New Christmas Toys, Old Gender Conditioning

There are only 67 days until Christmas!!!

So, last night, I’m watching Brothers & Sisters like a good gay, and all of a sudden I see a commercial for a new toy aimed at 2-4 year-old’s. This is the long-form of the commercial:

Yes, Pop On Pals.

First, let me say that even though I’m a good 21 years older than anyone probably interested in these toys, the “pop” sound is strangely appealing. If you visit the Pop On Pals website, you’ll see what I mean. I think it’s totally a Freudian thing.

This toy has the potential to really help young people be creative and inspired, and yet how it has been marketed does anything but. The gender policing in the video and in the way these sets are sold is remarkably archaic. What troubles me more isn’t just the gender limitations afforded to the toddlers by how the sets are sold, but also the way the marketing encourages parents to reinforce gender norms. The sad part is: by age two or three, the kids already have all the messages.

The video makes it pretty evident which characters are geared toward which gender, but the way they’re sold really clears things up.

Boys get to be a policeman/baseball player, a handyman/fireman, and a farmer/doctor. They also get to drive the garbage truck and dump truck.

Girls get to be a ballerina/musician, a princess/chef, and a pet doctor/gardener. They also get to drive the ice cream truck and ambulance.

I have a couple of friends who got their BAs in princesshood and are doing quite well these days. However, I don’t know any women who are real doctors, only nurses and vets pet doctors. (For the record, vets are brilliant, hard-working people of both genders; my point here is that girls only get to be a doctor when there’s something cuddly.)

It’s a shame that these messages persist in this way. The commercial also reminds us that dogs are for boys, and cats are for girls. (Actually, the dogs and cats come in both genders, but all the animals look pretty gender neutral anyway.)

Now, the video does point out the potential for “creativity.” The “funnest” combo is a bird doctor, the “silliest” is a dog pilot, and the “most imaginative” is the fireman ballerina.

I think the reason I was most struck by this commercial is because I think the way the 30-second version was edited, “silliest” was paired with “fireman ballerina.” This, to me, was a very negative message about crossing gender lines, when it should in fact be very empowering. If a parent is rich enough to buy all the sets, then the kids could be free to explore lots of realistic and interesting combinations that don’t have to be “imaginative” or “silly.”

Also, there are a few Pop On Pals of color, but most are white, and there’s no guarantee which you’ll get in your set. (It looks like the Latino boy is paired with the handyman, which is also a bit disconcerting.)

I’m sure as we get closer to the holidays, the frequency of toy commercials will increase dramatically. Just remember: Blue is for boys (who get real jobs), pink is for girls (who get to wear tutus, garden, and bake), and most kids who play with new toys are white.

(Also, another note from when I was researching for this post: There are a lot of bloggers and youtubers out there who review toys. Unsurprisingly, they are almost all Moms. Who else would take the time to make sure a toy is safe, enjoyable, and worth purchasing?)

Advice from the Little Mermaid (Zack’s On Vaca)

Hey all, I won’t be blogging much until Netroots Nation next week, so here is a fun clip from The Little Mermaid, harkening back  to my post about Disney princesses:

Missing your almost-daily does of ZackFord Blogs? Click here for a random post you might not have seen before!

What Disney Taught Me About Gender Roles

I don’t write about patriarchy as often as I could, or should. Male privilege is still a constant force in our society and one that needs to be called out and addressed as much as ever.

Say what you want about Disney these days. The company is so big, it’s hard to even hammer down a real identity. It seems like they’re doing good things. I met Bob Iger once; he seems like a swell guy. But for as different as Disney may be today as compared to the past, one thing hasn’t changed: the princesses.

Despite all the new movies that have come out over the decades, the Disney princesses reign supreme over the Magic Kingdom. Heck, they even showed up in the Kingdom Hearts video game! I mean, I think the mere fact that I can say “Disney princesses” and you know pretty much exactly which characters I’m talking about is telling. In fact, we know them by name: Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Snow White, Jasmine, and Aurora (aka “the one from Sleeping Beauty”). Disney also counts Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana (from that new frog movie). Oh, and if you’re curious, Mandy Moore will be providing the voice to Rapunzel later this year. All we need is another damsel in distress.

