it's the potential victim's job to keep from getting herself raped, to the fact that most rapes are committed by people victims know and trust, to the risk of violence from an otherwise frustrated rapist, to the fact that $50K could go a long way to programs that teach young people about consent and rape culture. And then there's my personal observation that the models in the photos are super slim and this product requires an actual waist that's smaller than your hips to keep them on (bringing up those heinous comments about how fat girls should feel lucky to be raped. Ugh.)

Aside from all those issues, the undies keep getting compared to Chastity Belts, including in Amanda Hess's scathing take-down, which is worth a read. Seeing as our blog is about all things virgin, let's have a little teaching moment about that comparison and the devices themselves. The purpose of chastity belts was to assure exclusive access by the holder of the key, usually the wearer's husband/owner. You could compare this to an even worse owner-operated chastity system: a hideous brand of FGM, where a young woman's labia is sewn shut and then opened by the husband on their wedding night. In the case of AR Wear, it's a totally different story: The wearer has the 'key' and they're in control of access.

One of the few existing belts can be found, rightly so, in the Museum of Torture in Italy. However, many historians think chastity belts were largely a myth. There's very little record of chastity belt use, and since we have tons of other historical record on sexual practices, the lack of anything on chastity belts indicates they must have been very rare. When I interviewed the curator of the Museum of Sex in NYC, she said that she only knew of the one in Italy. On the other hand, there are loads of metal anti-masturbatory devices like this one at the Museum of Sex that they used to put on boys to keep them from touching themselves, and they're plentiful in museums and as awful as you can imagine. There are modern-day BDSM versions as well, but that's a whole other NSFW story.

Which brings me to a suggestion I've heard from several people: That it would be better to make constraining underwear for would-be rapists, except that we know you can rape someone without using a penis and without access to a vagina.

A Hymen by any other name – in Swedish, English and Arabic – is definitely sweet.

From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in December 2009.

The RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) is my new favorite sexual health organization! They distribute a booklet for the express purpose of dispelling myths surrounding the hymen and virginity. And they've coined a new name to better understand this somewhat notorious part of the female anatomy: Vaginal Corona (slidkrans* in Swedish):

In Swedish, the hymen used to be called mödomshinna, which translates literally as “virginity membrane.” In fact, there is no brittle membrane, but rather multiple folds of mucous membrane.

The vaginal corona is a permanent part of a woman’s body throughout her life. It doesn’t disappear after she first has sexual intercourse, and most women don’t bleed the first time,” said Åsa Regnér, RFSU secretary general.

Here's their unapologetic take on the meaning of virginity:

Virginity is a vague concept based on perceptions and myths, chiefly concerning female sexuality, that RFSU would not wish to endorse. For one thing, virginity is often associated with a heteronormative view of sex restricted to penetrative intercourse between man and woman...

For another, in many languages and cultures, virgin is synonymous with innocence, the opposite of which is guilt. There is no guilt involved in having sex, and no need to feel guilty about it.

The book gives examples of different vaginal coronas as well as a diagram of the vulva, and hopes to dispel the myth that all women bleed the first time they have intercourse. Here's what they have to say about hymen reconstruction (a procedure even non-sexually active women have to ensure they bleed):

Surgery on the vaginal corona rarely solves any problems, firstly because outcomes vary, and secondly because it helps to maintain patriarchal structures and a prejudiced view of women and their sexuality...it is not possible to sew a membrane in place, to recreate something that never existed. Doctors say it’s like “stitching butter” because the tissue is soft and elastic.

The book addresses vaginal intercourse and pleasure:

For a woman to enjoy vaginal intercourse – regardless of how many times she has done it and what is being inserted in her vagina – she needs to be aroused and lubricated (wet). If she is tense and has difficulties to relax, it may hurt more. It doesn’t matter whether it’s her first, second or tenth time.

And sexual assault:

Although you can’t tell from looking at a vaginal corona whether it has been penetrated, if you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault it’s possible to find traces of your attacker. It’s therefore critical to seek medical care as soon as possible after the incident, and not to wash yourself. The injuries that doctors record and the samples they take can be used as evidence in court. Equally important is the need to talk to someone and get counselling and support to help you deal with what has happened.

