- Erica (narrator), Jasmine and Michael relax by the pool of a white teacher, discussing the death of Tupac.
- The group decides to go to the movies where they run into a boy Jasmine has recently had sex with and his current girlfriend.
- Erica and Jasmine make the decision to go to the bars in the city using fake ID's to find men, ultimately ending up with a group of unknown men in Brooklyn.
- Erica leaves with Michael and ends up sleeping with his brother; Jasmine stays with the men, presumably sleeping with one of them.
"Virgins" is a short story focusing on a brief moment in the life of our 15 year old African American main character, Erica, who lives in an impoverished community and spends the majority of her time with her best friend, Jasmine, who is also 15 and African American. Although the story is titled, "Virgins", the only actual virgin in the story is Erica, whose overall attitude towards men is that they are not to be trusted. Even Michael, the only male character in the short story that the girls seem to trust, often acts as if the girls are his property, and it is assumed by the general public that he is sexually involved with one of them - a fact that the narrator is very aware of. Erica and Jasmine live in an environment where sex is inevitable and expected of girls at a very young age. However, whereas Jasmine has recently lost her virginity, Erica seems largely indifferent to the topic, consistently refuting the sexual advances of the men around her. However, at the end of the text, Erica decides to have sex with her Michael's brother, Ron, stating, “there was no such thing as safe, only safer; that this, if it didn't happen now, would happen later but not better” (25). This moment can be seen as Erica giving up to the pressure placed on her by society, or it can be looked at as her taking control of her sexuality. However, what it really demonstrates is that Erica, as a character, is a realist and understands the society in which she lives and desires to operate it with as much control and agency as possible.
Several main themes run throughout Evan's short story, "Virgins". However, the one that stands out above all else is the theme of "coming of age", specifically concerning the issue of sexual agency. Evans seems to be asking the reader to question whether the two girls are truly taking control of their sexuality, or if they're simply following the paths dictated to them by society. Erica has a very "matter of fact" attitude towards men and sexuality and repeatedly makes statements such as, "when you were alone, men were always wanting something from you" and "we'd had enough nice guys suddenly look at us the wrong way" (4,5). As can be seen in this example, the community in which our main character lives in is one in which sexual interaction is inevitable and expected of girls at a very young age. On the other hand, as these examples also show, our narrator is not unaware of this and strives to avoid falling "prey" to this lifestyle. However, it should not be thought that Erica sees sex as something she is too young for. In fact, she describes a forced sexual interaction between herself and a lifeguard by stating, "I wasn't scared or anything, just cold and surprised" (5). Even in this moment of forced sexual contact from the lifeguard, Erica doesn't describe the incident as a victim would - with feelings of fear or anxiety, or as a child, but instead as someone who has a high level of understanding and who has experienced an unfortunate event that is a symptom of the state of her environment. This is not because Erica is the type of female who allows herself to be taken advantage of, but because she is a highly aware narrator - meaning that she understands the environment in which she lives and the motives of the people around her.
It is also important that we do not look at Erica as an "a-sexual character", as she does show interest in gaining agency in her own sexuality, which is shown in the girls' trip to the city to, "find some real niggas" (13). The mere act of making up new identities of their own choosing shows a type of attempt to reclaim their sexuality - forcing the men to approach them on their terms. The short story ends with Jasmine going home with a group of older men and Erica separating herself, calling Michael for help and ultimately sleeping with, first, his brother, and then Michael himself. Although this may be seen as Erica simply giving in to the pressures to be used sexually, it can also be seen as Erica reclaiming this moment and losing her virginity on her own terms to the only males that she sees as trustworthy or "safe" in her world.
Displayed above is an image of iconic rapper, Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996 at the age of 25 and is known for revolutionizing the world of hip hop during the span of his short life. Historically, the relationship between art and life has been one exhibiting a high level of reciprocity, both strongly influencing and feeding into one another. Within the short story, "Virgins", all of the characters involved are highly influenced by 90's hip hop which was dominated, at the time, by artists such as Tupac, Nas, and Notorious B.I.G. who were in the midst of shaping rap into the charismatic and complex genre that it is today.
Especially prominent within the text is the issue of the death of Tupac, an event that causes anxiety not only amongst the main characters, but also within the community in which the story takes place, demonstrating Tupac's level of importance and influence as a role model. Within the first couple pages of the text, the girls' elementary school teacher references this influence, as well as the relationship between art and life, by saying,"you live like a thug, you die like a thug" (2). By this, the teacher is insinuating that the often violent lyrics written by Tupac have directly influenced the action of his life - and death - and that this same relationship is applicable to the society in which the girls live. This, however, begs the inevitable question: do we produce or are we products of the various forms of art and media in which we surround ourselves on a daily basis?
In order to understand the influence of famous rappers like Tupac, it is important to understand him as an artist. To this day, Tupac still exists as one of the most influential and best selling musicians of all time. Born in East Harlem and raised by parents who were active members of the Black Panther Party, Tupac studied acting, poetry, jazz and ballet at the public arts school he attended in Baltimore. Tupac's love for poetry lead him to develop what would eventually become a brilliant ability to write lyrics and rap. When he was noticed in 1990 during a concert in which he performed with his group at the time, Strictly Dope, he was signed and experienced his first taste of success as a backup dancer for the rap group Digital Underground. In 1991, Tupac released his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now which, despite failing to achieve any top 10 hits, is still hailed for its underground feel and the political conviction it displayed. In 1993, Tupac released his first album to reach platinum status titled, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. which continued to show Tupac's social activism through hits like "Keep Ya Head Up". After this, Tupac launched fully into the success of his controversial and whirlwind career, releasing the albums Thug Life: Volume 1, Me Against the World, All Eyez On Me between 1994 and 1996. On September 7, 1996,Tupac was shot to death, the criminal investigation of which has now become a cold case. His final album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was released posthumously.
Although dearly loved by his fans, Tupac, to this day, is often criticized for many of the themes in his music as well as his conviction of sexual abuse in 1993 for which he went to prison for 11 months in 1995. His lyrics often dealt heavily with controversial issues such as violence against police, sexual aggression towards women and drug use, and have been claimed to be the source of deadly inspiration behind many violent acts. However, Tupac's lyrics also embrace different aspects of Black Nationalism, and in albums like "2pacalypsenow", he attacked racial and social injustices in society. As detailed in the film Tupac: Resurrection, Tupac viewed the concept of "thug life" as a personal philosophy to live by. However, he also held the opinion that the common perception of the word "thug" as one describing a "rogue or criminal" did not encapsulate its correct meaning. He defined a "thug" as, "someone who came from oppressive or squalid background and had little opportunity but still made a life for themselves and were proud". Tupac used his influence to spread this philosophy, and came under fire for its alleged endorsement of criminal behavior.
Due to opposing representations and portrayals of Tupac like the ones mentioned above, a gray area exists when trying to decide the influence that his rapping had and continues to have on youth. On one side, we have songs such as "Brenda's Got A Baby", which discusses the pregnancy of a young girl and includes lyrics such as, "Just cause you in tha ghetto doesn't mean ya can't grow". On the other hand, we have songs such as,"High Speed" that focuses on violence and sex, with lyrics such as, "But I f*cked your wife/We bust on Bad Boys/nig*as f*ck for Life".
What is your opinion of the influence that these kind of artists had on youth at the time? Additionally, what kind of effect do you see this having on Erica and Jasmine or even the men in their community such as Michael and Ron? If this kind of music really does have a strong influence on our characters, what are its implications as far as sexual agency?
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