Disney makes a lot of money off of these princesses, and I think it’s disgusting and awful. I’ll let this wonderfully snarky image (hat-tip Boing, Boing) do the explaining:

The image is funny, but only because the statements are true.

The Disney Princesses are, in my opinion, horrible role models, but they unabashedly reign supreme! Just take a look at Disney’s Parenting a Princess page. It’s pink and purple and submissive all over.

A lot of people think we’re way past gender roles, and the truth is we’re holding onto them tighter than ever. It’s like we want gender equity, so long as women can still be dainty and men can still get away with rape. Sound a bit too drastic?

Think about the prince’s messages:

Mmmmmmmmmmm, Stockholm syndrome!

It’s no wonder Disney doesn’t have a franchise for its princes. They’re entirely unappealing characters; it’s much harder to hide the fact that they are contributing to the oppression of women. They’re often called the “hero,” which seems to imply that if they save the woman, they deserve her. The only real thing I think they have going for them is that they’re hunky.

So, to all you Disney aficionados out there. I know. Disney is magical and awesome. I’m with you.

But can we stop endorsing such archaic gender roles as ideal models for youngsters? I feel like they deserve better.

Brilliance in Advertising – The “So Obnoxious” Kotex Tampon Commercial (Plus “Vogue”)

Like pretty much everybody who dares think of themselves as a friend of mine, I tuned in last night for the return of Glee! And, as expected, it was FABULOUS. If you haven’t watch it yet, who are you? Seriously.

But one of the highlights of the 9:28-10:28 hour came not from Glee itself, but from a commercial that aired during it. At first, it was almost hard to tell if the commercial was actually a commercial or somehow a part of the show. Watch, and you’ll see why:

This commercial was so brilliant that I wanted to buy these tampons.

Okay, maybe not. But, it did make me want to buy those tampons (U by Kotex) more than any other tampon commercial has ever made me want to buy any tampons. Like, I think a lot of guys would feel awkward having to buy tampons for a girl, and I wouldn’t, but if I had to buy tampons for a girl, I would be excited to get to buy these tampons, because if the quality of these tampons in any way resembles the brilliance of their advertising, they are amazing tampons.

I just took a deep breath, and I’m ready to talk about the commercial now.

This is a remarkable commentary on both advertising, race, and patriarchy. Let’s go through it one step at a time, shall we?

Hi, I’m a believably attractive 18-24-year-old female.

See that? Believably attractive. She’s hot, but not too hot. And why 18-24? The market would more realistically look like 12-45, right? Points for superficiality!

You can relate to me because I’m racially ambiguous.

I probably can’t analyze the spokeswoman’s looks without sounding racist myself, but if you think about it, she really is racially ambiguous. She is still white enough to match “flesh-tone” bandaids though, and that’s probably important.

And I’m in this tampon commercial because market research shows girls like you love girls like me.

Who are “girls like you”? In this case, she is talking to the 12-45 crowd! There is a clear distinction to be made between “girls like you” and “girls like me.”

Don’t all these angles make me seem dynamic?

She can kick-box, cheerlead, and blow on a dandelion. She’s both active and delicate! (Women are always delicate. You knew that right?)

Now I’m going to tell you to buy something.

Note the kind of “up the leg” view as she lays on the bed.

Buy the same tampons I use. Because I’m wearing white pants, and I have good hair, and you wish you could be me.

So much for the racially ambiguous. There are extensive commentaries that could be (and have been) written about “good hair” and the racial implications of what “good hair” is and is not. Straight (read: “white”) is still the ideal… we don’t want to see any color in those pants, do we?

Anyways, that brief analysis of the commercial was unnecessary except to demonstrate that this was an extremely effective commercial that appeals to those of us who like to rise above. Haha, I just said “us,” and I’m not even in the market for tampons.

Seeing as how you’ve probably heard enough about tampons for one day, watch the Sue Sylvester “Vogue” video. You know you want to.

Manners Are Nice; Chivalry Is Sexism

I could rant about this at length—and I have in Gender Justice courses I’ve taught—but I’m going to be concise today.

Chivalry is sexist.

What is chivalry? Let’s take a look. It’s the qualifications, rules, and customs of a knight or gallant warriors or gentlemen. It’s entirely about men. As we think about it in modern day rules of etiquette, it is entirely about how men should treat women.

