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Guest Contributor Corey Gilkes: WHY Good Christian Girls “Shouldn’t Have Sex”: The Issue of Virginity

I read Darian’s article Good Christian Girls Don’t Have Sex and was struck by her sincerity and her conviction. Now I personally do not subscribe to abstinence and notions of “saving” oneself for marriage or until you find that special The One. I did hold such beliefs at one time; my Christian upbringing impressed upon me that premarital sex was sinful so that even though as a male I was culturally conditioned to be the sexual aggressor, the teachings of my faith held even more sway. I did, however, eventually reject it, even before I became fully socially and historically conscious. Having fully understood now the cultural context in which such ideology was developed, I am not only firm in my rejection of this concept of morality but I also regret that I took so long before I became sexually active. Having said that, this in no way suggests that I look down my nose at those who do make the choice to remain abstinent.

But therein lays something very important and one of three main reasons I decided to write this piece. The issue of guilt is one. Combing through the comments I was struck by the fact some people seem to truly believe that because they eventually went against the teachings of the faith and had premarital sex or erotic petting or engaged in masturbation, that they are now impure or have fallen short of the standards of the Almighty. As disturbing as I think that may be, I’ll deal with that in another article. The valuated ideal of virginity itself needs to be addressed here. Additionally, there is a particular line in Darian’s article that for me is the most important line in the entire piece. She said in the last paragraph “refraining from sex is how I choose to express my sexuality.” This is a very powerful and profound statement. It is not fully understood how much of an issue it has been for people, specifically women and subjected people, to be able to CHOOSE how they express their sexuality.

Women’s virginity, that is virginity in the very narrow sense most of us are familiar with, has been an obsession in patriarchal ideology for hundreds and hundreds of years. That obsession stems from the fact that it is intertwined with the economic considerations of patricentric cultures, especially those of the Christian West and Arab Islam. We live for the most part in a world tainted by the ideas of morality of these two faiths and I make no apology for using the word “tainted” because of the extent to which cultural attitudes and customs of patriarchal Eurasia are woven into the fabrics of these faiths along with Judaism and Hinduism. A great many people still do not seem to be able to understand that and so acknowledge the difference between a given faith and the culture in which the faith was developed. I know of several people who argue that they see no need to have any sense of Africentric consciousness because “Jesus” or “god” is beyond culture. That’s the kind of thing Professor of African Studies at CUNY Dr Leonard Jeffries usually refers to as a paralysis of analysis.

Popular Egyptologist Dr Yosef ben-Jochannan never tired of telling us that “god is the deification of a culture” while local poet laureate Pearl Eintou-Springer maintains that it is man who made god in his image and likeness. One of the aspects where this is most evident is that of sex and the status of women. Euro-centred Christianity (in this regard the Eastern orthodox faiths are no different) inherited “pagan” Eurasia’s obsessive fear of sex and especially its fear of women. To understand this fully one needs to look at a certain aspect of Eurocentric culture. In fact it would be of great importance if many more people began to examine HOW these biblical beliefs really came to be and determine how much of it is actually cultural and not from some mystical force on high. Now I appreciate that many of the readers of this site are Christian and are devoted to the teachings of their faith. I also appreciate how deep runs the belief that the Bible is the “Word” of god and that whatever is written within those covers are beyond questioning for to question the scriptures would essentially be questioning god. That is one of the main blocks even I wrestled with for years. Suffice it for now to say that much of the scriptural teachings surrounding the importance of virginity have nothing to do with any god.

Culturally, Europe has worshipped above all else, power; power is the real divine force in Eurocentric ideology. If we subscribe to the arguments put forward (independently I believe) by the giant Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop and Canadian Michael Bradley, this obsession with power and control arose out of very real struggles to survive in the frigid, barren steppes of post Ice-Age Eurasia. They both argue in their respective works that the extreme conditions created a strange mindset that saw the natural world as hostile and an enemy and to be vanquished. It created a fatalistic, competitive mindset that felt the need to control all aspects of living and the natural world. This mindset carried over to the emergence of Greece and Rome even though ecological conditions had radically changed by then.

