Natacha Pavlov's Reviews > Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin by Hanne Blank
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's review
Apr 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, feminism, christianity
Read from April 04 to 07, 2012

Who isn’t interested, at least on some level, in the subject of virginity? As the author says, it’s a topic of high interest but which, as reflected in the title, has remained rather unexplored. The history, or what is known of it, spans from ancient Greece and Rome all the way to the present-day Western world, especially the United States. Some of the prominent figures discussed include Aristotle, Hippocrates, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, St. Augustine of Hippo, Queen Elizabeth I and Erzsebeth (Elizabeth) Bathory.

I found the book highly interesting and hard to put down. The author knows her subject and brings up many issues which only make one realize how difficult it may be to define virginity in the first place. She also highlights that virginity means different things to different cultures and that this changes over time. Although the tone is serious and scholarly, I highly enjoyed the spontaneous laugh-out-loud moments:
“Even the globe was changing, as explorers traversed the world and discovered “virgin” continents where the maps had formerly said “here there be dragons.” (p. 178)
This humor was welcomed amidst all the facts and reminders of the ways women have been objectified throughout history. Although the book itself is interesting and may be a page-turner, it’s clear that there are passages that will be hard for (especially female) readers at times.

I did have a slight issue, however, and that of course is also subjective. This entails a brief section of the book that in my view was irrelevant. Blank brings up several animals that have hymens and neither care nor are aware of that ownership, and uses this fact as an argument why human beings should do the same. My issue with that is not concerning my own opinion of the presence/existence of the hymen to ‘validate’ virginity, but by the simple fact that as a Christian, I strongly believe that there is little to no relation between what animals and human beings were created for and are meant to do. In my view that is like comparing apples and human beings. Using an animal example is not going to ‘sell’ me, a human being, an idea, provided I even needed to be convinced in the first place. After all, there are animals who eat their newborns—probably for a variety of reasons—but that doesn’t mean that it’s an example that is OK for us to replicate simply because it’s ‘naturally present in nature.’ Basically, animals are just that, and human beings have souls and free will and I therefore hold them to a higher standard (even though obviously we don’t always measure up to it). It seems Blank was coming from the theory of evolution where ‘we all came from animals,’ but seeing as I do not subscribe to that, I see each as separate entities with highly different purposes and no ancestral connection whatsoever. I understand that she was trying to make a point and downgrade the need to obsess over the meaning/symbolism of the hymen, but in my view that passage was not necessary. The facts, if not common sense, already show me that such obsession can be detrimental to women, and that is all I personally need.

With that said, I loved the book and I highly respect all the research that had to go into creating this unprecedented work. Eye-opening and definitely highly recommended.
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