December 7, 2007

Pledges and Power: At Purity Balls, Fathers Hold the Key

The Chicago Tribune reports on a purity ball in Peoria, Ill. (video included), one of many purity balls held around the country at which daughters promise their virginity to their fathers until marriage.

“Girls are going into marriage with 12 sexual relationships. That brings so much baggage and regret that it breaks down the marriage,” said Janet Hellige, a volunteer who organizes the biannual Father-Daughter Purity Ball sponsored by The Christian Center in Peoria. “Girls have a wonderful gift to give, and we don’t want them to give all of themselves away. What we want them to do is present themselves as a rose to their husband with no blemishes.”

Nothing like the shaming of young women to spark a movement.

The story thankfully includes a thorough assessment of the failure of abstinence only programs — noting, for example, that teen pregnancy rates have dropped 36 percent since peaking in 1990, largely because teens are having safer sex, not no sex. (A side note: check out this story published Thursday on the increase in the birth rate for teenagers age 15-19 — the latest numbers show that the birth rate increased 3 percent in 2006, the first increase since 1991).

Interestingly, the founder of the first purity ball said promoting abstinence wasn’t the focus.

“This was birthed out of our home, not the abstinence movement,” said Randy Wilson, who has five daughters and two sons, and who with his wife, Lisa, founded Generations of Light, a Christian ministry in Colorado Springs. “It is a fatherhood event, not a virginity or abstinence event. We don’t think it’s appropriate to put that weight on the daughter’s shoulders.”

But Generations of Light is hardly offering a radically enlightened experience. At its purity balls, each father pledges to “cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The father refers to himself in the pledge as “the high priest in my home,” while daughters are to be “cherished as regal princesses.”

Not exactly the terminology that comes to mind when advocating for healthy father-daughter relationships.

Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor of women’s studies at Skidmore College, offers a feminist critique that gets to the heart of the problem:

“These events represent an idea that there is something about female sexuality that needs to be controlled by dominant men in the household,” said Stange. “That relates to a patriarchal position in the evangelical movement that not only defines female sexuality but females themselves as property. What happens with purity balls is, in effect, the daughter becomes her father’s property until he hands her off to her husband.”


2 Responses to “Pledges and Power: At Purity Balls, Fathers Hold the Key”

  1. Margie Says:

    It is really unfortunate that an a great idea has turned out so badly. It is a great idea to encourage healthy father-daughter relationships. It has been studied that girls do better who have a strong relationship with their fathers. These purity balls are just gross. I even find father-daughter sorority dances odd. We need to get over the 1950′s. Besides, they were not all “Ozzie and Harriet” anyway. Things we just kept in the closet so to speak.

  2. lauram Says:

    It’s not so much the young woman that is the property, it’s the holy “rose” of her vulva and vagine.

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