The booklet, which you can download here, is written in a very friendly and accessible tone – an impressive translation job from Swedish. The best news is that not only have they translated the booklet into English, by popular demand it's also available in Arabic and Sorani (a Kurdish language spoken in Iran and Iraq). All of our hymenology posts are here.

*Anyone know the literal definition of that? Their new term for the hymen in Arabic is تاج{اكليل}المهبل، and in Sorani, the term is ئهڵقهی زێ

Virginity testing and India's rape culture

Photo via Brown Girl Magazine

By now we've all heard about the 23-year-old Indian woman who died last week as a result of injuries suffered in a brutal gang rape. A woman in Pujab recently killed herself  after police refused to register her rape accusations, and police themselves have been implicated in rapes across the country. Now comes a report on a two-finger test which is still admissible as evidence in rape cases.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released Sunday in India, points to the so-called “two-finger test” as evidence of how India had failed to take rape seriously, often blaming women’s behavior for the offense. In the test, which appears in Indian jurisprudence textbooks and is admissible in court, a doctor inserts two fingers into a women’s vagina to determine its laxity and whether the hymen is broken, signaling previous sexual activity. The test perpetuates stereotypes of rape survivors as loose women and often is used by defense counsels to achieve acquittals, human-rights groups say.

So it's the usual combination of bad science, the medicalization of virginity testing, and good old slut-shaming. As reprehensible as India's attitudes are, keep in mind similar attitudes still hold sway in U.S. rape cases where, despite Rape Sheild laws, a sexual history can undermine a woman's credibility.

Update: Thanks to @kalifilms for a link to a story that expands on how poorly the US deals with its own rape culture

Yes, this is a Bollywood/Salsa music video for female-empowerment vagina-tightener

Our friend Aggie Ebrahimi always sends us the most distressing items for this blog, and this is no exception. We've profiled other vag-tightening creams here and here before, but none come with an ad campaign like this one. Behold an Indian commercial for the launch of '18 Again' which is described as

"a vaginal rejuvenation tightening gel is redefining the term women empowerment [their italics]. It is a powerful and natural answer to intimate feminine concerns. A remarkable product to empower the new age women."

Apparently, the cream was heartily endorsed by a group of Indian actresses at its launch, much to the dismay of Paromita Vohra, a Mumbai-based filmmaker, who writes:

I would also humbly request the beautiful, feisty ladies of a certain age present at the launch, who have rousingly performed "The Vagina Monologues," a play which aims to rescue the vagina from a place of shame and darkness, with the use of powerful words, not tightening and whitening creams — please do not confuse this issue and rob your good work of its power. And other ladies and gents, it’s really time you rejected this claptrap. It’s dumb, it’s uncool and also, it costs Rs 2,430 a pop. Get on with the real revolution now, it’s much nicer than being 18 again.

"If nobody wants to solve our problem, then they should behead her; we don’t want her"

I just read a horrifying New York Times story about a 18-year-old Afghan girl living in Northern Afghanistan who was abducted, raped and beaten by armed milita and possibly local police when she was 17. It was an rare and hopeful step for the family to take their daughter to the hospital and bring this crime to the governor's attention, but in a sickening twist, killing her to preserve the family is still their Plan B if they can't get justice:

 An examination also confirmed that her hymen had been broken. That can be tantamount to a death sentence in Afghanistan, where women are considered fit to marry only if they are proved to be virgins on their wedding night. Some who fail that test are killed by relatives to restore the family’s honor.

In interviews, both Lal Bibi’s mother and grandfather said they were thinking of killing her unless justice was done, although the fact that they had come forward suggested that they were hoping that the government will prosecute the men and redress the wrongs done to her and her family through the legal system.

“If nobody wants to solve our problem, then they should behead her; we don’t want her,” her mother said.

Even Lal Bibi, the young woman in question, says she'll commit suicide if her attackers aren't charged:

“If the people in government fail to bring these people to justice I am going to burn myself,” she said. “I don’t want to live with this stigma on my forehead. People will mock me if these men go unpunished, so I want every single one of them to be punished.”

Two men have been arrested, but the chief suspect disappeared after she was abducted. You can read the full story here.