Why should there be special rules for how men treat women? There shouldn’t. They reinforce patriarchy.

Patriarchy refers to a society that is male dominated, male identified, and male centered. Chivalry has everything to do with keeping society male identified; it says that men determine the proper way to treat other people, and it also reinforces the idea that women need to be “treated.”

Chivalry says that women are weak—they can’t even open a door for themselves. Chivalry says that women are delicate—they would never be able to ride the bus or train standing up. Chivalry says that women are dependent—they should expect men to take care of them.

I’m sorry, but I am not chivalrous. Actually, I’m not even sorry. I will not go out of my way to open a door for a woman. I will not give up my seat for someone just because she’s a woman. I will not taste the wine and determine if it’s good enough for the woman. These rituals are rooted in misogyny and courting rituals from the days when men owned their wives as property.

As both a gay man and a feminist, I refuse to subscribe to this archaic thinking. Does that make me an insensitive asshole? No.

I can be polite. I can be mannerly. I can be quite courteous, in fact. But my motivations for these behaviors have nothing to do with the gender of the person I’m helping out. I’m doing it because it’s nice. If someone has special needs or challenges, that’s different; being female is not a special need or challenge. Even when I offer my arm to someone walking on an icy sidewalk in heels, it’s because of the heels, not the gender of the person wearing them. Women are not the only people in my life who wear heels.

So, to all those men out there who think they need to be chivalrous: get over yourselves. As my friend Marie says, you’re “benevolent sexists.” What you consciously mean is to be nice, but what you subconsciously mean is that women need to be controlled.

I am so over chivalry. I respect the ladies in my life more than enough to not belittle them in such ways.

The Onion Takes a Stab at The F-Word

Last month, I wrote a lengthy post in response to South Park’s The F-Word episode. Siding with GLAAD, I offered that South Park’s overuse and attempted desensitization of “faggot” did not rise to a level of satire that made it obvious enough that such a word cannot be desensitized and still has hurtful ramifications for the gay community.

The Onion LogoYesterday, The Onion, experts in satire, took their own turn at attempting to uncover the inherent damage the word causes by blatantly and unabashedly using it. The short Onion article uses the f-word half as many times as the half-hour South Park episode, so the effect is even more concentrated. But where the South Park episode fell short of using the vehicle of satire to make its point, I think the Onion succeeds.

I encourage you to read it. It addresses the word well. It shows how the word is used because of insecure masculinity and conformity to patriarchal values. It demonstrates how even though people don’t use the word to always mean male homosexuals, that is exactly who it hurts. And it does in fact hurt both physically and emotionally—that is the intention of the word. It also does a good job of belittling people who use it. It’s truly wonderful satire.

Here are a few highlights:

Perhaps the most crucial faggot determinant is whether the person in question is clearly not a member of our group or party and we do not recognize him. This rule is applicable in almost every situation, from a sporting event, to a crowded bar, to a McDonald’s parking lot, to a moment in which we are feeling not entirely secure in our masculinity. It is a good rule, and may be applied liberally.

You always have to be on the lookout. It’s a fun self-fulfilling insecurity!

To be clear, I am not referring to male homosexuals—although they certainly count as faggots and are probably among the most faggoty of all the faggot categories. I am speaking of that most nefarious breed of know-it-all mama’s boys who think they’re better than you and threaten to destroy the comforting self-image you’ve spent your whole life constructing to conceal your deepest fears and vulnerabilities.

Even if you’re not talking about a homosexual faggot, homosexuals are still the faggotiest faggots. That makes sense.

After making it known to the faggot that he is a faggot, our task is essentially done. He will likely retreat homeward, in tears, made newly aware of what a faggot he actually is, and that he should, unless he’s a total faggot, stop being such a faggot immediately.

Noooo, “faggot” is not a hurtful word at all!

If you are a faggot, you should shut your fucking mouth and stay out of the way of non-faggots such as myself.

Because we don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with your shit, you stupid fucking weak-ass fag. So fuck off, faggot, and go back to faggot-land where you belong.

I don’t know if GLAAD will issue a statement about this article, but if they do, I hope they give it more credit than the South Park episode. Instead of ineffectively downplaying the word, The Onion reveals it for all its hurtful potential.

