*Author’s Note: This article focuses on the experiences of women because the author is a female, and so has direct experience with that perspective. This is not intended to say that men do not also suffer from related issues, but that this specific problem is primarily felt by women.
The dictionary defines innocence as “freedom from sin or moral wrong; harmlessness.” This is the traditional meaning of the word. Society has created a second meaning; An “innocent” girl is one who is not sexually active. This second definition is incredibly prevalent in school communities, like Friends Academy; Female students that are not perceived to be sexually active are seen as innocent and good.
Why is a woman’s worth so directly tied to whether or not they are sexually active? And why is a woman who isn’t sexually active seen as superior to one who is? These misguided and outdated beliefs likely stem from a variety of issues, such as a lack of comprehensive sexual education in high schools and media sources that reinforce the idea that women who are sexually active are “sluts.” But it boils down to the fact that society as a whole continues to maintain that sex is bad…if it’s a woman who is sexually active.
The cold, hard truth is that a woman owning and even *gasp* being proud of her sexuality scares people. Women who engage in consensual sex, especially while in high school, often get a reputation among their peers as “slutty” or “promiscuous;” Yet, men who are sexually active are applauded for their actions. Furthermore, women are encouraged to retain their virginity and remain “innocent”, whereas men are applauded for losing their. Why are women shamed for doing the same thing men do? Why do we still buy into this horrifyingly sexist double standard?
As a society we should be striving to be progressive, and to be fair, we have taken steps in this direction. But no society can honestly call itself progressive while it still enforces this double standard for men and women. Unfortunately, these sexist beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we do not notice even when it affects our behavior. We give women this ideal of innocence to strive for in order to be seen as “good.” In this way society reinforces the harmful notion that women should be ashamed of their sexuality.
Innocence itself is not the criminal here. It is a word, and a word only has the power that we choose to give it. But this word is far too often used to praise women who are not sexually active, helping society to maintain a sexist double standard. Someone’s “goodness” should not be based on whether are not that person is sexually active. All women should be respected, regardless of their perceived “innocence.”