Purity Balls: They’re Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Yesterday I posted about about purity balls, and pointed out that fathers should have nothing to do with their daughters’ virginity, unless they’re reverting to some sort of Old Testament “fathers own their daughters virginity and women are property” mentality. Since then I have watched this documentary and done some thinking. See, the argument is more sophisticated than “your virginity belongs to your father.”

In the documentary, Randy Wilson of Generations of Light Ministry states that females will always seek male validation and that they especially have a burning desire to be viewed as beautiful by the men around them. Randy explains that because so many daughters today are not validated and told they are beautiful by their fathers, they look for that same validation and affirmation from young men their age, and end up with STDs, teen pregnancies, and broken hearts.

The solution to this problem, Randy says, is for fathers to be there for their daughters, to validate their daughters, have a special relationship with them, and tell them that they are beautiful and valuable. Then daughters will no longer need to seek those things from young men their age, and will no longer bear the physical and emotional consequences of dating and sexual activity. And that, quite simply, is the goal behind the purity balls Randy’s ministry runs.

Here’s the thing, though. Why not teach girls other ways to be validated? Why not teach girls to value their skills and abilities and dreams, rather than to equate their worth with their bodies or beauty? Why not teach girls that they are internally valuable, and that what males around them think of them is completely irrelevant to that?

Instead, the father / daughter purity culture feeds the idea that girls are only valuable inasmuch as they are valued in the eyes of the men around them, be that their boyfriends or their fathers. It teaches girls that their value lies in their bodies and in their relationship to men. It tells girls that it is healthy to pin your source of validation to male affirmation, but that that affirmation should come from their fathers rather than from boyfriends.

I talked last week about how Vision Forum pinpoints real problems with society but fixes them by simply strengthening the root cause of the problems. There is a similar phenomenon going on in the case of purity balls. Randy and others like him are responding to a very real problem in society today: teenage girls who tie their self worth to their latest boyfriend, have irresponsible sex simply to feel valuable and loved, and have no real confidence in themselves. The reality is that there are plenty of teenage girls who are dating around and having irresponsible sex as a way to feel loved and valued and worthwhile.

But, like Vision Forum, the father / daughter purity culture completely misses the mark with its solution. It fixes the problem by replacing the boyfriend with the father rather than by teaching girls that they are valuable for who they are, not who they are with or what they do with their bodies. Rather than tackling the root of the problem, the purity culture simply feeds it. You see, the problem isn’t boyfriends and the problem isn’t sex. The problem is girls’ lack of self worth. The solution is not to teach girls to find their worth in their fathers, but rather to teach girls to find their worth in themselves.

Purity balls teach girls to be confident because their fathers value them. As the mother of a daughter myself, I’m all for fathers valuing their daughters. It’s just that I’d rather teach my daughter to be confident in herself than to tie her worth to male affirmation.

What happens when these girls grow up to be independent people and make their own decisions? What happens if one of them displeases her father? Her worth has been tied up in what her father thinks of her, not in her own internal worth, skills, and abilities. The consequences are huge, and I should know, because I’ve lived them. When you are taught that you are valuable because your father values you, and then suddenly your father becomes very, very displeased with you, your whole world falls apart. You’ve tied your worth to what your father thinks of you, you’ve spent your life trying to please him, and then, in one fell stroke, the entire tower comes tumbling  down.

It is not healthy for any female, be she a young girl or a full grown woman, to tie her self worth to what the men in her life think about her. This is the root of the problem here, not sex, not dating, not boys. But somehow, the purity culture cannot see that it plays into the very problem it seeks to combat. And this breaks my heart.

Of course, the replacing of the boyfriend / girlfriend relationship with the father / daughter relationship is only one piece of this putrid puzzle. There’s also the reality that the purity culture’s solution to high STD and teen pregnancy rates is not to teach teens to exercise their sexuality responsibly but rather to do away with it altogether. As I watched the documentary at the top of this page, the different men over and over again talked of the problems of STDs and teen pregnancy, to the point that I wondered if even they knew about the existence of birth control and condoms. It’s like banning teens from driving because of the large percentage of teens who get in accidents rather than simply improving driver’s education.

Finally, in case you’re in any doubt of the relationship between purity balls and Christian Patriarchy, don’t be. Here’s the pledge that fathers sign at Randy’s purity balls:

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 my family as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used to influence generations to come.

