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The purity complex

Clem Ford
Published: November 27, 2012 - 8:48AM

A friend of mine sent this to me a couple of weeks ago, presumably because she felt like I hadn’t been funnelling enough rage into the internet and she wanted me to ‘get back in the game’ as it were. All I wanted was a few quiet moments alone with a barrel of vodka and Sweet Valley High Confidential, but whatever Talia - I WILL PUT SOME PANTS ON AND BE YOUR CHAMPION.


I think we can all agree that the sentiments expressed here are less reminiscent of anything meaningful than they are a giant, steaming pile of crap that’s been passed through the digestive system of a cow then exposed to radioactive waste so that it grows to be a super dungpat that can walk around and talk and then eventually tries to run for Prime Minister while enjoying the ongoing support of Miranda Devine. That’s how messed up this turd is.

Unfortunately, it’s a turd whose central thesis is reinforced far too often in society, that being the conflation of women's value with their vigilance in keeping their legs shut. Ladies! How can we respect you when you don’t respect yourselves?! HOLLA!

As irritating as it is to see yet another regressive moral lesson being peddled about how women choose to have sex and with whom, the underlying message goes far beyond simple slut-shaming. In encouraging a comparison between women who feel somehow disadvantaged by an aesthetic value system and those who perhaps benefit from it, it also teaches women that a) amassing Good Girl points is something that can redeem their ‘failure’ to inspire male desire, and b) these gold stars can be easily earned by comparing themselves with other women with the express purpose of degrading them.

It’s an insidious and ugly way for women to divert their attention away from what should be the real focus of their insecurities, and channel it into propping up the social codes that allow those insecurities to exist in the first place. I may not be the girl everyone wants…but that girl is a cheap and nasty whore who everyone's had a go on, and the fact she's allowed her vagina to double as a revolving door means she's forfeited her basic human right to being treated with dignity and respect. I'm not like that, with my sensible hat and stern lips. I value myself. And one day, a knight in shining armour will notice that and he'll scale up my tower to give me the reward I've been waiting for.

Don't underestimate that last part, which is the not-so-hidden subtext of Ms. Prim’s tantrum up top. You can be the kind of girl that everyone's had, but 'everyone' will never see you as the kind of girl good enough to be his girlfriend or wife. And because ‘everyone’ knows that women have sex in order to get love, why shoot yourselves in the foot by doing something so crazy as, you know, having a sex life that’s nobody else's business but yours?

Do the women who believe such things, who fervently hold on to such thoughts in order to feel better about hating themselves, ever stop to consider their passivity in the situation? And do the men who spout this kind of rubbish ever stop to reflect on how it diminishes them, to be the kind of person who so happily differentiates between women they think deserve respect and those who don’t based on whether or not their penis has been inside her? Jonathan Doyle certainly doesn’t think so. The author of How To Get The Man Of Your Dreams makes good money shilling this nonsense in schools, quoting Saint Augustine (always a bad start) to tell girls that ‘men esteem too lightly what they gain too easily’. To translate: men don’t like sluts, but they’ll still fu*k them. And because we’ll never hold them to account for that, it’s the girls who’ll really suffer the fallout. So keep it in your pants ladies and remember - sluts aren’t just for Christmas, but for New Year’s as well. After that, who cares?

It's partly the reason why women far moreso than men have to cop the punishment for misbehaving. A recent profile of Lara Bingle in Good Weekend published (yet again) the now-infamous shower photograph taken of Bingle by her then-lover Brendan Fevola. Fevola (who was married at the time) snapped the photo without Bingle's permission and while she was obviously distressed, and then proceeded to show it around to his mates. And although Bingle did receive some measure of support over the fact she'd been exposed without her consent, it didn't stop people from pushing the brunt of the blame for the sexual relationship onto her - a 19 year old girl who wasn't married, and who didn't have kids. Still now, media outlets drag that photo up in order to titillate the masses when the respect of privacy would be afforded to other people considered more worthy of protection and respect. As Marieke Hardy wrote,

"The next time Nick Riewoldt is profiled by Good Weekend do you think they’ll run that idiotic picture of him waving his dick around like a little wand? No, because Riewoldt is more commanding, more untouchable, more powerful, and the media fear his icy wrath more than they do the insipid, tittering Lara Bingle’s."

