By Alexander Weaver
(Editor’s Note: Please welcome Daylight Atheism’s first guest writer! Alexander Weaver is the author of the essay “Answers to 11 Questions for Atheists” on Ebon Musings.)
Recently, several bloggers brought to my attention one of the creepier trends that’s caught on in South Dakota, the “Father-Daughter Purity Ball.” This is more or less what it sounds like; fathers and daughters (mainly preteens and young teens) dress up and attend a dance together, which culminates in them holding each other close and gazing into one another’s eyes. The daughter then recites the following pledge to her father: “I pledge to remain sexually pure…until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband…I know that God requires this of me…that he loves me and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.”
To which the father responds, “I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.”
Speaking as a father myself, I find this extremely disturbing on several levels: the pseudo-incestuous undertones created by the use of setting and nonverbal cues typically associated with romantic dates, the young ages of the girls involved, and my strong suspicions that, as with Confirmation, the children who take part in these events are often unwilling or uncertain and participate because of pressure and a sense of obligation from their families and communities. Worse, though, is the poisonous and dysfunctional view of sex, gender roles, and family relationships which permeates the entire concept of this event. This has been thoroughly explored by other writers already, so I will not recapitulate it at length here; suffice it to say that the implicit views of the father as the patriarchal leader of the household regardless of circumstances and of the girl’s sexuality as being first her father’s property/responsibility, becoming “a gift” to her husband (and hence his property), and being the defining trait of her being (“I give myself” in reference to having sex) are not merely misogynistic but diametrically opposed to the respect and trust that must form the basis of any healthy relationship, especially of parent and child. I’m reasonably certain my daughter would agree, if she wasn’t habitually preoccupied by her attempts to abscond with my writing implements and years away from a coherent understanding of the concepts involved (she’s almost 2).
Nevertheless, I can see the benefits of a ritual affirmation of trust, affection, and respect between parent and child, and to that end, I wrote the following pledges, to be exchanged, without pressure and preferably in a non-pseudo-romantic (i.e., non-“ball”) context, between a father and daughter. Note that the structure of these could be readily adapted to any gender combination; I phrased it here as a father-daughter exchange because this is the parental relationship most relevant to my life. Note also the use of reasons relating to human happiness and security, and the importance of responsibility and judgement in achieving those, rather than an appeal to divine command as a motivating factor.
Daughter: “I pledge to treat my body, my mind, and my life with dignity and respect, and to ensure this is reflected in all my decisions. I recognize that sex is healthy, natural, and also potentially dangerous. I understand that I must make informed and intelligent decisions, for my own sake and my partner’s, regarding when and with who to have sex, and that I must resist any attempt to take the decision out of my hands, no matter the intent. I understand also that you are concerned for me, that I mean a great deal to you, and that above all you want me to be happy. I recognize that you have more experience than I do in most areas of life and that I should consider your advice and opinions, but also that I must make my own judgements rather than mindlessly absorbing or defying any example, even yours. I know that I can trust you and confide in you, and that you will be there for me when I need advice and support. Most of all, I know you love me, no matter what.”
Father: “I, (daughter’s name)’s father, affirm to her and to myself my recognition that she is my responsibility, but her own person. I recognize that sex is healthy, natural, and also potentially dangerous. I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure that she has the knowledge and judgement necessary to make informed and intelligent decisions about when and with who to have sex, but I will accept that the decision is ultimately hers to make. I understand that my example will be a major influence on her ideas and attitudes about sex and relationships, and I will model integrity, maturity, reason, and responsibility in every way I can. I recognize that the best thing I can do for her is to set a good example and be supportive and accepting of her as a person, but when I disagree with her decisions I will make this clear in a civil and responsible manner. I will make clear that she can trust and confide in me and that I will be there for her whenever she needs advice or support, and I will make good on my promise. Most of all, I will ensure that she knows I love her, no matter what.”
I trust these will stand well enough on their own; I can clarify and respond as needed, but for the moment I have a pencil to retrieve…