I grew up in a home with two older brothers and no sister. My father always says that he is glad he didn’t have any girls because, in his words, vana vasikana vanonetsa (girls are difficult). He would always echo this sentiment when we heard about how the girl next door fell pregnant at fifteen or how the girl from down the road had an abortion and fell terribly ill. Each time, the story would always be about the girl and how reckless girls can be, never once would I hear him or anyone else talking about the story saying how reckless or irresponsible the boy was. Funny enough, in most of the cases, the boy would be older than the girl but it would still somehow be the girls’ fault for spreading her legs. Such ‘bad’ girls in my community are shunned, shamed and crucified. Elder women say to each other, the mother should have raised her better, now ava hari yakaputsika. It’s as if a girls treasure lies solely in her virginity. This is nonsense.
We live in a world, country and society where some people -not all- think that a woman’s worth lies in her chastity till marriage. This ideal on the surface sounds good, noble and even admirable. However when you examine why a girl who is a virgin is worth more than a girl who isn’t, you begin to see some ugly remnants of a patriarchal system that serves to view a woman as an object whose worth is only in keeping her legs closed. In Victorian times, when a woman got married, white sheets would be laid on her and her husband’s bed. If she bled, then she was said to be an honest woman. If she didn’t bleed, then she would be called a whore. Whores were spurned and honest women were applauded. But here’s the thing: back then, women were raised to be wives and mothers. They were told to keep themselves and marry into wealthy families, as a way of helping their own families. The system did not encourage or ensure that a woman could do more. If a woman was to be educated and single, she was called a spinster and being called a spinster was worse than being married and uneducated or unemployed.
This culture is a culture that we adopted in our own African societies especially with the older generations. When men were going to marry, they were encouraged by their mothers to marry a virgin because a virgin was a good girl and she would be a good wife. The boys would then not marry their girlfriends who they would have ‘played’ around with, but instead they would marry the quiet, timid girl because she would be a good wife. This culture or way of thinking, is now what has given birth to such comments as ‘wifey material’. ‘Wifey material’ is as one of my brother’s friends said: “The girl you look for as a guy when you are done fooling around.” I asked him what the difference between a girl who was ‘wifey material’ and not ‘wifey material’ was and he said, ‘wifey’ material is the girl who hasn’t known what the world has to offer, so as a guy, you are lucky and can teach her.
What I told my brother’s friend is something we all should come to realise. Firstly, a woman’s commitment capability is not based on whether or not she has slept with other men or not. It is based on how much she feels loved, respected and desired by her partner, I think. Secondly, it is foolish to think that what defines a good wife is whether or not she is a virgin because her virginity or lack thereof will not guarantee her capabilities as a life partner who will help you build a future. Also, it being this day and age, we should honestly stop looking at women like objects. I see virginity like something someone would walk into a store and ask for before buying a girl. It is like walking into a car dealer and asking, “Oh does this car have new tyres?” or “Has it been driven before?” We as people have a lot to offer, and reducing someone’s worth to a single thing is aberrant.
On the other hand, virginity is hypocritical at its very core. Growing up, I never received warnings from other men to hold myself or keep myself pure. Rather, I would be asked who my girlfriend was. I was expected to have a girlfriend. I remember when one of the boys from where I grew up got a girl pregnant people said, “Ah boys will be boys!” Of course, they blamed the girl as usual. If we are to encourage girls to wait for marriage, then let us also encourage boys to wait for marriage. Virginity is not a prize for the man to grab and devour on the wedding night. It is something sacred that should be shared by both partners. If a girl decides to wait for marriage, then she should also look for a man who is waiting for marriage. But this is often not the case. The same boys who get the sixteen year-old girls pregnant are the ones who are marrying twenty four year-old virgins. This is what I am against, the double standard we use to view virginity and what it means.
Even at church where the Bible states that fornication and sex before marriage is a sin, very few churches are following up on the boys, but many are holding and hanging girls at the gallows. If she wears a dress too short, a bra that lifts her breasts too much, you hear people say she must have slept with someone. No one is saying that boy who used to sit at the front of the church and sing so loudly stopped to do so because he slept with someone.
Another fundamental problem is that people since the beginning of time have found it difficult or almost impossible to prove whether or not a boy is a virgin. But here’s the thing: even a girl’s virginity can never be fully proven because this hymen legend is very faulty. As a society, we should just love one another, respect ourselves and not judge a person for how they choose to live their life. It is imperative to move away from cultures that make women prizes to be won or trophies to be hung on walls. Virginity should be a choice someone makes because of their own reasons, not because someone is pressured by society as a way to prove their worth or value.