For most of my life I thought the talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ was just a thing of movies, where the parents would sit down their children to talk about sex. The year I started university was when I finally got ‘the talk’. Well, sort of, because what I heard sounded very different to the movies. Mine sounded something like this:
Sex happens between a husband and a wife for the purpose of making babies. It should only happen once you are married and never before. You should never let a guy touch you before you are married to him. Even if you truly believe he will marry you in the future there’s a possibility he won’t, and then nobody else will marry you. I know lots of guys pretend like they are liberal minded and willing to marry a girl who has had sex before, but they aren’t. They just say that so they can get a chance to have sex and then leave you. When a man is looking for a wife they only want a virgin girl, regardless of how liberal they might have pretended to be before that. Even if you have never had sex before but spend lots of time dating boys out in public – especially at night time – then society will still think you have had sex and are no longer pure enough to be someone’s wife. Then nobody will want to marry you and you will grow old alone.
What’s more is that these words came from a place of pure intentions and complete love. They told me this because they truly believed that what they were saying was fact. They were raised by a culture that taught them the values of ‘sexual purity’, and they were terrified that if I unknowingly breached those values I might not find a life partner and I would end up lonely. They just wanted me to be happy in life.
When I heard this I thought I knew better than to let their archaic cultural values influence me, to let them define me by my sexuality. I was wrong.
I found myself wasting lots of time wondering if my entire worth as a person was solely connected to my vagina. And if so, why was I bothering to prove myself to be an intelligent and ambitious university student, or a socially just humanitarian? Four years later and I am still trying to decide what percentage of my value is derived from the condition of my hymen.
It can be very confusing for an Eastern girl growing up in the West.
It can often take a significant toll on your daily life. You start getting socially anxious in ordinary situations. You’re regularly questioning how you should or shouldn’t act in order to fit into society. You feel torn between what is right and wrong based on the vastly different social perceptions from two unique cultures. It’s already hard enough finding your identity in this world, but trying to reconcile Eastern perceptions of women with Western perceptions proves emotionally taxing and can lead to depression.
Some of you might be thinking that surely nobody believes things like that these days, because for the most part the West has long since moved away from traditional expectations of female sexuality. However, the East has not. These archaic views of sexuality are very common amongst culturally Eastern communities, regardless of their geographic location. In Eastern cultures it is not possible for women to be faithful to their cultural origins whilst also being sexually liberal.
But the same isn’t true for men. A man’s value and worth are based on their accomplishments. Yet for Eastern women our accomplishments are overlooked if we are no longer ‘virgins’, and our worth is completely diminished. Why must I make a choice that my male counterpart is not required to make? How is it fair that Eastern women are judged by our sexuality when Eastern men are judged by their accomplishments?
Growing up in the West we are taught at school that men and women are equal. Growing up as an Eastern woman in the West I was taught the same, but with a caveat: that our worth as women is solely linked to our sexual purity, or lack thereof.
For Eastern cultures, the extent of gender equality should not stop at sexuality. So why are their words branded in my mind, still so hard to shake off?
How do Eastern women in the West reconcile our cultural roots and our sexuality? How do we change these social views? Or are we required to choose between the two?
Featured Image: Zac Quitzau Facebook: Zac’s Doodles