Egyptian "Virginity testing" doctor acquitted but activist Samira Ibrahim fights on

“Nobody violated my honor, it’s Egypt whose honor was violated. And I will go on till the end to get her rights.”

–Samira Ibrahim, who bravely came forward to file lawsuits against the military for forcing captured Egyptian female protesters to undergo so-called 'virginity testing.' Although a civilian administrative court ruled the military had acted improperly, the doctor responsible for these sexual assaults was acquitted of charges.

The New York Times describes Ibrahim as 'an icon of the nascent women’s movement — which has found new freedom to organize since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year — for pressing her case despite the stigma that has silenced most other women subjected to the tests.'

Putting 'virginity testing' in quotation marks where it belongs

Today, the New York Times ran a story about the women pushing back against Egyptian patriarchy, while being forced into the back seat by the very groups they fought for. The story featured Samira Ibrahim (above), a young woman who has bravely come forward to talk about the sexual assaults (initially described as virginity tests) committed by Egyptian military against many arrested female protesters.

I really want to thank the New York Times for putting the term 'virginity testing' in quotation marks where it belongs. For too long, media coverage has given these kinds of examinations legitimacy, as if anything about a woman's sexual history can be determined by the state of her hymen. We used to make women sit on onions to see if it could be smelled on her breath. That was a 'virginity test' once as well–and about as accurate.

Once we abolish the idea that anyone can be tested for 'virginity,' the next step will be to abolish the stigma or judgement attached to a woman's sexual history. The purpose behind the 'tests' performed in Egypt was to shame these women and guarantee their ruin if they ever came forward about it. We should all admire women like Samira for their bravery.

This photograph by Ed Ou for The New York Times accompanied the story

SlutWalkNYC: A Video Diary

(Above) Trailer for the short film #SlutWalkNYC This past Saturday, October 1st, Slutwalk came to New York City, and I was there with my camera to record scene at the march. 

For me, one of the truly frustrating things about coverage of SlutWalks all over the world has been the media's focus on the most elaborately undressed and risque marchers, leading people to believe the events are solely about demanding the right to dress like a slut. I hope this video gives people a sense of the range of participants (gender, orientation, background, race, age) that were there marching, chanting and generally raising some hell. You'll want to hit pause over and over again to read all the signs!!

Some other writings on SlutWalks: Clothes Are Not My Consent, Six Reasons Why Slut Walk is Awesome, What to Wear to a Slutwalk, and Why I Am Marching. Plus reporting from The Huffington Post, the NY Post (but not loving the 'hundreds of scantily clad ladies' line). And a critique of SlutWalks from An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk. And this update: In a great piece written after the march, Sady Doyle compares Slutwalk to Occupy Wall Street. (she's in the video at 1:27)

A BRIEF PRIMER:

If you're not familiar with SlutWalk, the SlutwalkNYC organizers have lots of info on their website, but here's quick intro:

SlutWalk has become a worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and working to end sexual and domestic violence. The name has been controversial, but the mission is a powerful one: to shed the stereotypes and myths of sexual assault, support a better understanding of why sexual assault happens, and put the blame where it belongs–on those who perpetrate it.

SlutWalk started in my fabulous home town of Toronto, where in January 2011 a group of York University college students asked a representative of the Toronto Police Department how keep themselves safe from sexual assault. His response of “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” galvanized the women into creating SlutWalk in Toronto.

At the time, I'm sure they didn't realize they were about to unleash a powerful political movement that would spread like wildfire. Marches have been held all over the world, from Delhi to Capetown, Seoul to Mexico City, and in cities all across the US.

SLUTWALK NYC's MISSION:

No matter who you are No matter where you work No matter how you identify No matter how you flirt No matter what you wear No matter who you choose to love No matter what you said before:

NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent.

*We'd love you to share and embed this video, and if you can, please link back to this blog at virginitymovie.com or to Trixie Films at trixiefilms.com. If you want to do more than embed it, like use it in your own project, please contact us and we'll figure it out. Thanks for supporting independent feminist media!

