Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reviewed: Blank, Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin: The Untouched History, by Hanne Blank (Bloomsbury, 2007) is reviewed this weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle. Bob Blaisdell writes:
Though scholarly, Hanne Blank's "Virgin: The Untouched History" treats her topic with a writer's, not an academic's, interest. That is, she's curious about and surprised by what she discovers, and keeps the book moving along at a reader's pace. She acknowledges the gap between what she expected to find and the paucity of details of what, to her amazement, she did find: "I had stumbled across a subject clearly related to the human body, one whose existence and importance has been asserted for thousands of years, and yet it appeared, somehow, to have left virtually no trace in the modern medical literature." ...
Ignorance about women's bodies has never stopped anybody from offering theories of virginity detection. The Gitanos of Spain continue a wedding-night tradition that depends upon a nonexistent bit of anatomy. Into the 1990s, a pervasive myth among desperate AIDS victims in South Africa was that sex with virgins could cure them.

Not allowing us to sneer, Blank continually reminds us of our own distressing cultural history: for example, the English lesbian in 2004 who auctioned off her "virginity," which "was nothing more or less than a tangible confirmation of the ideology that a woman is not sexually 'real' in her own right, and that it takes a man and his penis to make her so."...
"Families, religious authorities, and governments once faced little opposition to the idea that they had a legitimate stake in people's sexual behavior. Now we are increasingly likely to believe that the primary legitimate stakeholder in an individual's sexual life is the individual him- or herself." Our federal government's official recent support for abstinence over contraception troubles Blank, but she takes heart that "perhaps the only thing that is at all clear about this unprecedented legislation of virginity-flavored agitprop is that a politically powerful right wing, faced with the cumulative social change of the last century, has begun to panic in earnest" and that it "may be best understood as a signal of nothing more than a deep-seated terror of change."

For the rest, click here.

Legal historians will be interested in the website that accompanies the book, with links to "virginity-related websites," new and information about age of consent, "honor crimes," etc. A perusal reveals somewhat limited information at this point, but the book is just being released and the site is new. If the author maintains and updates the site, it will be a continuing, valuable resource.