Prior to the rise of patriarchy many ancient cultures were matrilineal or at the very least matricentric. Women, therefore, held considerably more direct power and influence than what obtains today. Independently of men they owned property which they could bequeath to either their offspring or those of their brother, depending on the culture. There is still considerable debate as to when exactly the concept of fatherhood was known as this is believed to be one of the main turning points in man’s arrogation of power over women and their sexuality. Be that as it may, prior to the emergence of patriarchal ideology as an all-encompassing entity, circa 2600 BCE, sex was an integral aspect of social life in a great many African, Asian and Mediterranean cultures and civilisations. In fact, much of what is read in the Old and New Testament are actually coded – sometimes suppressed – references to sex acts, orgiastic rites and even solemn oaths involving the genitals that were observed in many parts of the ancient world (but we’ll go into THAT some other time). Women were not only central to many of these observances but often attained high office BECAUSE of that.

It is often claimed that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. That is not at all correct and that “honour” must in fact go to the priesthood (and perhaps be called the world’s oldest hustle). However, the infamous “whore” now scorned for her unfettered sexuality was once deeply revered and integral to sacred ceremonies for that very same thing. Barbara G Walker in her book The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets and Merlin Stone in When God Was a Woman informs us that the title “whore” and the many variations of it – hor, horasis, hore, horae, horeb, horab, etc – were all titles of the sacred sexual priestesses of the various forms of Goddess/Sacred Feminine veneration such as Auset/Isis, Ishtar, Cybele and Astarte. Even the word we use to reckon time, hour, is said to come from the ancient Egyptian priestesses who kept time throughout the night as the symbolic boat of the divinity Ra moved through the various symbolic stages. As part of their functions most of these priestesses engaged in sexual acts within the precincts of the temples. Scholars like Walker and Raphael Patai argue that the biblical King Solomon in all likeliness participated in once such ritual, known today as the hieros gamos.

What is noteworthy is that these priestesses were referred to as virgins; virginity was then understood to be simply a high state of consciousness and not a physical condition determined by whether or not a woman had had sex. These priestesses were all politically powerful and economically autonomous, often running their businesses and deciding political affairs from within the temple precincts. So highly respected were they that even the wives and daughters of nobility aspired to be initiated into the ranks.

All that would change gradually with the rise of patriarchy coming mainly from the very militaristic tribe known as the Indo Aryans or Indo-Europeans who swept down from the Eurasian steppes from about 4000 BCE. They settled in the more southerly parts of Eurasia including Western Asia which is now erroneously called the Middle East as well as in India and from there slowly began to expand outward carrying with them wherever they went their cultural beliefs. One such belief was that sex was dangerously corruptible, “impure” and that women, who because of their maternal functions and their menstrual cycle were considered physically inferior, were the possessors of that sexual power. In all probability and given the tone of many ancient writings, it was considered dangerous and contaminating because that emotional hold of sexual interaction essentially took away from the valuated activities of hunting and warfare which were vital for the clans’ survival. By the rise of the Greek city-states around 900 BCE these ideas of women’s inferiority and as sexual contaminants were firmly embedded in many civilisations along the Mediterranean.

Wealth and power had also become defined by material possessions in these mobile, militaristic cultures. As such, women’s sexual fidelity was gradually imposed and the concept of virginity was also gradually redefined to the narrow understanding we have today. Lineage was removed from the mother, traced now through the father, with women’s offspring being considered the property of men. Sons became more favoured than daughters because more sons meant more warriors which meant longevity for the clan or community. In these mobile, warring cultures, daughters, like pregnant mothers, had very little military value. Often a family that had more than one daughter sold one off into slavery or carried the baby girl outside the limits of the village and left her to die through exposure to the elements or by predatory animals. The daughters that were kept were raised principally for their economic value through marriage. Marriages were then mainly business arrangements or to solidify political alliances. The main bargaining tool for the suitability of a daughter for marriage was her hymen. A girl’s sexuality was fiercely guarded by her father in order to fetch a higher bride price and then, upon marriage by her husband in order to ensure that the children she bore came from his lineage so as to continue the economic/political process when they grew to marriageable age. This rationale existed long before Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam came into existence and this was what profoundly informed the thinking of theologians when these faiths were being formulated. So when one reads in the bible that premarital sex was a sin, it was not because of the Almighty having a problem with a girl having sex, it was because the writer, influenced by Levite Judaic priests who Merlin Stone believes were Indo-Aryan descendents, required a “pure” woman because in their society a young bride brought in a higher price and greater assets that elevated the father’s social and political status. But the average Christian knows nothing of this because it is hardly ever taught in Sunday School or on the pulpit. Most of us know only of the Judaism and Christianity of faith, little of the history or social reality of Palestine, Rome and Greece is however taught to the laity.

