Tag Archives: Neesha Meminger

Disney, Twilight and Bollywood: Reinforcing the Purity Myth or Fantasy of Safe Sexual Exploration for Young Girls (and Their Mothers)?

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

The other day, I was surfing aimlessly online and happened upon Jessica Valenti’s most recent book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Ms. Valenti is the founder and Executive Editor of Feministing.com.

Here is the first paragraph:

There is a moral panic in America over young women’s sexuality–and it’s entirely misplaced. Girls ‘going wild’ aren’t damaging a generation of women, the myth of sexual purity is. The lie of virginity–the idea that such a thing even exists–is ensuring that young women’s perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they’re sexually active.

And then this:

More than 1,400 purity balls, where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers at a promlike event, were held in 2006 (the balls are federally funded) [Emphasis mine]. Facebook is peppered with purity groups that exist to support girls trying to ‘save it.’…So while young girls are subject to overt sexual messages every day, they’re simultaneously being taught — by the people who are supposed to care for their personal and moral development, no less–that their only real worth is their virginity and ability to remain “pure.”

I thought about these quotes for days after reading them. For one, the fact that purity balls are federally funded, if indeed they are, blew me away (so that–and new sports stadiums–is where all the education and health care money is!). Valenti’s premise kind of made sense when I thought about Bollywood films and the “no kissing” rule — how some of the most successful Bollywood romances are all about sexual longing and tension within the context of safe, non-sexual relationships. And how the concept of safeguarded virginity seems to be a giant moral marker for young girls around the globe. I can’t remember how often I saw a Bollywood film about the men in a family viciously guarding a young woman’s virginity because the honour and reputation of the entire family rested on the moral purity of that young woman. And if, as in some films, she happened to be raped, the only honourable thing left was for her to take her own life.

I compared this to a DVD I recently succumbed to watching–despite my best intentions. I had tried twice to push through the novel, but did not get past the first 30 pages each time. I know that Twilight has been examined and analyzed on this site and others in terms of its racial content, but that was not the reason I was so disturbed by the film. I was prepared for the racial issues since I read various blog entries on that particular topic. What I was not prepared for was how thoroughly the film capitalized on young female sexuality and the concept of innocence, or as Ms. Valenti might refer to it, purity. Continue reading

Questions and Answers

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

A couple of weeks ago I had the Toronto launch of my novel, Shine, Coconut Moon. I prepared myself in the usual way, going over what I would read, how I would introduce myself and the book to the guests, and anticipating audience questions during the Q&A. This Q&A, however, threw me off. I should have known better than to expect the usual, “So, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?” line of questioning from my Canadian peeps.

The questions they wanted answers to were more along the lines of: So, what would you say is the difference between Canadian racism and American racism? And, Would you say South Asians in the U.S. are more assimilated than South Asians in Canada?

Maybe I brought it on myself with the intro.

Before reading an excerpt, I talked a bit about how, while living in Canada, I never thought of myself as Canadian – I was always Indian or Punjabi or Sikh and then later, South Asian. It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. and lived through eight years of the Bush administration, that I felt the most Canadian I’d ever felt in my life. That was when I realized that things I’d always taken for granted (free universal health care being only one of many) were values that formed and shaped who I was. They were the underpinnings of what I thought was right and just. And I was clearly not in Canada anymore.

But having to answer those tough questions for fellow Canadians was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do yet. So much of the experience sits as half-formed thoughts that I had to somehow mold into coherent responses.

Things like the fact that when I lived in Canada, I reveled in my “ethnicity,” wore my Indian-ness with unapologetic joy. But the minute I crossed the border I shrunk from everything that made me appear “too” ethnic. I was hassled at the border several times when I visited home and tried to return. My partner at the time begged me to remove my nose ring and to dress more “corporate” so that I would get across. And the time that I followed that advice, the crossing was smooth and uneventful. I understood, then, on a much deeper level, why that push for assimilation was so strong south of the border. Continue reading