The Purity Myth
by Jessica Valenti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Purity Myth / 978-1-58005-314-3
I wasn't sure that I'd like "The Purity Myth", although I was comfortably certain that I was a member of the proverbial choir for this book. As much as I've enjoyed Valenti's writings in the past, I'm not always comfortable with the blogosphere and sometimes find that I disagree with some of the more "if you disagree, you are wrong" writing style of some blog writers out there.
"The Purity Myth" does not fall into this trap, however - the book is well-researched, well-written, and well-argued. Valenti is careful to cite her sources, respond directly to quotes (rather than assertions), and lay out her opinions in an easy-to-follow format. Indeed, the writing alone is very tight and skilled - most people will be able to zip from start to finish in a couple of days, save that the heavy subject matter of some of the latter chapters may give pause.
Valenti's main thesis is that a person's worth (male OR female - Valenti deals with both) should not be boiled down to a laundry list of "has" and "hasn't"s of sexual experience - a boy does not need to have had sex to be a "man", and a woman does not need to have never experienced physical intimacy in order to be a "good girl". That premise may seem terribly obvious, but it is crucial to note - as Valenti does - that much of the federally funded abstinence-only classes in our country deal in those stereotypes - that all men are slaves to their genitals, and that all women want hugs and settle for sex instead. This truly sexist attitude - that men are pigs and women are gatekeepers - causes a multitude of problems later in life: men who are disturbed by their partner's sexual desires; women who feel shameful and guilty for being 'different' and liking physical intimacy; relationships where aggressors feel within their 'rights' to push for more than their partner is comfortable giving - either because the reticent man "really" wants it, deep down inside, or because the reticent woman is "only" withholding herself for shallow, manipulative reasons. In a word, these teaching foster a culture of rape, and Valenti is dedicated to showing how dangerous this is for *everyone* in our society.
If "The Purity Myth" has a flaw, it is perhaps in trying to embrace too much information in one volume - a side tracking chapter into mainstream pornography and Real Dolls (in an effort to drive home yet another manner in which this culture can and does hurt men as well as women) seems to wander a little, although another chapter regarding masculinity shines nicely. Still, this is a broad over-view type of book - with each chapter dipping as deeply as it can into the subject matter before moving on. I'd love to see Valenti devote a new book to *each* of the chapters here - there's a wealth of information out there that can and does need to be explored.
Everyone should read this book and hear is reiterated, again, that a person's value is so much more complex than their sexual history.
~ Ana Mardoll
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