Archive for February, 2010

Virgins No More

I hate to disappoint you, but this blog article isn’t about my sex life.

But am I a virgin? It’s not about that, either.

It’s about rejecting the question, and with it, rejecting the whole concept of “virginity.”

Virgins vs. Sluts

In my high school, we had the virgins and the “sluts.” Both we and the guys were quick to apply the “slut” label. The virgins were considered better than the sluts, though there wasn’t really anything wrong with most of the girls we labeled as sluts.* And a lot of us virgins actually weren’t.

So “virgin = good” and “slut = bad.” But notice what those two labels have in common: they both define women by their sexuality, as if it’s the only important thing about them. As Jessica Valenti points out in her book The Purity Myth, the virgin and slut labels are just different sides of the same dehumanizing stereotype.

In researching her book, Jessica found that the idea of virginity is confused. I agree with her that it’s confused, but I think it’s mainly just stupid. The idea of virginity is that a woman shouldn’t have sexual intercourse. She can do anything else, but not that one thing. It’s so that on her wedding night, she will be “pure” for her husband.

Some girls even go to “purity  balls,” escorted by their fathers. (Am I the only person who thinks that there’s an incestuous subtext going on there?) The fathers vow to protect their daughters’ “purity” while the girls promise to stay virgins until marriage.

Excuse me, but what century is this again? It sure doesn’t sound like the 21st century. Maybe the 10th century.

“Pure”? Never mind if a woman is intelligent, loving, kind, honest, and faithful. What we want to know is if she’s done the deed. If she hasn’t done it, then she can be as sneaky, spiteful, and dishonest as she wants. She’s a virgin, so her sexual value is intact. And after all, what other kind of value could a woman have?

Oh, please.

The Idea of Virginity is Obsolete

The idea of virginity made a kind of misogynistic sense in a patriarchal society where women were considered property and had no legal rights. It doesn’t make sense anymore.

In a patriarchal society, if a man acquires a wife (just like he might buy a horse), he wants to be sure that any children are his own. So a woman’s “value” increases if she hasn’t had sexual intercourse.

In a more enlightened society, where women are recognized as people and have rights, that concept makes no sense at all.

It seems strange that sex abstinence programs, pornography, and virginity are just different expressions of the same oppressive idea, but they are. They all define women solely as sex objects, dehumanizing us and ignoring the fact that we are people.

So am I a virgin?

Here’s my answer: I am a kind, loving, smart, educated woman. Deal with it.


*In her book The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that spreading vicious gossip about rivals is one way that teen girls compete. Chapter 2 of her book, “The Teen Girl Brain,” made me laugh because it described my high school years so accurately.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.


Do Soulmates Exist?

I’ve been thinking lately about whether or not there really is such a thing as two people being “soulmates.”

I know, you’ll probably say that means I have too much free time. I really don’t. Nor am I wondering if someone in particular is my soulmate, though Michael Cera and Penn Badgley have an open invitation to call me. 🙂

Part of the problem is defining what a soulmate is. Is it just someone with whom you feel a strong connection? Someone you love, and who loves you? That makes “soulmate” a metaphor for a strong, loving relationship. That’s fine, but I don’t think it’s what we mean when we ask if someone is our soulmate. We’re asking something deeper.

But what are we asking, then?

Well, depending on the religious tradition you follow, you might believe that you are a soul manifesting itself through your body. Buddhists believe that the self is an illusion, but (though I’m not an expert) it seems to me that they mean the self we see in this world. And the soul is not something we see in this world. We only see its effects.

I’m a Catholic, so I know my church teaches (Catechism 364-366) that the soul is the “form” of the body, that it is created by God, and that it survives the death of the body.

If the soul is just the form of the body, it doesn’t sound like there can be soulmates in a spiritual sense. However, the idea of a “form” doesn’t mean just the physical form: it means the animating force that makes a body alive and conscious. And a force normally has a matching opposite.

When people ask if there are soulmates, they’re asking if each soul has a “matching opposite,” another person whom she is somehow meant to be with: a person whom God created just for you, and for whom God created you. It’s another person who perfectly complements and fulfills you.

A lot of “new age” people say that there are soulmates. I’m sure that they mean well but I’m not sure how much they actually know. They seem to pick little bits of religion and philosophy from all over, then put them all together to tell a story that makes people feel good. That doesn’t make them wrong, but it doesn’t make them right, either.

So are there soulmates? Sometimes I kind of feel that there are, but I really don’t know.

I guess that the safest thing is just to try treating everyone with love, and hope that if your soulmate shows up someday, you won’t be busy taking a test. 🙂

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Smart Guys, Bad Girls, Atheists, and “Isms”

It’s not as exciting as graduating from college (which I won’t do until next year), but this is my 100th blog article!

To celebrate the occasion, I decided to revisit some old blog articles that I think are good.

When I first started writing my blog, I wasn’t sure what to put in it or what style to use. Did I want it to be chatty? Funny? Sexy? Informative? Thoughtful?

I decided to make it all of them. That’s why it’s never been as consistent as some other blogs that are always about the same thing, such as school, fashion, politics, news, TV, or religion. And I never wanted it to be just about my life, which is interesting to me but is probably not that interesting to anyone else.