Did you catch that? In this one short pledge we get no fewer than three of the hallmarks of Christian Patriarchy: paternal authority over daughters, paternal leadership in the home, and multigenerational faithfulness. While purity balls and purity rings are popular in fundamentalist and evangelical circles beyond strict Christian Patriarchy, the connections are there, loud and clear.

Finally, Randy’s organization actually does promote a ceremony for boys as a counterpart to the purity ball for girls. It’s called the “Manhood Ceremony,” wherein the father bestows manhood on his son. So, while boys get manhood ceremonies, girls get purity balls. Something inside of me wants to scream. And I have to ask: Where are the mothers in all this? Nonexistent, it would seem. Which I guess makes sense, given the nature of patriarchy.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    It's not healthy for anybody, male or female, to tie their self-worth to what others think about them. It's especially pernicious in this case, of course. But I think it's a pretty good general rule as well.And the really asinine thing is that these Christian Patriarchy loons would probably agree if it were removed from its sexual context, or if it was implicitly or explicitly about men.

  • pandurata

    Just started watching the documentary and wanted to barf not 5 minutes into it. Randy Wilson: "There is a core question, that the feminine, if you will, the woman has: am I beautiful? Am I worthy of being pursued?" That alone says it all. A woman's worth is tied to her perceived beauty and how much men want her? Oh boy…. When I was a child and teenager, I was never the cool one that everyone told she was pretty all the time. I was sometimes complimented on my pretty hair and beautiful eyes but more so on being a great swimmer and excelling in school. This has helped me through the awkward teenage years when you at time wished you were the pretty one that all the boys liked. But in the end I knew that I was worth much more because of everything I was and achieved while others were simply valued for their looks. In my 20s I started getting very comfortable with myself and now in my 30s I am very happy. Now rather pleased with my look, it is still not what defines me. Other facets of my life such as sports, my career and my interest in so many topics are the ones that do. My parents (both of them equally) are to thank for that. Sure, they also wanted to protect me, but were never overbearing. And they prepared me for the real world, by turning me into a self-aware, confident, passionate and opinionated woman, who knows what (and whom) she wants or doesn't.The type of "protection" and "purity" that these fathers and daughters hold so high is a recipe for desaster. These girls will have a hard time in the future should they ever be in the position where they are required to think and decide for themselves.And now I'll try to watch the rest of it, if I can stomach it….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    Even the more "modern" Christian resources have a lot of this crap. "Wild at Heart" plays up men's "need to have adventure and rescue their women", and "Captivating" is all about how women "need to feel beautiful loved by a man" (obviously these are paraphrases). It sounds nice on paper (men value women, so they take care of them), but completely disregards that women and girls can have value outside of what men think of them. And that's the problem.

  • Brita

    That was the same thing I was thinking as I saw the clip. Not only does the movement set girls up for disappointment, but also heartbreak if they lose that validation from their fathers if they make different life choices (which may not even be related to purity).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14856500260839151492 Gina B

    Libby Anne, I love love love love love love love love love your blog.

  • CLDG

    Yes, I just kept thinking: yes, girls believe their worth is tied to being visually pleasing to men. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. (As an aside, almost everybody wants love and sexual attraction. That's called being human.) I was confused for a while coming to terms with my upbringing (mostly evangelical, since my parents didn't go ATI/P until I was 18). How was it that I had such a very Christian childhood, but was so very caught up in the idea that the most important things I could be in my life were a) beautiful and b) desirable to men (not in a slutty way, of course). Sure, I had smart, took pride in smart, but no one would really choose smart over beautiful. I had thought Christians didn't buy into worldly values?? But the truth was Christian culture didn't do much to question the basic assumption of American culture about women, just tried to purify it and protect their girls from the "consequences." Here once again, feminism isn't the problem, it's the solution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14856500260839151492 Gina B

    Also, has my evangelical father-in-law noted, why don't they just encourage their daughters to find worth in God? (I know why not; because the system is based on male authority, and going directly to God undermines that authority…which is…disturbing/sad).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14856500260839151492 Gina B

    I also love that vision forum/patriarchal types go, "We've tried feminism, it didn't work!" Um, no. We're not even close to implementing true gender equality. You can't call something broken that hasn't been implemented properly.

