Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Review of DADDY I DO

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post about the documentary Daddy I Do, which explores Christian purity culture and abstinence-only sex education. I saw the documentary last weekend, and I was impressed with the breadth of interconnected subjects that the film covered.

Daddy I Do begins with a father and young daughter adorning themselves in finery for a purity ball. After the girl gracefully walks down a staircase, her smiling father kneels down and hands her a white rose. 1 Corinthians 6:20 flashes across the screen. In the background, we hear the father and daughter reciting a purity pledge, followed by Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Leave My Little Girl Alone."

I pledge my purity to my father, my future husband, and my Creator.

I, my daughter's father, choose before God to war for my daughter's virginity.

I recognize that virginity is my most precious gift to offer to my future husband.

I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter's virginity.

I will not engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage, but I will keep my thoughts and my body pure as a very special present for the one I marry.

I pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity.

I don't know what was more unsettling: the sexism inherent in the purity pledge, or the creepiness of the whole scene.

To give us a snapshot of Christian purity culture in America, Daddy I Do interviews several abstinence proponents. A staffer at a crisis pregnancy center promotes an abstinence-only sex education curriculum called "Delayed Gratification". Songwriter Angel Higgs celebrates abstinence and waxes poetic about the love and devotion that only marriage can provide. Amy Catherine Flynn, who auditioned for American Idol with a pro-abstinence song, muses on the surrounding culture's demands about female sexuality. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

Viewers are also introduced to Silver Ring Thing, a Christian abstinence program founded by Denny Pattyn in 1996. Pattyn preaches abstinence to teenage audiences around the country, while condemning condoms and safe sex. In the documentary, Pattyn openly admits that his goal is to convert teens to his conservative brand of Christianity.

"The ultimate goal of the Silver Ring Thing is to help teenagers find Christ and end up in heaven. So I'm focused on un-churched people. This whole program is designed for the un-churched mindset. See, Christian kids are coming anyway. That's not even hard. That's autopilot. It's their friends we want to reach."
Such messages are not without detractors. Daddy I Do also includes dissenting voices that criticize abstinence-only sex education. Christian author Matthew Paul Turner admits that the puritanical message he received as a young man instilled tremendous guilt in him about romance, and later made it difficult to be comfortable with his sexuality as a married man. Dr. Douglas Kirby, a research scientist who has studied the efficacy of adolescent sex education curricula, asserts that states with comprehensive sex education programs observe greater reductions in teen pregnancy than states with abstinence-only curricula. Dr. Claire Brindis, director of the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, laments that there is generous funding for crisis pregnancy centers and abstinence-only programs, but few resources once a baby is born. Where is the anti-abortion movement, she asks, after struggling mothers give birth to their babies? Feminist author Amanda Marcotte insists that comprehensive sex education should be available to all people, regardless of religion, race, or socio-economic class. Those with the least access to sex education also tend to be those who have the fewest resources when faced with an unintended pregnancy: the poor.

Daddy I Do forces the viewer to confront the real-life realities of sex and reproduction, which are too often entangled with poverty, violence, and social pressures. We bear witness to the tearful story of a young woman whose boyfriend pressured her into an abortion. We listen to Antoinette, a single mother who toggled between living in her car and transitional housing while she was pregnant with her second child. We hear the heartbreaking story of Nicole, molested as a child, gang-raped at twelve, juggled between social services and relatives when her parents couldn't take care of her, drawn into gang life as a teenager, and now working hard to provide for her five children as an adult. Daddy I Do shows us the raw realities that the anti-choice and abstinence movements ignore: poverty, sexual violence, inadequate resources for single mothers, broken homes, and broken systems.

Among Daddy I Do's delights were its spot-on observations about oppression, gender, and fundamentalism. For example, upon learning about purity balls, dance instructor Trixie asserts that "My father does not have control over my p***y" and offers her thoughts on patriarchy.
"My father has nothing to do with it. If he's raised me as a good person to respect myself, I think he needs to trust me as an intelligent person, to make good and correct decisions. He does not own me . . . I think it goes back to power. It's that male power, wanting to feel that dominance, because they understand that we [females] don't realize how powerful we are."
With irreverent insight, Trixie describes the patriarchal mentality behind the purity movement.

"I'm going to pass the baton to you, son, to make sure you keep this power in check. And it's your job now to keep your little wifey under your thumb and have her barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, to procreate."
Cassie Jaye, the filmmaker behind Daddy I Do, appears briefly on screen during her interview with Dr. Douglas Kirby. As they discuss teen pregnancy, she reflects on the punishment mentality at work in purity culture.

"Part of the reason why they advertise that condoms don't work in these abstinence programs is because, if you say you're going to be abstinent until marriage, and you put on a ring and make a vow to God, and then you end up having sex and not using a condom, you'll most likely get an STD or get pregnant, and it's like showing you did something wrong, so deal with the consequences."
The only weakness I observed in the film was its neglect of LGBT issues and disease. Abstinence-only programs and purity culture present heterosexual marriage as the only valid setting for sexual activity, thereby ignoring LGBT youth. To boot, the film could have devoted much more attention to STDs and HIV/AIDS, since abstinence-only programs leave youth ill-prepared to protect themselves from disease.

In short, Daddy I Do is a crash course in the shortcomings of abstinence-only sex education and Christian purity culture. Behind all the talk of virtue lies an ideology of male dominance and shame. The problem is, neither male dominance nor shame will help people forge healthy lives.

Daddy I Do is an excellent documentary, and I highly recommend it. Jaye and her subjects remind us that to do right by younger generations, we must provide them with comprehensive sex education. Furthermore, we must confront poverty, sexual violence, and our tattered societal safety net if we want to respond effectively to teen pregnancy. When our young people make decisions about sex and reproduction, we cannot let ignorance and oppression cloud their decision-making.

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