Here are the Rinth Ramblings that I like best:

Are Men Smarter Than Women?

Partly humorous and partly serious, this talks about the differences between how women and men think. It also points out the flaw in believing that either sex is “superior” to the other.

Why Atheists Love Breasts

This was my first blog article that got a lot of attention. Like the one about women and men, it was funny but it also talks about some serious issues. And yes, I picked the title to see if it would get a lot of people to read the article. It did.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere

This talks about the challenges of growing up with the stereotype of the “good girl,” who is pretty, obedient, and at least pretends to be stupid. It was inspired by an interview with Rachel Simmons, director of the Girls Leadership Institute and author of The Curse of the Good Girl.

The Mother of All Isms: “Label-Ism”

This talks about how labeling people can blind us to who they really are and what they’re really like. It was inspired by a speech at our school’s convocation about inequality and the importance of accepting others.

Don’t Outlaw Diet Coke

This article won an award as one of the “Top 100 Neuroscience Blogs.” I wrote it after midnight on a Friday night when I drank too much Diet Coke. It explains why Diet Coke is so yummy.

Libertarianism Isn’t Free

This explains what I think is wrong with the political viewpoint of libertarianism. This article also got a lot of attention, but more important, I’m very proud of it. People don’t have to agree with it, of course, but it makes some serious arguments.

Seven Questions for Anne Fadiman

I wrote several articles about Anne Fadiman and her wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This article gives seven questions that I wanted to ask her when she spoke on campus.

Five Things That I’ve Learned

This explains some of the most important things I’ve learned about life. I can’t say that I always follow my own advice, but I try.

How to Help Haitian Earthquake Victims

I wrote two blogs about how to help survivors the the terrible earthquake in Haiti. There’s nothing special about these articles except that they might have helped encourage people to donate. But that’s pretty important.

Danger Ahead on “Gossip Girl”?

This one is about my favorite TV show, so it’s not profound or important. But in this article I had a chance to tell people about, a Web site that my friend Shari Weiss uses to provide news about the best TV dramas, including of course “Gossip Girl.”

My Secret for Good Grades

None of what I say in this article is very surprising, but some people told me it helped them. So that’s a big plus!

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Rachel Maddow at Smith

I am so envious that Smith got MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow as this year’s commencement speaker!

Rachel is one of my personal heroes. Maybe I can go see her.

Northampton is just a quick car ride away, and I’m not the only one here who admires her.

I first wrote “who loves her,” but that sounded too stalker-y. 🙂

No time to write more tonight. Date in 20 minutes …

Scientific American Confirms My Study Tips!

I swear that I didn’t know about this before writing my recent blog on how to get good grades. 🙂

One of the tips I gave in that blog was this: After I study something for a class, I always test myself on it to see how much I understood and remembered.

When I do these self-tests, I often get the answers wrong. But I don’t worry about it because my mistakes help me learn the right answers. When the real test comes in the class, I’ve already practiced answering questions about the material. And I know the right answers.

When I wrote that blog, all I could really say was, “It works for me. It might work for you.”

Apparently, it works for most people. The new issue of Scientific American Mind has an article that says

Pupils actually learn better if conditions are arranged so that they have to make errors.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, but it’s a great article. An excerpt is on the Scientific American Web site. The complete article is in the magazine, which I like a lot.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Tons of Homework

I usually enjoy studying, and I don’t mind homework except when there’s tons of it. Like tonight.

Oh, sure, I could have gone to a state university and spent my free time at the mall. But no, I wanted a really good education.

I won’t say “be careful what you wish for,” because I love my school and I’d make the same decision now as I did three years ago. However, there’s not much time for blogging tonight.

I hope that you’re having a great evening! I really am, too, but I’m just complaining. 🙂

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Categories: School Tags: , , ,

I’m Glad We Don’t Have Fur

February 16, 2010 1 comment

Australopithecus afarensis foraging for food in Africa.

The benefits of a good library: Today I saw an article in the February  issue of Scientific American about why humans don’t have fur.

It turns out that our lack of fur not only kept us alive, but made us smarter.

According to “The Naked Truth” by Penn State anthropologist Nina G. Jablonski, our evolutionary ancestors (like most other mammals) had heavy fur that kept them warm, protected them from bugs, and even provided camouflage against predators that might eat them.

The short version is that our pre-human ancestors lived in East and Central Africa. About three million years ago, that region got dryer. The plants that our ancestors used as food became scarcer. As a result, our ancestors had to travel farther in search of edible plants. About 2.6 million years ago, they also started hunting animals for meat. Both activities require a lot of energy. The furriest pre-humans tended to overheat, but those with less fur stayed cooler because they could perspire more effectively.

Eventually, pre-humans with less fur evolved into pre-humans with no fur. And their improved ability to stay cool permitted the gradual, evolutionary enlargement of their most heat-sensitive organ: the brain.

I’m very happy to have a bigger brain. But I’m also very happy not to have fur. Hairy legs wouldn’t match my wardrobe. 🙂

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.