What I am saying here is that it was patriarchists who always sought to define what woman’s sexuality was acceptable. But that definition was always motivated by economic and political concerns, religion was merely used to provide justification and to ensure unquestioned conformity; it is very informative that the word “adultery” comes from a Latin term ad alterum se conferre – to confer PROPERTY on another. In other words, it was an economic term.

The issue of women choosing virginity is equally important. Very much so. When I read Darian’s line about her choosing virginity to define her sexuality it instantly reminded me of something I picked up on as I began my research for the book I am working on. Something that I saw repeating itself over and over and over throughout the history of rigid patriarchy. As I said before the Eurocentric cultural valuated ideals revolve around power. Specifically, WHO controls power: men. Women were consulted less and less as they were removed from the various institutions of power (I have a theory that control wasn’t always wrested from women, they may have voluntarily ceded some of it for the betterment of the wider community). Yet, even as patriarchal ideals and values expanded themselves to cover all aspects of social life women, within the repressive patriarchal institutions always sought to find ways to define their own sexuality on their own terms. Virginity and marriage virtually took turns, each one ebbing and flowing depending on what the MEN were using to exploit women’s reproductive organs. When marriage was made into an institution of chattel, sexual exploitation for women, they embraced virginity (such as the cloister during the Medieval period); when patriarchists found ways to exploit the cloister, marriage was embraced. One can establish a link today with the so-called raunch culture; as women became more and more sexually liberated once again in the post-war West, the pornographic industry exploded, run mostly by men and sought to objectify and commodify women’s sexuality to satisfy men’s sexual fantasies. This led to splits in the feminist movement where some feminist thinkers now condemned eroticism, liberated sexuality and pornography. At the same time, the mainly Protestant right-wing conservatives in the US created institutions like abstinence-clubs and “purity” rings which essentially commodified virginity and seeks to impose the rigid sexual conservatism that many bemoan was flung out of the window from that watershed period of 1967.

What became evident to me was that the real issue is, as it has always been, the patriarchal insistence of monopolising and retaining control of power. In later times the notions of virginity and “saving” oneself for marriage was spiced up with stories and poems evoking images of all sorts of tender romantic expectations of “de-flowering” but the underlying theme remained rooted in the patriarchal ideas of private ownership – namely the man’s ownership of the woman’s hymen. What patriarchists find most intolerable is a woman deciding for herself what was her sexuality, her politics or her social priorities. Regarding sexuality, whatever the majority of women were embracing, patriarchists found ways to gradually co-opt, absorb and/or outlaw. All the time religion was the principal means by which patriarchists ensured conformity. Patriarchal ideology, unlike matricentric cultural ideology, tolerates no diversity. Doing so potentially threatens whatever are the principal interests at any given time in patriarchal constructs.

My point is that if a person wishes to abstain from sex, eroticism and any sensual pleasure before marriage, then by all means do so. But that should be because they WANT or CHOOSE to of their own accord be it to minimise the possibility of contracting an STD or whatever. Religious teachings, specifically teachings created well over two thousand years ago to mask narrow secular interests, should not have any influence in such a decision.

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Published on: 06 March 2011 by in General Issues

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  1. Michael says:

    my two pesewas:
    I once took an advanced philosophy course in college, and the syllabus required everyone to read the only assigned book TWICE! This was Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I had to read your piece twice just to be able to wrap my mind around what you’re trying to say. You almost make Nietzsche a cake walk. I like your writing, but you should try to make what you say read less like a treatise and more like a fun round-table discussion. Keep writing!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this even though I’m not Christian, I could identify with some points. I’ve read on the female priestesses and cults of Ishtar and Astarte and it is amazing how things change.

    I especially agree with the conclusion, i.e. this;
    My point is that if a person wishes to abstain from sex, eroticism and any sensual pleasure before marriage, then by all means do so. But that should be because they WANT or CHOOSE to of their own accord be it to minimise the possibility of contracting an STD or whatever. Religious teachings, specifically teachings created well over two thousand years ago to mask narrow secular interests, should not have any influence in such a decision.

