CBR5 Review #25: The Purity Myth by Jess Valenti

Why I Read It: Because this is a Very Important Feminist Text, I love Feministing.com (Valenti is its editor-in-chief), and I’m really interested in sociological conceptions of virginity/femininity/sexuality.

My Rating: 4 stars

Summary: It’s kind of hard to summarize, so here’s the synopsis from Valenti’s website: “The United States is obsessed with virginity from the media to schools to government agencies. The Purity Myth is an important and timely critique of about why this is so, and why it’s problematic for girls and women. Analyzing cultural stereotypes and media messages, Jessica Valenti reveals the overt and hidden ways our society links a woman’s worth to her sexuality rather than to values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti takes on issues ranging from abstinence-only education to pornography and exposes the legal and social punishments that women who dare to have sex endure. Importantly, she also offers solutions that pave the way for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity, including a call to rethink male sexuality and reframe the idea of “losing it.” With Valenti’s usual balance of intelligence and wit, The Purity Myth presents a powerful and revolutionary argument that valuing girls and women for their sexuality needs to stop–and outlines a new vision for how it can happen.”

My Review: This was a really great book, and was very readable despite being a somewhat academic/research-based text. This is definitely a result of Valenti’s wonderful voice and use of humor throughout–this is a serious subject, but she presents it in a funny, entertaining way, using personal experience and anecdotes to illustrate the points she’s making. (This did get a bit over-the-top at times, though, as her snarky asides appear as footnotes on literally every other page. These would have been more effective if they’d been used more sparingly, as I got a little tired of them after a while).

The content of the book is so interesting and really well-researched. I considered myself pretty well-versed on the issues discussed, but Valenti synthesizes all the information out there and presents it in a really compelling and well-organized way. There were great little pieces of trivia scattered throughout, and so even though I know a lot about the topics at hand, I still found myself shocked at some of the quotes and statistics and anecdotes she shared.

I think this book is pretty empowering and definitely important for people to read–the issues in general are ones that more people should be conscious of and feel comfortable recognizing/addressing in daily life. We live in a culture that both expects women to be highly sexualized and punishes them for being so, and Valenti does a really excellent job of exploring how that manifests itself (through rape culture, abstinence-only sex education, and double standards when it comes to male vs. female behavior, to name a few examples). Awareness is the first step (and maybe the only course of action) towards eliminating these problematic views in our society, so I hope that more people pick this book up and listen to what Valenti has to say.

Should You Read It? Yes. If you’re someone who is interested in feminist theory and discourse, you’ll love this book; if you’re someone (male or female) who has never considered these issues, I think you’ll find this book enlightening.

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