In our free love age, where more and more women seek empowerment through “having sex like men” (AKA have one night stands and hookups, having as much sex as they want, not getting emotionally attached), the portrayal of virginity as empowering in the movie “Elizabeth” makes for an interesting contrast. As queen, Elizabeth is expected to marry, produce an heir, and submit to a husband. As a sixteenth century woman, her sole function is to have babies. Her lover, Sir Robert Dudley, is a threat to Elizabeth’s strength. He almost convinces her to take him as a husband, an act that would mean giving up her autonomy. The ideology of the time says that women’s power and purpose comes from having babies, but Queen Elizabeth takes power in swearing off men and refusing to produce an heir. Hair has long been seen cross-culturally as a symbol of female sexuality. At the end of the film, Queen Elizabeth has her hair chopped off. Her face is painted white, which emphasizes her purity. She re-becomes a virgin.
In depicting herself as a virgin, Elizabeth likens herself to the Virgin Mary. Throughout the movie, she is criticized, put down, and doubted for being “just a woman”. In drawing a connection between herself and the Virgin Mary, she raises herself above the common, sinful, human woman, and touches the world of the divine.
Today, women are oppressed by the contradictory standard that they should look sexy, but act virginal, as if they are uninterested in sex. The idea that women can be judged and devalued based on their sexual choices, and that the way to be seen as a “moral” and “respectable” woman is to just not have sex, is misogynistic and repressive. What makes Elizabeth’s decision to re-become a virgin an empowering one is the fact that it is a choice–a choice that defies norms. She is not a “virgin” because she has never had sex. She is not a “virgin” because she has given herself to God as a nun. She is a “virgin” because she chooses to be one, so that that nobody can rule her and she can escape the societal norms that would otherwise imprison her.