Stain of Purity

A white flag waving calmly under an almost hypnotic sound of Hallelujah. An atmosphere of understanding, harmony and approval. A flag bearing in and of itself the sound understanding that no one questions about. Looks like the background music is a social approval for what the flag represents. It is a confirmation and gives support to the one who rose the flag up high and for what it represents. The entire video conveys the peaceful spirit and only because it does not have a linear story in itself. What it gives you is its atmosphere; a flag waving in an unconflicted atmosphere. That is what you see in the few minutes video of the Kosovan artist Fitore Isufi – Koja. But meanwhile, being someone who lives in an era that constantly looks into questioning what is considered as set in stone, we can not ask ourselves what the flag represents, as that is what a flag is used for, to unveil and give legitimacy from up high to moral values ​​and ideology, to wisdomness and moral circumstances. Since this particular flag is not on the atlas of world flags despite a vague resemblance to the Japanese flag and since there is no initials on it of neither local nor international organization or foundation then you would be looking for another meaning to it. Once you see the reddish brown stain on a white background you come to a conclusion that the author if possibly conveying through video the ancient custom of exposing the bed sheets after the first night of marriage as concrete evidence of “moral purity”, a soothing balm for the highly moral senses of the relatives and the rest of the society who want sound evidence and sleep peacefully and confident that they led a virgin to the altar. Here lies the author’s artistic diversion, conversion of the bed sheet into a flag giving an iconographic salient dimension to the rural well known custom. Thoughtfully a typical rural custom applicable only to residents of a village where members of a house, often times a 2-3 floor house with a courtyard, can proudly honor the cloth on the morning after the wedding with a peaceful mind that anyone who passes by the house will undoubtedly notice the stain that rescues the honor of the tribe. A rural custom I would say because I do not know who will notice the bed sheet stretched out by the bride after the wedding breakfast in today’s city buildings sprung up everywhere in all across the Albanian speaking territories. In today’s city settings the sheet will look like an ordinary sheet stretched outside as if it’s there to dry and the stain would look small, visible and distinguishable only with binoculars. So the rapid urbanization of the recent years limits the territory where the flag can be flown, it can only fly in the rural albanian areas, not to mention the fact that even in the rural areas a very few are still practicing this traditional custom.

First and foremost the bed sheet turned into a flag is a public announcement of a long awaited news that the bride has given the most precious gift to her husband: her virginity. So, in this case, both, the groom and the bride are interested in raising the flag, the groom to confirm receipt of the gift and the bride arrived to marriage “immaculate”. This is the blueprint of sexual morality bred through generations of Albanian Men and Women. Stems from the idea that in a patriarchal society a woman’s value is equal to her virginity. So, once upon a time and partially even in our era as well, virginity of a woman is exchanged as a currency in return for economic and social welfare that comes from the marriage. Virginity is also evidence and safety for that the heirs of a man were not conceived before marriage, this way there would be no doubts when passing on the wealth to the children. And finally, it is also the fear of men that someone else “drank out of his cup” before the marriage. So, these are all reasons that have nothing to do with virginity as something ought to be the womans right to have control over. Since, according to mythology, the loss of virginity can be proved, (a thought that we will see is incorrect), making it mandatory turns it into a tool used by the society to have control over women’s body. Since men have no hymen, they are excluded of this control and can do whatever they want with impunity. In order to convince women to respect this burden different methods are used early during their childhood from fear of God to further constraint measures which are strictly enforced by a conservative and backward society and give to this society controlled by men an enviable power over the woman and her body.

In all the languages ​​and cultures of the world there are quite insulting and derogatory names for women who lose their virginity before receiving the sacrament of marriage.

Furthermore, the flag that is waved by the newlyweds and their relatives before the curious minds is a flag of conformity and obedience to the rules and societal control. But the flag is a a double blade for the bride as she must provide to the controlled society by men a test for her purity, which makes it look like a flag of moral purity that is also a sort of a certificate that must be necessarily issued by the controlled society .

