Earlier this month, rapper T.I. revealed in a now-deleted episode of the podcast Ladies Like Us that he would take his 18-year-old daughter Deyjah Harris to the gynecologist every year to see if her hymen was “still intact.”
The rapper’s comments prompted outrage on social media sites, which the 39-year-old addressed in an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith on Monday.
“I think that a lot of people kind of took it extremely literal … I honestly thought people knew me better than that,” he said.
When asked if he understood the sensitivity around the comments, T.I. admitted at the time he didn’t, but he does now.
The conversation evolved to one of parenting at large, during which T.I. said he was “willing to go above and beyond to protect” his daughter. He noted this “protection” meant being aware of the “slimy little boys” who want to “defile and destroy the sanctity I have.”
And in regards to comments around his daughter’s virginity, the rapper added since she turned 18, he no longer has control “of anything.” He went on to say though, that a parent’s role, in his mind, is still important.
“There has to be someone there to clarify what is acceptable, what is unacceptable … I trust and believe that I put moral standards, principles and greatness in all of my children. But until they know how to unlock it and use those powers themselves, it has to be harnessed.”
Smith asked the rapper how he would feel if his daughter had lost her virginity at 15 or 16.
“Childhood ends when you lose your virginity,” he said. “You ended your childhood and attempt to begin adulthood.”
Smith’s mother and co-host Adrienne Banfield-Norris asked if the rapper’s sons and daughters’ virginity was seen differently.
“If my son goes out and gets a girl pregnant, how is the household changed for those nine months?” he asked. “The household does not necessarily change those in nine months … where if my daughter comes home, the household changes immediately. We were raised to provide and protect.”
The history of virginity
The way T.I. talks about his daughter’s virginity, says Queen’s University family medicine professor Dr. Susan Phillips, seems “rooted in ownership of women — whether by their husbands or their fathers.”
The idea of ownership is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations agencies called for a worldwide ban on the practice of “virginity testing” in October.
Defined by the WHO as “a gynecological examination conducted under the belief that it determines whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse,” virginity testing historically been used as an means of oppression around the world.
“There is no evidence that either method can prove whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse or not,” the organization said.
The WHO said the test is both “medically unnecessary” and “violates several human rights,” recommending that doctors no longer perform the procedure to protect the safety of women and girls.
Phillips also finds other problems with T.I.’s comments and the idea of virginity testing.
“It also reverts to an antiquated view of the value of a woman being lowered by not being a virgin. To further seek an outside source of this information also betrays a total lack of trust in his daughter,” Phillips said.
“First, why wouldn’t he just ask her and, more importantly, is [her sexual activity] really any [of] his business?”
That a woman would be considered “less than” or “worse” after she has sex for the first time is a discriminatory practice used throughout history to further oppress women as a group.
Unfortunately, T.I.’s comments suggest that this idea hasn’t evolved much over time.
“This focus on women’s virginity is, in my opinion, a reflection of ongoing stereotypical attitudes about women’s sexuality — such as discriminatory beliefs about the moral status of sexually active women,” said Elaine Brooks-Craig, an associate professor of law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“The policing and surveillance of women’s sexuality by fathers and husbands reinforces outdated and harmful constructions of women’s bodies as men’s properties.”
‘Virginity’ is a myth
Virginity or “being a virgin” is not a medical term — there is no way to measure one’s virginity.
Previously speaking with Global News, relationship and sex expert Jessica O’Reilly, host of the @SexWithDrJessPodcast, says virginity is a social construct, the importance of which is over-emphasized for girls and women.
“Virginity tends to be overemphasized based on gender, with young women pressured to maintain their so-called virginity and young men to claim they’ve lost their so-called virginity,” she said.
“It really reduces sex to one specific act.”
This is reinforced in popular culture, says O’Reilly. Young women, in particular, have talked about claiming virginity, while men talk about losing theirs.
“This type of behaviour from T.I. just reeks of men owning women’s bodies and fathers having more agency over their daughters’ bodies than the daughters themselves.”
Previously speaking with Global News, Laura M. Carpenter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University and author of Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences, said virginity for women is seen as “necessary.”
“Historically, we’ve seen female virginity as more necessary, as almost tantalizing, and there’s this sort of myth or narrative in the culture of men wanting to introduce women to … the wonders of sex,” Carpenter said.
Perpetuating the myth of virginity harms girls and women
By focusing on one’s virginity and whether they’ve “lost it,” girls and women lose out on the part of the conversation where they’re able to learn about their bodies and become fully sexually developed.
O’Reilly stresses we really need to stop focusing so much on the hymen. The hymen is thin mucous tissue folds — it is not a solid membrane that “pops” during vaginal sex, she said.
“It can be worn over time through a variety of processes, including hormonal changes, your menstruation, regular discharge or masturbation.”
O’Reilly says there are better ways to have open conversations about sex.
— With files from Arti Patel and Laura Hensley