Seen and Heard
The Virgin Files
Traditions that really are more about women’s inequality
Recently in the Europe section of the New York Times, I read an article about an Albanian woman who chose to become the man of the house after her father was murdered. Now 78, this woman was able to do this at the age of 20 by becoming a sworn virgin. She said, “While a woman’s life is worth half that of a man, a virgin’s value is the same: 12 oxen.” Her virginity ensured her equality.
That led me to ponder, how many oxen am I worth? And can I still ensure my equality if my virginity is long gone?
In a world of equality, that question would be moot. Or is that “moo,” when dealing with oxen?
American women can tout equality from their L’Oreal locks down to their Jimmy Choo shoes, but they’re still paid only 75.3 cents for every dollar a man makes. They are still traditionally defined by their marital status (Miss or Mrs.) before they are as an individual (Ms.). They still often give up their name for a man when they marry, and they still often pay more for a haircut and dry cleaning than a man does (even if they have shorter hair and simpler clothes). They still do not have equality.
What is a woman’s worth? Her ability to bear and raise children? To multitask? To bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan?
Women don’t have to be like men to have equality, but they have to know that they are worthy of it and they have to see it as an inherent right that they desire. I just wonder if they do.
It’s impossible to ensure equality by participating in a tradition that does not promote it. Based on the fact that more than 90 percent of American women take a man’s last name when they marry and go by “Mrs.,” it raises the questions: Are women simply not interested in equality, or do they not see the connections between their actions and the inequities those actions perpetuate?
Any tradition that promotes inequality is a tradition worthy of reconsideration. Women are amazing and powerful. They are not afraid to have “a-ha” moments and to change their lives in an instant. I believe that as more women make the connections between the choices they make and the inequities those choices create, more women will make new choices.
JD Smith is a writer/performer and an advocate for equality. She lives on the Southern California coast in a small and relatively peaceful beach community yet considers herself a New Yorker at heart. Ms. Smith has been married for nearly two decades and is the chief caregiver to a senior parent and a toddler child.