  • http://janeyqdoe.com Janey

    Not too long ago I was dragged along to a parenting talk by a Catholic motivational speaker that I am now thinking he copied verbatim from Randy Wilson. I was utterly nauseated by what came out of his mouth and I couldn't even sneak out early because I had gotten a lift there.I found it especially galling the continuing emphasis he placed on fathers telling their daughters that they are beautiful. This, he assured a roomful of anxious parents, would stop them from having sex willy nilly. I kept thing the same thing as the rest of you- why can't a father validate his daughters as people rather than faces? My Dad loved me to bits and, sure, he told me I was beautiful, but he also told me I was smart, funny, sensitive, clever, mature, strong and independent. Both he and my mother built me up as a whole person. I am eternally grateful that whenever I asked my mother if an outfit looked good, her simple reply was "Do you like it?" I'm not sure she could have given me a more positive message- it's what YOU think of yourself that counts, not anybody else.Not only are they building very fragile concepts of self worth, but they are creating timid, fearful daughters. How can one be happy taking risks when they won't be happy within themselves if they fail? If your sense of self is entirely wrapped up in how others perceive you, then you will never be creative, innovative or daring because, well, who knows what people might think of you?Sadly, this is exactly what the Christian patriarchy want. They wrap it up in positive, loving terms, but in the end it is just another way of subjugating their wives and daughters. If their girls are strong, independent and filled with a great sense of self, they aren't very well going to settle for a lifetime of dominion over the laundry room.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09921433991972562829 Joy

    "Purity balls teach girls to be confident because their fathers value them. As the mother of a daughter myself, I'm all for fathers valuing their daughters. It's just that I'd rather teach my daughter to be confident in herself than to tie her worth to male affirmation."I don't think it's the father's affirmation of value towards their daughters, as expressed above, that makes such a difference. I would argue that the confidence that comes from knowing that one is unconditionally loved–virgin, beautiful, or not–that builds confidence and leaves a young person less likely to seek out inferior love-substitutes. And I think this is true regardless of sex, not limited to fathers and daughters.All children deserve to be loved unconditionally and it makes me really sad that this often isn't the case.

  • http://skjaere.livejournal.com/ skjaere

    I totally agree with you. I cannot remember my dad ever complimenting my looks, and I really don't care what he thinks about them. I love my dad, but his perception of my appearance is not relevant to our relationship. The best compliment my dad ever gave me was when he told me he thought I was more mature and sophisticated than my friends. So validation, yes, but I don't need it for anything superficial.

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    Randy explains that because so many daughters today are not validated and told they are beautiful by their fathers, they look for that same validation and affirmation from young men their age, and end up with STDs, teen pregnancies, and broken hearts. The solution to this problem, Randy says, is for fathers to be there for their daughters, to validate their daughters, have a special relationship with them, and tell them that they are beautiful and valuable. Then daughters will no longer need to seek those things from young men their age, and will no longer bear the physical and emotional consequences of dating and sexual activity.So … the point of purity balls is to make daughters become so infatuated by their fathers that they aren't even interested in boyfriends?Is anyone else nauseated by this openly insinuated advocacy of incest/pedophilia?

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    And if the "affirmation" they seek from their male peers means "physical intimacy", and a father's "validation" is supposed to meet the exact needs they're seeking from guys their age … the logical conclusion is beyond disturbing.

  • Anonymous

    I was able to watch about 4 minutes of that documentary. Yuck. It just brought up so much crap. :( We had a saying in our house when I was growing up, "Boys are bad, except for dad." (and brothers and uncles…)

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com Retha

    Congratulations. This is a truly wise entry. As a Christian, I believe humans (male and female) should find their value in their identity in Christ, but you absolutely set the problem in language anyone could understand.I gave almost this message to many girls before, and you enable me to express myself better in future.(BTW, I actually think – observation, not statistics – that girls with a good relationship with their fathers lose their virginity later, but that is a reason to validate your daughter's personhood and talents and appreciate her, not to attend purity balls.)

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    "And if the "affirmation" they seek from their male peers means "physical intimacy", and a father's "validation" is supposed to meet the exact needs they're seeking from guys their age … the logical conclusion is beyond disturbing."It icks me out too. But, the thing is, a lot of these people don't seem to think that girls and women have real sexual desires anyway–so, as far as they're concerned, fatherly affection and sexual fulfillment ARE interchangeable to girls. Because if a woman desires sex, it can only be because of some displaced desire for validation from her father, not because she has authentic sexual feelings. For men, sexual desire is just seen as a natural, inevitable part of male nature, for women, it's so unacknowledged that when it shows up, it's treated like it's something deviant and disordered that needs to be cured. "Teenage girls are thinking about sex and boys! We have to do something, quick! I know, we'll have them date their dads instead of boys! It's the same difference to them, anyway." lol It all plays into the belief that women want love and attention, but not actually sex.So yeah, in some ways it's sexualizing the relationship between father and daughter, which is really icky. But, in other ways, it's actually just desexualizing women altogether–turning them into sexual objects instead of sexual agents, things that can be desired but not feel desire themselves. And that's pretty icky too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    The comments are as worthy as the blog post. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16515377305539822004 camden

