Earlier this month, rapper T.I. told the hosts of the “Ladies Like Us” podcast that his idea of “sex education” goes far beyond having the “sex talk” with his 18-year-old-college freshman daughter.
“Not only have we had the conversation,” he said, “we have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen. Yes, I go with her … I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.”
His comments were met with swift condemnation. On Twitter, some described them as “loudly grotesque” and “disgusting,” while others labeled T.I., whose real name is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., a “creepy misogynist.” (CNN could not reach T.I. for comment.) But what the rapper and father of six described to his interviewers – and what the World Health Organization condemns as “painful, humiliating, and traumatic” – is much more than just an atrocious, stomach-turning practice.
If compelling one’s teen daughter to sign a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) waiver so that he can have access to the results of a gynecological exam checking her hymen (as T.I. told the podcast hosts he has done) is not abuse disguised as love, I’m not sure what it is.
And that this wildly successful rapper – a man with millions of fans who pay attention to what he says – proudly touts this retrograde nonsense as fatherly love, apparently without a second thought, should alarm us all. Such parental intrusion on young women’s bodily autonomy is not as uncommon as you might hope, but always and everywhere it needs an emphatic response if we are to build a society where women are equal, not owned.
My own first gynecological visit – a healthy step that should be taken for any girl entering puberty, says the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology – was done in secret, as I was not only forbidden to procure birth control, but to meet with someone who could possibly prescribe it to me without parental consent. I didn’t need to see a doctor, I was told, because I wasn’t going to have sex until I was given permission to have sex.
This was, of course, not only a controlling and delusional approach, but it rested on the notion that my worth was rooted in my “virginity.” That my body wasn’t my own.
I do not know the intricacies of T.I.’s relationship with his children or what kind of father he is. But he (and his fans) needs to understand that the idea of virginity – of sexual “purity” – is a tool of oppression, and physically examining the body parts of a young girl to ensure that purity is “intact” is a human rights violation, even when undertaken by a doctor. The WHO agrees.
“Virginity” is nothing more than a mirage that reduces women to fertile bodies kept chaste for a man to claim. To say nothing of the fact that, as doctors will tell you, the absence of an intact hymen is simply not an adequate indicator that a person has had vaginal intercourse.
And even T.I., who might truly consider himself to be nothing less than a loving, doting father, acknowledged this on the podcast. “So then they come and say, ‘Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broken, like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding, and just other forms of athletic physical activity,’” he said. “So I say, “Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.’”
Was the status of his daughter’s hymen as important as his ability to learn about it when he wanted and how he wanted, regardless of whether knowing that status could provide him with accurate (and private) information? Was it the results, or the control being wielded over his daughter, that was and is most important?
Our culture has a difficult time calling abuse by its name, and this miscarriage of duty paves the way for “lesser” forms of injustice – like virginity tests – to exist under the banner of “protection.”
In this way of thinking, a father who, say, poses for a picture with two handguns and a shotgun while his newborn daughter sleeps in the foreground isn’t using the promise of violence to assert what he believes to be his God-given right to control his daughter’s body. He’s just being a “caring, defensive parent.”
A father dressing his baby in an “I’m never allowed to date… ever” onesie isn’t a declaration of paternal ownership and the erosion of bodily autonomy. It’s just a proud father safeguarding his child.
Indeed, in a culture that still too readily accepts male dominion over women’s bodies, these fatherly “protections” saturate our gender politics, playing a significant part in the ongoing erosion, for example, of a woman’s constitutionally protected right to access abortion care, often characterized as just a “difference in political opinion.”
Along this continuum exists also the long-enduring tolerance for sexual harassment, wherever it may occur.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Meanwhile, convenient euphemisms and our collective inability to discuss the spectrum of abuse and control with nuance keeps unwilling women and victims in the dark about what they are experiencing. Young women learn – absurdly – that their value as human beings is tied to outdated ideas of sex and the charade of virginity.
Too often they are forced to hide – not understand – their sexuality, and accept the excuse of “fatherly love” that still, in the year 2019, may position daughters as property to, eventually, be handed to the men deemed worthy.
We cannot look away when it is convenient or easy or choose to describe this perversion of paternal responsibility as anything other than what it is: abuse, which must be called by its name if we are to distinguish it from “love” or “protection” or “normal.” T.I. insisting that a doctor check on his daughter’s virginity is not normal.