Egyptian general confirms–and defends–forced 'virginity testing' of detained female Tahrir Square activists. (Tests that prove nothing except that the military tortures women)

A couple of months ago, Aggie wrote about the the allegations that the Egyptian military tortured arrested, female activists from Tahrir Square with electric shocks, strip searches, and 'virginity tests.' Well, a senior army official just confirmed that 'virginity testing' was done, but he also defended it to CNN:

"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found … molotov cocktails and [drugs].
We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place. None of them were [virgins]."

As my partner-in-crime Lisa said when she sent me this news item: "There are so many things wrong with this story I'm not sure where to begin." Let's try anyway.

1. There is no such thing as a virginity test. You cannot tell anything about a woman's sexual history from examining her hymen, the current standard so-called virginity test. How many ways can we say that?  

2. 'Virginity testing' is torture. Subjecting female prisoners to these tests, not to mention beatings and electric shocks, while allowing guards to watch and take photos, is invasive, painful and humiliating torture.

3. Anyone can be a victim of rape, no matter their sexual history. Insinuating otherwise encourages the myth that sexually-active women are of less value and even deserving of sexual assault.

4. The State uses virginity to control women's bodies and lives (and not just in Egypt). As Aggie wrote in her previous post: "Though the majority of women in Egypt were not physically detained and tortured by the state, in a story like this, we as women are all controlled. That is, we are reminded of the intractable grip of this meaningless [virginity] construct squeezing our bodies, squeezing most stringently, of course, in those moments when we start to actualize our own awesome power."

As an aside, it was Egyptian clerics who pushed for the death penalty for any woman caught using an 'artificial hymen.'

Egyptian activists will be staging an online protest Wednesday. We'll update this post with more info. 

Just What A Virgin Nation Needs

Photo by Al Jazeera English

Guest Post by Aggie Ebrahimi

Unless you’ve been living under the influence of Glee, you’ve likely heard the allegations that the Egyptian military has been torturing arrested, female activists from Tahrir Square with electric shocks, strip searches, and virginity tests. Amnesty International has spearheaded a major petition campaign to put pressure on Secretary of State Clinton to have her put pressure on Egyptian authorities to end these inhumane actions.

The thinking behind the virginity tests is as follows: Women take to the streets in mass number to call for revolution. Old system notices (and fears) women’s power. Old system falls, but some pieces remain, as do these strong women. These strong women are most certainly a threat, the Old System thinks. The Old System needs to incapacitate them. To do so, they will arrest prominent members and perform virginity tests. Should the women fail, the state can label and prosecute them as “prostitutes,” thereby crippling their political participation.

Plain and simple.

But it’s really not so simple. For a variety of reasons. The most prominent of which, in my eyes, is that we really don’t have any idea what’s happening in Egypt, whether these allegations are true or not, how much has really changed, who is in power, why Mubarak left. While all of these questions have simple answers that could fit in the columns of the Times, they also have quite complex answers that won’t become clear for many, many years.

Nonetheless, whether or not these virginity tests happened as Amnesty describes them, the fact that this story is even circulating shows that things like this could happen, that virginity can readily be used as a means through which the (male-dominated) state controls women’s bodies. Though the majority of women in Egypt were not physically detained and tortured by the state, in a story like this, we as women are all controlled. That is, we are reminded of the intractable grip of this meaningless construct squeezing our bodies, squeezing most stringently, of course, in those moments when we start to actualize our own awesome power.

As an Iranian whose family lived through a devastating and disappointing revolution, I’ve pored over the same question ever since the Tunisia n people rose up against Ben Ali. And now, with the emergence of this story which implicates the military as yet another oppressive force – the same military that protesters hailed for laying down their arms in support of the movement – I again ask myself: Well, just how revolutionary are these revolutions?

REPOST Sunance Journals, Part 2: "12th and Delaware," seeking common ground while honoring the Prime Directive

REPOST: I saw this film at Sundance in January and did a post about it at that time. I'm reposting it today because the show is premiering on HBO tonight. The blog's been quiet for the past week while I've been at the Sundance Film Festival meeting with funders and broadcasters and getting amazing inspiration from the films here. This is the second of three reports from the festival.

While I was a Sundance, I had the chance to see one of the first screenings of the documentary 12th and Delaware by filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (who made the Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp).