But in today’s world apart from traditional values there are ​​also many other factors that are modifying the very concept of virginity. One of them is the fact that the world is experiencing the era of sexual liberation, the era of sex symbols, Madonna and MTV where sex is extremely important. In today’s Albanian society and especially among urban youth, virginity is seen as obsolete, archaic and incompatible with the concepts of the today’s modern world. Virgin girls are often seen as the stereotype of an outdated and lifeless girl, unattractive and therefore no one is sexualy attracted to them. This degrading image turned into a burden of peer judgment, that is inflamed by ardent curiosity and irrepressible teenage hormones, may become more powerful than the pressure of traditional values​​. Women today are between two ferns: to lose their virginity or to preserve the old-fashioned traditions of the Virgin. In both cases women are followed by prejudice. So in today’s world, virginity as the most precious gift that a woman can give to her husband is now put into a question by the majority in our society.

This flag today will not be raised by most Albanian couples who do not leave the most precious gift, virginity, to be given or taken on the wedding night.

Therefore, from something to be proud of, making and delivering successfully “the gift” the flag is turned into an irony towards the cult of virginity and patience for waiting to enjoy the “forbidden fruit” just for the first night alone. Thus, a flag of anachronisms and behavior dictated by a backward society.

So, the flag legitimizes the cult of virginity and obligation to preserve it at all costs until the wedding night. To see what evidence supports virginity, let’s examine the fundamental notion of the concept of virginity.

All doctors gynecologists, psychoanalysts and social workers agree that virginity is a “biological condition of lack of sexual experience” But also the researchers agree that virginity is a “mental condition where a person decides not to engage in sexual activity”.

Between these two concepts, although not exclusive to each other, there is a big difference: the first emphasizes the physical side of virginity, where one could easily argue that it can be controlled through strict moral rules, while the second emphasizes the primacy of the person ‘s right to decide whether or not to have an active sex life. For most of today’s girls virginity is not in itself important, love and commitment are. Sex is a sacred experience that women shares with the one she loves and when voluntarily agrees to do the act . The whole question is whether she wants to or doesn’t want to have sex. Virginity by psychoanalysts is basically irrelevant since it does not change the woman as a person. If a girl chooses to remain a virgin, it should not be seen as if choosing between “purity and goodness” and “whore and evil”. She simply isn’t ready to start with sex life. Why should you hurry if you still haven’t found the man with whom you could begin this life? In the same way that today’s modern woman does not like to be forced to keep her virginity, she also opposes mandatory sexual activity dictated by the pressure from her peers and patterns of conducts that consumer society provides. Emotional immaturity, psychological, spiritual, intellectual and physical immaturity are the reasons why a girl is good to remain a virgin. But this remains always her choice. Which means that she still hasn’t found the man who deserves her, not her virginity!

Therefore the flag of the cult of compulsory virginity that judges the value of someone based on their sexual behavior, it again goes back to being a flag of obscurantism, male power, social arrogance and manipulation.

If virginity is a free choice it could be a sign of women’s control over her body because it proves that she does not submit even to the pressure of sexual liberalism. It is not necessarily that for a girl to decide to remain a virgin she should be of a patriarchal mentality or be a devout believer. One should simply make a choice based on information about the sexuality and should be aware of why that choice is made. If the decision is taken out of fear or uncertainty then this can’t be a sign of women’s control over her body. Because fear and uncertainty come from subordination to external factors that compel women to react in that way. “What will God think of me ? What will the people say ?” Wonder an anxious woman subject of a social power. There is a cultural and authority factors interaction of fear, because if someone is frightened, there is a power somewhere that evokes this fear. A woman that goes up and down sleeping with anyone that comes along, it does not mean that she has control over her body. She could be doing this for other reasons. The sign of real control over her body is when she uses it free from fear. Signs of true control is not when put under threat of punishment or to be saved from punishment, for conformity, but when making love willingly. So virginity as a concept is neither conservative nor liberal, old-fashioned or modern. One should not fall into generalizing about virginity and women because it is always defective, full of prejudice and far from the truth. The right to remain virgin or not belongs to the girl.

Virginity as a personal and conscious decision unaffected by external pressures of any kind, it is an alternative attitude to the narrow minded black or white attitude: virgin – not virgin.

So, for the modern society the cult of virginity represented by this flag remains a spurious cult, hollow and motivated by exceptional totalitarian logic.

