Language Matters: Virginity

April 22, 2009 § 4 Comments

Courtney’s response to Jessica Valenti’s latest book, The Purity Myth, discusses society’s construction of virginity – because indeed, there is no scientific definition of the concept; it is purely (ha! purity puns!) social in origin. From her post:

But the trouble with [recognizing that virginity is scientifically mostly bogus] is what to do about it, right? I mean knowing race doesn’t technically exist doesn’t mean you can start acting like Stephen Colbert and pretending to be color blind. Likewise we can’t act like our societal value on purity isn’t affecting girls just cause it’s bullshit. So I came up with a few things we can personally do in reaction to the learning that virginity doesn’t exist:

1. Language matters. Stop talking about the first time you “lost your virginity” and start just referring to it as sex–especially when you’re interacting with younger women.
2. Tell people far and wide about the fact that there is no scientific definition of virginity.
3. Get involved in the movement to make sex ed comprehensive far and wide! Check out RH Reality Check, Shelby Knox’s work, and other great blogs for the best way to do that.

Great advice. She even uses this series’ moniker! I’m particularly struck by the importance of being conscious of how we talk about our own sexual experiences, both to combat internalized sexism and slut-shaming and to set an autonomy-positive example for those younger than us. I’ve been reminding myself to use the phrase “when I had sex for the first time” instead of “when I lost my virginity” or, in my opinion even worse, “when I gave it up.”

Commenter Caro13 adds,

A note on linguistics: I’ve recently been thinking about how many women will say that they “lost their virginity TO x-guy,” rather than saying “lost their virginity WITH x-guy.” Saying “with” at least implies that having sex for the first time was an experience that you shared equally with a partner (whether or not it was also their first time). Saying you lost it “to” someone seems to say that you’ve passively allowed someone to take something important away from you, and now they hold a piece of your identity because they “took” your virginity.

I agree. The linguistic implication that sex is a commodity that we give to other people, instead of a collaborative experience that we share with partners, inherently lends itself to inadvertently heavy statements about the “value,” “worth,” and “price” of said interaction.

Previously in Language Matters: Part One: “Hey Guys!”; Part Two: Choice and Life


Language Matters!

March 4, 2009 § 6 Comments

I’ve written about the significance of language before, in my very first post¬†on Women’s Glib. I’m fascinated by language and linguistics, particularly from a feminist viewpoint, because the way we talk about gender and sex has tremendous bearing on the way we think and act. Little things like welcoming a class full of students by saying “hey guys,” as I wrote about in the post, are representative of much larger social issues.

I’d like to continue what that post started by announcing¬†a new series, Language Matters. Click below the fold for the second edition of the series. « Read the rest of this entry »


July 13, 2009 § 6 Comments

I’m interested in language, as you might have noticed from my last post on pro-life/anti-choice semantics. You may remember that I have a little series called Language Matters, where I discuss the significance of language in culture, politics, and progress. (Keep in mind that the word “series” is used loosely here, since I’ve only written two posts.) Anyway, this here post can be filed under that category: I want to talk about womanism and feminism.

When I first discovered feminism and came out of the feminist closet, I was amazed and excited by what I naively thought was a perfect, completely inclusive movement. This is probably because I’m very privileged, as women go — cis, currently able, thin, middle-class, white — and my first introductions to contemporary feminism were authored by women within similar demographics. I thought, “Wow! A place where I can totally be myself, and be accepted and respected for my identity!” — and took for granted that all people would feel as comfortable as I did.

So yeah, I’m a bit older and wiser now, have read a bit (though not as much as I need to) about trans people and people with disabilities and people of color’s views on today’s feminism: that it is actually pretty darn exclusive a lot of the time.

I want your insight on how we can acknowledge the ways The Feminist Movement has and continues to fuck up, while still identifying with its goals. Specifically, I’m wondering how I, a white woman, can acknowledge the dire need for womanism without stepping on the toes of women activists of color.

From a Womanist Musings interview with Loryn of Black Girl Blogging:

What is your definition of womanism and do you feel that this applies to all across the board?

To me, womanism brings together the importance of men and family to the struggle for gender equality and the experience of women of color that cuts across class, race and gender lines. While I believe that womanism speaks particularly to the black female experience, it is important for men and women of all races to embrace the principles of womanism.

How would you say that womanism differs from feminism and why is it important to you to identify as a womanist rather than a feminist?

Womanism differs from feminism in that it takes account for the experience of women of color. Feminism has been painted as the movement of white middle class women and has excluded women of color and poor women for a long time. It is important to me to identify as a womanist because it means a greater devotion to causes that effect women of color like myself.

In my bio, I identify as a pro-womanist feminist, but I’m shaky on this. I think that it would be inappropriate, as a white woman, to call myself a womanist as one step towards acknowledging the experiences of WOC, and towards acknowledging feminism’s wrongdoings, as such identification infringes upon the right of WOC to have your own label (Melissa McEwan brings this up in the interview comment thread, followed by insight from Renee and Loryn — not sure how to link directly to the comment, but it’s about the fifth one down).

One question, for commenters of all demographics, with particular emphasis on WOC/self-identified womanists: is it fair to call myself a pro-womanist feminist, as a move towards accomplishing these goals? If not, how else can I humbly and respectfully identify myself?

(Sorry if this post is winding and seems to lack purpose. This is a tricky issue, one that’s been marinating in my mind for a while, but I really think dialogue is needed.)

Cross-posted at Feministe.

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