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Abstinence balls, also known as purity balls,[note 1] are events held by fundamentalist Christians, at which fathers and their teenage (and increasingly often, much younger) daughters dress up in evening attire and dance the night away together, all in the name of abstinence. This is Creepy with a capital C. The fathers stand up and make a pledge to live pure and faithful lives and protect and guide their daughters, while the daughters aren't required to make public declarations but usually make silent pledges.
In these events, girls essentially pledge their virginity not to the first boy who comes along who is right for them, respectful and who will want them as partners for who they are rather than as a cheap fuck, but to their fathers. Not that this is unprecedented in Christian mythology: Genesis 19:32-26 shows that Lot's daughters
lost their virginity[note 2] spent some rather quality time with him (although in his defense, it was the girls who got him drunk so he didn't notice—at least that's how the story reads, though it sounds more like the sort of explanation he would give afterward to avoid blame). Hence the big capital C on Creepy.
The idea came from Randy Wilson, a pastor in the Family Life church and prominent figure in the Family Research Council (considered a hate group by the SPLC for its attitude to homosexuality) and before that an employee of Focus on the Family. The first was held in Colorado Springs in 1998, created by Wilson for his five daughters; he said the prime goal was to strengthen the father-daughter bond, which is nice in theory but deeply problematic in the method he chose.
There really aren't many good things to say about this sort of event. Yes, they do encourage girls to refrain from sex until they're ready (or even past the time they're ready, since they're pledging to wait for marriage), but because of conservative squeamishness about such things, few of them will even know what it is they're avoiding. As one blogger put it "events like this do not minimize the sexuality of children, as organizers claim. They highlight it." Did we mention that girls as young as 5 pledging virginity to their fathers is Creepy? It also seems to promote the idea that a girl without a father has less or no value, especially as girls don't seem to be allowed to take a female relative instead - because two women dancing together is obviously bad.
The movement is attempting to make "purity" cool, but unfortunately they forgot the cardinal rule: Nothing a teenager ever does with their dad will ever be described as cool, and neither will the girl, when she can't even make out with the guy she has the hots for until her wedding day.
Feminist writer Jessica Valenti has criticised the movement as implicitly promoting the idea that girls who are not virgins are "damaged goods". Elizabeth Smart, an activist against child abuse and sexual exploitation who was raped when she was 14, has said that abstinence-only education led to her feeling her life had "no value" and she was "dirty and filthy" after the attack.
For those questioning the girls' agency, photographer David Magnusson who studied the phenomenon said he initially thought it was about family honor but it was "often the girls themselves that had taken the initiative to attend the balls. They had made their decisions out of their own conviction and faith, in many cases with fathers who didn’t know what a Purity Ball was before first being invited by their daughters." At the same time, the girls must have been told about it by someone, and it's unlikely to have been something a teenage girl thought up on her own.
“” Why is it not okay for girls, but it's okay for boys? It's called the double standard, Bobby. Don't knock it, we got the long end of the stick on that one.
|—Bobby, and Hank Hill, King of the Hill|
It is not entirely clear why teenage boys and their mothers aren't invited to these events, or don't have a similar separate event. Indeed, considering that popular perception lays most of the blame for unplanned pregnancy and coerced sex on the male, it should be they who get told to keep their pants on. Perhaps it's believed to be OK for a young boy to sow his oats with as many girls as possible before marriage, as long as the
victims lucky ladies are all drawn from the pool of the Godless (which includes sex workers, non-virgins, and girls you meet on holiday). Or perhaps it's because boys can't get pregnant, and don't have any hymens to preserve. Or perhaps the old idea of "women as property" is shining through, despite the spin that extreme neo-conservatives such as Phyllis Schlafly have been working hard to disguise it with. Either way, the theme of male sexual dominance is rife throughout the whole purity movement.
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- As opposed to blue balls, which is a vaguely related but entirely different thing.
- He only claimed they were virgins to help entice the mob to rape them; his daughters were married
- Purity Balls, All That's Interesting
- Randy Wilson, Family Research Council, accessed 20 Sep 2019
- Family Research Council, Southern Poverty Law Center
- The Progressive Puppy - Those Strange and Disturbing Father-Daughter Purity Balls
- 'Purity Balls': Girls hooked on the thrill of the chaste
- Purity balls, Plan B and bad sex policy: inside America's virginity obsession, Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, May 5, 2014
- Photos Show The Uncomfortable Reality Of Purity Balls, Where Daughter Pledge Virginity To Fathers, Brogan Driscoll, Huffington Post, June 11, 2014