After I posted my blog about the South Park episode, I had a number of arguments with other gay folks who don’t think it’s a big deal. Some even went so far as to call me a fag in their defiant (and in my opinion, foolhardy) attempt to redefine or reclaim or desensitize the word through its overuse. I really felt disrespected by their insensitivity, and stand by my understanding of how the word impacts society.

It’s an ugly word, and there isn’t a way to use it that isn’t hurtful. I commend The Onion for not trying to sugarcoat the term in their satire. I still worry about the ignoramuses who will read it and think it sounds great. The last thing I want to do is use the word and thus suggest that it’s okay to do so.

I read enough hate crime, bullying, and suicide stories as it is, thanks.

Glee Demonstrates My Straight Man-Gay Man Theory!

I swear, I had no idea yesterday that I’d be predicting what happened on Glee last night! Don’t worry, this post doesn’t have too many spoilers about the episode if you haven’t watched it yet. (Although, in case you weren’t sure, a male duck is actually called a mallard.)

In case you missed my post yesterday, I postulated how straight men can benefit from friendships with gay men, both in how they reconcile their “masculinity” and how they treat women. On last night’s episode, Kurt and Finn ended up demonstrating just that.

Now, let’s be honest: Kurt’s crush on Finn is a little unhealthy. There’s always the chance that our favorite singing virgin might be open to experimentation, but Kurt’s potentially setting himself up to get hurt (not unlike how Rachel did in the episode). What I’ll give him credit for is that despite his innocent attempts to eke homosexual admissions out of Finn, he does seem to really care about the guy. While Finn might feel awkward if he understood how actually Kurt feels (a denouement we have yet to see), it definitely seems that Finn grows a lot in the episode thanks to Kurt’s compassion.

At the beginning of the episode, the Glee-ers have to pair off to sing a ballad to someone. Finn is concerned when he draws Kurt’s name, pleading to Mr. Schu, “I don’t know if I can do this with another guy.” But the fates have spoken, and Kurt’s heart is all a-flutter.

A bit later in the episode, we see the two meeting up for a rehearsal. Kurt implores Finn to sing everything he feels, but Finn explodes, saying, “I can’t! I can’t sing to a dude! I’m sick and tired of people pushing me to be somebody I’m not!” Finn cools back down and Kurt patiently invites him to open up about the stress in his life. He discusses his love for his unborn daughter (even though we know it isn’t his) and all the things he wants to tell her that he doesn’t think he can. Kurt encourages him to sing it out, telling him it’ll make him feel better. (Thank goodness Kurt never missed a piano lesson! Neither did I.)

It’s at this point in the episode we realize just how serious it’s going to get! Seriously, if you’re a regular Glee watcher, this episode gets pretty heart-wrenching. I’ll leave out the spoilers and let you watch for yourself. In the hallway back at school, Finn thanks Kurt for the idea of singing to the baby: “It worked like a charm. I owe ya one, dude.” Kurt launches into some narration about his love for Finn, including a cute scene where Kurt gives Finn some skin-care advice.

Finn invites Kurt to help him with some fashion advice as he prepares to join Quinn’s parents for dinner. As Finn unpacks his dad’s trunk, the two share some really touching bonding, relating to the experience of both having lost a parent. When Kurt talks about sneaking in to smell his Mom’s perfume, Finn adamantly reassures him, “That’s not stupid.” Despite an awkward moment as Kurt helps match a tie, Finn continues to open up about his feelings about his dad and the stresses of Quinn’s pregnancy. Kurt reminds him that his dad wasn’t empty-handed in battle and so he, too, should use his greatest weapon: his voice.

When Finn gets nervous at the Fabrays’, he actually calls Kurt in the bathroom for moral support. Kurt reassures him, “Just remember the power of the ballad.” Finn quickly hangs up, explaining, “I have to go; they’ll think I’m pooping.” Finn makes some karate chops in the mirror (to perk up his masculinity), but then follows through on the plan to sing to Quinn in front of her Glenn Beck-watching parents. (I won’t spoil how that goes, but it was not so gleeful. Talk about patriarchy!)

