Religion is always a sensitive subject in connection with schools- whether its Muslim girls wanting to wear the Hijab in France or Christian kids wanting to pray in America- there is always controversy. Recently a new case has arisen in the UK and has been taken to the high Court, it concerns a girl who was forbidden from wearing a chastity ring on her finger to symbolise her virginity. She has taken her school to the highest court in the land and expects a decision soon.
Irrespective of what the judges find in the case there is a question here about this kind of religious symbolism and about whether its appropriate. Unity, a British blogger has raised some rather sensible questions about this particular case
and the connections between the girl's parents and the organisation that promotes wearing a silver ring in order to denote chastity- but there are other questions that are worth raising about this whole episode.
As Unity rightly notes the school did not forbid the girl in question from wearing a silver ring to denote her virginity. They only forbad her from doing it once she started telling other girls to wear it and gathered around her a group of girls wearing the ring- indeed there is now a petition coming from her school about wearing it. This really brings out the most important fear that I have about such public demonstrations of virtue- what does it say about those who don't wear the ring.
Teenagers have a difficult time- at that point in your life you are trying to find out about the world and what it means to you. A lot of the time people do that through signifying their identity in terms of clothes and behaviour- hence say the High School tribes that every film goer knows about- the goths, the jocks, the cheerleaders et al. Part of the nature of human beings at that age is to form themselves into identities and hold on to those identities ferociously- I know I went through that process myself and have spent a large part of my twenties becoming more sure of my own identity and more tolerant and more open to other people's identities.
What pray do you say does this have to do with wearing a ring to denote that one is chaste? Well actually it has a lot to do with it. If as it seems happened at this school wearing a ring becomes a signifier of being chaste then you can imagine the next step- accusations of slut against girls that don't wear the ring, abuse for those that don't take the step towards virginity. Furthermore what kind of pressure does it put on the teenagers who do put that ring on if they change their mind- what would it feel like to be the girl that took the ring off and came into school without it. The girl who was banned from wearing a ring was not banned for wearing it but banned for attempting to proslytise about it.
There are other dangers in lauding virginity so highly- there is plenty of evidence including a Harvard University study which suggests that actually those that wear the ring put themselves not merely at risk of bullying etc but also in deeper risk. Their STD rate is higher largely because they abstain from vaginal sex and go for anal sex which is more likely to distribute STDs in a population. Hence it isn't wise often to be so fixated on abstaining from vaginal sex- it may end up with people ultimately being more unhealthy.
But its the atmosphere within a school where there is a silver ring clique which really concerns me. There is something vaguely unnerving about people running round school yards vaunting their piety- and using it as teenagers will to attempt to secure their schoolyard egos against other schoolyard egos. Ultimately I think a school does have the right to ban things like the silver ring if they threaten the cohesion of the school- ultimately I think that the silver ring thing is a regressive step.
Afterall if you want to promise to be a virgin, why not do it in private?