Similarity of Romantic ideas on virginity as related to the current usage and subsequent prohibition of marijuana
One concerns the placing of a woman’s maidenhead on a virtuous pedestal, while the other involves an illegal and potentially harmful drug. No resemblance right? Well actually, a comparison reveals a lot of interesting and intriguing similarities between the two that can work to alter one’s way of thinking concerning what is “right and what is “wrong”. The logical antecedent to the ideal of maidenhood is purity, which is a fair distance away from marijuana usage and its subsequent ideas of curiosity, rebellion, and experimentation. So, why are these so similar then? I believe that the answer lies in the particular context and viewpoint that one looks at the two through. Both are social constructs of their respective societies that reflect either the values and virtues or the fears and misunderstandings of the public itself. Two good examples of romantic literature that demonstrate both the author and the populace’s highly ideological view of the woman and virginity are Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Wife of Bath’s story in The Canterbury Tales. Both emphasize the medieval spirit of chivalry, with the elevation of maidenhood being a natural corollary to the grand chivalrous ideal. This view is perpetuated both orally and by literature throughout the society at the time. This view runs the entire gamut of class in Medieval Europe, as everyone from the lowliest peasant to the most powerful ruler will know of the virtues of chivalry, courtesy, and the sanctity of the body of the woman. Likewise, marijuana (besides mainly those who use it) is considered by all different sections of society to be detrimental to one’s health as well as evidence of one who is more “alternative” and not as “respectable” as modern-day society. This negative connotation for marijuana users is almost eerily parallel to the social and legal stigma for those who abuse the near-inviolability of a lady’s virginity and purity. However, although rape is certainly included in the violation of a lady’s virginity, most of the time maidenhood was held to so sacred a level that even mere consensual sex was considered to be crude. In terms of both marijuana usage and the infringement upon a lady’s delicacy, these acts are highly frowned upon and in some cases, illegal. There is extreme pressure involved on both sides of either issue. For instance, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the lovely Lady Bertilak (although not a virgin) is directed by her lord husband to try to seduce Gawain and in turn, challenge his knightly honor. Lady Bertilak then attempts multiple times to sway Gawain from his courteous roots and entrenched principles. This plight faced by Sir Gawain is similar to that faced by many teenagers across the nation today who are faced with peer pressure concerning the usage of marijuana and other drugs. It is much easier to be seduced by a temptation when one is in the minority and is faced by the collective power of a majority who threaten to ostracize said individual. In the story Gawain not only faces that pressure from the external source of the lord and his lady but also internally he fights to maintain his grace and nobility of purpose. Throughout the novel, Gawain is lauded with praise from both the narrator and other characters who speak of his dedication to virtue and his saintly conduct. He exemplifies this as he holds off the advances of the beautiful Lady Bertilak one morning as “[t]hey exchanged fair words, and much happiness was therein, yet was there a gulf between them, and she might win no more of her knight, for that gallant prince watched well his words–he would neither take her love, nor frankly refuse it” (Gawain page #). In his succeeding of his fending off of the Lady Bertilak’s advances, Gawain is further immortalized as a bastion of virtue whose respect for the purity of the female form is unparalleled. Although centuries apart, his action can provide a model for those dealing with an inner struggle of their own concerning drugs. But why is there so much pressure in both situations in the first place? The answer is that once again society, through literary and other media propaganda, everyday communication, and legal processes, has created then appeal of the “forbidden fruit” for both. Because the lady’s purity is elevated to such an esteemed height in Medieval Europe, the lustful knight in the Wife of Bath’s story wants to take the woman even more. And similarly, because marijuana is (mostly) illegal, there is a certain “cool” allure as one feels that they are rebelling against the mainstream.