When a group of teenagers walked into the office of Washington state Rep. Mary Dye (R), as part of Planned Parenthood's Teen Lobby Day on Monday, they expected they'd be the ones asking questions — like, for instance, why they don't have better insurance coverage for contraception. Instead, Dye had a few questions of her own — like, for instance, whether or not her teen constituents were virgins.
According to the Seattle Times, after about six young lobbyists made a push for bills that would expand access to birth control, Dye seized what she apparently saw as an opportunity to inquire about the teens' sexual activity, insinuating that at least one of the students was not a virgin. According to the group's chaperone, Rachel Todd, the representative's comments were unsolicited, not to mention inappropriate.
"After she made the statement about virginity, all of my teens looked at me," Todd, an education specialist for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, told the Times. "And I said, 'You don't have to answer that. You don't have to answer that.'"
Dye reportedly pressed on, offering her thoughts on "the empowerment of women and making good choices—opinions shaped by my mother and being a mother of three daughters," as she later said in a statement. A spokesman for the House Republicans later confirmed the representative asked the students about their virginity, which Todd claimed was unprecedented.
"I've never been in any type of meeting, especially with teens, where an adult, especially an adult legislator, was so incredibly disrespectful and inappropriate," she said.
Dye later issued a statement to the Seattle Times, claiming she expressed to her young constituents that she "did not support the issues they were advocating for." She also added that she inadvertently spoke from a more maternal place than she initially intended:
In hindsight, a few of the thoughts I shared, while well-intended, may have come across as more motherly than what they would expect from their state representative. If anything I said offended them or made them feel uncomfortable, I apologize.
But the representative's comments reflect a larger cultural obsession with virginity, which — despite being culturally constructed — is often used as a measure of young women's worth, as well as a way of controlling their sexuality. While young men are not held to the same standard of "purity" (one wonders if Dye would have asked the same question if, say, six teenage boys walked into her office), girls and women around the world are routinely required to submit to discredited "virginity tests" in order to get married, join the military or teach in public schools.
While Dye's comments certainly didn't raise to the level of, say, mandatory virginity tests, they did illustrate that in a society that demonizes sex outside marriage, even using birth control — or advocating for access to birth control! — is taken to indicate that someone isn't a virgin, which is in turn tantamount to being a dirty, loose slut. And being a dirty, loose slut therefore makes a person worthy of slut-shaming — whether by a right-wing talk radio personality or one of her own lawmakers.
h/t Daily Beast