Apr 1, 2011

The Shackles of Virginity

Egypt and a lot more Arab countries are now witnessing an unprecedented case of vibrancy and mobilization in what is called the Arab spring. As I said before such state of revolution are not only political, but transcend it to personal barriers as well. It is at times like these when we should reconsider where we stand and where we want to be in the future.

Patriarchy is one of the biggest problems we have and it affects the lives of women and men alike. Women are controlled in different ways. They have limited options; their bodies are under control; which manifests itself in various forms, ranging from dress style to female genital mutilation.

Another way to control women's sexuality is keeping their virginity. An incredibly huge amount of pressure is placed upon women to stay virgin. Society has constructed several methods to make sure that women stay virgins until marriage.

In Egypt, a practice called dukhla baladi used to and still exists in some parts of the country, especially remote rural areas. On the wedding night, the bride and groom are accompanied by members of their family. The bride is usually held down and a woman inserts her finger in the vagina after folding her finger with a piece of cloth to receive the blood that results from the breakage of the hymen. This blood is usually called the blood of honor.

Although this practice is on the wane, other practices exists to ensure the virginity of female on their wedding night. The bride prepares a white piece of cloth, commonly called al-mahrama, is placed beneath her during the first intercourse.. The blood received on the cloth is later displayed to family members of the husband and wife, as a proof of virginity.

What's interesting is that it doesn't only place pressure on women, but also on men. It proves the man was virile enough to do his task. It is not uncommon that men do not perform well on the wedding night due to all the pressure, the lack of experience and sexual education.

Sometimes the girls do not bleed, not because they lost their virginity but because the hymen could be elastic or has pores which allows penetration without significant bleeding. This could cause serious troubles. In many cases the bride is taken to a gynecologist to check on her hymen and if it was "used" before. This test can determine the bride's fate forever. Either her dignity is restored or she's tossed to a life of shame, and in some cases it results in "honor crimes".

I was struck when I talked to family members that this tradition is alive and well, even among upper class and educated people, perhaps more commonly in Upper Egypt, where more conservative gender values exist.

What struck me though is to find origins for such practice in the Jewish tradition. In The Bible, Deuteronomy 22: 13-21 recounts how men should handle whether finding out their wives were virgins or not. It also mentions using a piece of cloth to prove the bride's honor but in this case, it is shown in front of the elders of the town.

What disturbs me most is the extent to which such personal and delicate affair can become the center of attention of the whole family. Such interference undermines the will of the newly married couple and can sabotage their private relationship. I personally believe that these matter should be only handled within the couple themselves.

Society should realize that it is not the hymen that determines honor. Honor is a broader concept that entails honesty, integrity and trust. Women can have sex without losing their hymen. Also, The society must stop the double standards about male and female virginity. While female virginity is a necessity, men are forgiven if they have pre-marital sex.

It is now up to the young generations to revolt against those traditions and choose to have their private sexual life, away from the interference of the old guardians. They should be able to discuss and share their feelings and concerns.

Once again, revolutions are not only political, but also personal!

32 comments:

  1. This is not only in the the middle east but latin America and asia where women can be so desperate they go and get a certain type of surgery to get a false hymen placed in.

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  2. Right but no one hears about the consequences about what happens in other oparts of the world. i find it hard to believe they take it as seriously as Arabs do and kill and degrade and shame women. Arabs cant progress until they are up to date on civilization. no one gives a shit who or how many you sleep with. and only barbarians would actually punish it.

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  3. Arab society cant be compared to others. Majority of women have zero rights. And if they claim to they are shamed/degraded in one way or another. An extreme barbaric culture modern Arabs have. They have SO MUCH they need to overcome before they start asking for democracy.

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  4. Shocking that the Arabs in the year 2011 who are subject to this dont stop and say wait a minute im not taking this. Even if my mom or dad or husband condones my punishment what exactly does their title mean if what they want is for me to be shamed or hurt. Theyre all brainwashed. They all do what their parents and religion tells them too. Arabs defy logic on just about every single aspect of life.

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    1. this is my problem. I'm an Arab woman. I fought for my education against my family and society to leave the country alone and travel to the US to pursue my education. I lost my virginity in a curl way and now I'm terrified and suffer from PTSD all because I'm afraid that my father and mother would find out and then I'll be either rejected my whole life by them and called a whore or something would happen to them from the shock and then I'll have to live with guilt. I try to forget and live my life but it is hard to overcome some expectations from the people who raised you. I know if I had to I would stand up for myself and say no but that would mean all my fears come true. My experience with losing it in the first place was painful and I had to go through a sever depression for over 2 years while starting school in the US. I'm much better now, I overcame my rejection for men and I met a great person who I love and I live with now. that made me suffer from double life, being myself and living my life and lying to my parents and pretending that I'm what they think Iam. Society made it impossible for me to live a normal life with the ones I love and have the approval of the people who raised me.