In their final scene of the episode, Kurt consoles Finn, who is upset, but has no regrets. He invites Kurt to sing his ballad, which he identifies is “I Honestly Love You.” Compared to the beginning of the episode, Finn seems totally chill (though of course a bit oblivious in true Finn style). “Sounds awesome!” he says, “I don’t know the song, or whatever, but it sounds positive and nice and stuff.” Unfortunately, Kurt does not have the opportunity to follow through on his own advice of openness and honesty because they are interrupted for the episode’s heart-warming finale.

While these new developments in their friendship have yet to totally play out, I think the episode speaks to the ideas I was discussing yesterday. By opening up to Kurt and connecting with him, Finn seemed to develop a stronger sense of security regarding his masculinity and sexuality. Even Finn can’t be so oblivious as to not have a clue what the song “I Honestly Love You” might be about, and his willingness to be sung that by Kurt shows incredible development.

Sure, it’s Glee, which is fiction and often absurd fiction at that, but I think there are some powerful lessons to be learned as well. If the fictional star quarterback can learn to be less homophobic, I’m willing to bet the real ones can too. It’s just about understanding ourselves and each other so we can truly all get along.

We all need somebody to lean on…

What Can Straight Men Learn From Their Gay Friends?

I was thinking today about the straight men in my life. Some of my very best friends from high school, college, and grad school have been straight men. One of the challenges of coming out and being out as a gay man is recognizing how other men react to that. I have been quite fortunate to connect with some awesome people who have never flinched because of my sexuality, and I really think those men deserve some real credit for that.

Because of the patriarchal culture of our society, men have an advantage when it comes to sexual relations. The dominance men exert over society leads many women to be objectified and devalued. Because of this imbalance, many men go through life never experiencing what that objectification feels like.

Introduce a gay man into the social situation and life gets more interesting. In fact, I think a lot of homophobia and stereotypes come out of the fear and confusion of men not sure how to respond to the mere possibility they might be perceived as sexual objects by other men (who they might still perceive as having sexual dominance). Obviously, gay men are not constantly trying to rape straight men they find attractive, but many straight men might perceive even the most innocent flirtation as a threat. Thus, for no fault of their own, straight men might be challenged by the friendship of a very open and out gay friend.

I think that’s why the men that I have found to be some of my best friends in my life are men who have an incredible amount of confidence and comfort with their own identities. These are men who do not let their sense of obligation to that mythical quality known as “masculinity” regulate how they interact with others. They are secure in their identities and, in my opinion, show an incredible capacity for compassion and sensitivity that is far more admirable than any proud display of masculinity I can imagine.

But these men are often exceptions to the rule. I think violent homophobia persists because so many men cling to masculinity and have absolutely no context for what it might feel like to potentially be objectified the way that women continue to be throughout society. We hear “gay panic” defenses all the time, but what is this panic? Does it reflect the extremity of the sexual advances (or perceived sexual advances)? Or does it more accurately portray the insecurity of the man trying to use it as a defense? Every aggressor who gets a reduced sentence because of a “gay panic” defense represents our society rewarding men for their own insecurity and lack of control.

I think more straight men need gay men in their lives. It’s not that they should be made to feel sexually uncomfortable, but they need the opportunity to reconcile their sense of masculinity by having male friends that do not necessarily appreciate it. I’ve had some amazing friends (some of whose pictures pepper this post) that have done (or have not had to do) just that.

While it has long been said that people better appreciate LGBT issues when they know someone who is gay, I’d offer that straight men might treat women better if they know someone who is gay.

Why Is Society So Afraid and Ashamed of Sex? Short Answer: Religion.

I’ve been thinking about this one, because it comes up a lot. Sex is something that raises eyebrows and it’s because people are really terrified of sex before it happens and really ashamed of it after it does. Of course, I mean mostly in the public light.

Before I get into too much detail, let’s do a little thought experiment. What would sex look like if we could start society over with a clean slate (a la The Sims) with what we know now? Well, we know that sex is enjoyable and everyone is capable of it, so I think we could start by seeing it in a very positive light. Then, we’d talk about thing like consent to ensure people have ownership of their own bodies and to discourage things like rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. We know that there are possible consequences like unwanted pregnancies and STIs, so we’d probably promote using protection and frown upon having a crazy number of anonymous sexual partners. We’d recognize the deep level of emotional connection that is possible with sex and its ability to serve as a foundation for a family, so some level of commitment (though not necessarily monogamy) would be valued. And we’d also recognize that sexual relationships can be disruptive—in the workplace, for example—so there might be a certain extent to which we’d value a certain level of discretion and privacy. But I think that’d be that.

