There’s a lot of maidenhood floating around these days. We’ve got books and blogs and purity balls all dedicated to helping women claim their identities as maidens of virtue, princesses of the king, precious pearls in an oyster of modesty, and so forth. We even have helpful guidelines on how to
manipulate call forth the protective instincts of men through an image of projected innocence.
We women, we angels of the home, we fragile butterflies of charm and mystery, we must be covered and protected, we must guard our hearts and withhold our kisses and pledge our virginities, lest our marzipan pedestals crumble beneath us.
Here’s the thing. I am actually not a princess. No, seriously.*
I am not a perpetual minor or a symbolic figurehead, or a be-crowned and bejeweled human objet d’art.
I am a woman.
I am 20 years old. Not so old, they tell me, and yet I have paid a mortgage, punched a man, flunked tests, aced papers, lost friends, broken my heart, broken other people’s hearts, stuck by my guns, worked for my goals, sung a boozy rendition of Rosalita to a room full of strangers,** comforted children, screwed up royally, apologized and made amends, and done it all over again the next day. I am a whole person, with flaws and sins and triumphs and secrets and memories.
In the immortal words of Kate Nash, I’ve got a family, and I drink cups of tea.
So first, let’s stop exhorting women to virtue with a term originally used to refer to the status of a woman’s virginity. Because our virtue is more than our sexuality, and we are more than our sexuality. That’s kind of the whole point of chastity, in fact–understanding and respecting that we that we are whole, complex, persons, not genitals on legs.***
Secondly, ENOUGH with the sentimental, infantilizing argot that floats around any discussion of female modesty, chastity, body image…or really anything involving women. Sure, we are beautiful daughters of God, and that should be close to the core of our self-perception. But it can’t be the whole of it. It’s too static–it doesn’t convey our sharp-edged, intrusive, multidimensional realness, our agency and potential.
We are not princesses or pearls. We are mystics, warriors, artists, rugby-players, saints, mothers, cooks, writers, friends. We are Caryll Houselander and Dorothy Day, Frida Kahlo and George Eliot, my mother and yours, Marie Colvin and that little old lady from daily Mass, the one with two warts and a mantilla who held your hand when you got that news. Or at least we should aspire to be.
Because we are women and most us will probably end up, if we’re lucky, warty, bony, calloused, decidedly de-maidened and with nary a hint of pearl-like sheen on our lined faces. But that’s ok. Because we are not princesses, we are people.
*I go to an Ivy League college and hence know quite a few girls who have the princess thing going on. And you know what? I don’t like them very much.
**It’s a good story.
***Ok, not the entire point, but you get the idea.
Addendum: If this is what you mean by maiden, then ok, fine, I guess.