    Whether a person chooses to remain a virgin or not should ultimately be about personal choice. Granted ‘personal choice’ is a loaded term and there are all sorts of factors influencing it, including religion. My choice is most likely influenced more by those priestesses of Ishtar because I find them so fascinating. Still I can be asexual. Trying to sort things out on this front.

    P.S Interestingly, I stumbled across this report on one of the last matriarchal cultures on earth. I wish I lived among them 😀

  3. apa says:

    “So when one reads in the bible that premarital sex was a sin, it was not because of the Almighty having a problem with a girl having sex, it was because the writer, influenced by Levite Judaic priests who Merlin Stone believes were Indo-Aryan descendents, required a “pure” woman because in their society a young bride brought in a higher price and greater assets that elevated the father’s social and political status.”

    Corey, by your reasoning, I’m guessing that you’re saying abstaining from sexual immorality was targetted at women because of authors’ culture. Can you please quote from the Bible where it specifically refers to women? As far as I am concerned the issue of abstinence was for christians-both men and women.

    Secondly, like the previous poster said, abstinence is personal choice – if people want their choice to be influenced by religion or not, then they should do so by all means

  4. Corey Gilkes says:

    Thank you eccentricyoruba for that link; I had gotten some info on them before but this is the first I know of a video recording. I think we can also cite the Venda people of South Africa along with the Mosuo. I don’t approve of the term matriarchal though, which is why I didn’t use it in my articles. It tends to conjure up ideas of a female version of the authoritarian, singular patriarchy. I preferred the term matricentric.
    @ Michael
    Thanks for the critique. I must say I am always astounded whenever I am told my writings are difficult to digest (Nietzsche, really?!) given that most of those reading my stuff have degrees and Masters and I to date have never set foot inside a university classroom. My knowledge of history is largely self-taught.
    Be that as it may I’ve been told quite a few times that my essays are “painfully” long, lol. While I do agree many of them are lenghty (believe me, I REALLY tried to keep this one short), I always feel it’s vital to show the historical backdrop so the readers fully understand how a belief originated. Remember subjects like sex, morality and gender roles are tied into entrenched religious ideas and so, at least in my experiences, many assume it came from some mystical force and so cannot be questioned let alone challenged. How does one deal with this without first tracing the origins which are often quite complex? I’m open to suggestions as to how things could be made more concise but I am wary of falling into the word byte syndrome that I see has made many person mentally lazy. How itonic it is that we now have access to so much information at the click of a mouse and we are now reading and critically analysing less.
    But again, thanks for the support and the critiques.

  5. Corey Gilkes says:

    @ apa


    For you to fully understand what I said there are some things one must do

    Now (I am assuming that you are not Catholic) in the Protestant tradition they try to go by the authority of scripture alone, unfortunately Christianity is not a “book” religion as say Judaism or Islam. You have to look at extra-biblical evidence and traditions as well as examine archaeological, historical and linguistic evidence. All of these will point to the fact that at the times the various books of the bible were written patriarchal customs and values had already become deeply entrenched in Palestine, Greece and Rome, even Egypt. As such the ideas of morality were specifically aimed at women and constraining their autonomy in all aspects of daily life. Abstinence and sexual fidelity were absolute for women but was at one time only relative for men.

    With specific regards to abstinence, one traces that to Tertullian and Augustine in their respective treatises. Augustine particularly in Confessions show us the extent to which he had by then incorporated the Eurasian/Greek cultural idea of sex as something corrupting and sinful BECAUSE it brought men into intimate contact with women. Again, I must stress that this attitude toward abstinence did not stem from any divine instruction but was felt to be the best course of action in a culture that was defined by warfare and hunting. That warrior mentality by the way actually carried over into the modern Europe as the economy became industrialised and this is why the sexual strictures were kept. Sigmund Freud actually commented on it in his criticisms of European sexual phobias even though he himself approved of it

    Before the Church Fathers, abstinence, or rather monogamy, though not aggressively projected, was nevertheless a valuated ideal by the Levite priests. But it must be kept in mind that they came from a militaristic background as shown by the various incorporations of the warrior deity Marduk of Babylon into the Yahwist tradition. Their aggressive stamping of masculine morality, as Marilyn French calls it in her book Beyond Power, was perhaps heightened by the fact that many Hebrew clans, particularly those settled in Canaan, did not worship Yahweh but were devotees of Mother Goddess principles of Astarte and the Shekhina and as such the women had a much more liberal sexuality.

