Society needs to realize that a woman’s value goes beyond her virginity, her body, and her looks
In Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, author Mona Eltahawy writes: “The god of virginity is popular in the Arab world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of faith or an atheist, Muslim or Christian—everybody worships the god of virginity. Everything possible is done to keep the hymen—that most fragile foundation upon which the god of virginity sits—intact.”
Eltahawy’s words resonate on an international spectrum. If one were to read those words without the emphasis on “the Arab world,” it would almost be inevitable to link it to one’s own environment. Society’s obsession with a woman’s hymen can feel suffocating, and the older I get, the harder it is to run away from it.
I have come to realize that a woman’s place in society is often related to her body. As a little girl, she is immediately deemed weaker than her male counterparts because of a different physical build. As a teenager, her outbursts are linked to a “certain time of the month.” As a young adult, her hymen determines whether she is a prude or a slut. Past the age of 32, her biological clock is ticking. Will she be having more or any kids at all? Will she be able to juggle a successful career, as well as a healthy and stable marriage? Can women really have it all?
To quote The Simpsons’s favourite justice seeker, Lisa Simpson, “The whole damn system is wrong!” Unfortunately, such values are embedded in a person’s mind. Even when defending women’s rights, people tend to take into account that a woman’s body creates life, and maintain that we must respect it.
Isn’t it ridiculous that a man’s physique is never used to enforce reverence, but a woman’s is almost a prerequisite? Granted, pregnancy is no thing to take lightly, and childbirth is not considered a miracle for nothing. However, why must it be a qualification of utmost importance? And why is it that a woman’s sexuality must determine her value in society?
A few months ago, university students at the Lebanese American University in Beirut shared their take on a woman’s virginity on Instagram, via an account called The Daily Question. Men and women gathered around to answer two simple questions: Would you marry a woman who is not a virgin? Would you respect a man who refuses to marry a non-virgin woman?
Although a number of students insisted that a woman’s sexuality is none of anyone’s business, it is the rather sexist responses of some that took me aback. Most importantly, a man comparing a woman to a can of Pepsi. His words were along the lines of, “say you go to your local dépanneur, and ask him to give you a can of Pepsi. Would you go for the one that has been opened and drunk from by various people or a new, unopened can, for your pleasure only?”
Being acquainted with years of female objectification did not lessen my shock when I heard such foul words. True, it should come as no surprise that for some, women are still, to this day, no different from objects, but this was a new low.
I bare no ill-will towards “virgin” men who expressed their need for a “virgin” bride, so they can discover their sexual lives together. What I am appalled by are the men––and women––who agree that a man should be sexually experienced, while a woman must remain pure.
This constant need to tarnish a woman for her sexual prowesses, or lack thereof, has to stop. A woman’s value goes beyond her hymen, beyond her looks, beyond her body. A woman must be measured by her words, her actions, her strength and fortitude. And most importantly, a woman’s actions are nobody’s business.
Graphic by @spooky_soda