Recently, African American rapper T.I. commented on a podcast 'Ladies Like Us', that he regularly has his daughter undergo a 'virginity test' i.e. have a gynecologist check if her hymen is intact.
Right after her birthday, we celebrate, then usually like the day after the party, she’s enjoying the gifts, I put a sticky note on the door: ‘Tomorrow. 9:30'. I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.
What his clearly toxic ideology reflects is not extreme moral policing. No, it's the reflection of an ideology that has plagued men of all ages, across borders, cultures, and classes - the idea of 'owning a woman'.
This hymen talk is very strange and at the core of it teaches your daughters their bodies aren’t theirs. Don’t do that.— ❂ (@sweetseducingdy) November 6, 2019
Wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends - no matter the relationship, there is a section of men who believe that women are 'lesser' human beings. That women need to be controlled, guided, and held to a different standard of conduct than men. That women need to ascribe to flawed and regressive societal expectations.
These societal expectations also oscillate between two extremes. One idea is to put women on a pedestal, expecting them to be flawless in their behavior to the point of being self-sacrificial (the 'ma ka balidaan' trope was every 90s Bollywood movie ever).
The other extreme is where, if women take even one step out of the mythical 'line', they are immediately brandished as trouble-makers and not considered worthy of even basic respect. Adil Hussain's Oscar-nominated Norwegian drama, What Will People Say, is a stark, disturbing, reflection of this point.
Who set these standards for women? Who decided that women need to behave in a particular manner? Worse still, who decided that men will be governing women's bodies, constantly keeping a check on their actions?
The practice of a virginity test is not new, and definitely not restricted to just one man. Even today, 'bleeding on a white sheet' or 'virginity test' is used as a way to ascertain a new bride's virginity in many villages across India.
Not only is this wrong morally and on a humanity level. It is also wrong factually. Many doctors have constantly reiterated that a broken hymen is not proof of virginity. However, the bigger question here is, why do we need proof of virginity in women?
Some people think you can tell if someone’s had sex before if their hymen is stretched open. But that’s not the case.— Planned Parenthood (@PPFA) November 6, 2019
Say it with us:
The idea of women being 'pure' if they are virgins defies logic. And yet, it is a globally accepted belief. And you have professors actually defending this belief. Like a professor from Jadavpur university did, when he compared a 'non-virgin' woman to a 'broken seal'.
Furthermore, demanding such 'virginity' tests from women, or worse, forcing them to constantly undergo such medical exams is amoral and inhuman. It's akin to treating women like property. But then again, hasn't that been the case for centuries now?
Till last year, in India, adultery law was anti-woman because it did not consider women either an abettor or an aggrieved party. This was not a moral belief or a societal code of conduct. No, it was the law. Yes, legally speaking, in a certain condition, a married woman was exactly like property, with no rights and no repercussions.
There is no way to even track how many times a woman, at different stages of her life, has been subjected to subpar behavior - simply because a man in her life believed he had the right to control her behavior.
A man telling his girlfriend or wife to dress a certain way; a man restricting his daughter from studying beyond an age; a man forbidding his female friends from drinking; a man thinking he has the right to forbid and control a woman - this all stems from the idea of owning women.
And such beliefs are further propagated by misogyny and sexism flying in the name of comedy, and/or romance.
Another example of men controlling women is the practice of marital rape - an act that is still not considered a criminal offense in India. In fact, it is widely believed by men that wives 'owe' sex to their husbands. Again, the idea is that a husband owns/controls his wife, and thus, the wife can not refuse the husband's demands.
Archaic, flawed concepts like 'virginity tests' for women, brandishing women who have more than one sex partner as a 'whore', or 'slut', and other such narratives need to come to a stop. Because it is the 21st century after all. And at no age, should women be treated as properties to be owned.