Written by Eleena Mendis
Have you ever felt the frustration of being locked up in a room forever? Compression of culture and society can make it extremely hard. Being a woman isn’t a choice, being a virgin is a choice on your own but it takes a lot more effort to become a real human.
The Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a fascinating multicultural country with great biodiversity. It has a long history which is “great enough,” that we still talk about it so proudly. The Sri Lankan society holds a common culture of celebrating the attainment of puberty. Young girls are welcome to womanhood with grand festivals and ceremonies. These young girls go through a lot of rituals before they are welcome to the world amidst celebrations. They do have meanings and values hidden behind. However, not many are aware of these hidden aspects simply because they failed to think or to question from the previous generations. In contrast, they are careful enough not to forget to pass these rituals to the next generation. Failing to question, understand the true meaning, or to think the logic behind these actions is the bitter truth, but embracing the culture beyond limitations is a great quality I see in these people. However, it is amazing to see how these wonderful rituals are performed with great value and respect.
From this day onwards, a girl is being protected by her parents and the family is to make sure that she is a virgin till her marriage. This is the culture that has been created over the long years of this great history. It seemed all perfect until it created a lot of misconceptions in today’s Sri Lankan society.
Primarily I see a lot of young girls suffering or not enjoying their life due to tough parenting systems adopted by the whole idea created around virginity. When boys are allowed to go out with friends or do whatever they want to enjoy life and experience it on their own, girls often have to stay back at home or to be with their parents which seems completely unfair. There are so many strict rules on how girls should behave and dress. The pressure put on girls isn’t equal to boys. Girls are always taught and said to do the household work while boys are mostly free from it. This has been accepted as well as practiced by so many generations due to the mentality created by the culture. This is where gender discrimination starts. This is where gender roles are defined. This is where girls’ life deprivations begin. What I think is we need to create a culture where both girls and boys can enjoy and experience life safely, we need to create a culture that everyone loves and cares for each other. We need to reconstruct the idea of gender roles and create human roles instead. We need to teach both girls and boys how to perform basic skills of living.
Secondly, I see no good sex education is provided or is even given enough attention to. Culture tries to avoid certain things without providing enough awareness. Also, sometimes culture pretends as if certain things aren’t true. This is where the real problem lies and the conflict between culture and the reality generates. What is important is to recreate a culture which provides the necessary knowledge and eliminates the untrue or illogical things. Culture should always be compatible with reality. People try to put more weight on passing down unquestioned or maybe even outdated rituals rather than providing the proper knowledge on hygiene, safety and sex. Sadly, talking about menstruation or sex as a topic openly with parents or adults is extremely forbidden. The tragedy is that discussion of contraception is taboo even though this should be one of the top-prioritized topics.
For young girls, this society would be too tough and too patriarchal but the truth is they are going to break the rules either on purpose or unintentionally. Unluckily this is going to create a lot of social issues such as unwanted pregnancies, mental and physical abuses and sexually transmitted diseases when they try things out of curiosity, while they lack knowledge. A tough and patriarchal society which hides the truth, won’t help this problem unless we create a safe environment with a lot of awareness. We live in a society where people are too ignorant to realize that sex is a primary physical and psychological need of a human but too wise to assume that the virginity of a woman is a primary requirement to get married. The weight put on a boy to remain a virgin till marriage is zero yet the weight put on a boy to get married to a virgin is hundred. Culture has a huge impact on society and societal forces are mostly driven by culture. It mostly works as an invisible drive. Socially we have created this imbalance with the influence of some misleading and illogical facts and practices that have been passed through generations. How do we balance this hypocrisy created by the interconnection between culture and society?
The hymen is something physical and can be broken due to sexual intercourse but virginity is a social construct that is being misused for ages. How does society give more value and power to virginity over humanity? Aren’t we supposed to look at this problem logically? Isn’t it the time to bring solutions to the wrong practices and all the misbeliefs?
Recently I came across some advertisements that hit me somewhere in between my heart and the brain. It was related to regaining lost virginity, also known as repairing the hymen. The captions they used were truly disgusting. “Afraid of getting married due to past issues?”, “Fear of marriage” such titles define clearly the society that we belong to. Encouraging such thoughts and enabling people to create new patterns of a dead culture is a tactic employing trauma. “Make it fragile once again” and “Restore your innocence”, such captions are extreme levels of misusing social norms. This whole idea sounds irrational to me because it keeps misleading society to understand a very untrue idea of virginity. It gives you the right to superficially fake the world. It is a form of misguiding yourself as well as one another. Why can’t we accept each other as we are? This is all because of the pressure put on the social construct of virginity. Why has it only become a feminine topic when it is supposed to be just common to both males and females? Why can’t this culture be honest and real rather than trying to be deceptively ethical? The captions such as “Were you cheated on?” and “Are you a rape victim?” are extreme levels of criticism. It reveals the sexual injustice we are facing today. Targeting rape victims sounds so poor because only regaining virginity does not fix the problem. It seems like they encourage rapists by offering solutions to the victims. Is that how we bring justice to the rape victims? What should we do about their lost personality and lost mental health? How do we exactly repay for the hurt? They matter and affect victims on a higher level.
It is hilarious to see when capitalism takes over society through businesses that affect their societal and cultural forces. The way they influence society matters. When they are supposed to bring solutions to the existing problems of a society where they call it a market, what they actually do is the exact opposite. They try to take advantage of every single misconception or any common weak points of the culture. When the profit is the only bottom line, businesses try to sell all the misbeliefs, and wrong thoughts if we are happy to welcome it. This creates so much of a crisis within society and it will never bring equality to the marginalized majority.
After all, we need to understand the contradiction between culture, reality, virginity, and humanity. Chimamanda Adiche mentioned, “Culture doesn’t make people, people make culture.” People like to believe that culture is the source that makes us special. They believe that it has the power to create purity. But the reality is, culture is completely a concept created by people. So, we need to make a culture that goes along with reality. Most importantly we need to know, just being a virgin does not make you a real human.
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