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Last week, Kate Bryan wrote an interesting little piece for the Washington Post. It’s titled “I’m a 32-year-old virgin, and I’m living the feminist dream.” Bryan’s a Catholic, and she hoped to be married by age 25 and have “enough kids to fill a baseball team, a hockey bench and a big house full of love.” Instead, she is still looking for the right man to marry. She is dedicated to living a chaste life, both now and if she eventually marries. She defines chastity as
a lifestyle, centered on freedom and love, that challenges all people to love themselves and to love others in the most perfect way possible.
Byran says that, as a teenager, she tried to live according to the purity culture described in Joshua Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (which that author has now, by the way, repudiated); but ultimately, she says,
I began to understand that chastity goes much deeper than a long list of do’s and don’ts. I started researching the topic in more depth … My thesis was based on the book “Love and Responsibility” by Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Saint John Paul II. In this book, Wojtyla explained that every human being is a sexual being, but that we’re also rational — which means we don’t have to be mastered by our physical desires. In the case of the single person, chastity does mean not having sex before marriage, but it also means striving toward the perfection of love. We must all aim to love ourselves and to love others in the most perfect way possible — this is chastity in its fullness.
How do you like that? It’s not a terribly profound essay, and the “feminism” angle seems a bit tacked on; but I’m happy that people are saying these things in public. And I’m happy that, when the usual suspects like Jezebel’s bloggers read carelessly, misrepresent fact, and respond with the usual sneers, their readers call the sneerers out for “shaming” virgins for their choices.
The Jezebel blogger’s argument is muddled, to put it charitably, and begs more questions than you can shake an ironically sex positive cross-stitch at (to summarize: “Bryan says she wants to be chaste, but I don’t; therefore Bryan is lying”). She has done so little research, she thinks John Paul II taught “only a man and a woman who were both baptized and married within the church were able to have sexual intercourse without sinning.” To which I rejoin: Pfwhaa?
But look what else she accidentally blurts out while attempting to heap scorn on Bryan’s virginal head:
Considering Bryan’s scholarly pursuits and her immersion in purity culture, it seems likely that her choices are influenced more by her Catholicism than the fight for equality between the sexes. But hey, if Bryan feels free to disregard the needs of men to pursue goals like learning to scull on the Potomac and working a job she says is the best she’s had in her life, perhaps she has achieved her idea of equality through sexual abstinence.
Did you catch that? A blogger who purports to be defending feminism from oppressive zealots says that, when Bryan tells a male friend she chooses not to have sex with him, she “feels free to disregard the needs of men to pursue goals . . . ”
Why in the name of Susan B. Anthony should a single woman not feel free to disregard the “needs” of men? Who cares what her choices are influenced by? Wasn’t the whole point of feminism that there is a whole 51% of the world outside of the sexual needs of men? And what “men” is she even talking about? Why is that word plural? Exactly how many men is a single woman supposed to be considerate of before she is allowed to call herself a feminist?
Questions to ponder, ladies — after you’re done making sure all men in your life are taken care of, naturally. I never thought I’d live to see the day when a woman would publicly express the desire to row a boat without even stopping to consider the sexual needs of potential boyfriends. I’m shaking my fist at you, John Paul II. This is all your fault.
Anyway, Bryan makes an important point which went right over Jezebel’s pretty little head. By touching on purity culture and how she moved past it, Bryan reminds us that chastity isn’t about putting women in their place, and it isn’t about sequestering women in a high tower until they’re ready for custody transfer from dad to husband, and it isn’t about having (or pretending to have) a docile, quiet personality.
When a single woman is a virgin only because she’s terrified of being called a slut by her parents and pastor, or when a woman silently endures a miserable sex life with her brutish husband because she thinks sex is dirty and so is she?
That’s not chastity. That’s not what the Church wants for women (or for men). The Church rejects this notion of chastity, and so should we. Every virtue has its tawdry doppelganger, and Bryan is at pains to specify that she’s holding out for the real thing. I only wish the Jezebel blogger would go to such pains to hold out for true feminism.
What is true feminism? The belief that women deserve exactly as much dignity, respect, and autonomy as men deserve. Short, but not as simple as it seems. Feminism, like chastity, goes deeper than a list of do’s and don’ts, and those on the right and those on the left still have a ways to go before they feel at home with the complexities of feminism’s just demands.
I wish someone could reassure the Jezebel blogger that, working within the breadth and depth of true feminism, a woman’s brain is capable of arriving at an understanding of her own sexuality. I wish someone would remind her that, when a woman makes choices that don’t appeal to her, the world can still function — and even occasionally go rowing without having sex first.