The film is about the Ft. Pierce, Florida intersection that gives the film its title - and what goes on in the two small buildings on either side of the street. On one side is an abortion clinic, and on the other side is a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) which exists for one reason: talking women out of having an abortion at that clinic. In the middle are the mostly lower-income women who are pregnant, don't want to be, and are looking for help. Like Jesus Camp, the film is totally verité (they film it like they see it with no talking heads or commentary) and they have access to communities many of us won't encounter for ourselves.

The film creates an astonishing intimacy with all its characters, and Heidi and Rachel got remarkable access behind closed doors on both sides of the street, most powerfully with the women seeking abortions. You need great skill, sensitivity and perseverance to tell this kind of story.

The filmmakers said the people on both sides who saw the finished film thought it was fair. In fact, a lot has been written about how balanced this film is, how it presents the facts and lets you sort through the politics and realities of the abortion debate. That's a beautiful concept, but in the real world what is there to sort? As the filmmakers themselves have said, there's absolutely no common ground here.

If you believe abortion is murder, you will applaud everything done in this film to stop it: tricking women into coming into your CPC thinking they're at the abortion clinic, lying to them about how far along their pregnancies are to get them to postpone their abortions until it's too late, showing women grisly videos of procedures which have nothing to do with a standard first-trimester abortion, presenting dis-proven science and statistics, and providing a steady stream of harassment to anyone entering the abortion clinic. All under the supervision and guidance of the local Catholic priest, and done in the name of God.

If you're pro-choice and you believe a woman should have access to both safe, legal abortion – and judgement-free and accurate information about it, watching this film will be excruciating. You'll also be filled with dread hoping nothing happens to the doctor who is brought in to perform abortions with a sheet over his head to protect his identity (this film was made shortly after the murder of Dr. George Tiller).

Although the filmmakers remained fairly dispassionate at the Sundance post-screening Q&A, in an interview with Kenneth Turan of the LA Timesthey talked about the difficulty they had in making this film:

"...it took Grady and Ewing a year and a half to gain access to a facility. Then it took a year of filming to get the job done, a year that the filmmakers, who call 12th and Delaware "that miserable corner," say was the most difficult and challenging of their careers.

Initially, the film was to be only about the CPC, and Grady and Ewing make being there sound like combat. "It was excruciating," says Ewing, "like Lars von Trier had assigned us to make a Dogme film on this corner for a year."

Adds Grady, "It was banality and flashes of total emotional drama, flashes that would send you to the moon."

The experience was especially difficult because of the fragile emotional state of the women – often teenagers – who came into the CPC.

"Honestly, that was the hardest thing for us as two women," Grady says. "We really had to be objective and watch extremely vulnerable women not get comforted, not get relief. That wasn't our role, but it hurt."

In the same interview, Rachel Grady said the anti-abortion forces:

"are winning the hearts-and-minds campaign. Abortion is still legal, but there's a huge taboo about it. Who cares if it's legal if no doctor will train to do it?"

This film raised another issue for me that hasn't been really discussed: What is the responsibility of the filmmaker to its subjects when those subjects may be in harm's way? Is there a 'Prime Directive' for documentary filmmakers?

[Spoiler alert!] In the course of the film, the abortion doctor is followed and identified. Do the filmmakers have a responsibility to let him know this has happened? In the Q&A at Sundance, they said they didn't get involved because they didn't feel he was in danger.

When a thirteen-year-old is manipulated out of having an abortion, should the filmmakers tell her the truth? Said Rachel in the LA Times interview:

"I would just be dying, these girls were in so much pain, I felt like a traitor because I couldn't do anything about it."

This is the most frustrating thing about this film. The filmmakers commitment to pure verité means they never got involved in any way. I wanted to scream at the screen to this young girl and many others: The people at the CPC are lying to you!!

[Spoiler alert!] For me, one of the toughest scenes showed this now-very-pregnant and resource-less thirteen-year-old saying she hopes she gets some help with the baby she's decided to keep. I couldn't help wondering, as perhaps she did, if the staff of the CPC would have as much interest in her living baby as they did in her fetus. Later in the film, a single mother of six is offered all sorts of financial help if she calls off her abortion and has her 7th child. The filmmakers said in the Sundance Q&A that aside from getting the money for the deposit she paid for her abortion, none of the promised help was ever given by the CPC.

