Rapper and Hustle + Flow judge T.I. has gotten some attention in recent days for his truly upsetting comments regarding his daughter's anatomy on the Ladies Like Us podcast.
Specifically, T.I. expressed a special interest he's taken in the condition of the mucosal tissue known as her hymen. Historically speaking, an intact hymen has been interpreted as proof of virginity when determining if a girl or woman was marriageable, while a torn hymen was taken as an indication that she had been "ruined" and should therefore be shunned or even killed. T.I. seemed to take pride in announcing that his 18-year-old daughter's hymen is intact.
T.I.'s Gynecologist Visits With His Daughter Deyjah To "Check Her Hymen" For Virginity Gets Backlash www.youtube.com
If we can take T.I. at his word, he insists on yearly trips to his daughter Deyjah's gynecologist, where he receives confirmation from her doctor that her genitals haven't been the site of any p-in-v sex. In the interview, T.I. even recounts the doctor's attempt to protect Deyjah's right to medical privacy, as well as his own deft (and illegal) work in undermining those rights: "The doctor's maintaining a high level of professionalism. He's like, 'You know, sir, I have to, in order to share information.' I'm like, 'Deyjah, they want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you would not want me to know? See doc? No problem,'"
It's not clear what T.I. was planning to do if the word came back that his daughter was an "impure woman," but the reality is that the condition of a hymen has a very limited relationship to sexual activity. It may be torn during a myriad of other activities, can actually remain intact during penetrative sex, and is sometimes simply absent after the onset of puberty. Treating such an arbitrary piece of anatomy as a record of "virtue" may seem barbaric, inhumane, cruel, and patriarchal in the worst sense of the word…because it is. But that doesn't mean it's out of character for American society—particularly when religion gets involved.
We often think of these customs as relics of other times and other cultures, but so many sects of American Christianity interpret the bible as the inerrant word of God, particularly when it comes to questions of sex and gender and the control of women's bodies. And some continue to fight international efforts to treat women as equal to men. T.I., who calls himself "The King of the South," is a devout Southern Baptist. He has rapped about his faith and done some truly great things in the name of Christianity. Unfortunately, that faith also entails a literal interpretation of the bible, and while the World Health Organization has declared these virginity tests a form of violence, the bible still endorses them.
Deuteronomy 22: 21 states that if a newly married woman cannot prove she is a virgin, "she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house." It's hard to imagine where else T.I. could have gotten the idea.
A popular christian depiction of the familial hierarchy
While T.I.'s particular method for dehumanizing his daughter is vivid and disturbing, the issue goes far beyond one misogynist rapper. It belongs in a context of prevalent sects of American Christianity habitually reducing women to commodities, with a value attached to their anatomy, to be guarded against the ruins of their own sexuality.
Let's consider the fact that 25 states have no minimum age for marriage in cases where certain exceptions are met and that evangelical groups have pushed to keep it that way. Often, one of those exceptions is pregnancy, and a teenage girl is pushed into marrying her rapist—because abortion is out of the question, and marriage is the only way to cleanse her "sin." And what about the prevalence of "purity balls," whereby teenagers make a purity commitment to their fathers, in an homage to a marriage ceremony; the daughter's virginity is asserted to be under her father's protection until marriage.
This misogyny is built into literalist ideology. It's in that excerpt of Deuteronomy and in dozens of other verses calling on women to serve their husbands—with nothing mutual about it. This is why so many Christians hate Planned Parenthood, why they insist on invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, and don't want insurance to cover birth control pills.
A woman's virginity, from this perspective, is more precious than her rights. It's a far more pervasive problem than we might like to think, and it is truly toxic.