Purity Rings: Because Not Everyone Wants To Be a Slut

by Cara on September 8, 2008

in media, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, pop culture, sex and sexuality, sexism, slut-shaming, stereotypes

While I agree that it wasn’t in the world’s best taste for VMA host Russell Brand to mock the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings — I turned the show off 10 minutes in when he started making jokes about Joe Jackson beating Michael and his siblings with a belt (haha) — I think that Jordin Sparks’ response ended up offending me a lot more:

While introducing T.I.’s bit, “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks stuck up for the brothers.

“I just have one thing to say; one thing about promise rings. It’s not bad to wear promise rings because not every guy or girl wants to be a slut,” said Sparks, who reportedly wears one as well.

Hmm. Maybe a better response would have been something about how it’s not bad to wear promise rings because . . . I don’t know, everyone gets to make their own choices? Sexual choices are personal and we all have a right to them? Because the Jonas Brothers (to the best of my knowledge) aren’t trying to push their beliefs on anyone else?  Or maybe even something more witty like “Russell, leave the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings alone, and I’m sure that they won’t pass comment on that haircut.”

I don’t know. It might have been a better, more mature, less puritanical and more feminist defense than “oh yeah, well at least I’m not a slut.”  Especially because regardless of how much she qualifies her statement by adding “guys” in there, “slut” is still a highly misogynistic term.  And our goal shouldn’t be to make it an equal opportunity sexual insult.

This is, of course, the real problem with purity rings.  It’s not the personal commitment to virginity.  It’s that instead of being some kind of personal reminder to that commitment, as they are supposed to be, purity rings tend to be more of an “I’m better than you” social statement.  You see, I haven’t got the slightest problem whatsoever with virginity and celibacy when made as a free and personal choice, until that is people who are virgins and/or celibate try to rub their choices in the faces of the rest of us as proof of how very evolved they are, and how the rest of us are all sex addicts with no self respect, humping each other on a one-way train to hell. 

(And honestly, I have difficulty holding it personally against 18-year-old Sparks when she probably went through abstinence-only education that compares not vowing virginity until marriage to being a used piece of tape. I hold it against the authority figures who feed this stuff to teenagers, and will only really hold it against Sparks personally if she’s still spouting this crap after living a few years in the adult world and being exposed to different ideas.)

This is all very simple, but clearly it bears repeating: Not wearing a purity ring does not make one a “slut.”  Having sex does not make one a “slut.”  And “slut” is a term that we should abolish anyway, because it serves no purpose other than shaming people — particularly women — for their sexual choices.  Condemning other people’s sexual choices in order to defend your own is always in bad taste — no matter what those sexual choices are.

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{ 15 comments }

1 Megan September 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm

I was so irritated when she said that! Promoting the idea that “non-virgin” = “slut” is a slap in the face to the 99% of people who have sex before marriage.

And honestly, although many of Brand’s comments were tasteless, I think he really meant everything in fun. (Though I’ve never seen him before and don’t know much about him, so I don’t really have a basis for that judgment.) Jordin Sparks turned it from lighthearted ball-busting (though the phrase is admittedly problematic) to serious and judgmental. I also have to wonder how much the Jonas Brothers appreciated her defense.

I kind of want a purity ring to wear ironically now. Perhaps purity nipple rings.

2 Liz Barnes September 8, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Yeah I pretty much went off about this on my blog. I got pretty angry about it cause well I think it is just horrid to call anyone such a term. I got called this all thru high school because I was raped and for some reason that made me a slut cause I went ahead and pressed charges on the guy. So whenever I hear someone use that term oh it pisses me off. I also agree that a more mature response could of been given from Jordin. It reeks of I am better than you crap. I usually lurk on here but I had to say this thanks Cara for having a space on the internet where us feminists and rape survivors can talk openly.

3 Shyva September 8, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Thank you for writing about this! I was hoping someone would watch and catch onto that. I know how difficult it was to keep watching more than 15 minutes, the entire show, besides Pink’s and Christina’s performances, sucked. When it got to that point, I had some choice words to hurl at my TV when I heard Sparks. Although Brand’s continuous “jokes” about the purity rings were getting annoying, she could have made better word choices…

I have trouble not holding it against her personally, knowing that she’s very steeped in Christianity and rabidly anti-choice. Hopefully she wakes up when she grows up, but I’m not holding my breath.

4 Lemur September 8, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Is it wrong that I’m tempted to go get a pretty silver ring with ‘Slut’ engraved on it? Just for the irony? That’s bad, right?

5 Genevieve September 8, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Lemur–
Oh, I’d say go for it. Personally, I hate using the word ‘slut,’ in its straightforward sense, but in the ‘reclaiming-the-word-Kathleen-Hanna’ sense, it’s all right with me.

