The Purity Myth
The Virginity Movement's War Against Women
This alternately hilarious and infuriating new film adaptation of pioneering feminist blogger Jessica Valenti's bestselling book makes a powerful case that evangelical Christians, right-wing politicians, and conservative activists have been using irrational fears around young women's sexuality to undermine women's autonomy and roll back women's rights. In a wide-ranging analysis that moves from 'purity balls' and the abstinence movement to right-wing attacks on Planned Parenthood and women's reproductive health care, Valenti targets the persistent patriarchal assumption that men know what's best for women -- and that a woman's worth depends on what she does, or does not do, sexually. The result is a timely and clarifying look at the relationship between women's equality, women's sexuality, and a reactionary political movement that is working on multiple fronts to undermine both. Ideal for courses in women's studies, women's health issues, gender studies, and contemporary politics.
Sections: Introduction (8:49) | Classroom Chastity (7:24) | The Ethics of Passivity (9:34) | Forever Young (7:18) | Legislating Chastity (11:14)
Jessica Valenti speaks at colleges and organizations across the country. To book Jessica for a speaking engagement, contact Jodi Solomon Speakers
Featuring: Jessica Valenti
Executive Producer: Sut Jhally
Director: Jeremy Earp
Writers: Jessica Valenti & Jeremy Earp
Producers: Jeremy Earp, Scott Morris & Jason Young
Editor: Jason Young
Media Research: Scott Morris
Associate Producers: Loretta Alper & Andrew Killoy
Camera: David Rabinovitz
Locations Sound Recordist: Andy Turrett
Sound Mix: Rikk Desgres, Pinehurst Pictures & Sound
Motion Graphics: Andrew Killoy
Additional Graphics: Jason Young
Jessica Valenti -- called the "poster girl for third-wave feminism" by Salon
and one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women
in the world by The Guardian
-- is the author of three books: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters
, He's a Stud, She's a Slut... and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know
, and The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
. She is the editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape
, which was named one of the Top 100 Books of 2009
by Publishers Weekly
. Jessica is also the founder of Feministing.com
, which Columbia Journalism Review
calls "head and shoulders above almost any writing on women's issues in mainstream media." Jessica won the 2011 Hillman Journalism Prize
for her work with Feministing.
Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post
, The Nation
, The Guardian
(UK), The American Prospect
, and Bitch
magazine. She has won a Choice USA Generation award
, was featured as one of ELLE
, and was named one of the Left's Top 25 Journalists
by The Daily Beast
. She has appeared on The Colbert Report
and the Today
show, among others, and was recently profiled in The New York Times Magazine
under the headline "Fourth Wave Feminism."
Jessica is also a widely sought after speaker who gives dozens of speeches annually at universities and organizations in the U.S. and abroad. She received her Masters degree in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University, where she is a part-time lecturer.
American Sociological Association Annual Meeting | August 2012
Console-ing Passions conference | July 2012
The Nation cruise
| December 11-18, 2011
"A thought-provoking presentation on a many-faceted subject. Recommended."
- Video Librarian
"Virginity becomes a highly political issue in this video adaptation of feminist blogger Jessica Valenti's controversial book (2009). Narrated by Valenti, the documentary crusades against the pro-purity movement, taking a critical look at women's sexuality and the push by anti-feminist Evangelical Christians and right-wing politicians to resurrect traditional gender roles and attitudes. Interviews with educators, journalists, clergy, politicians, and other pro-purity movement advocates combine with footage of teenage girls pledging to remain celibate until marriage, pop-artist performances, and vintage movie clips depicting women in traditional roles. Valenti persuasively argues that asking young women to remain abstinent until marriage holds them to a different moral standard than young men. The film leads viewers to conclude that the pro-purity movement claims limit the legal definition of rape, circumscribe health-care options, and abrogate women's reproductive rights. A surefire discussion starter for women's studies groups and classes."
"This film makes excellent use of clips from current feature films, music videos, reality shows, conservative commentary, historical social hygiene films and purity balls to illustrate the image of the virginal ideal. Valenti is both passionate and extremely familiar with her subject... [The Purity Myth
] is highly recommended for media studies and gender and women studies courses for the quality and uniqueness of its content. It also has potential as an addition to select high school health classes for mature students -- though the topic has potential to lend itself to controversy, the discussion of gender roles, ethics and abstinence-only education would be particularly relevant and thought provoking in the high school environment. Highly recommended."
- Educational Media Reviews Online
| Gisele Tanasse, University of California Berkeley
"An excellent tool for generating discussion. [Offers] insight into how sexist cultural messages are harming young women."
- Political Flavors blog
"[The Purity Myth
] kicks misconceptions, contradictions and inequality out of the water. With the intensity of a graduate course in Human Sexuality, ...The Purity Myth
debunks false ideas about values in our culture and how pushing them on young women is detrimental."