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  5. Such things happen in France too, into arab communities and families, some girls have surgery to retore their hymen before wedding they're so scared doctors can't do anything but do it to avoid the consequences for girls, and what is shocking me is that french politiciens stigmatize them as "strangers" instead of helping them, in a country where women conquered their rights and freedom in the seventies...

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  6. "Women can have sex without losing their hymen."

    Yes, but also, women can have sex without losing their honor.

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  7. It should be pointed out that the word "honor" (כבוד) is not used in Deuteronomy. the word is generally not used at all when discussing a woman's virginity in Judaism. The word used usually in chastity/modesty (צניעות).

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  8. Women can loose the "hymen" in situations that don't involve sex as well. A lot of drama created in the name of the hymen.

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  9. The Arab world is so oppressed by the religion wither they are Muslim or Christian its the same the main problem in the virginity test that's important its forbidden to have sex without marriage in both religion the problem roots is religious Judaism started it Christianity followed then Islam got the extreme version of it.

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  10. Religion does not command the showing-off virginity in public or honour crimes... It's the ultra-patriarchal mentality,reinforced with the conflation of religion and atavistic tradition.

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  11. There is no need for virginity or abstinence with contraception. It has existed for a very long time !

    The problem in islam is the whole attitude towards women.

    What's needed in muslim countries, especially 'liberated' ones, is loads of media education on sex and in schools, clinics, family planning organisations. Also new laws forbidding forced mariages, discrimination or abuse against women and girls. This will take time, but could go quite quickly with good planning.

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  12. Wow, so much racism on here! (the comments, not the post)
    Looks like we not only need to combat patriarchy but also racism and Islamophobia/Arabophobia. Great :)

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  13. A powerful post... and I agree with the last comment - there's some disgraceful and repugnant racism and imperialism in the commentary. For the past century, the imperialist democracies have supported the most reactionary, corrupt and mysoginistic forces in the Middle East and North Africa, turning them into clients and puppets to be used against the peoples of these countries. The *persistence* of the practices described in the post is fundamentally a result of the structures of domination and oppression imposed on the region by the hypocrites and liars in London, Paris and Washington.

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  14. Racism?! Islamophobia?! That's absurd.

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  15. The reason the Arab world thinks that women have no rights, is because their 'prophet' said so. Enough of this PC claptrap: culture is ultimately founded upon religious values; they are NOT separate concepts. While of course not all Arabs are Muslims, the vast majority are, and it is their 'culture' founded upon Islam which drives this patriarchal, misogynist attitude. The 'prophet' Muhammad said in the hadith that women are half as valuable as men; that they are "mentally deficient" (Muslims are required to follow Muhammad's example, in both words and deeds - as written in the Sunnah - meaning essentially that Islam is little more than a cult of one man, like so many others of both distinct and recent past). Indeed, as you examine his life you see a distinct and consistent vein of misogyny running through it, in the way he handled women (he blamed his mother for abandoning him - he was left to a group of Bedouin women to be raised, and they didn't do a good job). Suffice it to say, it's Islam, stupid.

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  16. Why shouldnt women and men be virgins on their wedding night?

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  17. While I agree that insisting upon hymen examination is intrusive, let alone in front of the extended family, I believe that virginity is the ideal before marriage and that it is understandable for a man or woman to insist on it. A virgin will not have STD's or the sort of emotional commitment to others that comes with sex (especially for women). They have also demonstrated the discipline that will be necessary to remain faithful in marriage. The problem in the Muslim world is that women seem not to be regarded as responsible moral agents, so that they cannot be trusted to be chaste on their own. Hence their clitorises are removed to reduce their motive for sex, they are forced to be accompanied by male relatives to prevent opportunities for sex, and they are examined on the wedding night to verify that these measures were successful. Muslims need to trust their women more, but telling those women that they do not need to be chaste will not build that trust.

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  18. When you see bizarrely jingoistic or imperialistic comments, keep in mind that the US military is known to be micro-astroturfing on social networking sites and comment threads. It's such a low-cost and risk-free operation that DOD and its foreign cousins can troll a potentially unlimited number of opinion sites all day and all night, and easily feign numerical dominance over compassionate civilians (most of whom are too busy at their own job to sit around posting comments all day).

    I think the best we can do is plainly state our revulsion at revolting sentiments where we find them, so those of us who are genuine and compassionate can find each other and skip the hypothetical internet-americans cranked out by cookie cutter.

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  19. Sorry @Ben, but what a rubbish lies in this sentence regarding virgins: "They have also demonstrated the discipline that will be necessary to remain faithful in marriage." Who ever comes up with such nonsense? What you need for a good marriage is discipline WITHIN the marriage, not before. What experiences men and women have made before does not determine their discipline within but can aid them in being experienced enough to avoid mistakes in the marriage. My wife and I have been married for 22 years, absolutely "disciplined" as you would term it - and we both had partners and sex before our marriage. It is absolute nonsense that you have to be a virgin before to have a good marriage afterwards. Stop putting such absurd ideas into the world. Marriages would work much better if people learned how to interact with respect for each other. You can learn that by experience only. And it would be best for a marriage if this experience was present already on the wedding day - both psychologically as sexually. It helps partners a lot to have a wonderful and enriched marriage.
    Compliments to the Rebel With a Cause for touching upon this sensitive topic. So vital to speak it out.