    I watched this and you put in to words what I was feeling but had trouble expressing beyond the general icky-wrongness of it! The comments above are also excellent. The only thing I can add is how cult-like Randy Wilson's family seemed. The looks of adoration on his adult-daughter's faces during the "blessing" Uck!

  • Wendy

    "It all plays into the belief that women want love and attention, but not actually sex."Petticoat Philosopher, you and I should have internet coffee sometime.

  • Wendy

    This TED Talk might be interesting to you (although it has the typical 18-minutes-oh-no-I'm-out-of-time issues).Specifically, it examines the issue of purity, among other moral values, and how it's expressed in different cultures. *takes a sip of my organic hippy beverage*http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html(I watch this every year during the election cycle as a rage prophylactic.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Wow, you guys' comments are great! And Petticoat Philosopher – I completely agree, it totally endorses the idea that girls only have sex to get love – if daddy just gives them love, they will have no desire for sex. While there are cases where girls do have sex to get love, those cases are not representative of the whole!

  • dj pomegranate

    This: But the truth was Christian culture didn't do much to question the basic assumption of American culture about women, just tried to purify it and protect their girls from the "consequences." Yes. So much of this aspect of Christian cultures is hinged directly onto American culture. So much emphasis on beauty (INNER beauty though, so it's cool!) and desirability (TO GODLY MEN though so it's cool!) Actually, very little of the Bible actually talks about sexual women's sexual roles or desirability and very much of the Bible talks about finding beauty and identity in Jesus ("Neither male nor female…" "beauty for ashes…" etc.) regardless of your state of human sexual desirability.And this: It all plays into the belief that women want love and attention, but not actually sex.Yes. This makes me insane. And it is so obviously a male/patriarchal idea, something I can totally see a bunch of guys, Christian or not, come up with after a few beers. A bunch of guys who DON'T KNOW ANY WOMEN.

  • http://amielou31.livejournal.com/ amielou31

    The issue of self-worth is statistically demonstrable. Girls who play sports as teens delay sexual activity and have lower teen pregnancy rates (many stats confirm this–just google it) and I know I have seen at least one study that extends that effect to high involvement in other extracurricular activities. I'm sure the correlation has to do with developing self-worth around their talents and abilities rather than male attention. So forget purity balls–let girls be involved in activities that allow them to develop their talents and excel. But we can't have that, can we? They might get crazy notions about college and careers and independence….

  • http://www.calacirian.org Sonja

    All I could think of as I read the Father's Purity Pledge was the skyrocketing rates of pornography addiction in the church … and how it's highest in the most conservative churches. I wonder about that? And since we have friends who have engaged in this (their daughter is my daughter's age, but they do not allow the two to hang out together … since my daughter plays ice hockey and is everything but a lesbian in their eyes), this post has been both a confirmation and eye opening. And it makes me sad.

  • Anonymous

    I get the underlying point but like so many "rituals" that churches come up with these days they go for the superficial instead of the deep. I grew up without a father and I can tell you that that most definitely played into my self esteem issues and my seeking attention from boys issues. So I get that a the real issue is that a good relationship with the father is a good preventative for all kinds of bad things. It's just kind of the way they go about it. I've never much been into the purity balls but I totally get anything encouraging a stronger father/daughter relationship.

  • Allison

    What really stuck out to me (besides the implications of incest) is the fact that nowhere in either the Purity Ball or Manhood rituals is there anything about the importance of the relationship between a mother and her daughter/son. I guess their mothers are supposed to be too busy having babies?

  • Aemi

    As a non-Patriarchal Christian, I want my self-worth to be tied up in what God thinks of me. God has promised that I am His, no matter what, which is a promise that no human, not even a father, can make. So I can always rest knowing that God thinks I am valuable.

