Why women should hoe their wild oats

CityPress - - Voices and Careers - Joonji Mdyo­golo voices@ city­press. co. za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @joonji

Lake Bun­y­onyi in south­west­ern Uganda is an idyl­lic spot. The lake me­an­ders around 29 is­lands, where res­i­dents travel in ca­noes. One of the flat­test in this lush clus­ter is Akam­p­ene Is­land (Pun­ish­ment Is­land). There, our tour guide points out, is where un­mar­ried, preg­nant daugh­ters would be aban­doned to die of star­va­tion. He di­rects us to a small patch in the dis­tance hous­ing a sin­gle tree, which al­ready looks partly sub­merged in wa­ter. Lake Bun­y­onyi is be­lieved to be the se­cond-deep­est lake in the world and most res­i­dents can­not swim.

This form of pun­ish­ment, ap­par­ently, was still prac­tised less than 100 years ago. One res­cued woman lives in the com­mu­nity. I want to be­lieve this is folk­lore, told to dis­cour­age girls from sex­ual in­ter­course. Would a young woman, know­ing she was be­ing trans­ported to cer­tain death, not have fought, likely cap­siz­ing the ca­noe?

Maybe this is one of those tales em­bel­lished by colo­nial­ists to prove the “sav­agery” of Africans?

There are strong mark­ings of Chris­tian­ity in Bun­y­onyi, preva­lent in the cul­ture and the prom­i­nent po­si­tion­ing of the only build­ing that seems to ben­e­fit from paint­ing and main­te­nance – the Catholic church.

My in­credulity aside, the facts are that from an­cient times to mod­ern so­ci­eties in many parts of the world, there is a fix­a­tion with women’s sex­ual pu­rity.

The Bi­ble talks of the ston­ing to death of a woman who is sex­u­ally ac­tive out­side of mar­riage. This is re­ported to have hap­pened to one Afghan woman last year be­cause she had an af­fair. Her lover, on the other hand, got a lash­ing.

In South Africa, in Dur­ban at least, au­thor­i­ties will not kill girls, but they have de­cided to threaten them by tak­ing away the most im­por­tant el­e­ment in a young woman’s life – education. The Times re­ports that the Maidens Bur­sary, awarded by the uThukela District Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, has 16 univer­sity bur­saries for girls who re­main vir­gins. They must sub­mit to vir­gin­ity tests ev­ery hol­i­day and if they fail, the bur­sary is re­scinded.

The world is ob­sessed with a girl’s vir­gin­ity and has de­cided fe­male pu­rity can only ex­ist within two cat­e­gories: chaste or pro­mis­cu­ous.

It’s the fetishis­ing and the power-mon­ger­ing, where ev­ery­one – from your teach­ers and par­ents to friends and boys you meet – feels they have a stake, even as you en­ter wom­an­hood. It hurts and it is de­struc­tive.

It re­minds me of the re­sponse I got from a guy who had been court­ing me for years. Hav­ing found out that I had al­ready had sex for the first time – not with him – he made this sting­ing re­mark: “He prob­a­bly did it to you on the floor in Hill­brow.”

He was bit­ter be­cause it had not been with him. So now I could only fit into his “loose woman” box. Af­ter years of his creepy court­ing, he abruptly stopped.

It is not just the misog­yny – but the myths too – that is pro­foundly dis­turb­ing. Vir­gin­ity is a neb­u­lous con­cept.

Does a les­bian re­main a vir­gin if her first ex­pe­ri­ence is not pen­e­tra­tive? And what about cases of rape?

Re­search is show­ing that the hy­men, which teach­ers have been lord­ing over teenage girls for years, im­ply­ing it is a gate­way to promis­cu­ity, is mis­un­der­stood.

It is not a seal to your pu­rity; it does not pop or break. It is just a stretchy mem­brane which, most of the time, is hardly in­tact be­cause it has been wear­ing away since child­birth. This makes the idea of vir­gin­ity tests lu­di­crous.

I can­not think of a bet­ter time for a young woman to have fun and ex­plore sex than when she is at univer­sity. In­stead, many of us go into this stage with the cloud of a few le­git­i­mate fears (STIs and preg­nancy), and many more made-up ones, based on how we will be per­ceived. So we look at ev­ery man we en­counter as a preda­tor want­ing to steal some imag­i­nary trea­sure from us, and we dole out sex like a prize.

“Fact; you need to hoe your wild oats in your 20s,” opined me­dia com­men­ta­tor Ja­nine Jel­lars in a tweet in Novem­ber last year. That sage ad­vice has come too late for me, but I am pass­ing on the mes­sage to all the young women I know and love in my life.

Why do you think dou­ble stan­dards still ex­ist when it comes to fe­male sex­u­al­ity?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word VIR­GIN and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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