THE VIRGIN’S MORAL COMPASS
Most topics pertaining to sexual expression can be divisive, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that female sexuality is evil. Wait, what? That’s a completely archaic way of thinking! Society has generally become more enlightened and we try to avoid placing these outdated notions of morality on the women of today—unless, of course, you assess virtually any modern cultural medium. In books, movies, comics, and television, there’s a persistent trope that encompasses several unpleasant notions of the woman as a sexual being. For the purpose of brevity, I shall simply call the embodiment of this trope The Virgin.
The Virgin is defined by a few characteristics. The first, of course, is that at the beginning of the story, she is a virgin or chaste figure. This is made abundantly clear early on in the story. Furthermore, she is often infinitely desirable, blessed with special powers and/or extraordinary physical characteristics and beauty, and her virginity or chastity will ultimately serve as a key plot point later on in the tale—one that often traumatizes the character and precipitates a decline in moral purity. One of the most well-known examples of The Virgin is the Twilight saga’s Bella Swan, who meets all of these criteria without question. However, we can dismiss this because it was written by a Mormon author and has been heavily critiqued for its poor writing and unhealthy portrayal of relationships. Still, this trope is so ubiquitous in mainstream culture that you can find The Virgin nearly anywhere you look.
In virtually any mainstream horror movie made in the last 50 years we can identify “The Virgin Lives” cliché, brilliantly satirized by 2012’s Cabin in the Woods — and I won’t even begin to address all of the available examples in comic books. However, these creative outlets are largely dominated by men. In the romance genre, where a vast majority of writers are female, novelists still elect to utilize The Virgin archetype in their stories. These stories often involve a virginal character in her mid-20s who has expressed little to no interest in sex until they encounter one particular man whose magical testosterone activates their sex drive. In turn, her Super Virgin Vagina ™ will heal his woes, convert him from his bad boy ways, or make his heart grow three sizes that day at the time of their inevitable coupling.
In The Breakfast Club, the viewer’s change in perception of shallow, rich girl Claire is incited by the discovery that she is a virgin. In Live and Let Die, James Bond liberates Solitaire of her virginity and psychic powers in one fell swoop. In True Blood, Sookie Stackhouse begins the series as a magical 25-year-old, infinitely desirable virgin whose sexual awakening at the hands of her vampire boyfriend serves as a major plot point (BINGO!).
Still, one of the most disappointing examples of The Virgin trope is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whedon intended to subvert a lot of female character tropes with the show and has an excellent record for creating dynamic, fully-formed female characters. Nonetheless, beautiful, super-powered Buffy Summers is not immune to the curse of The Virgin. During her first sexual encounter, her Super Virgin Vagina ™ makes her vampire boyfriend so unimaginably happy that (it? she?) breaks a curse and returns him to his evil former nature. This tragedy signals the beginning of a descent into moral ambiguity and darkness for the character.
What makes the prevalence of this trope troubling is its indication that we still associate sexual chastity with moral soundness. For every Virgin, we see ten sexual female characters portrayed as evil or of questionable intent. When we equate goodness with some outdated, Biblical sense of female purity in our cultural mediums, we undermine the vast depth and breadth of human sexuality—not to mention the ability of the masses to differentiate between sexual choices and ability to grasp right and wrong. Writers, give your audience (and women in general) some credit.
By EZ Breezy