Ian McKellenSo why is sex so taboo in society? The only answer I can see is religion. I think Ian McKellen said it best in his recent interview:

Why should I take the judgment of a declared celibate about my sexual needs? He’s basing his judgment on laws that would fit life in the Bronze Age. So if I’m lost to God, organized religion is to blame.

For hundreds of years, the most holy men in society were those who were committed to celibacy. Sex had this entirely spiritual meaning that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a secular light. And let’s not forget that women had like no rights. They were property. Our sexual values were totally set off-course by the bizarre values of the Church, and those archaic values persist in modern America.

Take a look at some stories that I’ve written about here. Parents in Illinois protested their children reading about sexual behavior in animals in a sophomore honors class (11/3/09). Newsweek wrote recently about the future of abstinence-only sex ed, conceding, of course, that it doesn’t work (10/27/09). A study found that the most religious states have the highest teen birth rates (9/17/09). The AFA called “safe sex” a mythical message that deprives American teens of their “sexual innocence” (9/10/09). They also published a book called Truth For Youth that promotes “sexual purity” (8/28/09). And let’s not forget that Proposition 8 and Question 1 both passed because of intimidating lies about “teaching homosexuality” in our schools (11/4/09).

What are “sexual innocence” and “sexual purity” except rhetoric that paints sex as something to feel guilty and dirty about? There is nothing foul about sex (it’s pretty great, actually), and the only guilt comes from betraying the religious values that discourage any kind of sexual behavior. And this makes people so sensitive about sex that people are totally afraid of learning anything about it at all! And of course we always have to keep private parts censored because even thinking about another person in a sexual way is “unclean.” (It’s obviously impossible to be attracted to somebody or even turned on by them without “coveting” them.) This is all absurd circular reasoning that deprives many young people of the opportunity to truly learn how their own bodies work! It’s not just fear; it’s paranoia that is only driven by commitment to values preached by the church.

Carrie PrejeanAnd then, when sex does happen, OH THE SHAME! Let’s talk about Carrie Prejean again for a little. Do we really care that she had some nude photos taken or that she made a few sex tapes (eight) for her boyfriend? I don’t think so. I mean, we live in an age where every computer and phone comes with a camera; I’m sure there are PLENTY of people out there who have taken photos or made videos intended for private viewing only. It’s not a shameful thing to do; it’s just private, so it’s embarrassing if they get out. I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with anything she did. As my good friend (not really) Josh Malinaactor Josh Malina tweeted recently:

Leave Sister Helen Prejean alone! The woman’s done some wonderful work. I say if she wants to diddle herself on camera, she’s earned it.

The scandal comes in when you look at her integrity. See, Prejean has made an icon of herself for preaching hateful conservative sexual values. By promoting these archaic sexual values, she set a standard for herself to meet them. Any hint that she might be a sexual being would be in complete opposition to her rhetoric. If she had been totally open and supportive of the gay community instead of walking this Christian hard line of morality, we probably wouldn’t see this documentation of her sexuality as negative or scandalous. We’d say, “Good for her! It’s probably embarrassing those got out, but she has nothing to be ashamed of!” That is not the case. And as I wrote last week, this happens time and time again with moral conservatives who talk a talk that does not match the walk they walk. (Meghan McCain sees the hypocrisy, but promotes a bit of it herself.)

So what’s the deal with sex? I think sexual liberation is still something we need to fight for. There are some people doing some amazing work at the National Sexual Resource Center to promote sexual literacy:

At NSRC, we focus on a positive, integrated and holistic view of sexuality from a social justice perspective. We believe that every person should have the knowledge, skills and resources to support healthy and pleasurable sexuality—and that these resources should be based on accurate research and facts. We examine how race, gender, culture, ability, faith and age intersect with and shape our sexual beliefs. We know that sexuality education and learning should be lifelong. We call this sexual literacy.

I think it’s admirable work that goes far beyond simple “comprehensive sex education.” We should be able to fully understand and explore our bodies without being told to feel guilty about it. Religion continues to work against this freedom in ways I think terribly damage our society. Until we recognize that there is no reason for fear, guilt, or shame, we cannot attain true sexual literacy, and I think that’s a damn shame.