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  20. Good luck in combating racism and islamophobia!

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  21. Hope this leeds to increase freedom&humamrights.

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  22. it makes me sick to hear the racist anti-islamic comments of some here. The article highlighted a real issue and as indicated it is true in many countries and cultures. It is not islamic for a woman to stick her finger in another womans vagina to see if she has a hyman. In fact it should be obvious that it would technically be haram for a woman to do that to another woman. As a result even on the basic practice one can see it is not islamic. If one pursues the motive it is also clear that Islam would not condone that. It is about ignorance and patriarchy. A problem we all face across the globe.

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  23. This article was vey helpful to me. It helped me to be informed and more aware. The details were such a blessing, thanks.

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  24. A very interesting article, but of course not only a problem within Arabic cultures - I believe that FGM and clitorectomies are a real issue in many places, including West Africa, as a means to protect virginity. Medical staff in the UK are now being trained to identify possible children/teens who could have been the victims of such a practice as within the migrants outside of their mother land, these practices are continued.
    I agree it's not Islam that's the sole promoter of this, but the patriarchy that has been imbued within such religions obviously doesn't help the matter.
    Personally, I still find it so difficult to imagine countries who defy science and logic in favour of ancient religion. I don't understand how in this day and age, people can choose to be ignorant to medical and psychological fact - if this is the case, i hope education is increased in the future.

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  25. The 'structures of domination and oppression imposed on the region by the hypocrites and liars in London, Paris and Washington'..booorring!

    The police state wasimposed by the increasingly greedy and crazy rulers. Western govts on the whole prefer to deal with thriving, educated and safe partners, not volatile, religiously-insane states dependant on tourism and crumbs from the dictator's table.

    Wait until the toxic old farts of the Muslim Brotherhood impose their own brand of 'domination and oppression', these extraordinary medieval practices described above may become mainstream. They wil make the supposed 'hypocrites and liars in London, Paris and Washington' look like saints.

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  26. if islam asks women to only have sex with their husbands it also asks men the same. A woman who violates that rule will face same punishment by Allah as men. That's it plain and simple. while NO ONE has the right to make virginity checks on women (specially not SCAF ya mona which you didn't mention) but the rule is there in islam and almost all muslims (ideally regardless they are male or female) respect it. The problem is in Arab societies that give men more privileges than women. I agree with and respect whose who make the personal choice of waiting for marriage to have sex and I am post graduate degree holder and come from a high socio economic class in Egypt. It seems weird that an educated woman like you doesn't state in the piece above that Islam requires us (males and females) to wait for marriage. Keeping punishment if this is not respected under very difficult conditions (4 witnesses in case those who have sex are not married) that means 4 people have to see them, that would be a very liberal couple who let 4 people see them doing it) it's like Allah is giving people chance after chance to repent by making it very difficult to apply punishment and disgrace them.

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  27. The comments about the value of virginity in a marriage are, quite frankly, insulting to women. The choice to stay a virgin or not should be HER decision, not dictated by anyone, or any religion.

    Marriage is a union of two people, a partnership that hopefully lasts a lifetime, where a woman and man share the good and bad and support each other through life.

    Whether they were virgins before marriage in no way shapes the kind of marriage that they will have. Nor does it hinder the marriage.

    The question of fidelity is a trust issue, and being/not being a virgin will only become an issue if you don't trust the person you are planning to marry. Even if both parties were virgins, if there is no trust, there can be no successful marriage.

    The idea that women become emotionally attached to former sexual partners is ridiculous. While there may be some who do, there are also some men who remain attached to former lovers. But the onus seems to be the poor weaker woman. It's pure nonsense and in no way affects the future of two people who are supposed to love and trust one another enough to join together for life.

    The whole purpose of keeping women virgin was to prevent unwanted pregnancies back when there was no safe way to do so. We have safer, more effective birth control these days. This should negate this desire to preserve virginity as some badge of honour.

    As for the spread of disease, again, there are methods to prevent this.

    I'm not suggesting that all youth get out and have free sex but the extremist focus on the concept of virginity is degrading to women, and to many men. It should be discarded the same way the idea of the world being flat has been discarded.

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  28. highly agree on
    The question of fidelity is a trust issue, and being/not being a virgin will only become an issue if you don't trust the person you are planning to marry. Even if both parties were virgins, if there is no trust, there can be no successful marriage. but definitely disagree on arguing that religion has no right to ask women and men not to have sex outside marriage. If I choose to be abide by my religion and not have sex outside marriage then I can't be blamed by anyone and if I don't then that's between me and God. When some human decides to attack and violate me in the name of being the word of God on earth then the problem arises. We really have to respect people's choice whether to religious or not you can't interfere with my personal freedom in that matter as long as it doesn't entail any harm on me or others.

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