Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

I wrote a review on The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti (Seal Press, 2009) awhile ago, but I decided to revamp and repost the review as I think the topic is still relevant, and the topic is an important one to discuss.

The subtitle perfectly sums up the thesis of the book: “How America’s Obsession With Virginity Is Hurting Young Women.” The book takes various social phenomena and shows how modern values for female virginity is hurtful in the fact that it can become central to women’s identity and worth.

I really liked the topic of this book and many of the points the author made. In relation to the conversation on virginity, the author words a lot of social concepts in ways that are easy to understand and very relatable. Though I don’t agree 100% with ALL the topics in the book, this is an excellent place to start. "The Virginity Myth" affects women in so many ways and the author takes a stab at a variety of them. 

The chapter on pornography caught my attention as it is a topic I read about quite often. I like that the author does make a point that it is not female sexuality or naked women that create problems, but the social constructs at play and the values we place on pornography and women's sexuality.

The discussion on shaming women who speak out publicly or online with accusations of sexual impurity is another interesting point. Internet trolls have a long history of debasing a woman’s entire opinion or stance by saying she’s ugly or not worthy of a sexual relationship. The chapter brings up many circumstances where this has happened to both famous women and women the author has met through talks or online.

The book also takes a closer look at the “Women as gatekeepers” of sex concept and how some men feel the need to “get” sex from women. This pops up in a variety of social constructs and can be applied to many situations. 

The end of the book features a "Questions for Discussion" section, something I always like to see, which gives a nice springboard if any of the topics come up in future conversations. 

Now, there were things I disliked.

First, the author at times brought up topics then wrote something later in the text like 'luckily this is not widespread.' The author does, at least, put the topic in context, but it can be slightly misleading after a lofty discussion. 

Second, while there is a chapter about manliness, I feel there could have been more input regarding men and virginity. I think the pressures of virginity on men is heavy and giving insight into what it means for men would have added a lot.  

There was also a lack of historical background. I’ve read more about the social history of virginity in other books. I think there are plenty of reasons why virginity was so important throughout history and a deeper discussion of that might have been valuable.  However, this is not a history book, so take that as a nit-picky complaint. 

Finally, the narration of the book is very “bloggy” though that didn’t bother me as much as some readers report. The author founded and is a blogger herself. I admit that the Feministing blog is really hit and miss for me. I think great topics are brought up, but some are blown out of proportion and some I don’t like the conclusions of the bloggers, much like some topics in this book. But that’s okay. I like having a dialogue with a book. “You make an excellent point, here, book, but what you say here…” So, if you don’t like talking to your books, the narrative might get on your nerves. 

Whether or not you agree with the author’s standpoint on the topic, I think this is a severely necessary one that more young men and women (and old ones too!) should consider and discuss. With a healthy notes and resources sections this is a great book to keep as reference. For my own studies I will be consulting many chapters again.

The best thing about this book? It doesn’t end with the book. Valenti starts the discussion. I encourage every reader to take it further.

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