Friday, January 26, 2007

My Life As A Car

Once I was a brand new Volvo, shining, impeccable, empty, undriven. I slumbered in my dealer's yard, safe and protected, waiting for the right owner to come.

Many came to admire to me, to shyly stroke my gleaming steering wheel. I saw them inhaling the new car smell, saw their desire (which I caused). A few, very few, I let test-drive me. Nothing impure, mind you, just a gentle drive around the neighborhood, the floors covered with white papers.

Sigh. That was then. I was maturing, blossoming, ready for the one owner who would take me home and never turn me in. And he did come! O praise the Lord he came! And my dealer looked him over and signed the papers for delivery the very following week. I could hardly wait for my life as a car to really begin. I had so much to offer. Though I had been happy under the protection of my dealer I had always known that God had made me to be driven by a generous owner.

Sigh. Then the unthinkable happened. The next night a joyrider broke into the dealer's lot and stole- stole! - me. He tore open my lovely door and hotwired my ignition. Off we went around the corner, screeching on two wheels, off we dashed down the highways and the byways, always off, for more, more and more. He was insatiable. Soon I was covered in cigarette ashes and empty beer bottles, candy wrappers and stale food. I lost count of the days this went on, but I knew that my front lights broke and a long scratch appeared in my once-perfect side. I cried, numb and exhausted and hopeless. I had lost my purity.

Finally the police came and towed me away, back to my dealer's lot. But he no longer loved me. He kicked my tires and punched my doors. I was soiled goods. He could never get the full price for me now. My true owner, my rightful owner cancelled his contract and refused to even look at me. I wanted to die.

This is my story, my dear little cars still in your dealers' lots. Beware of the attractions of joyrides unless you want to end up like me: bought and sold, bought and sold. The new car smell is all you have.

This, my sweet readers, is the fundamentalist view of women's sexual purity. Don't believe me? Read this quote:

The purity balls are back, but this time for boys. And since they're for boys, "purity" isn't the issue, since apparently that requires having a hymen. No, boys are supposed to have integrity. Which apparently means looking at women as objects to be bought — and when you're buying something, you want the newest model. They do a better job at explaining this than I can:

After the meal, Jackie Detweiller spoke to the gathering about her experiences. Detweiller is an attractive 19-year-old young woman who is practicing abstinence. She told the tale of a person who had waited a long time to buy the car of their dreams, but when the day arrived to drive it home, the dealer told them that the steering had problems, that it had a lot of mileage on it, and had been in a few wrecks. She likened this word picture to sexual purity and the hopes for a future spouse.

Or the same put into fundie-speak:

Baker told the young men that the women they had come with, their mothers, were somebody's daughters, and they meant the world to those parents. He further told them that when they date a girl, she is somebody's daughter, and they care deeply for her.

Baker also told them that while they might not believe it at the time, the girl they may date in high school is probably not going to be the one they will marry. "So you're dating someone else's future wife," he told them. He also told them that someone else may be dating their future wife.

"If you knew somebody was with your future wife," Baker asked them, "touching her in ways you wouldn't like, pressuring her, how would that make you feel?"

Note how the reason for manly integrity here is linked to the idea that someone may be joyriding your future car! The idea of ownership is used as a bridge for compassion. Sort of.

I'm late to this topic and there are excellent discussions on this whole issue at Feministe, at and at Pandagon (where does Amanda get those great pictures?), so I won't reinvent the wheel (even for a Volvo). But I was struck with the many dualisms in the thinking of the chastity folks. The idea of man-the-active and woman-the-passive, the idea of man-the-leader and woman-the-follower, the whole integrity business as belonging to men and purity to women (as if remaining pure wouldn't require integrity and as if men don't get dirty from sex). And the idea that there are only two choices for the unmarried women in this world: They can be sluts or they can be virgins. Nothing else is on offer. Even the concept of the time before marriage and after marriage seems dualistic to me, and I can't quite see whether women become dirty goods on their wedding nights or not or if it somehow no longer matters at that point.

Then there are the creepy paradoxes: Women as objects to be protected and/or used, as property to be passed form father to husband. Yet at the same time the virginal young women are made into something almost angelic, something out of this world, something ethereal. Something breakable, like a translucent china box with a glued-on lid.

But an even creepier paradox may be the whole unstated assumption that sex is filthy, that women are clean before sex but become dirtied from contact with men. This suggests that it is really the men who are dirty, perhaps bestial in their inability to fight their primal urges. After all, if they weren't so weak, who would need all these chastity balls? As another blogger noted, these are often the same people who believe that feminists hate men. But I would never assume men to be as base as the fundamentalist scenarios imply.

What is wrong with all of this is that people are not cars. Young women are not cars. They should have agency in deciding over their own sexuality. Abstinence is a valid choice but not a real choice if others pick it for you.