Virgin: the untouched history
Why has an indefinable state of being commanded the attention and fascination of the human race since the dawn of time? In Virgin, Hanne Blank brings us a revolutionary, rich and entertaining survey of an astonishing untouched history.
From the simple task of determining what constitutes its loss to why it matters to us in the first place, Blank gets to the heart of why we even care about it in the first place. She tackles the reality of what we do and don’t know about virginity and provides a sweeping tour of virgins in history—from virgin martyrs to Queen Elizabeth to billboards in downtown Baltimore telling young women it’s not a “dirty word.” Virgin proves, as well, how utterly contemporary the topic is—the butt of innumerable jokes, center of spiritual mysteries, locus of teenage angst, popular genre for pornography and nucleus around which the world’s most powerful government has created an unprecedented abstinence policy. In this fascinating work, Hanne Blank shows for the first time why this is, and why everything we think we know about virginity is wrong. Hanne Blank is a writer, historian, and public speaker whose work has been featured everywhere from OUT to Penthouse. An independent scholar, she has served in faculty positions at several colleges and universities, most recently as the 2004-2005 Scholar of the Institute For Teaching and Research on Women at Towson University, Maryland. Virginity has been the source of enormous fascination from the earliest days of recorded history to the present. How did it come to mean so much to our culture, and have so much power in our individual lives? Why does it command the attention and fascination of politicians, activists, religious figures, teenagers and educators? In Virgin, Hanne Blank brings us a revolutionary, rich and entertaining survey of an astonishingly untouched history.
From the simple task of determining what constitutes its loss to why it matters to us in the first place, Blank gets to the heart of virginity's significance in Western culture. She tackles the reality of what we do and don't know about virginity and provides a sweeping tour of virgins in history—from martyrs to Queen Elizabeth to billboards in downtown Baltimore telling young women it’s not a “dirty word.” Virgin proves, as well, how utterly contemporary the topic is—the center of spiritual mysteries, locus of teenage angst, popular genre for pornography and nucleus around which the world’s most powerful government has created an unprecedented abstinence policy. Hanne Blank probes the shape and scope of the obsession, and in the process, shows what we do and don't know about virginity and reveals a great deal about just why humans have come to care so much about this fundamentally intangible state of being. “Entertaining and erudite. Virgin is a treasure trove of obscure and fascinating material, presented with wit and clarity. Blank's eye-opening cultural history will make you re-think everything you ever thought you knew about its familiar yet under-analyzed subject.”—Rachel Mania Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost "Embodied in the figure of the goddess Athena or Mother Mary, the virgin state has inspired universal cults, national myths, personal passions and unsurpassed works of art; it has excited religious mystics to praise it as the highest ideal and fastest way to heaven; it has also moved many a titillating plot about the seduction of the innocent -- from the notorious Liaisons Dangereuses to teen soaps focusing on 'the first time.' As Hanne Blank points out in her vigorous and eclectic study, 'Virginity has been, and continues to be, a matter of life and death around the world.' For Blank, virginity is a social invention designed above all to control women; its connection to virtue flourishes in the fantasies of fathers, suitors, priests and pornographers. In the first part of the book, Blank gives a detailed account of the fetishized and numinous hymen. A puny ring or flap in the vulva, it remained unseen until the 16th century. But its appeal did not fade under the new scientific gaze; the anatomist Helkiah Crooke, for example, turned to the language of a love sonnet to describe his findings ('All these particles together make the form of the cup of a little rose half blowne'). However, even after physicians were able to inspect the interior of a woman's body, Blank is clear that sexual experience cannot be deduced from its condition, as some women have hymens that grow back after childbirth, while others have no obstruction to speak of and do not bleed during their 'first time.' The author therefore expresses her strongest indignation at the long, cruel story of virginity tests, when 'women may not speak for themselves' and the one person who knows the truth of the case cannot make herself heard. Over the centuries, women have conspired to provide the evidence and stain the bridal sheets not because the bride wasn't innocent but because, as Blank makes clear, the dramatic rupturing of the hymen is a fable.
In the second half, Blank unfolds the cultural history—buzzing through myths about temple prostitutes, vestal virgins, the cult of Mary and the gory martyrdoms of the saints, Protestant diagnosis of the 'greensickness' that overcame old maids, droit du seigneur (the lord's feudal right to every bride) and many other pieces of fascinating lore. Only a virgin could capture a unicorn, as visitors to the Cloisters in New York will know from the medieval tapestries there: Attracted by her unique smell, the fierce creature will lay its horn in her lap. The blood of 600 virgins was required to revive the aging powers of the infamous Countess Báthory, the most lurid of female vampires but also a historical figure, born in 1560, whose notorious diaries are kept under wraps in the Hungarian state archives (or so Blank tells us).
As these stories reveal, Blank's method involves conscientious data-gathering and titillating gossip . . . on the whole, Blank is judicious when entering very difficult territory, placing both sex trafficking in children and the belief that virgins cure sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS) within a longer history of damage and exploitation.
Toward the end, on home ground, Blank closes in fiercely on the current abstention crusade, which, she convincingly argues, succeeds only in revisiting on the young those once discarded, venerable virtues of guilt and ignorance. At its best, this entertaining history is a passionate polemic, brimming with a genuine spirit of emancipatory activism."—Marina Warner, The Washington Post Book World "Blank's revealing history of virginity begins with discoveries related to women's bodies over time, then quickly moves on to a fascinating analysis of the roles economics, religion, and urbanization have played in the changing attitudes toward virginity. From the Roman Empire to the Jazz Age and beyond, with appearances by Jesus, Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, and Alfred Kinsey, this is a rich history indeed. Some common threads favored by Blank include virginity as commodity (trading virgin daughters for land) and the ideology of virginity (Mary's importance in Catholicism). Offering compelling insights, Blank is upfront about telling a female history."—Annie Tully, Booklist "'By any material reckoning, virginity does not exist,' writes Blank in this informative, funny and provocative analysis of one of the most elusive—and prized—qualities of human sexuality. Blank, an independent scholar, has pieced together a history of how humans have constructed the idea of virginity (almost always female and heterosexual) and engineered its uses to suit cultural and political forces. Blank has no shortage of fascinating facts: since Western virginity was symbolized by the color white, missionaries viewed nonwhite peoples as sexually immoral; late medieval and Renaissance moralists thought they could detect whether a woman was a virgin by examining her urine ('a virgin's was clear, sparkling, and thin'). Blank also has a pleasing, highly readable style that allows her to convey large amounts of information with wit and agility. But she becomes most animated, and political, when she probes contemporary ideas about virginity. Taking on a range of questions—why is virginity considered sexy? how does the idea of virginity fuel violence against women?—she makes the case that contemporary culture is as obsessed with, and benighted about, virginity, as those of the past. Thoroughly researched, carefully argued and written with a sly sense of humor, this is a bright addition to the popular literature of women's and cultural studies."—Publishers Weekly
1 page matching toothed whales in this book
Results 1-1 of 1
What people are saying - Write a review
Review: Virgin: The Untouched HistoryUser Review - Goodreads
Review: Virgin: The Untouched HistoryUser Review - Goodreads
paused December 7th 2013 on page 202
The Once and Future Virgin
2 other sections not shown