After deleting social media from my phone with exception of Twitter, my sole source of current hot news for the past month has been scrolling through my Twitter feed and often what’s trending on Twitter. I wanted to delete Twitter too, but like every other person, I needed a connection to the whole wide world. The recent hashtag that caught my attention was #ti, #titherapper and other similar ones. I clicked on it out of curiosity.

The outrage was about the Rapper T.I.’s comment about how he regularly has a doctor check his 18-year-old daughter’s hymen to confirm her virginity. I was speechless and felt physically ill.  I had no idea about who T.I. was and frankly, his status should not even matter in this conversation. What matters is how disgusting, humiliating and traumatic it must have been for his daughter.

I listened to an episode of the “Ladies Like Us” podcast about T.I.’s statement and was even more shocked when the female hosts of the show laughed off following T.I’s ridiculous comments. I do understand that such an offhand comment could have thrown them off guard, but their reaction could have been much better. That particular episode has been taken down after a public outcry.

As a daughter, I was horrified thinking how a father could do that to their own daughter. What if his daughter’s hymen was not intact during one of those examinations, what would his reaction have been? With sex education being manadatory in most developed countries, we would expect people to understand how hymen, a thin mucousal piece of tissue, is not a symbol of virginity and that there are multiple ways that hymen can be torn or broken. In many cases, it does not even completely cover the vaginal covering.

My sex education class content in middle school consisted of knowing how to draw and remember the reproductive system, functions of those organs, and description of sexually transmitted diseases. No birds and bees talk ever happened in my house. The contents of those two classes a year were never spoken of outside the classroom. From what I learned in that class and through portrayal of the wedding nights in hindi soap operas, I was also under the impression that hymens are super important. That was until Grade 10. I had a particularly bad bike accident and thought my hymen might have broken, because there was no pain and no visible injury. I was worried sick that I was going to get pregnant until my incognito search showed me otherwise. First, women are not informed enough about their own bodies. Second, there is so much stigma around the concept of sex, virginity, and not talking about it further compounds the problem.

T.I.’s comment generated a lot of criticism, debate and discussion. Above all, it points out the disturbing reality of virginity testing. As I did more research on this subject, I found that this practice has been documented in more than 20 countries, from the Middle East to parts of Asia, Africa, South and North America and Europe. In Afghanistan where virginity testing was partially banned in 2018, there are hundreds of women still in prison cells who upon release are condemned to a life of shame and exclusion. Before 2018 in Afghanistan, if an unmarried girl failed the virginity test, she was likely to be sentenced up to three months in prison with many kept for far longer.    

Virginity testing has been denounced by World Health Organization as degrading and unscientific. This has not stopped new cases from arising in countries including Belgium, the U.S., Netherlands and Canada. The bigger issue is about respecting a person’s autonomy and integrity. Why are women expected to go through test about their sexual history? Why do we need to judge their behavior and lifestyle? Is there a similar standard for males as well?  Finally, the idea that a small piece of tissue can determine a woman’s worth and character is abhorrent.

In the absence of strict rules and guidelines, men like T.I. think it’s okay to infiltrate the private space of their loved ones to validate their archaic mindset. Our bodies are our safe spaces and irrespective of gender, sexuality and relationship status. They need to be respected.