I know this was not the news Utah women were breathlessly waiting for, but chastity belts will be one of the prime topics for the next Utah legislative session.
Uncomfortable as these devices are reported to be, the proposed legislation—sponsored by GOP Rep. Brigham Smith Young and supported by Gov. Gary Herbert—will cement the essential understanding that a woman's body does not belong to her; it is the sole property of the designated man in charge.
Naturally, legislators are already busily renting prominent storefronts for the highly-profitable fashion businesses which will surely follow. And, with solemn dedication to the morals of the community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will insist that it has the last word on the product designs, embossing each with the familiar motto, "Choose the Right," and adding the chastity belt as an official accessory to the special underwear.
If you're finding yourself gasping for air, you need to remember: It wasn't so long ago that the chastity belt was applauded as the year's greatest invention. A man named Noah O'Penn was actually awarded what was the equivalent of today's Nobel Prize for Engineering, and the devices became the latest rage.
Chastity belts were eagerly employed by gallant knights to ensure that their women would be faithful during their often years-long Crusade absences, while they dutifully (and gleefully) hacked to death those Muslims who dared to claim their right to the shared sacred sites of Christianity. Uncomfortable as a lockable iron belt must have been, keeping the women from frolicking with other men—and even themselves—was certainly a reasonable justification. A woman's worst nightmare was that the man with the key might never return. Along with the instructions for the chastity belt's use was a super-sharp dagger, complete with a "do it yourself" anatomical diagram of where the distraught wife should plunge it.
The re-introduction of chastity belts was so shocking to me that I called up Herbert to get his take on it. He agreed to meet me at the Temple Square Visitors' Center. When we shook hands, he had a broad smile, immediately gushing, "Isn't it great; these things are going to be the best thing since sliced bread." His rather flippant assertion made me acutely uncomfortable, but I took a deep breath and gently chided him. "It's a step backward," I noted, "something better left to the history books." Then I went on—how these terrible devices disappeared during the Middle Ages, but Herbert turned to me and responded, "Oh, yes, I realize that the idea is archaic, but chastity belts were both functional and fashionable. It's never too late to revive a great idea."
I looked at him in disbelief. "Gary, you can't be serious!" But the governor made himself clear. "Women can't be left to their own decisions; we all know that their minds are incapable of reason; it would destroy our state." He was so fervent in the way he said it, I couldn't even protest, but nodded faintly in respectful acquiescence.
For the naive Utah flock, the reality of women as property is easily embraced. Let's face it, they can't even be Celestial-ized without their man, and unwed women are still deemed spinsters, second rate and second class to their elevated male counterparts. While a woman can sweetly hold her man, the priesthood is far beyond her reach. And, as a bonus for the believer—and consistent with other Middle-aged state laws, Utah still maintains that a spouse is, simply, property. (That is affirmed in the Utah courts which still honor the tort claim of "alienation of affection," for which a person can be sued for stealing another's spouse.)
Now I'm feeling guilty. Yup, I lied. The stuff about reintroduction of chastity belts was totally fictional. On the other hand, the Legislature's (and governor's) firm grip on a woman's genitals and reproductive system is very much a reality. In partnership with the predominant religion, the state has usurped the autonomy of every Utah woman, including but not restricted to: 1. The prerogative to choose to terminate a pregnancy, particularly one which would end with a genetically damaged child, and 2. The right to flee an abusive marriage with a savior-knight in shining armor, and not having that new man face legal punishment by the ex for the act of giving that much-needed love.
At least Utah's women know what to expect. The crusaders hold the sacred key to that belt, and the rights of women—no matter how hard they might scream—will likely continue to be trampled.
Utah women, be heard! You can quote the slogan, "Life Elevated," all day long, but it's going to be one hell of a climb.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to email@example.com