Blogging “Yes” Day 24: The Link Between Rape and Purity

29 04 2010

We’re coming into the home stretch of the Blogging “Yes” project.  It’s day twenty four, and I read Jessica Valenti’s “Purely Rape: The Myth of Sexual Purity and How it Reinforces Rape Culture.”  This essay is basically a very bite-sized version of the argument in Valenti’s book, The Purity Myth, but what really stuck with my is an example from my own state, Maryland, of a law (no longer in force) that made rape impossible if a woman said no after penetration.

Valenti explains that the law’s precedent was based on the idea that a woman could never be “re-flowered” once penetration occurred.  Of course, modern law doesn’t say that rape cannot occur unless a woman is a virgin, but the concept of rape was historically tied in tightly with the idea of purity.  The moral problem with rape was the violation of a chaste, pure woman (or a married woman by someone other than her husband).  The law has shifted somewhat to make rape an issue of violence and physical invasion, rather than chastity, but these roots are still stuck in the legal framework, as the 2008 law shows.

This idea of rape, of course, excludes a lot of women whose autonomy is violated by the crime of rape.  If only “pure” women can be raped, then a lot of people don’t qualify.  Women who enjoy “casual” sex, or have had multiple romantic partners, sex workers, women whose morality system isn’t based on the idea of purity/chastity, etc., are all left out.  It’s an obviously Christian, obviously upper-to-middle class based ideal system that has no place in the way we conceive of rape.  Consent needs to be continual, and can be revoked at any time.  Consent can be revoked for a partner, whether married or not.  Consent can be given for one sexual activity but not another.  And yes, consent can be revoked in the middle of an activity because it hurts, because it isn’t working, because someone just plain isn’t interested anymore.

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