When rapper TI stated that he subjects his daughter to annual gynaecological examinations in order to have her hymen checked, outrage ensued. His initial revelation was broadcast on the Ladies Like Us podcast, after hosts Nazanin and Nadia asked him about sex education for his children.
In 2018, three UN agencies including the World Health Organisation (WHO) condemned virginity testing, calling for a ban on the practice. WHO has argued that there is no evidence that inspecting a woman’s hymen or vaginal opening can truly establish whether a woman has had sexual intercourse. The agencies have decreed the practice to be ‘medically unnecessary’, humiliating and often painful, and have classed it as a form of gender discrimination.
And yet TI still does not appear to be able to see what was wrong with his comments. Discussing the episode on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk talk show, TI claimed that his reasons for insisting on the gynaecological exam were linked to a desire to protect his family. ‘I’m being criticised because I’m willing to go above and beyond to protect mine’, the rapper declared.
Somehow, framing “virginity” testing as a protective measure doesn’t quite sit right. Even if whether a woman was sexually active could be accurately determined through a gynaecological examination (and it can’t), how would establishing that status by an intrusive procedure do anything to protect the woman?
TI nevertheless carried on, digging himself into a deeper hole . ‘I’m talking about the slimy, grimy, chubby-fingered little boys who want to come in, defile and destroy the sanctity that I have as a man.’
And there you have it. With those words, TI revealed that his actions were always far more about him than daughter Deyjah Harris. He sees his daughter’s virginity (an inherently problematic social construct which places an inordinate value on the first time a person has sex) as a reflection on him. He frames his status as a man as contingent upon his daughter having not had sexual relations with other men – indicating a desire for possession and control. The language he uses to describe the men he imagines ‘defiling’ his daughter frames their action as a deliberate assault on him, and his daughter’s virginity or lack thereof becomes a benchmark by which he navigates his relationships and status amongst other men. An oft quoted adage tells us that that in the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team – they are the ball.
And in the process of proving himself to be the most spectacular defender of the patriarchy (though claiming he didn’t know it was ‘a thing’), TI has enacted the most grievous wrongs against his daughter.
Several celebrities commented on this, noting that it was never really appropriate for TI to discuss his daughter’s sexual life, her private life, on air. But despite this, TI continues to appear almost proud of what he inflicts upon his daughter. He initially boasted, ’as of her eighteenth birthday, her hymen is still intact’, and referred to the results of the virginity test as ‘my results’.
But this begs the question, what on earth was he going to do if the results were not what he had been looking for? TI’s comments regarding his daughter paint a rather unpleasant picture of him as a person, and so there is every reason to assume he may not have treated his daughter well in such a situation. And yet, no amount of testing or inspection can really alter the circumstances as they are. If Deyjah had had sex, this would be irreversible.
Why it should matter to anyone if a grown, consenting woman has sex is beyond me. But the very fact of the testing is perhaps not so much about preventing Deyjah from becoming sexually active, but about depriving her of her right to bodily autonomy.
By enforcing an intrusive and often painful examination upon his daughter, TI dictates what is done to her body. More than this, he robs his daughter of her right to a voice. He insists on a medical check-up, and in doing so objectifies her to the extent where she is not allowed to speak for her person. He forcefully renders her mute and stakes a claim to ownership of her body through controlling what happens to it.
Thus TI’s actions are not simply outdated and misogynistic; they are abusive. CNN has urged people to recognise this. These tests are undoubtedly a means of humiliation and degradation. They indicate to the woman on the receiving end that the body she has is not hers.
In so emphatically and unashamedly asserting ownership over his daughter’s body, TI has proven himself to be quite certainly despicable. But his openness suggests that the mindset he holds is well and truly alive amongst many more people than we may realise. Deyjah has become the ball in her father’s patriarchal game. The question is, how many other women are in the same position?