Kristen Stewart has found herself in a similar position after the revelation she had an affair with the married director of Snow White and the Hunstman. The much older Rupert Sanders has a wife and children, but it's Stewart who's been labelled a 'trampire' and a home wrecker. A recent US tabloid cover story warned Jennifer Garner to be 'very, very worried' at the news Stewart was in talks with Ben Affleck to make a film together. For Stewart and Bingle, the message is clear - they were caught using their sexuality inappropriately, and now they have to pay the consequences. Sanders and Fevola have since gone back to their wives. Unlike Stewart, Sanders didn't lose the lucrative contract to work on the next Snow White film. Meanwhile, Fevola has since featured on Channel Seven's Dancing With The Stars, and shared the reconciliation with his wife in a saccharine spread for New Idea. Will their sexual indiscretions and choices follow them around, ad infinitum? It's highly unlikely.

There’s a quote that’s often reblogged on Tumblr, a blogging platform heavily dominated by teenage girls that makes use of quick shares and ‘like’ buttons. I’m told it’s especially popular:

“Girls are like apples on trees.

The best ones are at the top of the tree.

The boys don't want to reach for the good ones because they are afraid

of falling and getting hurt. Instead, they

just get the rotten apples from the ground

that aren't as good, but easy. So the apples

at the top think something is wrong with

them, when in reality, they're amazing.

They just have to wait for the right boy to come along,

the one who's brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the tree."

It’s a sad insight into how this kind of moral point-scoring continues to filter down to younger generations, who already spend a good portion of their teenage years wrestling with their identities. I can’t speak for boys, but I know from experience that female adolescence is a hotbed of insecurities and self-doubt, not to mention an overwhelming preoccupation with the pressures of romantic intrigue. It’s the period in a girl’s life when she first learns to view and judge herself through the eyes of others, negatively assessing her worth based on the extent of her perceived physical attraction. So given all that, it’s really damaging to foster the idea that this worth is intrinsically tied up in the idea of reward - that, being one of the ‘best’ apples at the top of the tree, she requires a brave young squire to step over all the rotten, lesser versions of herself and prove himself worthy of her. Just as bad is the picture it paints of boys: that treating women badly (because they happen to be the easy apples that everyone can get to) isn’t an action that should be vilified but understood. He’s afraid of being hurt, of putting his heart out there, so of course he’s going to take advantage of the women who don’t demand emotional bravery of him. He’s so emotionally vulnerable...if I can help him climb to the top of the tree, perhaps we can both save each other?

When you think about it like that, it’s a bizarre spiral of self-obsession that’s simply informed by stereotypes of gender and the passive narratives of romantic fiction. It perpetuates the idea that women depreciate in value based on how many times they allow themselves to be ‘used’. It also reinforces the idea that it’s okay to treat those women badly - because ‘how can you treat someone with respect when they won’t respect themselves?’ It’s revolting, tedious and untrue, but it remains one of the most persistent challenges to real social equality between the sexes.

There is no value, social or otherwise, to be had in dragging other women down in order to elevate yourself. At the end of the day, you’re still operating in a system that overwhelmingly doesn’t value you as a whole person. Any kind of power you might feel from exerting a moral win for buttoning up and keeping things respectable in your down there is hollow. Not only have you betrayed other women to gain your gold stars, in doing so you’ve helped perpetuate the idea that sex is an external force separate to the priorities of women, something they need to safeguard themselves against so that they can secure their real goal - a husband. It’s a facile, juvenile pursuit to try and combat frustration with the reduction of women’s value to their looks by resorting to the mean spiritedness on display in romantic guides.

I may not be the girl everyone wants...but at least I’m not the girl everyone had.

As my housemate Ronan said, ‘Maybe she'd get laid more often if she didn't wear that stupid hat.”

Well, quite.

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