Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Title of this Blog

It seems appropriate that the first post to this blog be self-referential. I've used this name- Virginal Suicide- in the past, and it's raised some eyebrows, so I think it is worth some explanation.

When I was in the sixth grade, I read somewhere that in ancient China, where women had little to no rights or privileges, the best and sometimes only way for a young lady to draw attention to a plight she or her family might be experiencing was for her to commit suicide. The picture that I got from this long-lost source that I cannot for the life of me recover was that the only way for a usually unmarried (and therefore assumed to be virginal) young woman to get the attention of her male family members and social counterparts- essentially, the only way for her to be an activist- was to martyr herself.

For some reason, this image stuck with me: the notion that a woman could not, historically, present an opinion about an idea, ideal or injustice except by making the ultimate sacrifice, coupled with the notion that these ideas, ideals and injustices were worth that sacrifice, giving rise to a dramatic picture of a pure (in whatever sense- I'll address the social implications of virginity as a stand-in for purity in future posts) young woman with her life ahead of her committing suicide to bring attention to her plight or the plights of others.

Actual historical evidence on the prevalence and acceptance of this practice is, of course, spotty, and I'm pretty sure both that it did not happen terribly often and that when it did, the effect was minimal and short-term. However, this picture is still around. The original picture I had of young women in China, particularly the more traditional, rural areas, is unfortunately not inaccurate even today. In fact, female suicide in some rural villages is so common as to be normalized: diagnosable mental illness is far less common in Chinese women who have attempted suicide than Western women, implying that it's a social or cultural rather than medical epidemic, and in some places it is an accepted way for a young woman to express displeasure. (We have examples of this in the West, too, of course: the Virgin Suicides is the obvious literary one.)

But this picture takes many different forms in different cultures, with different gender and sex identities and different causes. Need I even mention religious martyrs such as Jesus who died for ideas, ideals and injustices?

On a larger scale, many groups of people have used suicide, commonly in the form of hunger strikes, to gain attention for political and social causes. It's an incredibly powerful way to protest.

So, after all that, why name this blog after that picture? It's a pretty gruesome, grotesque, gross and-other-g-words image, and one seemingly of desperation.

I chose it as a reminder of what I don't have to resort to. Instead, I can express myself loudly, clearly and verbally, and I can expect people to, if not listen, at least hear me and consider my ideas, my ideals and my notions of what is unjust. I chose it as a reminder of how important these ideas, ideals and notions of injustice can be. I chose it as a reminder of how far we've come, that I can expect these things, and how far we've got to go, that I still must loudly proclaim them.

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