The curse of the proper lady: Conceptualizations of purity and the slag

The conceptualization of purity. The definitional phenomena of this term has perplexed me in a way that transcends the performative, stylistic form of language and co-existence. Essentially, purity has formed a social hierarchy, a subjective oppression and repression, and a convoluted ideological framework of sexuality. The convergence of sexual identity and purity has culturally and socially produced a ‘polluted danger.’ Mary Douglas, British anthropologist who focuses on ritualism, comparative religion, and feminism “attempts to clarify the differences between the sacred, the clean and the unclean in different societies and times.” I will primarily be referring to her work in this particular post. I intend to address the intersection between sacred sexuality, womyn’s agency, and the theoretical and historical implications of purity.

Deconstructing body symbolism is crucial in the analysis of the hierarchical order and configuration of gender and sexuality in terms of the social taboos of what is considered ‘pure.’ We’ve all heard – be a proper lady! Sit up. Close your legs. Just sit there and look pretty. Hack up your skirt a little more (many thanks to Dave Matthews), bend over, more make-up, less make-up, shave, trim, wax, shorter skirt, longer dress, more cleavage. My point is we are consistently bombarded with a cacophony of messages which create an absurd imbalance of our perception of purity and something of utmost distaste. So why does this occur? What prompts such a contradictory mess? Firstly, it’s wanting the best of both worlds. These binaries are both desirous and expected unconsciously. But why? Well, because we are not linear, categorical creatures of reason. Humanity thrives on the complex opposition of humane traits and characteristics.

So in terms of gender construction, what is a proper lady? How can we know for sure when we’ve been consistently harassed with an imbalance of messages telling us what is sacred, clean, unclean, unholy, impure, etc.? History and post-christian beliefs have taught us that womyn were only sacred and holy in terms of their sexuality and how they were possessed. Biblically, womyn were unclean during menstruation, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and in general. They weren’t allowed to enter holy temples (that was only for men). King Solomon mentions it’s already difficult to find holy people in the book of Ecclesiastes, but there is definitely no upright, holy womyn.  The historical, social, economic, and political implication is that womyn are mainly used for mass consumerism, sexual objectification, as commodities, for reproductive reasons, etc. So how are we supposed to view ourselves? Are we clean? Dirty? Does it matter? Of course it does. Even if consciously we don’t want to accept the societal standards placed before us in a distorted way, it produces confusion. Confusion then creates hostility, warfare (on all levels), and inequality. Possessing a clear view of oneself in accordance to societal conformity is crucial to healthy development. So how do we achieve this?

Pre-christian religions like paganism, wicca, etc. revered both the Goddess and God – a balance of both female and male. That’s a start. Capitalism, inclusive of the commodification of womyn, the profit of human capital, the unnatural sexual exploitation of humankind, indulgent, mass consumptive behavior, the obvious lack of viable alternatives are some of the reasons as to why humanity is struggling with identifiable options. A postmodernist view would be that sex, gender, race, class, etc. would not influence the social and economic system as a whole. The de-centering of the subject if you will. The dismantling of the social and economic infrastructure we have become complacent with.

There is no direct solution; rather a plethora of ideological frameworks we can begin to implement in order to advocate change. There is no subjective definition of who and what is clean, dirty, sacred, etc. It’s a matter of perception dependent on history, economics, and social processes created in order to maintain a social hierarchy. Be radical. Start the change. Wear the dress.

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