Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank Read Free Book Online

Book: Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hanne Blank
field, my cow. From there it would have been a short leap to think of human beings as belonging to other human beings in similar ways: my woman, my child. Combining the ideas of ownership and patriarchy, or the organization of social groups based on members' relationships to a head male, would have provided the origins for the idea of patrimony, or the inheritance of a father's property by his children. This is where virginity fits in. Garden-variety self-interest encourages healthy investment in ensuring the survival and success of one's offspring. It also makes it an object of concern that one's hard-won resources not be squandered or given away to unworthy recipients.
    Virginity became a key to both because virginity can render paternity knowable. Maternity is rarely in doubt: childbirth makes it pretty easy to know who has given birth and to whom. Paternity, on the other hand, is a lot trickier to prove. Human women do not go into heat the way some animals do. Because we are stealthy ovulators, it is nearly impossible to know for sure when a woman is and is not fertile; even with modern medical technology, predicting fertility is a matter of educated guesses, not certainties. Because there's no easy way to know whether a given incidence of sexual intercourse is likely to prove fertile, the simplest way to determine the identity of the father of a given child, and thus to know that the child "belongs to" a particular male, is to limit who has sexual access to individual women.
    The scenario that has the highest potential for producing offspring whose fathers are known is a marriage system that most severely limits women's prerogatives in regard to sex, a system in which sexual access to a woman is reserved for a single man. Female premarital virginity ensures that a woman's first child is of guaranteed paternity. Her post-marital monogamy assures that future children will be of similarly reliable lineage.
    This raises the question of what women stand to gain from limiting their options so severely. Human women, like other female animals of other species, are not necessarily given to such a system by nature. Primates do not often behave monogamously. This common tendency toward nonmonogamous sexual behavior is partially explained by the desire to have the most genetically superlative offspring possible. It is to the biological advantage of a species when females are at liberty to choose to mate with genetically superior males wherever those females might find them. The myth of the naturally monogamous female and the corresponding myth of the naturally promiscuous male have been trotted out for centuries to help reinforce the double standard that has been so pervasive in Western culture. But as numerous scientists have now proven (Bettyann Kevles's Females of the Species provides a reader-friendly, soundly researched introduction), it simply isn't so. Women are no more inherently monogamous than men. If a woman is to behave consistently in a way that runs counter to the biological imperative of maximizing genetic potential—that is, if she is to voluntarily participate in a scheme where she will remain a virgin until she mates with one man, and never mate with any other man thereafter—the incentive has to be a strong one indeed.
    The incentive is indeed strong: K-strategist females need a lot of help if their babies are going to survive. In a burgeoning patriarchy, where property and the distribution of goods are controlled primarily or exclusively by men, this means inducing men to feel that they have an investment in helping to provide food, shelter, clothing, social affiliations and protections, and physical care for women and babies. One of the best ways a woman historically has had of doing this is to convince a man to publicly acknowledge his paternity of her child.
    The stakes in the bid for paternal recognition are high. Not for nothing is it considered a curse to call someone a bastard. In a patriarchy, it is hard

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