Abstinence-Only: A Reminder Of How People Let Beliefs Trump Fact

Newsweek has an article out today abysmally called The Future of Abstinence-Only Sex Ed.

The article focuses mostly on funding issues, since Obama’s administration is no longer offering any for abstinence-only education. It doesn’t work, we know that.

You can read the full article for facts and figures about different programs that are struggling (many of which have Christian affiliations, surprise surprise). I personally think the article is a little too apologetic for abstinence-only education and sympathetic to people who work to promote it it.

Let’s think about what sex education really is. This is when and how our society decides to equip our young people to understand how their bodies work and how to make healthy choices with it. That’s really all it should be. Sex education is about promoting responsibility, and it should not be about preaching moral values. “Waiting until marriage,” should not even be appropriate. It sends a message that everybody has to get married, it condemns those who do not want to get married to the notion of never getting to experience sex, and it’s extremely homophobic since same-sex marriage is not allowed (especially in most of the states where they’re eager to teach abstinence-only sex ed).

Study after study have shown that abstinence-only education doesn’t work:

By 1999, one study estimated a third of American students were receiving an abstinence-only education. But as funding grew, so did a body of research showing that abstinence didn’t change the sexual behaviors of students; pregnancy and STD rates did not go down, the age of initial sexual activity did not go up. “Each evaluation came along … and each showed it didn’t work,” says Santelli. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals, many in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and in government-commissioned reviews. In 2007, a federally funded study of four abstinence programs found its students no more likely to abstain than those in a comprehensive program. At the same time, comprehensive programs that discuss contraceptives and their use received better, although by no means perfect, marks. Researcher Doug Kirby’s 2008 review of 48 studies of comprehensive curriculum found that two thirds , either reduced frequency of sex or number of sexual partners. By time Obama cut Title V abstinence-education funds from his budget, 25 states had already begun rejecting the money, 16 because they didn’t agree ideologically or weren’t seeing results, the others for administrative reasons.

Despite this, abstinence-only education providers are no less swayed from their passion!

But many of the abstinence advocates NEWSWEEK talked to thought such compromises were untenable, that they could not teach students to remain abstinent until marriage while demonstrating how to use condoms. “If the funding is for a different worldview, one that says you should give condoms to kids, that’s not my belief system,” says Unruh. “I think it’s very harmful.” She and others say it’s a question of morals and values, which is not an area for compromise.

This woman wants to protect young people, which I respect, but she wants to go about it pretty foolishly. It doesn’t matter if abstinence-only doesn’t work and doesn’t achieve what she wants; it’s not her belief. She’s got morals. Because she doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, obviously no one else can or should ever be able to even think about such a notion. That is a far-reaching position well beyond what sex education is actually about. Here’s another person who won’t “compromise”:

“Our program indicates that sex is more than physical. It’s emotional. There’s a lot of different aspects,” says Scott Phelps, who directs A&M Partnership, an Illinois-based provider of abstinence-only curriculums. The group has a federal grant that expires in 2013. “If I’m teaching all of that, and then I’m teaching contraception, what is contraception going to do for all those consequences? It would be sort of nonsensical.”

What’s nonsensical is thinking that teaching young people “don’t do it” A) constitutes any kind of worthwhile “education” and B) thinking it’ll actually make them not do it.

The one thing that religion has generally been quite wrong about over its entire existence is this notion that ignorance is bliss. The truth is that knowledge is power. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make healthy responsible decisions. We don’t get to control what young people do with their bodies. The best thing we can do is give them as much information as we can so that they are best prepared to make decisions for themselves. Anything less is selling them short and actually endangering them as they head out into the world.

And, let’s not forget that abstinence-only education helps believers cover up all the other things they despise with their beliefs:

“It would be a conservative comprehensive program,” she says, noting that her teachers won’t “talk about bisexuality or hand out condoms.” If it comes to that, Hangett knows she’ll face resistance from some parents. “I’d have some people who will drill me, but I’d rather see my daughter practicing safe sex than die from AIDS.”

We wouldn’t want young people to learn anything about their identities or have access to the simple resources that would allow them to make safer decisions. That would be an abomination.