Being pro-choice means supporting a woman's right to choose to have or not have an abortion based on her own beliefs and opinions. Making abortion illegal, something the folks at the CPC pray for, won't make for less abortions. Only less safe abortions. Rachel Grady says the abortion debate:

"has nothing to do with babies. Its about control, it's about the power of women and women's roles, what the purpose of the female gender is, the absolute core of the identity of a woman. It's so profound and so deep."

And at the end of the day, there is no common ground and no end to this war where poor young women keep getting caught up in the cross-fire. FirstShowing did an interview with the filmmakers at Sundance:

If you can't see it, click here. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! did a great interview with the filmmakers here.

Sundance Journals, Part 1 (way more upbeat!) is here and Part 3 is here.

Stitch a Hymen, Save a LifeThe absurd necessity of hymen reconstruction

The BBC recently did a program on young Arab women who undergo hymen reconstruction surgery to ensure they bleed (and therefore appear to be virgins) on their wedding nights. The clinic in this report is in Paris, but the surgery is done all over the world including the US. And it is by no means a purely Muslim practice although the Islamic world does an excellent job of drawing the world's attention to its special brand of misogyny. I've written about hymen reconstruction before, and every time another story comes up, I get upset all over again. Here's what one young Lebanese women quoted in the story says about the fallout of her first sexual relationship:

"I was scared my family would find out especially since they didn't approve of my relationship," she says. "I was terrified they might kill me." After seven years in the relationship, her lover's family wanted him to marry someone else. Nada attempted suicide. "I got a bottle of Panadol and a bottle of household chemicals," she says. "I drank them and said, 'That's it'." Nada is now 40, and found out about surgical hymen restoration just six years ago. She married and had two children. Her wedding night was a stressful ordeal. "I didn't sleep that night. I was crying," she says. "I was very scared but he didn't suspect anything."

I guess that counts as a happy ending in this messed-up world, if you have access to a doctor who will perform the surgery and a couple of thousand dollars to spare.

The doctors have sometimes come under fire, accused of profiting off this sexism, but as I've written before, they're also the ones dealing with all those people dragging their daughters or future wives into their offices demanding virginity tests. These doctors know there's no such thing, and usually pronounce in favor of the women anyway, as they've been doing for centuries.

Hymens come in different shapes and sizes, and not every woman bleeds the first time she had intercourse, so the whole bloody sheet ritual says absolutely nothing about whether a woman is a virgin, has previously been penetrated by a penis, or any other fact about her, except how sensitive her vaginal tissue happens to be on that day.

Henia Dakkak, a gynecologist and technical advisor to the UNFPA told me that when she had her own practice, women would often come to see her for 'the stitch' as she called it. Whether they had been sexually active or not, they wanted her to put a stitch in their vaginal opening to guarantee they would bleed when it was torn open by penile penetration.

The RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) distributes a great booklet designed to dispel myths surrounding the hymen and virginity. They take issue with the whole concept of hymen reconstruction (they refer to the hymen as the corona, a term gaining in popularity among sex educators):

Surgery on the vaginal corona rarely solves any problems, firstly because outcomes vary, and secondly because it helps to maintain patriarchal structures and a prejudiced view of women and their sexuality...it is not possible to sew a membrane in place, to recreate something that never existed. Doctors say it’s like “stitching butter” because the tissue is soft and elastic.

In an NPR report, Egyptian author Amy Mowafi talks astutely about her own issues with re-virginization. She's referring to an artificial virginity device, but it can easily apply to surgery as well:

"The problem with a device like this is it makes it too easy for the woman to play by the rules of society instead of standing up and saying, 'No, you need to understand that I am a good person. And it should not all come down to this issue of a hymen...'

"As an Arab — an independent Arab woman — you can break as many glass ceilings as you like. But you can never break your hymen."

Arab writer and social commentator, Sana Al Khayat tells the BBC it's about control:

"If she's a virgin, she doesn't have any way of comparing [her husband to other men]. If she's been with other men, then she has experience. Having experience makes women stronger."

Like I said up top, this is not about Muslims or Arabs. You don't have to go halfway around the world, to another culture and religion, to see that dynamic in action.