    My point is that the bible as it has come down to us was very much reflective of masculinist ideologies of Hellenic Greece. I’d also caution you that if you are looking for biblical quotes, if the bible you read is in English (and less so Spanish or French) then you have another problem. The English words do not reflect the gender of the protagonist or the audience; not even the Greek and Latin “translations” adequately deals with that either although it is still found to some extent. But the way the Hebrews used language, the verb, subject AND noun all were dependent on gender so the reader would know who was being addressed or who was the protagonist.

    On the subject of mistranslations and missing text, I suggest you listen to the lectures given by one Bart Ehrman who wrote an interesting book called Misquoting Jesus

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRQ9WaxEjvc (a debate vs Craig Evans)

  6. Bois d'ebene says:

    Wow, you conflate a whole set of issues here, jumping from Protestant tradition to St. Augustine (decidedly Catholic) to misstranslation, from Egypt to Eurasia etc. While I don’t deny the applicability of these thoughts and world views to the African setting you are speaking to (i.e Darian’s article), I must say that I do get quite exasperated when I read a text that does not engage philosophies indigenous to the settings they claim to speak to/for. There are obvious West African cultural influences on the “religious spin” we have put on abstinence. Surely we didn’t just swallow patriarchy hook line and sinker from external sources?

    “Religious teachings, specifically teachings created well over two thousand years ago to mask narrow secular interests, should not have any influence in such a decision.” That right there is prescription! As prescriptive as any Bible thumping preacher from a pulpit. If you’re advocating choice, it should be choice plain and simple. People should be able to choose religion too as the motivation for their decision. Do not decenter the narrative of patriarchy only to replace with en equally centered “counter-narrative.” That, my good sir, is quite oppressive in itself (why am I assuming you are a man?).

  7. Darian says:

    @Corey – why should religious influence not be part of a person’s decisions?

    religion or lack thereof also informs people’s ideologies and outlooks on life.
    I would venture to say that no one makes an “original” decision. We all make our decisons based on other influences in my life.

    For me, making the choice to abstain was based in part of my religion. making the choice to divest guilt from choices of abstinence or lack thereof was based in part by my interactions with other people and listening to them expound on their opposing worldviews.

    I didn’t arrive at either by myself. I daresay no one does.

    PS: I agree with eccentric yoruba and Bois, lol

  8. Corey Gilkes says:

    Bois and Darian

    Thank you for the comments and critiques (and yes, Bois, I am a man)

    Let me start off with an apology, Bois, it was not my intent to ignore indigenous cultural influences of abstinence or suggest foreign influence was simply swallowed whole. The last thing I want to do is hold the same ethnocentric biases I rail against, although it appears that I may have done just that. Please note, however, that when I write I do so from the perspective of a AfriCaribbean national which is what I am. Indeed, I am very interested in learning more about these customs, how far back do they go and what existed before.

    Regarding my conflation
    Well that was in the interest of brevity, Bois. I really struggled to keep this article as short as possible; In the past I have been told that my articles are “painfully long,” in fact, it was even suggested that THIS article was somewhat difficult and bordered on being overly lenghty! I have gone into much more details in a series of articles on Trinicenter.com and these in turn are linked to a much larger book project I’m working on.

    I think you may well know how complex this issue is; but I live in a country and region that was never really known to have a reading or intellectual culture. Furthermore with this “internet culture” I am observing the stepping in of a mindset that avoids digesting anything not condensed into four paragraphs or less. So how does one examine the complexities of sex and morality in such a mentally lazy environment? How does one approach such issues without laying the historical groundwork?

    I will, however, make no apology for lumping together Catholicism and Protestantism on this issue because there is very little ideological difference between them. Their differences lay more in arguments over the authority of scripture vs tradition and papal authority. Luther and the Protestant reformers were not intially seeking to create any new denomination, just clean up the corruption and excesses in the old one. However, when the brea with Rome did occur, even though there were certain changes like priests were once again permitted to marry, the roles and ideas of how women were to exist in society remained the same.

    I’m not discounting the role of religion although I am opposed to organised religion as opposed to a more fluid spirituality that transcends the narrow confines of dogma. I don’t, for instance, dismiss religion as the opium of the masses as Marx did; in spite of its stultifying history, it also served as the catalyst for much social agitation in the Caribbean and African-American contexts. What I was trying to say was that even if religion plays a part in one’s choice, said religious beliefs should be complemented (and complement) by current and historical realities. Religious ideas are not timeless, although they are often claimed to be in my experience, they are shaped by the specific times along with other influences and we need to understand that. Those ideas were developed in keeping with the realities of 6000 years ago, a lot has since changed.