6 Kate September 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Finally an intelligent perspective on her comments, I have been looking for one all day on. Brand’s comment were tasteless, the MTV award show hosts comments usually are but there are so many other ways she could have responded then by labeling people who choose not to wait until marriage “Sluts”. There a millions of people out there for which religion plays no deciding factor in whether or not to have sex before marriage, it didn’t for me but I guess I am technically considered a slut regardless of the decisions I made based on my personal non religious value system. I was raised in a educational system that espoused abstinence only sex ed, but by time I was 18, I knew that abstinence was a personal choice and not a realistic choice for most women my age. But for those friends who did choose to stay a virgin until marriage I respected their choices irregardless of my own opinion on waiting until marriage and they did the same for me.

And honestly how often do guys get called sluts, I think its safe to say that 99% of the time I hear the word slut used in a conversation its referring to a girl/woman? When are we as women going to stop trying to inflict shame on each other by using sexist words to blanket an entire section of the female gender just because they have a different belief system? My thoughts on purity rings are an entirely different subject and Jordin is entitled to speak her mind but I will not support her career as long as she continues to use labels that buy into our overwhelmingly misogynistic culture.

7 Pop Feminist September 8, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I thought the same thing!

8 Jenna September 9, 2008 at 6:43 pm

It’s that instead of being some kind of personal reminder to that commitment, as they are supposed to be, purity rings tend to be more of an “I’m better than you” social statement.
It reminds me of highschool when those “W.W.J.D” bracelets got REALLY big and EVERYONE who was “anyone” in my highschool had one. I asked one of the girls on my volleyball team one day what her bracelet meant and she explained, “well, it means ‘what would jesus do’ and anytime someone asks you what it’s about, you’re supposed to explain it, give it to them, and invite them to church. But this is the only rainbow one that I have and it’s a lot prettier than the other ones so I’ll bring you my old red one tomorrow and, if you want, you can come to my youth group meeting with me on Wednesday night.”

Somehow I mustered a polite, “no thank you.”

It has been my personal experience that ANY of these religiously inspired trinkets or ANY that began within a religion, are more often than not a way to separate people and then judge those who do not have them. When I was 12, I was the only girl who refused to sign a “virginity pledge” (more because the ‘pledge’ to GOD stated that along with not having sex, you would also not engage in “self-pleasure” and there was NO WAY on this planet that I was going to make a promise to GOD, who I still believed in, not to do something I did at least everyday and enjoyed so much) so I was the only girl who did not recieve a cheap silver ring. This effectively set me apart from everyone else and they all acted like they were such better “christians” than I was.

9 Lemur September 12, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Jenna- what, REALLY? No ‘self-lovin’? That’s just cruel. “Hey, let’s all be virginal and completely inexperienced in ANY sexual thing, ever, and let’s make everyone else do it too! Quick, before anyone has any fun!”
…sheesh.

10 Alison September 12, 2008 at 4:11 pm

When I heard about this, the first thing that came to mind for me was that, most likely, a good portion of her fanbase either is already sexually active (without being married) or doesn’t plan to wait until marriage to become so. Which means she was calling a good number of her fans sluts. I don’t think any celebrity should have to fawn all over their fans all the time, but they also shouldn’t outright insult them. Guess what, Jordin – without your fans, you wouldn’t be a celebrity, and you wouldn’t have such a big pedestal from which to spout your religiosity.

11 Joan Kelly September 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for giving me a way to look at it that leaves out me having to actively judge Jordin Sparks back – she *is* really young, and she herself did not pull that crap out of thin air and decide to be a disrespectful person in a vacuum.

It bummed me out, though. I really liked her duet with Chris Brown, and it was hard not to feel in retrospect like, ick, I had that fan-love feeling towards her and all the while she looks down her nose at people like me? If I were in the audience I can’t say that I wouldn’t have boo-ed at her remark.

But, I do so love to boo. It’s a rare occasion that provides for it, so I’m a little trigger happy.

12 Rebecca September 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm

“But this is the only rainbow one that I have and it’s a lot prettier than the other ones so I’ll bring you my old red one tomorrow”

The irony!

13 benfrankbabe February 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

This upsets me.I was just searching for a purity ring and this popped up and to tell the truth im glad.How dare she judge anyone about their beliefs I would have booed too.LOUDLY.I think that Russel Brand is misunderstood…sheesh it was his first time.He probably looked at award shows earlier and the hosts’ tasteless jokes and though that was a good example.As for Sparks,I hold her responsible for her choice of words and the fact that she felt she had to call him out on it.That’s embarrassing!! BOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

14 Anna February 3, 2009 at 6:48 pm

You’re embarassing. Your spelling, grammar, and the way you come across is embarassing. Russell Brand is an ass, no doubt. But.. erm.. you’re hardly presenting a reasonable and logical counterpoint to any of the points raised above. Screw purity. Let’s hear it for filth!

15 Anna February 3, 2009 at 6:50 pm

*embarrassing. and ironic!
Cara, you need an edit button!

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