For 10 points, please answer why women are rewarded for their virginity and men are shamed?

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A few questions about virginity to start.

Is there a purity or virginity ceremony for men in South Africa or in the world? Why are men encouraged to lose their virginity as soon as possible and women considered virtuous and desirable when they abstain from sex?

Is virginity a term restricted to heterosexuals? What role does consent and gender identity play? 

Why am I asking? Because a couple of celebs have recently posted photos of themselves doing umemulo, a traditional Zulu ceremony where young women are celebrated for keeping themselves ‘pure’.

Minnie Dlamini, Ntando Duma and Sbahle Mpisane have all in the last couple of years shared posts about their ‘coming of age’, which raised questions about what the practice actually entails. And for me, why female virginity is still valuable to society.

Izimbali ezakwaZulu ??

A post shared by FitnessBunnie (@sbahle_mpisane) on

Does it mean that a woman has to be a virgin to take part? Does she have to get tested and who tests her? Why do they find it necessary to go through the ceremony at all. 

READ MORE: Why I don't believe in safe sex

Full disclosure here. I’m a black South African woman, long past her twenties, who believes that traditions are dynamic and sometimes need to change with more progressive learnings and ideas.

Intombi YomZulu ?? #AfricaDay #TBT

A post shared by Minnie (@minniedlamini) on

While I respect tradition and culture and feel that everyone should participate in whatever rituals and ceremonies they see fit unless it causes harm, indignity and injury to another, I personally have questions about practices that perpetuate inequality and patriarchy. Just like white weddings where brides are 'given' to their husbands by their fathers

Oh, I also believe that feminism is not unAfrican.

So what exactly is umemulo? A large consensus says that it’s about a girl-turned-woman honouring her parents by abstaining from sexual intercourse until she is ready to marry.

And this is exactly where I see problems arising. Families do have their own interpretations of what that means specifically though.

In an article in Destiny written by Buhle Mbete All about umemulo cultural expert Nomagugu Ngobese details that the correct way is to perform the practice only if the girl entering her womanhood is still ‘pure’ and that it is not the same as a 21st birthday celebration. 

Ngobese adds that marriage or leaving her parents home is not a compulsory part of what’s expected.  

Highlighted is that she believes the ‘culture is static [and] doesn’t change. On that we disagree but I do think that we all need to learn more about our individual customs and how they affect us.

As far as I know, no races or cultures, do something similar with their sons. 

Why do we reward young women for their virginity and men get shamed for the same? Why is there still a double standard?

What’s so problematic about celebrating female ‘purity’?

Let me number my points as Nomboniso Gasa @nombonisogasa is famous for doing with her tweets.

1. The starting point of this conversation was about the Zulu tradition of umemulo but virginity being seen as some sort of commodity when it comes to women extends to all cultures and races. Around the globe.

2. Historically women were and are still considered property – when they marry, women get passed from their fathers and households to their husbands and his family. Sex was and is still largely taboo outside of wedlock as a way of upholding paternity.

3. Virginity is tied to being pure and wholesome. Sex too soon and too often is shameful. The opposite applies to men.

READ MORE: MY STORY: He took my virginity and broke my heart – now he wants me back

4. Not all sex involves vaginal penetration by a penis, which is what virginity assumes. What about other types of sex – oral, anal, non-heteronormative? Are you still considered pure if you did not consent to sex?

Why would we hold onto a construct and even celebrate it when it demeans not only women but all genders and identities? Using tradition to explain why we still perform virginity testing and ceremonies does not make it reasonable or justifiable, in any way. 

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.

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