  9. Bois d'ebene says:

    @ Corey Thanks for the response. I’ll check out Trinicenter.com.

    I do agree that the internet is a space for rapid consumption…we can bemoan that (I do) or work with it (I do).

    On Catholicism and Protestantism…check (with slight hesitation).

    On your “perspective of an AfriCaribbean national” there is nothing AfriCaribbean about your perspective in this piece. You read Euro-centered thoughts onto the African space (I’ll bracket Egypt out here as in a category of its own) in an effort to condemn it. Which is fine. Going back to “history” which is a History predominantly external to Africa in order to condemn its influence on Africa is fine. It was fine “back in the day” with Cesaire and Naipaul and Walcott (I’ll bracket Brathwaite out here as in a category of his own). It got old with Glissant and co. in the 80s. In 2011 surely there must be some other historical framework, some other voices and perspectives and theoretical “foundations” from within Africa (or the Caribbean, if you say that’s your perspective) that emerge and are worth exploring.

    @ all: Are we really condemned to basing our “progressive” ideas on sexuality and feminism and religion etc. on “external” philosophy? Where is our history, our theory??

    N.B. words in inverted commas are words I use advisedly.

  10. Ebony Wood says:

    Is there space on Adventures for theoretical/philosophical/intellectual explorations of sexuality or is this all about the anecdotal…stories about giving head for the first time etc.???

    • Nana Darkoa says:

      Hi Ebony,

      Of course there is space on Adventures for theoretical/philosophical/intellectual explorations of sexuality. There is also space for personal stories and experiences/anecdotes. I consider all as valid sources of knowledge. Please email me at adventuresfrom{at}gmail.com if you have anything to contribute. I especially encourage guest contributions from African women.


  11. Are Bois d’Ebene and Ebony Wood alter-egos?

    Disconcerting, to say the least.

    I think this topic has brought to the fore a level of discourse that I am hoping can be sustained on this blog.

    EW and CG, you’re both staking out quite broad positions, which contain defensible positions and those that seem to be a stretch, but it’s all very enjoyable to read.

  12. Corey Gilkes says:

    @ Bois
    It’s always nice to see someone else who knows what AfriCaribbean perspectives are or are not; and it appears that you seem to be more knowledgeable about what it is than I am. Just so we are clear, perspectives from the Caribbean, like Caribbean societies themselves, are a bewildering mix of Afri-centred, Indic-centred, Native-centred (all three of which I happen to be) as well as Euro-centred influences. Informed by all of these but not necessarily “pure” (that word again) to any of them, refusing as it were to be pegged down by conventional philosophies and narratives. This is why the two main opposing ideologies, Western Capitalism with its Christian outlook and Russian Communism with its atheistic outlook, never found proper breeding grounds in the Caribbean.


    “Going back to “history” which is a History predominantly external to Africa in order to condemn its influence on Africa is fine. It was fine “back in the day” with Cesaire and Naipaul and Walcott (I’ll bracket Brathwaite out here as in a category of his own). It got old with Glissant and co. in the 80s….”

    Well it may be old, but what it is not is irrelevant. YOU may not want to acknowledge or see it but the predominant narrative of a global village – as if the concept of globalisation is something even new – with “progressive” post-racial, post-sexist philosophies, is just the newest mask for old, very conservative, very patriarchal and very racist European/Euro-American ideas. The principal difference today is that it is the former colonials and subjected peoples who are among the most fervent upholders of this worldview.

    Are there other historical frameworks? Of course there are and they need to be brought out. But one of the main problems in the Caribbean in general and Trinidad in particular is that Euro-centred ideas of history, development and progress still provide the ideological compass. The history of Africa, India, China, Syria and even Europe is unknown to most so that THAT has to be explored first before we could even get anywhere. Way too much of a romanticised attachment and acceptance of the Euro, the bible (usually the KJV) and Christianity with little understanding of Christian social HISTORY, but such is the legacy of what passes for education in the Caribbean context.

    “Are we really condemned to basing our “progressive” ideas on sexuality and feminism and religion etc. on “external” philosophy? Where is our history, our theory??”

