An Interview With Hanne Blank, Part I

Virgin book jacket“Like gold or cattle, land or cloth, female virginity has long been treated as a type of property,” writes Hanne Blank, an independent historian, feminist author, and former sex educator. “But this practice, however long and well-established, is in many ways a paradox. Unlike other forms of property, virginity is essentially intangible… Using it as an object of trade seems almost like trading in wind, fog, or oceanfront properties in Luxembourg. But for thousands of years, virginity has been considered a form of real as well as symbolic property, and treated that way without a shred of irony.”

Blank’s latest book, Virgin: An Untouched History, recounts virginity’s cultural history. From the ancient Greeks to the Middle Ages, through Victorian England and Puritan America to Beverly Hills, 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blank looks at the myriad ways female virginity has been defined, policed, purchased, sold, lost, and defended.

I recently met Ms. Blank at a reading in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and last week sent her an e-mail plea to let me interview her for this blog. She wrote back the same evening and said, “Oh! I’d love to. I am an occasional reader of HijabMan myself, actually.”

Read on »

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An Interview With Hanne Blank, part ii

[Read Part I of this interview here.]

KufiGirl: You talk about the consequences for women who had sex before marriage, or were believed to have had sex before marriage, but you also talk about the consequences for women who chose to remain virgins in spite of societal pressure to marry. What motivated them, and how did their communities respond? Do you see any modern parallels?

Hanne Blank: Some women (and men) choose not to have sex, and/or not to marry, in any culture that permits it. This is true today and it has historically been true whenever (and wherever) the culture has made it possible for some people to opt out of sexuality and/or marriage. Not all do, and not all that do allow it without a fight. So it is hard to speak about how cultures/communities react in a general sense – some really don’t care, and it is quite a simple and easy thing, and some really do care, and people who want to not marry have to fight very hard for it and endure a lot of hardship.

Read on »

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