Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Boys Are Also Responsible

Photo from the "Purity Ball" courtesy of the New York Times

The New York Times had a really fascinating piece about a tradition of father-daughter "Purity Balls" that has emerged in Colorado that promote abstinence from sex before marriage. Check it out:

"COLORADO SPRINGS — In their floor-length gowns, up-dos and tiaras, the 70 or so young women swept past two harpists and into a gilt-and-brocade dining room at the lavish Broadmoor Hotel, on the arms of their much older male companions.

At a hotel in Colorado Springs, Courtney McAlpin, 14, of Minneapolis, listened as her father, Steve, read a pledge in which he vowed to follow evangelical ideals to protect her purity.

The girls, ages early grade school to college, had come with their fathers, stepfathers and future fathers-in-law last Friday night to the ninth annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball. The first two hours of the gala passed like any somewhat awkward night out with parents, the men doing nearly all the talking and the girls struggling to cut their chicken.

But after dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.

Yet the graying men in the shadow of their glittering daughters were the true focus of the night. To ensure their daughters’ purity, they were asked to set an example and to hew to evangelical ideals in a society they say tempts them as much as it does their daughters.

“It’s also good for me,” said Terry Lee, 54, who attended the ball for a second year, this time with his youngest daughter, Rachel, 16. “It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I’m holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won’t be cheating on their mother.” Read the whole article here.

I had mixed feelings about this piece. On the one hand I always feel an affinity for people who are trying to live according to high moral standards when it comes to sexuality. This is truly a counter-cultural exercise in the United States where there is much talk about sexual "freedom" and "choice" but (in my experience) little respect for those who choose not to have sex. Whenever I hear efforts such as the one in Colorado spoken of in the media, the journalists and pundits can hardly disguise their horror and contempt (This article is an exception). That so many attempt to present their lack of faith in the ability of young people (or anyone else for that matter) to control their sexual behavior as a form of "enlightenment" or "science" is one of the bitter ironies of the period in which we are living.

However, as someone who is about welcome a son into the world, I found myself wondering why this group in Colorado isn't also having these kinds of events for mothers and sons, or fathers and sons for that matter (I don't know how many sons would dance with their dads, but who knows?!) The tendency to focus on girls when addressing what will or will not happen sexually represents an imbalance in the approach to this issue. Boys have just as much responsibility for what does or does not happen sexually as girls do. I believe this is something our sons must be raised to appreciate. So often there is this "boys will be boys" kind of attitude and the burden for keeping the clothes on is placed on girls. I recently overheard some people talking about the problem of teenage girls getting pregnant. This went on and on. I finally pointed out that the folks were speaking as if the boys involved (and sometimes men frankly) didn't event exist, like these girls got pregnant spontaneously. They got this look of shock on their faces and then an "oh yeah" expression. All their moral outrage was focused on the girls, "she shoulda done this", "she shouldn't have done that." This is not helpful to our daughters or our sons. Healthy sexuality requires a partnership of equal responsibility. We need to make sure our boys are prepared for it.

"Make ye then a mighty effort, that...for purity, immaculacy, refinement, and the preservation of health, they shall be leaders in the vanguard of those who know. And that by their freedom from enslavement, their knowledge, their self-control, they shall be first among the pure, the free and the wise."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 150)