Healing the Virgin-Whore Split. ~ Rebecca Farrar

Via Rebecca Farraron Mar 15, 2014

sluts say yes

“The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” ~ Martin Luther

I recently wrote a post about virginity and quickly realized that being a virgin cannot be reclaimed unless we also face our relationship to its (seeming) opposite—the prostitute. More specifically, examining the virgin (or Madonna) and whore split that occurs in many of our psyches.

Although both men and women can fall prey to the virgin and whore dichotomy, it happens more frequently with women. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Women are praised for pureness and chastity, while society shuns and outcasts the profane prostitute. Slut shaming runs rampant in our culture and the words whore and prostitute are most frequently used as insults rather than to actually describe the act of sex for hire.

However, the words didn’t used to mean what they do today. Pardon me while I nerd out with the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). The word whore comes from Proto-Germanic word khoraz, meaning “one who desires.” Even more interesting is that khoraz evolved from kama meaning “love” and named after   the Hindu god of love. (Kama Sutra, anyone?) So, in actuality whore evolved from the Sanskrit word for love and yet we use it now for a woman who seems to love too much or indiscriminately.

The word prostitute is more etymologically difficult to understand. It derives from Latin prostituere from pro, meaning “before or forward” and statuere, meaning “to cause to stand, establish.” The etymology doesn’t suggest sex for hire, but possibly a woman who was too forward in establishing her desires.

Etymologically, the words prostitute and whore don’t imply an answer for this split—in fact, quite the opposite. And yet, even though I notice this split exists, I find myself participating unconsciously.

I have wanted to appear virtuous to be liked by a man. I have used sexuality as a way of getting what I want, and I have looked down on prostitutes. I am not perfect; I split others and myself into these categories. I want to feel sexier and then dread the attention and catcalls—believing I couldn’t be sexy and myself at the same time. I have lost interest in a man after I found out they had sex with someone I knew, therefore putting them in the bad boy—or whore—category and not someone who would make a suitable husband.

Here are some other examples of the virgin and whore split that sheds more light on our thinking:

Talking about a woman or man as someone we would like to hook up with, but because they (insert reason about sex here), we wouldn’t want to date them.

Putting a woman or a man on a pedestal as someone we worship, but couldn’t imagine having a sexual relationship with (this idealization is also a psychological complex, read about it here). In this way they are virginal and that sexuality of any sort would somehow ruin them.

Shaming women who have children for wearing certain clothes or expressing sexuality. Women who have children do not need to be more pure as they are still sexual beings.

Sigmund Freud identified the Madonna-Whore complex in his clinical work as understanding that most men want to marry women like their mothers. This image gets projected onto women as the Virgin/Madonna assumption that we should be an object of worship for women to aspire to. In this model, a man does not want his wife or girlfriend to possess any traits of sexuality outside of the norm.

Examples would be women who are good at heart and also somewhat passive (I definitely include myself in this category): cute, clumsy girl, asexual or neutral, the High Queen (such as Elizabeth the I), the good girl.

According to Freud, if a man had a cold, uncaring mother, he would instead crave attention from a woman who is more sexually available—the whore. This woman is driven by sexuality and desire and therefore we often assume she is lacking in morality. She has massive sex appeal, but a man has animosity towards her as he feels helpless in the face of her powers of seduction.

Examples in our society: stripper, gold digger, femme fatale or mistress.

The distinguishing of women as either sluts or virgins signifies an important wound in the collective unconscious. It reveals to us the compartmentalizing of sexuality and spirituality as if they are somehow incompatible.

I find it no mistake that the women associated most frequently with Jesus—the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene—share the same name. This could be a hint at acknowledging that every woman (and man) has characteristics of both the virgin and the whore.

The good girl probably also wants to have sex, and the bad girl could also be a nurturing mother and wife. It’s just more fun for everyone when women don’t have to be one or the other.

 

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About Rebecca Farrar

Rebecca Farrar is a self-proclaimed creative type, stargazer, and lover of life. She currently lives in San Francisco (or Man Franpsycho as she likes to call it) and works as a freelance communications professional. When not cuddling her kitty Freyja, she can be found at the archery range, wandering Ocean Beach, or taking photos of sidewalk art. She believes unicorns and mermaids are real and sometimes writes about them on her blog. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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7 Responses to “Healing the Virgin-Whore Split. ~ Rebecca Farrar”

  1. Hannah Harris Hannah says:

    Fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing this, it is well-done, clear, and so important for helping us all heal our collective wounds. I appreciate your work!

  2. EvPsych says:

    The virgin-whore dichotomy also has roots in evolutionary psychology. As a male, before genetic testing, you couldn't tell if a woman was carrying your child or not. From an evolutionary perspective, it's optimal to desire women who are chaste (virgins) up until marriage and who will then be completely monogamous with you after marriage. Similarly, one shouldn't desire someone who sleeps around a lot (whore) because you don't want to expend massive amounts of effort and resources raising someone else's child. These aren't things that a male necessarily thinks about consciously, but rather whoever had the disposition to make the virgin/whore distinction had their genes spread to the next generation to a greater degree than did others, so that psychological disposition spread among the male population. Despite this judgment of females, the "optimal" male (from the perspective of spreading his genes into the next generation) would also sleep around on the side outside of his monogamous relationship.

    However, females are much more constrained in the number of children they can have (due to the 9 month gestation period). So their optimal strategy (from the perspective of getting their genes into the next generation) is to pair bond with a male who will then dedicate all of his resources to her children. This is more likely to happen if the male exhibits traits of strong commitment to her (e.g., by not sleeping around with other females). That's why a woman might be turned off by a "bad boy" and not view him as husband material.

    I'm not saying the virgin/whore dichotomy doesn't have any roots in culture (not doubt it does), but there are also deeply rooted evolutionary pyschology-related reasons that people react the way that they do.

    • reBEccamf says:

      HI EvPsych! Thank you for your thoughtful response! I certainly agree with you about the evolutionary evolution, I just want to make the point that as women it is important to own and acknowledge both archetypes.

      • EvPsych says:

        Yes, I agree with you that it's unfair that women get pushed into only one of the two archetypes. It seems like they should be able to openly embrace positive aspects of both without being criticized by society. Keep writing articles like this!

  3. Great work lady! Thanks for bringing some more context and history into this issue. Well done!

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