Woman Milking a Red Cow by Karel Dujardin, c. 1650
Rachel Held Evans’ recent post, “Do Christians Idolize Virginity?” got me thinking about the ways we talk about purity, chastity, and virginity, and how frankly awful some of them are. Let’s take a look:
“Lost my virginity”
Forget looking at sex (and abstaining from sex) in terms of a spiritual practice done for the good of our relationship to God. Forget the wisdom of delaying sexual gratification. Virginity is a thing, a commodity that can be lost.
A commodity whose loss reduces the value of the (former) virgin.
Not too long ago, this was a very real concern. A potential bride was either disqualified or at least lessened if she was not a virgin. Actually, this is still a major concern in many cultures, to the point that honor killings have happened in the U.S. over suspected premarital sex.
“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
These days, anyone who calls a woman a cow had better have swift legs or a good, tough chin. I mean heavyweight champion good. And where’s the male equivalent? “Why buy the bull when you can get the $#!* for free?”
Seriously, though, this one is doubly offensive. It paints men as sex fiends and women as chattel, a role that first century Christians moved beyond, but which we slid back to over the course of time.
(Compare the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Greco-Roman house codes, and you’ll see how progressive he was. Today he may look old-fashioned, but he didn’t write those letters today, or to post-feminist information-age citizens of modern democracies, did he?)
Had my wife and I not waited, I would still have married her. What I wanted wasn’t just sex. What I wanted was her, by my side, as my wife, for life. This stupid, offensive livestock analogy is disproven every day as couples who did not wait get married, and stay married, and have good marriages.
The analogy really does hearken back to the days when women were property. First they belonged to their fathers, and then they were (effectively) sold to their husbands. Sometimes there was a dowry involved, sometimes a bride-price, but always a commercial transaction.
And as with livestock, a woman who wasn’t ‘brand new’ and ‘untouched’ was of lesser value, she was, to use the most offensive phrase of all …
Dear Lord, grant me the patience to not become physically violent when I hear that phrase. Violently ill is okay, though – I’m perfectly fine puking on whoever refers to a woman as “damaged goods.” And it’s always a woman. I’ve never heard a man referred to as “damaged goods” (or a cow, for that matter).
This reduces the woman below the level of livestock, to mere merchandise. A cow is at least a living being, capable of some basic emotions like contentment, fear, and pain. “Damaged goods” is like a couch that’s been clawed by a housecat, or an X-Box with the red ring of death.
“Losing my virginity” is bad enough, but “Cows” and “Damaged Goods” are just plain degrading. This is no way to talk about Godly chastity. This is no way to talk about our fellow Christians. And this is definitely no way to talk about our daughters, sisters, and friends.