Book Review 8: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

8 Feb

So, I was halfway through this book when Lollygagger posted this fabulous review on the CBR blog, which was then featured on Pajiba. I really don’t have that much to add. That review is a great summary of the book, it’s thesis, and why it’s important for both men and women to think about this topic. I’m going to address two things that jumped out at me.

First, how difficult is still can be for women to get access to contraception, abortion and needed healthcare.  Valenti’s stories about women being denied Plan B by pharmacists who have taken matters into their own hands, of women jailed after giving birth to still born babies, about proposals for miscarriage laws that require reporting a miscarriage so the state can determine if you endangered your unborn child, scared me. Valenti made the point that if a woman is considered mature enough by the state to carry a child to term and raise a child, the state should consider a woman mature enough to choose whether she wants to have that child at all (whether this be by accessing Plan B after a birth control lapse, or through abortion). The rhetoric most states use to limit access to birth control and abortion is that of the woman as a victim, as immature, as unable to make these decisions herself. I find that kind of rhetoric incredibly disturbing. Roe v. Wade was a huge victory, but things like Mississippi are still happening.

Second, the idea of women as gatekeepers is antiquated, and dangerous, for both men and women.  The gatekeeper model promotes the idea that women are exclusively in control of whether they have sex, and the idea that men can’t control themselves. This is the ideology that wrongfully places the blame on women for things that are frankly, not their fault. This ideology leads to the legitimatization and social acceptance of street harassment – it says that if the woman doesn’t want attention from male friends/colleagues/strangers, she should dress modestly.  It’s the ideology that leads to things like creepshots, because it justifies men taking lewd photographs of women without their consent – if she didn’t want to be photographed, why would she dress like that? And most critically, it’s the same ideology, found all over our criminal rape laws (which still boggles my mind) that if a man tries to rape a woman, it’s her job to fight him off. And if she doesn’t, well, it might not be rape.

And this justification of these types of behaviors makes me feel unsafe.

It’s what makes me button my coat up all the way when I ride public transit and keep my eyes down, hoping no one is photographing me or staring at me. It’s what makes me walk faster when I pass men on the street, because I’m afraid that walking home in my gym clothes might be an invitation to all kinds of lewd comments. It’s what makes me feel unsafe at bars, because it leads some men to believe that they are entitled to grab me, talk to me, corner me at the bar.

So, like Lollygagger, I think everyone should read this book. Frankly, it’s important.


3 Responses to “Book Review 8: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti”

  1. Lollygagger February 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Great points! ‘Conscience clauses’ are so dangerous and really deserve more scrutiny. Glad you liked the book – I wish we could get a group together to read, review and discuss similar books – there’s so much that warrants analysis and action.

  2. forestine February 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    I loved both reviews! I hope things like this get more people to read this book.


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti | Cannonball Read V - February 8, 2013

    […] Second, the idea of women as gatekeepers is antiquated, and dangerous, for both men and women.  […]

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