WAC discussion pinpoints cultural stereotypes, virginity obsession

On Tuesday Feb. 28, Womyn's Action Coalition teamed up with sociology professor Elaine Cleeton and her teaching assistants for SOC 225: Sociology of Gender to host a screening of the 2011 documentary The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession is Hurting Young Women.

The Purity Myth is based off the book by feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti. Valenti – in both her book and film – addressed the societal obsession with a woman's virginity and touched upon various cultural stereotypes and media messages that she said "exploit irrational fears about women's sexuality" and the harm these stereotypes cause to young women.

The film also addresses contemporary issues such as the debate over abortion and legal personhood, Planned Parenthood funding, female contraceptives and sexual education in school. Abstinence-only sex education that is funded by taxpayers and purity ring supporters was also discussed.

All of these aspects blend together, Valenti said, to deprive women of their rights – especially when it comes to making decisions and feeling responsible for their own bodies and health. Valenti shared her argument that America's opinion of a woman's worth  is based on what she does sexually, rather than her well-being, is ultimately undermining her autonomy.

After the screening, attendees participated in an insightful discussion that touched on a variety of topics in the film. Discussion participants expressed shock and anger at the socially and politically conservative views that Valenti used as examples for her argument. Many audience members said that the idea that women are not sexually aware and accountable was offensive.

"It's really important to show everyone how toxic the myth of purity is, and how it hurts both men and women," said sophomore Emma Liberman, president of WAC.

Much of the film and subsequent discussion pointed out the laws and attitudes regarding sexual assault, rape, contraceptives and abortion. One student pointed out that, even at Geneseo, a defined policy regarding sexual assault was not created until just this past year.

"I was both moved and disconcerted about the nature of sexual expectations for women in the current social climate," said senior WAC member Steve Bennett. "It's good to see such a productive dialogue going on, but at the same time, this type of dialogue being so rare and unique is both sad and frightening."