New review: The Virgin Daughters

// 3 November 2008

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Black-tie dances during which six-year-old girls promise their fathers to abstain from sex until marriage? A documentary about ‘purity’ balls in the United States horrifies Dawn Kofie

I tried to be open-minded about The Virgin Daughters, Jane Treay’s deeply unsettling study for Channel 4 of the ‘Purity Movement’ in the United States, in which young girls pledge to remain virgins until marriage. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of the opening credits I was snapping at the TV in exasperation.

The film focused on four devout families preparing for a father-daughter purity ball. During the annual black-tie shindig, fathers take time out from whisking their pint-sized princesses (some as young as six) round the dance floor, to declare their pride at their offsprings’ loveliness and celebrate their lack of carnal knowledge. The daughters, meanwhile, make heartfelt speeches about just how swell their fathers are.

All the girls and young women involved earnestly described how they had close and loving relationships with their dads, and how their self worth was based on qualities other than their level of attractiveness to boys (predictably, neither lesbianism nor bisexuality were mentioned). This is entirely commendable, and there should be a lot more of it about. But is replacing the approval of young men with positive affirmations from a dad who’s appointed himself the guardian of your unsullied status (and squarely positioned himself as the only man in your life until your nuptials) really a direct route to flourishing self esteem and healthy sexual relationships? And is a young woman’s worth linked to her virginity? Last time I checked it was 2008, so I think not.

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