    I wonder if the question was asked and answered how much of that “external” philosophy is really external? Ifi Amadiume made an interesting point once when she said that much of the early feminist movement’s philosophies in the 1960s and 70s borrowed from ancient African – primarily Egypt – models when they were looking for examples of powerful women and female-focussed institutions. They did not necessarily ADMIT it, but that happens to be the case. Now you may not want to include Egypt as a culture that is/was part of the African landscape and that’s your call. But I’d rather remain in the Diop camp, or Nkrumah for that matter who sought to embrace Africa in its totality. With regards to feminism and sexuality, the fact is that as I had hinted to Ms Darkoa recently, I see the issue of sexual awareness linked to greater social and political assertiveness. I am right now reading one of her earlier blogs and it is very interesting how the issue of liberated sexuality is as damaging an issue (for women especially) in the political Ghanaian arena as it is here in Trinidad, many other Caribbean countries and especially in the much vaunted US. Yet, strangely enough, in Italy we have seen at least one former adult star become an MP while Carla Bruni is as much a figure on the French political landscape as is her husband Nicholas Sarkozy.

    I long to see on either side of our Atlantic divide the eergence of women who show to the good old Europe what politically conscious women can really be like.

  13. Bois d'ebene says:

    @ Corey: I bracketed out Egypt not because I do not think it is a part of Africa, but rather because I think its position as part of the cultural and intellectual landscape has mostly been in flux. The Diop camp is valid when reading Egypt in a specific epoch…otherwise the entity Egypt is not and has never been “eternally” African. That said, you simply reinforce my critique in your attempt to skirt it. All I am saying in a nutshell, in a bite-size, internet-appropriate piece is this: you are complicit in the reading of Africa/Caribbean space through Euro-centered theory be it east or west. That theoretical framework is very much your ideological compass, in your words and you too seem unable to break out of it. The reason is simple: “I long to see on either side of our Atlantic divide the eergence [sic]of women who show to the good old Europe what politically conscious women can really be like.” As long as your frame African political emergence as a response to Europe…as a counter-flexing of politically conscious muscle, then your yardstick, your Euro-centered compass is already defined and fixed. This is reactionary, not revolutionary, as most Euro-centered readings of African spaces tend to be.

    “he history of Africa, India, China, Syria and even Europe is unknown to most so that THAT has to be explored first before we could even get anywhere.” Have you started? Have you learned anything about that history that could complement your substantial reading of other histories? Or are you waiting for someone else to come along and do it?

    Personally, I think you are intellectually free to focus on any geographic area you want. But when you start reading theory onto physical space and living, breathing people, beware of the implications of being yet another Euro-focused voice. That’s all I’m saying…I rest my case here. Look forward to reading more of what you may like to share even as I bow out of the conversation to make space for more voices…hopefully…

  14. Ebony Wood says:

    Kofi please join the conversation. You sound like you have things to say. I think adventures is a great and innovative space and I too have longed to see a space within that space for some philosophizing.

    Oh and disconcerting? But why?

  15. Corey Gilkes says:

    “The Diop camp is valid when reading Egypt in a specific epoch…otherwise the entity Egypt is not and has never been “eternally” African.”

    Thanks for clearing that up; and I have no dispute with that. I don’t think I have ever attempted to argue otherwise.

    “As long as your frame African political emergence as a response to Europe…as a counter-flexing of politically conscious muscle, then your yardstick, your Euro-centered compass is already defined and fixed.”

    I don’t see it is a response to Europe really; it may very have have been so when I first began writing some 20-odd years ago (albeit unconsciously). Over the years, however, I tried to follow the advice and ideas of the late economist and social thinker Lloyd Best who had argued for us in the Caribbean to take charge of our politics and social issues on our own realities, based on our own interpretations of history, geography and so on, informed by the histories of Africa, Europe and Asia but not trying to “re-create” any of the above.

    Right now I am reading a book on Trinidadian born Communist and feminist activist Claudia Jones “Left of Karl Marx” and even in that book and in my other readings of Trinidad’s social history, it is evident that there has always been so much sexual issues, so much sexual energy and freeness (of which our recently concluded Carnival celebrations is a clear example), dovetailing with profound political agitation, butting against the confining nature of European socialisation in colonial and postcolonial contexts.

