friendship

Purity balls. Sweet - or downright creepy?

Imagine this: you're a teenage girl getting ready for a ball.

You've saved up to buy the perfect dress, had your hair professionally curled and even learned how to walk in high heels.

The best part is, you don't have to build up the courage to ask a guy to go with you. Because your date is… your dad. And he's escorting you to the ball in honour of – nay, to protect – your virginity. 

For most girls, this probably sounds like a creepy plot twist in a teen rom-com. However, over in the US, that's the reality when you RSVP to a "purity ball" – father-daughter events that have been around since 1998. 

A number of US-based Christian organisations organise purity balls, where dads sign pledges to help preserve the virginity of their unmarried daughters, some as young as four years old. These events grew out of the purity movement of the 1980s, when Christian girls took abstinence pledges in ther local churches and community groups in response to high rates of AIDS and teen pregnancy.

The first "father-daughter dance" was hosted by Randy Wilson of the Generations of Light Ministry in Colorado, himself a father of five girls. Since then, other groups have taken the idea on board – and other countries, including Australia, have reportedly shown interest in running their own version.

Curious about how a typical purity ball works? This weekend the Legacy Institute, run by sexual purity advocate Carrie Abbott, is holding one of its own – and it's set to be "a powerful and life-changing event" for girls aged 12-19 and their dads (or "dates" as they're often referred to). Here's the curiously Cinderella-like invitation:

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"Dads, escort your daughter to an unforgettable event where hundreds of young ladies dressed in formal attire and their dashing fathers will celebrate purity!" the organisation's website reads. Doesn't every girl want to sit down to a fancy dinner with Dad and toast to her sexuality? Wonder if embarrassing 'dad-style' dancing is encouraged as part of the celebration process…

The young attendees and their dads – or "key male guardians" in lieu of biological fathers – will be treated to a gourmet dinner, purity pledge signing, ballroom dancing lessons and the presentation of purity "gifts", which often come in the form of jewellery. At $69 a head, the event has already sold out. 

Naturally, purity balls are a source of heated debate over female sexuality and ownership.

In her book 'The Purity Myth', feminist writer Jessica Valenti argues these dances effectively sexualise girls and send a clear and direct message that "it's up to men to control young women's sexuality."  

Yet Randy Wilson believes the aim of purity balls is to focus on fathers rather than daughters, as they are the ones who sign a pledge to lead by example and live a "pure and moral life".

"But for a daughter to agree to her father, that she will agree to purity – it puts an onus of guilt on the daughter if ever she goes and gets involved in a relationship outside of her father's purview," he told the NY Times

What do you think – touching? Misunderstood? Or downright creepy? 

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