Listening as I often do to international media, it intrigued me the other day when the famous French radio station Europe One aired a very bubbly French-accented Vihrgeens Onthed (Virgins Wanted) annals programme. Twenty-year-old Brazilian Catarina Migliorinis virginity was put on auction on an Australian website together with boy virgin, Alexander Stepanov. The bid started with $1 in Brazil, then spread worldwide. On October 24, 2012, both were sold: Catarina fetched a whopping $780,000 with 15 bids. Her third highest bidder was an Indian, Rudra Chatterjee, the runner-up American Jack Miller, while Natsu, a Japanese, won his prize flying in a private jet between Australia and the US in order to counteract international prostitution laws. Meanwhile, Alexander got eight bids and was sold for $2,800 only. Look at the premium female virginity commands even in todays promiscuous society! Education and charity are on Catarinas to-do list from this one-time bonanza she got.
Patriarchal societies, where women are considered subservient to men, are fixated on virginity. Deflowering a virgin supposedly gives men a sense of dominance and possession, a heady feeling of masculinity in drawing blood. It makes them winners, feudal owners of the conquest. In that act, women become losers, even though shes just ruptured a body membrane. Some private clinics in Dubai are abetting unmarried girls to restore virginity by illegally performing hymen restoration or reconstruction surgeries. Banned for girls in most Arab countries where theyre expected to be virgins before marriage for cultural, social or religious reasons, such a surgery is supposedly a crime. But its not so if married women undergo this 90-minute surgery costing about Dh 10,000 ($2,700).
Is virginity a possession more valuable than other inevitable body functions like shedding milk teeth, losing hair or eyesight weakening with time Female virginity remains a discussion topic and secret desire of men in developed countries too, although here, its not associated with morality and honour issues. In 1981, when Lady Diana was engaged to marry Britains Prince Charles, as per a set of unwritten conventions governing royal life, British royalty and its advisers expected her to be a virgin to ensure purity of the bloodline. That prompted Lord Fermoy, her late uncle, to publicly announce she was a bonafide virgin. Under societys double standards, no one expected Charles to be a virgin. This reflects societys acceptance of the so-called superiority of males and of royalty. Perhaps the new generation is changing the masculine character of overpowering women. Their son Prince William has broken tradition. Hes lived with his commoner girlfriend on-and-off for eight years before marrying her.
High value was placed on virginity in Western mythology. Ancient Romes Goddess Vesta (Hestia to Greeks) had nine virgin priestesses serving her. Vestal virgin Rhea Silvia, raped by the God Mars, gave birth to Romulus and Remus, twin founders of Rome. The citys fate was linked to virginity. If any of the virgins broke virginity vows, wars or natural disasters would befall Rome. So transgressors were punishable by death, the last recorded one was buried alive in 150 AD. Virgin Greek goddesses Hestia, Artemis, and Athena were symbols of female power and independence, quite unlike the connotation for virginity today. Among Greek gods, virginity was a renewable quality. Goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, renewed her virgin status every year by bathing in a special stream.
So was Queen Draupadi, wife of the five Pandava brothers, granted a boon from Lord Shiva to be born a virgin every year. Shes considered an eternal kanya (virgin) in Hindu epic Mahabharata although she birthed a son each for her five husbands. Revered for her intellect and steely substance, she lived not only in polyandry, but managed polygamous relationships as all her husbands had other wives: Yudhisthira was married to Devika, Bhima to Hidimba, Arjun to several princesses and Subhadra, Nakul to Karenumati, and Sahadev to Vijaya. Disrespect to women got ingrained in the Indian male psyche when Draupadis eldest husband gambled her away like an object in a dice game he lost. His opponent publicly disrobed a defenceless Draupadi, but Lord Krishnas divine intervention made her sari endless, thus saving her modesty. Its obvious that women have been fighting for self-respect from times immemorial.
Obsession with virginity is just another blown-out-of-proportion factor that demeans women. Our age-old culture has conditioned young girls to prize their virgin status without realising they are buttressing male egos by doing so. The family should empower girls in the same way they do boys. Neighbours should become sensitive to a womans suppression next door and help her fight it. Office colleagues should maintain decorum instead of taking gender-based advantage. TV and radio can encourage open sessions with men and women on family, education, sexual matters and how to work together at home and outside. The more these points are openly debated, the situation will improve for half the human population thats long been denied justice. Lets work towards equal treatment and equal opportunity for both genders.
Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at www.shiningconsulting.com