Brahmacharya vs Female Virginity

Both authors of tomorrow’s readings argue in favor of celibacy, but the way they argue for it could not be more different.


Gandhi argues for celibacy because he believes that there is an inner power that emerges from disciplining yourself into denying carnal pleasures and enforcing mental clarity . He believes that Brahmacharya is a way for someone – male or female – to achieve a higher state of being (52,68). For someone to be truly engaged in the life of the mind and with helping the world he should not be distracted by earthly pleasures (Br. I p.206). He finds fault with the fact that married women get accidentally pregnant too many times and have children that are either weak or that they don’t care for (54). He also argues against child marriage that produces children that the young parents cannot take care of, and burdens that they can’t undertake (55). The women also put their own bodies in danger when they undergo too many pregnancies. Gandhi doesn’t trust contraceptives so he argues for celibacy.


In contrast to Gandhi’s views of celibacy as something that is in the hands of anyone to achieve if they really want it, and as a way to help society in general, the Archibishop views virginity as something that only concerns women and that grants them marriage to Christ and eternal life in heaven (66). Gandhi tries to argue for celibacy by giving the reader the example of himself and arguing that anyone could do it if they really wanted to. The Archibishop argues that his sister should remain a virgin. Virginity seems to only have value for women and not for men, and if a woman was to lose her virginity, celibacy after that would not hold any value. So his argument is about preserving something that supposedly reverses the crime that Eve committed: a woman’s virginity (70). If a woman dies a virgin, she will be married to Christ in the afterlife. However the Archibishop takes that maybe a bit too literally and he believes that if his sister gets married to Christ, then his sins would be pardoned too, as Christ’s brother in law. He seems to enforce virginity on his sister in some way for selfish reasons (74). He also villifies married women who take care of their physical appearance. He advises his sister to avoid them because they want to attract any man’s lust, since they are concerned with how they look (80-84). He also says that married women objectify themselves because they sell their virginity by accepting the dowry for their marriage (67,78).

It was hard for me to fully understand Gandhi’s viewpoint and I could not agree with many of his points, but his viewpoint did not come off as selfish or oppressive like the Archibishop’s did.


10 thoughts on “Brahmacharya vs Female Virginity

  1. While I agree that Ghandi and the Archbishop have in some ways very different accounts of remaining celibate, I do think certain parts of their arguments dovetail. Although the Archbishop might ultimately have less-than-altruistic reasons for encouraging his sister to become a nun, I do think that he is largely basing his argument off of the desire for purity and elevated status that said purity gives you – the “grace of incorruption… that many desire to attain!”, just as Ghandi is doing (69). In addition, both men see the downsides of sex as too great for women for them to have any reason to partake in it and seem to speak for women in that regard. It is interesting to note that Ghandi sees the reward of this power of celibacy reflected in the quality of life one lives, whereas the Archbishop sees the “reward” of virginity happening via salvation in the afterlife.

  2. While the two arguments both revolve around the notion of celibacy (defined as more than avoiding physical sexual encounters) I found the largest difference between the two to be that Gandhi’s notion of Brahmacharya applies to everyone, regardless of gender. Gandhi describes Brachmacharya as the ‘ideal’ that society should work towards to fulfill their potential. While the Archbishop supports celibacy for women, he never mentions celibacy or virginity in terms of men.

    • Though on that point, I wonder to what extent women can truly take part in Brahmacharya? Surely, the wives of men who live by the notions of Brahmacharya are celibate, almost by default. However, he never speaks of women actively taking on the lifestyle of Brahmacharya, and so I’m curious about how this ideal state of purity actually works in practice. (That’s perhaps a more cultural question, and one I’m not equipped to answer myself.)

      • I also wonder about individual agency in that society. If children were readily getting married off by their parents, would then it be an option for a parent to force a child into Brahmacharya? The methods would obviously be different and less exact but a parent could manipulate the child’s perception by exercising the ideological influence that any parent has over their child.

    • This is potentially pushing reasonable discussion, but when I read this, I wondered how homosexual relationships between men would play into this. In other words, how would Boswell and St. Leander play into each other? Or are the contexts of each article too disparate?

    • I think there’s a line about how an exception should be made only for the sake of procreation. I don’t have my text on me at the moment, but I’ll site it when I find it.

    • I think there’s a line about how an exception should be made only for the sake of procreation. I don’t have my text on me at the moment, but I’ll cite it when I find it. (edited for typos)

    • After re-reading the text I remembered where he said this. So silly. I still think it’s a very strange thing that self-control is more important than the surviving population. This kind of comes back to what we said in class, who is he saving/helping by telling everyone to help each other, if no one is procreating? Who are the actions of charity benefiting if the population dies?

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