In European myths, folklore and fairytales, girls are given to monsters in order to appease them. They are offered as sacrifices. The girls themselves must be young – they are not adult women. They must be beautiful, and virginal. The monster will kill them and be satisfied and leave everyone else alone. I don’t know what, if anything happens in other traditions around this so if you have insights, do please share.
If the monster is assumed to be real (for the purposes of the story at least) then we have to ask why it wants a small, virgin girl to eat, and not a steady supply of cows. In terms of monster racketeering, you’d think ‘keep me in cows or I burn the village’ would make more sense. One small girl is hardly a decent meal for a dragon or sea monster. I refuse to believe it’s for the sex – small human virgin versus large monster… just no. Perhaps it’s for the pain this will cause the humans – going with Poe’s theory that there’s nothing more tragic than the death of a beautiful young woman. Except that groups of people sacrificing to monsters always seem a bit eager, for my liking.
Sometimes there is a sense that the girl might be being punished for being too beautiful. When the monster is human – and I’m thinking specifically of the Arabian Nights stories – the beauty of the girls being sacrificed is very much part of the issue. I wonder if this is the story that unlocks all the others. Each night, the human monster takes a virgin girl to his bed and in the morning has her beheaded. His lust is insatiable. His desire to kill girls is insatiable. Because he is at the top of the hierarchy, he is allowed to do this.
It is not dragons and sea monsters who crave young women to despoil, it is men with entitlement issues. It is also men who are fussed about human beauty standards. I think our stories of sacrificial virgins may be metaphorical ways of talking about how power imbalances corrupt relationships. When fear of those who hold power over you means you hand over your daughters to them, relationships are destroyed. It might be easier to talk about dragons, than to talk about comfort women, and what happens during wars, and what dictators do when they have the power to do what they like. It might be easier and safer to talk about a dragon than to talk about a president who feels confident describing in public how he sexually assaults women.