The Red Ribbon

I want to write a bit about the ideas Ville discussed in Raising Neve. I asked him to write about raising our daughter without a sexist attitude to her sexuality because I want us to read these posts when she is a teenager, and we are in danger of descending into conservatism! If I give in to discomfort or distaste over my daughter being sexually active, while being relaxed about my sons, I will not have rejected a continuum of related sexist ideas only a few notches from my daughters' value being derived from her virginity. And I do reject it entirely.

In the area of sexuality (as in most others) men and women are not even close to being equal. Living in the UK ideas often made sense to me simply because they were the prevailing attitudes amongst my peers. (It has to be said that those I call friends have good attitudes). The shock of moving to another culture is that, rather than enabling comparisons between them, it makes the idea that ideas have some kind of logic because many people hold them feel very flimsy indeed. Turkey may be in a different place on the continuum of ideas that include treating women as chattel, but my native country is clearly on it too. Too often women are called slags and whores for exactly the behaviour that is acceptable in men.

 In Museum of Innocence Orhan Pamuk has the upper class Turkish men visit prostitutes because the women they marry should be virgins. Women getting married in Turkey often wear a red ribbon around their waists to symbolise their virginity. Honour killings take place (in the UK too). There are crimes of 'passion' and abuse perpetrated with the pathetic excuse of jealousy in both cultures. And the residue of these ideas take hold of many couples, with many women glossing over how many sexual partners they have had, in order not to be considered 'sullied' when starting a new relationship. Men still (largely) want their girlfriends to be less experienced than they are. This notion must be dropped completely. Men must have the courage to follow the demands of equality and understand that any discomfort is their own and derives from backward ideas about ownership and breeding.

Ville felt a little self-conscious having written what he did, that people might judge him for considering such issues. But the truth is that society at large takes an unnecessary interest in monitoring and judging women's sexuality. Initial judgements about women are largely based on shallower or more sex-related factors. Women can do what men do, but the behaviour is called 'laddette' and those enjoying it considered to be on the edges of acceptability in some cultures and legitimate victims of murder in others.

These issues are quite separate from whether it is beneficial to wait for some kind of emotional maturity before embarking on sexual exploration, as this applies identically to boys and girls.

Neve, your value will be found in the unique collection of qualities that we cannot yet imagine, but are so excited to get to know. Your sexuality too should be a source of enjoyment for you, and you should be able to be all of this without being held back by conventions. I know that you will be respectful of others' feelings, and you must demand that they are respectful of yours. I hope that you will be secure in understanding your value, and not need to seek it by doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. Please know that it is absolutely right that you enjoy your sexuality and that this does not make you less virtuous in any respect. You can hold me to all of this. Parents are sometimes weak and find their convictions crushed by conventions.

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