From Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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, although one wishes she had broadened her view as she moved into the present, particularly when she spends time on virginity in popular culture today. This is also strictly a Western history, with modern-day "honor killings" not mentioned until the epilogue. And what of depictions of virginity in, say, Bollywood? Perhaps Blank's next treatise will provide a needed further look at this complex and significant topic. Annie TullyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved