Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Purity Balls

So I watched this documentary last night on Purity Balls. (This is in keeping with my fascination of fundamental religious sects -- including, but not limited to, polygamists, the Amish, and the Duggar family of Arkansas with their 17 kids and counting).

The thing about purity balls is that I can totally see how they sell to the girls. I know that if I were an 11 year old girl, I would be thrilled about putting on a lovely ballgown, learning a little dance routine, having my hair fixed, and going to a pseudo-prom with my dad.

And the general premise even sounds good. The basic idea is that fathers make their daughters feel loved and cherished and beautiful so that they won't go looking for male approval elsewhere (i.e. in bed). So, a nice idea in theory. Certainly it is a nice thing for dads to make sure that their daughters feel loved and that they are confident enough to insist that their dates treat them with respect.

Some detractors of the "purity movement" suggest that it is incestuous. Based on what I saw in this documentary (which makes me something of an expert, I think), I don't think these dads are creeps. I think most of them are good-intentioned guys who want to make sure their daughters reach adulthood without having to deal with the agony of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, or even a run-of-the-mill heartbreak.

As far as I'm concerned, the really creepy part is asking a little girl to make promise and sign a paper when she doesn't even know what she's talking about. I'm also perturbed by the idea that everytime you date someone, you "give a little piece of your heart away." According to this philosophy, if you date too many people (i.e. more than one) then by the time you finally meet and marry your husband, you are incomplete and you can't give him your whole heart because you've already given bits of it away to other guys.

Um, what?

I mean, sure, there are people who get involved in unhealthy relationships and then carry some baggage with them. But are these people ruined? That seems a little extreme. I don't think that we have to encourage promiscuity if we allow girls to date. Having relationships with different people helps you discover what you want (and what you don't) in a relationship, right?

(I guess that the purity movement's argument would be that if your dad is the perfect boyfriend then you don't need to have a series of failed relationships to discover what you want. You just have to find someone like your dad. Which is somewhat disturbing in a Freudian/Oedipal way and really doesn't account for personal taste.)

So here's my theory on this. I think that while there is nothing inherently wrong with a big father-daughter dance to celebrate their love for each other, a girl's relationship with her dad should not be a model for her marriage. These dads are trying to protect their daughters from the big, bad world, and I can completely understand that impetus. But, for the most part, it seems pretty futile and it seems like you would miss a lot of good along with the bad. As always, I'm an advocate of education and information rather than prohibition.

(Note: The documentary featured one girl, whose father is the minister and founder of the purity movement, who was a virgin when she, at age 24, married a guy that her father approved of. Being a virgin at 24, and saving your first kiss for your wedding? Well, that's a personal choice. Getting married after a 6-month courtship, during which her fiancee spent 5 of those months overseas in the military? That just seems a little crazy. But she is a purity movement "success story.")

The problem is that no matter how much dads want to, they can't really protect their kids from the world without unintentionally crippling them in their capacity to deal with reality. It just seems to me that a more realistic solution is for the dads to model an ideal loving relationship not with their daughters, but with their wives. (Where is mom in the purity movement anyway?)

It would be logical for girls to set their standards for a future relationship not on how their dad treats them, but on how he treats their mom (and statistically speaking, don't many women do this anyway -- even to their detriment?). I just think that the best way to protect our children and to help them get ahead in life is to expose them to truth instead of sugar coating it, and to set a good example for them -- modeling a healthy and happy marital relationship, whether it is with her mother, her step-mother, or her other dad.

It's all about showing them what love is and what love is capable of doing even in the midst of a world that does not always reflect the best that people have to offer. The ball gowns and up-dos and covenant promises? All that stuff is just beside the point.

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