- Fatal Femmes blog
Praise for the Film
"Slam on point, The Purity Myth
cuts through the family-values smokescreens
around "abstinence only" and "purity" agendas, vividly demonstrating not only that virginity is an abstract and moving target but that America's current obsession with it is a straw man, merely a front for attempts at deep, insidious control over women and their bodies."
- Hanne Blank | Author of Virgin: The Untouched History
"A must-watch for anyone who cares about girls, women or the American education system. Jessica Valenti connects the dots between long-standing ideas about female virtue, conservative groups and politicians who benefit from marginalizing women, and the very real consequences that women and girls face when their social worth is tied to whether or not they've had sex. The film is complex and incisive, and Valenti's narration brings her signature thoughtfulness and humor to the topic. It should be required viewing for parents, educators and politicians -- and for girls and boys as well."
- Jill Filipovic | Feministe.us
"The Purity Myth
is a smart documentary that reveals the complex and incremental path orchestrated by the conservative right that has led to the latest political attacks on women and girls in American society. A must-see primer for students, young people, and citizens who are puzzled, and troubled, by the political and cultural currents that aim to strip females of their bodily autonomy and their rights to be recognized as individuals who are much more than the virgin/whore construction that is desperately ascribed to by the conservative right."
- Alesha E. Doan | Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas | Author of The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education
"The Purity Myth
takes a thought-provoking look at our culture's obsession with women's bodies, deftly deconstructing the double standards to which women are so often held when it comes to sex. The film serves as a valuable conversation-starter for audiences of all ages, but particularly for young people, who are the main target of these harmful messages."
- Gina Helfrich, Ph.D. | Director of Harvard College Women's Center
"In The Purity Myth
, Jessica Valenti wields her laser sharp critique to call out the very political nature of America's obsession with women's virginity. This documentary is a dive into the pop culture and punditry that continues to equate women's worth with what's happening between their legs rather than what's in their hearts and minds. What makes this film a stand-out is Valenti's succinct and convincing evidence of this ideology's growth into an industry with the political capital to influence public policy on education, contraception, and more. I highly recommend this film as a touchstone for real discussion about women, sex and politics."
- Ada Gregory | Director of the Duke University Women's Center
"Jessica Valenti makes a thoughtful and compelling case that virginity ideology has a racist and classist agenda. Moreover it is being used by politicians and forces in our society who are actively working to rescind women's reproductive rights and limit women's political agency. Valenti also shows clearly how abstinence-only education serves this agenda, and as a purely ideological tool perpetrates a fraud against the American taxpayer and only hurts generations of our teens and young people. Valenti is among the most clear-sighted of young feminist thinkers in the USA."
- Amada Sandoval | Director of the Princeton University Women's Center
"A must-have for every college campus! Anyone who deals with these issues on a college campus should avail themselves of this film for the classroom as well as workshop settings. Given the current political climate and war on women, this film is incredibly timely. Although the students who viewed the film felt outraged and angry, they were also left with a sense of urgency to raise awareness on campus and work towards combatting this myth."
- Toby Simon | Director of the Bryant University Women's Center at
"In The Purity Myth
, Jessica Valenti provides an important, critical examination of how abstinence-only education and "the virginity movement" impact young people, particularly girls and women. Valenti eloquently portrays the impossible dichotomy in which today's girls and women find themselves stuck: the social expectation to be both "pure" and, simultaneously, objectively "sexy." This film is a powerful challenge to look at these conservative movements as not just about denying access to accurate sex education, but as fundamentally working to maintain traditional, sexist gender norms that are based on white, cisgender, gender conforming, heterosexual ideals of femininity and masculinity."
- Steph Gauchel | University Women's Center Director
"Valenti makes a very clear case connecting the purity/virginity movement to efforts to limit and even turn the clock back on women's rights and freedoms. I look forward to using the film in my introductory women's and gender studies class to consider such issues as sexuality, reproductive rights, and understandings of feminism as a theory of power and its distribution based on gender."
- Jayne Schuiteman, Ph.D. | Interim Director of the Michigan State University Women's Resource Center
"The Purity Myth
provides a crucial analysis of the sexualization of adolescent women in American culture. This film will be an excellent addition to gender and women's studies courses."
- Jean Calterone Williams | Author of The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education
| Professor of Political Science at California Polytechnic State University
"The Purity Myth
is a timely look at a disturbing phenomenon -- the "purity" movement that perpetuates the sexual double standard by prescribing a return to traditional gender roles and circumscribing young women's sexuality but not young men's. The film provides an important perspective on this current reactionary trend: the paradox that the dehumanization of young women that is facilitated through their hypersexualization in consumer culture is being reacted to not by changing that culture but rather depriving them of their right to healthy sexuality."
- Leslie Heywood | Editor of The Women's Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism
"Eye-opening. This film brings Valenti's groundbreaking book to life in an engaging and enlightening way. I only wish that every young woman who has ever felt shamed or alienated because of her sexuality could watch this film and know she's not alone and that it's not her fault."
- Julie Zeilinger | Author of A Little F'd Up: Why Feminism Is Not a
| Founder/Editor of TheFBomb.org
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