    “Have you started? Have you learned anything about that history that could complement your substantial reading of other histories? Or are you waiting for someone else to come along and do it?”

    lol, oh I have mate, and have been attempting to do so for quite a while. I just only recently knew of THIS space. And for some years now I’ve been gathering material to examine the extent to which Euro-centred values impacted on Afri-Trinidadian women in post-emancipation Trinidad…..because, well, no one else is doing it.

  16. Bois d'ebene says:

    @ Corey from way out in left-field and only superficially related to the topic at hand: could you point me to any resources: scholarly works, teaching manuals, school textbooks that could be helpful in evaluating the ways in which history is taught in schools in Trinidad? My initial hope was to focus on high schools but at this rate I’ll take any level of learning (deadline for this project coming up on me fast). Also I am not in Trinidad so materials accessible online or available in libraries would be excellent.

    Alternatively, if you could provide me with your own experiences or your take on the teaching of history in Trinidad I would be extremely grateful…perhaps we could do that over email?

    Any help would be very much appreciated.

    Oh and I checked out Trinicenter…thanks for the link and for a thought-provoking conversation here!

  17. I am a civilian, Ebony, the two of you are erudite academics, I surmise. I am hoping to learn a lot from hanging out with you, or near you. As I read through argument and counterargument, I get the sense that you’re establishing the battlefield, but not really advancing your own positions. Unless it’s a negative advance, in which the progress is made by damaging the adversary’s position while you stay stoutly behind your own lines. What guidance on this topic do you have to give? and that question goes to the two of you. I suppose, where you stand determines what you stand for, ideology-wise, but I find that the references to interesting texts that few will ever read obscure more than they reveal.

    In the business world, we have a nasty habit of ending our meetings with a recap of where we stand and an issuance of some next step ideas. Is that too base a concept to apply here? I think it would really be enlightening for the rest of us. I really really enjoy your exchange, it’s the best I’ve read in this forum around ideas. I’ve read other interesting submissions about experience, but these are the better analytic pieces. I look forward to the next round.

  18. Bois d'ebene says:

    Touché Kofi. You just called us out for doing what most academics tend to do: mental gymnastics. Where I stand on the original post(which is not the same as what I stand for) is that people should be free to choose abstinence or not and they should be free to do so on religious grounds and/or social, political and other grounds. Guilt and shame can come as much from one-sides progressive discourse as from religious doctrine.

    The next step? For me would be an investigation of West African religious cultural and philosophical influences on our contemporary understandings of sexuality and how those complement Corey’s extensive analysis.

    Also I think you meant to refer to me (Bois d’ebene) in your comment and not Ebony. Despite the name irony and consecutive comment postings we are actually not the same person.

  19. Corey Gilkes says:

    Beleive it or not Kofi, I too am a “civilian;” I just happen to read a lot because I like to ask a lot of questions and am usually not satisfied with the answers.

    Like Bois, I too feel people should be free to choose abstinence or not; I differ on the religious aspect but only to a point.

    That point is directly related to that next step; I think that first there needs to be proper understanding of HOW these religious restraints came to be in the first place and likewise, detailed understaing of traditional African spiritual cultural and philosophical ideas. Even then we still have to keep in mind that we live in a very different time; the realities of commuication, transport, interpersonal contact and employment are different in ways the framers of thiese ideas could not possibly have conceptualised so many hundreds of years ago. so there needs to be a marrying of what was and what is; there needs to be environments incorporating different forms of sexual expressions and these expressions should not be looked upn as sinful based on one so-called “moral” model.


    Regarding what you asked me, that will definetely have to be done via email; I don’t think this is the space for that discussion and I think I need to explain certain things in some detail (relax, it won’t be as detailed as my usual articles, lol)

  20. Bois d'ebene says:

    Ok great! So how do we do this? I’m not sure that I want to put my email address out there…I have internet paranoia, it’s bad…I’m not even on facebook

  21. I can’t help but wonder if we can catch a glimpse of indigenous ideas on sexuality through (one of my favourite parts of African culture to study) female initiation rites.

  22. Corey Gilkes says:

    lol, don’t feel so bad; I only became a member of Facebook (kicking and screaming) about 3 weeks ago. Even then very little of the personal info is actually correct.

    I suppose you can contact Nana directly and she can give you my email address

  23. Corey Gilkes says:

    # eccentricyoruba

    You may very well be onto something there

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