Purity Culture is Perfection Expectation
I’ve been reading about Purity culture in religion lately as an attempt to describe a phenomenon I see in myself I’ve been calling “perfection expectation”. I’ll describe Purity Culture and how I think it relate.
In a but shell, purity culture is the belief that people, women especially, must be morally and sexually pure to be worth anything to society. It’s an old puritanical (and misogynistic) ideal stemming from women as chattel used as leverage for a family to gain status, property, wealth, or all three. If a woman was not pure, it was harder to marry her off.
It takes a different form today, sorta... Women aren’t directly traded for property in marriage in America. Mostly..
Look, it’s hard to speak in absolutes because bullshit practices like this do still happen in even “modern” countries like America.
Here is a quote from a recent book written on Modesty that captures the expectations for purity in women today.
A lot of girls get mad when guys treat them too sexually. When guys call them names, or make rude advances, or say nasty stuff to them, they get all in a huff. “How could he talk to me like that? What does he think I am, a piece of meat?” And the answer is yes. That’s exactly what he thinks you are because that’s how you’ve marketed yourself. The sign in front of your establishment screams “sex.” The banner on your ad yells “use me.” Guys’ eyes become clouded by the flesh, and they lose all sight of the girl inside that flesh. So if you show off parts of you that turn guys on, don’t blame them for your PR campaign. You designed it and created the image you wanted to sell to the world, and they’re just hoping to get a chance to purchase or steal a piece of you. Sexy Girls: How Hot is too Hot by Hayley Dimarco
Not only are women expected to control their own sexuality but they are also expected to control that of those around them, namely men, without turning people completely off.
Standards - double and otherwise
The double standard created is that women can’t be overtly sexual but should still be comfortable, but not too comfortable, and they should defer to outside judgment, but not too much, because you have to be liked, but not too much because you don’t want to look slutty....
The expression of this culture is not limited to controlling women’s sexuality, though the results of this are especially insidious. Purity culture affects much of the expectations people hold for us, not just about sexuality.
The underlying expectation of Purity Culture as it has translated into a modern world where sexual expression is FAR less controlled, in comparison to the Puritanical era, is that we are required to be perfect forever and always. At no time can we ever do something wrong and if we do, that’d it. We are sullied and are completely irretrievable. You’ll amount to nothing if you can’t do A Thing like a pro from the start.
This is especially visible in politics when a person screws up. Note that I am not going to continue talking about sexual misconduct because that’s very different and much more serious.
Consider the 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry’s 2004 campaign was brutal. Do you remember the prominent of the term “flip-flop” from the campaign? Kerry’s inconsistent stance on the Iraq war absolutely destroyed him.
"I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."
While what he meant has merit - initial versions of the bill paid for the war in one method with which he agreed, and later versions after the reconciliation process paid for it in ways with which her disagreed - the fact that an apparent change in view can destroy his career because the US expects a person to be perfectly consistent is ludicrous.
Last I checked, I was only human
Unequivocally: it is ridiculous to think that a person cannot or should not change. We cannot expect a person to exist, full formed, from the day they become an adult, which is itself an arbitrary concept. People is people and it is ok to change opinions or ideas. The thought that change is some sort of weakness in character is toxic to human advancement. The premise of our Virtue Projects is that we can get better with a systematic approach to growth.
A dedicated, intentional approach allows us to clearly and directly engage in in self-development is the first step in a long journey to change expectations and views on morality in America.
Be deliberate in your change
Perhaps, in the end, that’s what really torpedoed Kerry’s campaign in 2004. It’s less that he changed his opinions but that he didn’t acknowledge what happened to change his position on this thing. The excruciatingly messed up political dialog in America aside, trying to hide or minimize out growth is disingenuous at best. Our initials reaction to be questioned on change is defensiveness.
“I didn’t change. I’ve always believed this. I am perfect and you are awful for thinking I’m not.”
Building systems to guide our change, to grow into the people we want to be, makes addressing these questions all the more easy. “I changed because I reflected on it and decided Temperance (or resolve or order or justice) is more important than [blank]. Fill in what you will but it’s hard to argue with a person that takes a stance on as thing different from before if they can succinctly point to the method of their change.
The Virtue project gives us power over not only ourselves but the way culture interacts with us. We have more power if we understand ourselves, how we got here, and out place in the world.