The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy

Being female, a number of names have been kindly added to my already extensive list over the past twenty years. To name but a few, I have been granted such titles as: whore, virgin, prude, lesbian, slut, nun, harlot, and my personal favourite, love strumpet. Despite my repeated insistence that, no really, the four names given to me by my parents are enough, a number of individuals have sought to bestow upon me a more colourful smattering. Often before drunkenly lurching away towards a wall against which to be violently sick.

Any night not spent in the library or my room will inevitably result in one of these words being used. Someone offers to buy you a drink and a polite refusal is taken to be the equivalent of a surprise castration. Just by happily dancing with friends instead of a complete stranger, you apparently admit to being a) a lesbian, and b) celibate.

So let’s have a little look at the Virgin/Whore dichotomy. In short, a woman who does is a whore, and a woman who does not is a virgin. This does not necessarily apply to sex; it could be applied to the way a woman dresses, acts, speaks, naturally presents herself, eats, or literally anything else. It is an entirely misogynistic construct; it is damaging, it is entirely devoid of respect for anyone and most of all, it makes absolutely no sense.

In psychoanalytic theory, this is referred to the Madonna-whore complex. Coined by Sigmund Freud, the concept refers to a man who cannot be sexually attracted to the saintly Madonna (the virgin), and who cannot respect the sexual (the whore). Those men who show this complex cannot see a woman for anything but one of these two categories. In the words of Freud:

‘Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love’.

The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy expands on this theory, identifying its misogyny in the way that Freud was, frankly, never very good at. A better quotation I feel would be this immortal line spoken by Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club:

‘Well, if you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have you’re a slut. It’s a trap.’

A large part of this issue is the concept of the Friend Zone. This is where the arrogance that is ‘all women should want to sleep with me’ comes into full force by the assumption that in befriending an individual there is a natural obligation to return any romantic or sexual feelings felt by one party. I personally have been accused of ‘friend-zoning’ people multiple times, apparently committing the crime that is assuming a friendship is in fact a friendship and not a sexual contract. Having recently come under attack by both feminists and anyone with any social aptitude alike, the term ‘Friend Zone’ has become a joke and its users fools. However, this does not mean the underlying issue has gone away – there is still the assumption that if a woman is in public, she must be there to fulfill some kind of sexual purpose, otherwise she is unfairly leading the male population on and being a chaste ‘tease’. The only difference between the Friend Zone concept, and that of the overarching Virgin/Whore Dichotomy seems to be that the former is for specific use against those you know and the latter against those you do not. Of all the absurdities our little planet holds, this surely has to be towards the top of the list.


Cyanide and Happiness : The Friend Zone

In casting women as one of two damaging archetypes: the Virgin or the Whore, the unending misogyny of the world in which we live is allowed to continue. Whether this is achieved through sexualised vs. ‘girl next door’ portrayals in the media, or thrusting forward unwelcome opinions regarding an individual’s sex life as rejection ‘pay-back’, the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy is present and well.

As someone who does not particularly identify as either of these categories, I am more than happy to incorporate the dismissal of the concept into my daily life. Hopefully others will follow suit and I will stop having to remember so many names – my passport is cramped enough as it is.

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