  • Mary

    I am what I would consider a Bible-believing christian…but I just found your blog and I love it, Libby! I think it is so important for our daughters’ self- worth to be tied up in who they are- in Christ, and as individuals. I was very blessed in the Dad I had- he was a very loving father, although I never remember him commenting on my looks. =) He worked 80-90 hours a week so we could ALL (sons and daughters) have the best education possible . He was supportive of our interests, whether that meant spending all day at music auditions with us, taking out-of-town trips for sports events to support us, etc. (we’ve all gone to college, and done well, in our own diverse ways) He did believe that a good relationship with her parents is a safeguard against a girl’s feeling worthless, dependant on boyfriends for approval, getting involved with self-destructive behavior, etc. but to him this meant being there when his kids needed advice, or needed a friend, and nurturing us all in our unique gifts and abilities. He was always willing to deal with guys if they were harassing his daughters at work or school, but so far, none of us have ever taken him up on it- we’re pretty self-sufficient women in my family. =) My dad would have though that purity balls were like the creepiest thing ever, and he probably would have laughed had it not been such a sad thing- these poor people are serious!!??!??! My dad did want all of us to save ourselves for marriage, as that was his perception of what the Bible teaches, but basically he told us- “I think this is what you should do, but if you don’t- I don’t want to know!” He was always really creeped out by parents being involved in their kids’ sex lives, whether by trying to “keep them pure” or by “keeping them accountable to specific standards of physical touch” in courtship. Guess what- the (relatively) hands-off approach to daughter-raising……works! I’m a professional musician,my little sister’s a stockbroker, and we both adore our dad, and our mom, but do not find our value in their approval. We both are in healthy, egalitarian relationships, and have no sexual “regrets”, have never had an unplanned pregnancy, etc. (btw- actually teaching your kids about the wonders of birth control is fabulous for the latter;) We love God, love our families, and while we don’t agree with our parents, or each other, in everything- we will never have to suffer through the process of leaving family and beliefs behind that our more “conservative”, courtship-practicing friends have. I am thankful that our parents raised us to believe that God’s approval, and our relationship with Him, is more important than any human opinion, even theirs. And they raised us to think for ourselves, and be ok with being independent, being alone, and being different, which I think was key to us not falling into unhealthy relationships.

  • http://www.ReviveTheFlame.com Paul C. Kranz

    What would validate a developing girl just as well as or better than her parents can? If she doesn’t get validation by age 10, her personality is knit together with a validation hole in it. Parental validation in the developmental years prevents a hole in a knitted personality. Filling that hole in later life is a montrously difficult task and non-seamless solution.

  • closetatheist

    I grew up without a father, but unlike many girls in my situation, I never bought into the “a girl must be validated by her father in order to have self-esteem” crap that the pastors feed teens and parents – thank heaven. I was CONSTANTLY told by my mother and pastors that I should feel free to tell them about how not having a father damaged my self-esteem and made me want to act out. These people literally badgered me into (falsely) admitting that I felt worthless because I had no father. It was ridiculous and for awhile I agreed with them just so they would get the hell off my back and then they all tried to act like “father figures.” It was creepy and insulting – especially since everyone *assumed* I had a horrible self-esteem problem that had nothing to do with ME….Thinking about this as an adult makes me sick because I realize now that their goal was to convince me that I only had value IN A FATHER FIGURE. Really, this situation helped me see straight through the purity culture bullshit because I realized that even with no father (and all these people feeling sorry for me because they assumed I felt worthless) I felt incredibly valuable because I loved the person that I was….Anyway, I’m a believer in the “teach girls to value themselves because of who they are and not based on other people’s approval” school of thought. It resulted in a happy life for me.

  • Jon Ball

    As a father raising a young teenage daughter (she’s thirteen), thank you for this whole discussion. I especially appreciated that in this post you acknowledge the real problems and complexities children and parents face navigating life in this larger culture, and the nuances of the arguments made by those putting on purity balls and so on.

    I am helped by your comment that shaping a girl’s experience so that she ties her sense of worth to others’ approval is a trap–whether that’s boys or men or women. A couple commenters extended that point wisely by noting that the true source for worth has to be God’s approval and our identity in Christ. I agree whole-heatedly with that, but it is easier said than done!

    I have been deeply shaped this past few years as God has brought my mind back again and again to Jesus’ baptism, where he was filled with the Holy Spirit and heard a voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved son; I am well pleased with you.” I have been thinking that if Jesus, of all people, needed to hear that kind of affirmation from God, then so do I. And so does my daughter.

  • disqus_xuFDf3Jr8f

    This stuff is just creepy, period


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