Not only that, but the flag protects a cult (of virginity) which often rely on dubious evidence. For instance, Is it that the Blood stains on the cloth / flag always incontrovertible evidence of the sexual act and proof of virginity? The Flag in this video conveys exactly that axiomatic belief. How scientific is this ancient belief? As evidence to loss of virginity is the damaged hymen, which as you know is a thin membrane that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening.and there is no defined biological function. Hymen is known since antiquity and takes the name of the Greek god Himeneus son of Bacchus and Venus, who was the god of marriage. Historically broken hymen and the blood stains were seen as unmistakable stamp of the woman’s virginity. Relying on this evidence becomes questionable if we are to consider that experts proved that many women are born without hymen at all.

Also the belief that hymen blocks the entrance of the vagina and it remains intact if women did not perform sexual act is scientifically unfounded, although this belief is found in many cultures, including in the Mediterranean where the woman’s virginity was highly valued. Today science has proven categorically that the hymen can be damaged by events that have no connection at all with the sexual act, acts such as riding the bike, horseback riding, gymnastics, a gynecological visit etc. or other reasons that science can’t explain yet. So, a broken hymen is not necessarily proof of sexual act .

Also, unlike popular belief, the blood on the sheet after the first sexual act is not necessarily present. In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1998 among 41 colleagues interviewed by Sara Paterson – Brown Gynecologists found that 26 of them had had no bleeding after their first sexual act, 14 of them have had the bleeding and one of them could not remember. Lack of blood can be explained by the fact that many women have an incredibly flexible hymen which makes it difficult to break during the sexual act, as is sometimes required for surgical intervention to remove it.

If found out that the hymen was damaged before, which was often achieved through procedures degrading to women and as noted before, because of lack of knowledge, often with dubious results, then, depending on culture and the level of civilization of that group of people, women could undergo through humiliating rituals, torture and even death

So, the flag fluttering in the video may as well as be the flag of ignorance and prejudice, cruelty and injustice, which in a patriarchal and conservative society usually walk side by side.

But the flag is evidence of another wrong religion: if the presence of hymen proves virginity to popular mythology, its presence does not necessarily prove that the girl did not have sex. In some backward parts of the world the lack of blood after first sexual act, still creates tensions and conflict. Therefore, to protect themselves from violence, from death, some women in these countries, secretly undergo a surgery and cause “bleeding” on the first night of marriage, which is possible after sewing what is left from previous sexual contact and placing a capsule of gelatin which contains a substance in appearance very similar to blood. In defense of the “sinners” in some countries such as the Benelux countries, there is a law that allows women to request disappearance of any document that certify restoration of hymen so that this medical intervention would not be detected by future husband. If for any of the above mentioned reasons, if on the wedding night it happened that the life saving stain will not appear on the bed sheet, many couples would sprinkle the sheet with chicken blood.

What is it that makes the Flag of the Stains of Purity become a Flag of social hypocrisy, of the lack of dignity, fear, decay of freedom of women to decide freely over her body.

After this review, the atmosphere of peace and tranquility created by Hallelujah and the flag hanging in the background are now like gray ashes thrown against our eyes. It looks more like a curtain of fog that hides violence and tensions, hypocrisy, fear of punishment that are interconnected with the cult of virginity and of breaking taboos .

This is because as we saw after the cult of virginity , the obligation to preserve at all costs the threat of divine punishment and human reason to hide have nothing to do with virginity as psychological and biological phenomena in the lives of women .

We have also seen that the flag itself represents purity and the stigma of unshakeable beliefs that rely on evidence that should never be taken as infallible and axiomatic. Lack of or damage of her hymen does not necessarily mean that the woman has had a sexual act, and on the other hand blood on the sheet does not necessarily mean that the woman has never had sex. But especially this flag represents a mentality that takes away from a woman her inalienable right to decide for herself, without fearing of when and with whom to lose her virginity, that these facts should be the right to her privacy. Given all these “sins” the flag itself slowly begins to be perceived as the subject of accusation, part of an occult power play that it placed it there not to raise it above the moral values which we thought it first represented but as a warning to anyone who naively believes in cults that rise to legitimize violence and are based on unfounded evidence and testimony. This I believe is the message that the talented author wants to convey through the video.

Gëzim Qëndro

Art critic