Tag Archives: sex-ed

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

3 Comments

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

2 Comments

Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Bring abortion services into the mainstream

Okay, before we get started on this one, I’m asking all of you to take @AndreaGrimes#TacoOrBeerChallengeIt’s super simple, eat a taco, or drink a beer, or do both, snap and share a picture or video of it, using the #TacoOrBeerChallenge tag and donate money directly to an abortion fund. If you don’t see one in your state or area (Utah, I’m looking at you.) try contacting your nearest abortion provider and donating directly to them!

#TacoOrBeerChallenge

Eat a taco, drink a beer, fund abortion.

I posed a question on twitter this morning –

“Why isn’t medical abortion available at EVERY sexual & reproductive health clinic and through every ob/gyn and family practitioner?”

But there’s a follow up question, one that really gets to the true heart of the matter – considering that 1 in 3 American women will access abortion services in her lifetime, some of them more than once, why is abortion segregated from standard, basic women’s reproductive health care at all?

I, and a lot of reproductive justice advocates, have long said that one of the biggest barriers to abortion access is the fact that it is segregated from other regular women’s health care. After all, I can get my annual exam, a pap smear and STD testing at any ob/gyn office or sexual/reproductive health clinic. Many family practitioners will also perform those services. Those same doctors and physician’s assistants will also prescribe birth control pills, fit me for a diaphragm, insert an IUD, give me a shot of depropravera, insert the Ring, etc.

They will, in essence, address all of my sexual and reproductive needs. Unless I fall into the category of being one of the 1 in 3 women who need an abortion. Then, suddenly, I have to go to a special clinic.

Granted, many, indeed most, of the clinics that offer abortion also offer the full range of other sexual and reproductive health services listed above. BUT… Why don’t all clinics and offices that offer sexual and reproductive health services offer abortion services as well. Either you care about the health of women and female bodied people, or…

Now, I know the history that plays into this “ghettoization” of abortion services, the history that led abortion to be singled out and separated from standard medical care.

I mean, first there’s the fact that it was illegal from 1880 (That’s right, abortion was a legal and fairly basic medical procedure when this nation began. It was performed primarily by midwives, until that profession came under attack along with other aspects of women’s empowerment.) until 1973. Combine that with the history of birth control being illegal, and then only being legal for married couples, and then finally becoming legal for women to access on their own without the consent of a husband (or father) and we see that reproductive care in this country has long been viewed as a separate entity, a medical outsider.

What I can’t understand is how, 40 years later, that care that so many people require and access has remained outside the umbrella of standard medical service.

There are very real consequences to this continued choice to view reproductive care as secondary care.

Recently a woman was arrested for accessing LEGAL abortion pills online and providing them to her daughter. This woman is not a doctor, and so though the medication is legal, she is not legally allowed to prescribe or administer it.

So, why did she?

Well, because this safe, legal medical service was not available in her area. The nearest place that her daughter could access it was 75 miles away. The laws in her state further required that her daughter consult with a doctor before hand, wait at least 24 hours and then return to get the pills.

This meant that the mother and daughter would have to take two days off from their life to access a safe, legal medical procedure. They would either have to make this drive twice, or get a hotel room and stay the night.

To many of us middle class and above folk, this might not seem like an insurmountable hardship – but as someone who has not always been middle class, I can assure you – it absolutely can be.

But… What if this type of abortion, a medical abortion, that does not require surgery, was simply available at every ob/gyn office, at every sexual and reproductive health office, and from any family practitioner who offered pap smears, STD testing and birth control services?

What if it was treated as the basic, common medical care that it actually is?

What if this girl had been able to access it the same way, and from the same medical office where she could access medicine for gonorrhea or HPV or herpes? From the same office she received birth control? From the same doctor who had administered her last pap smear, or who had helped her deal with menstrual problems, given her a breast exam or addressed her other sexual or reproductive concerns.

First, the cost of this drug and procedure would most likely go down, because it would be available in more places.

Second, insurance would most likely cover it because it would be seen and treated as standard, basic health care. (Though the girl in the above story did not have insurance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if she had, many insurance plans both public and private do not cover abortion services for political reasons. See your local Hobby Lobby store manager or GOP representative for details!)

Last, and perhaps most important – this mother would not be in jail. Because she would not have been forced to make a bad choice in order to help her daughter access her legal right to safe, effective medical care.

The question of accessing medical abortion came up when I was researching abortion services in my state this morning. Accessing the list of providers and seeing what they provided, I suddenly became outraged that Planned Parenthood, which is touted as being the nation’s largest abortion factory by its opponents, doesn’t even offer medical abortion at all of its clinics.

I am outraged that medical abortion is unavailable in my town. I am further outraged that there is a HUGE chunk of my state with absolutely no abortion services at all.

We keep hearing about Texas and other “bad” states where women have to drive HOURS to access an abortion, but that already exists, right here in my state. Nothing has changed from my high school days. Abortion might be legal, but it still isn’t available to far too many people who might need that service. This seems ridiculous to me now that medical abortion exists and is safe up to 9 weeks into a pregnancy. We don’t even have to train new doctors to perform a medical procedure. They only have to know how to determine gestation to make sure that a patient is within the safe period for a medical abortion.

It has even been argued in front of both legislators and judges, this is something that doctors could do over the phone, or over skype to better serve rural patients. So why isn’t it at least available at every sexual and reproductive health clinic in the USA? Why doesn’t my town offer this type of abortion, despite having two such reproductive health clinics? Why doesn’t the town with the highest teen pregnancy rate in my state have this service? (Not that teens are the only people who need this service, but that seems like a pretty solid indicator of demand!)

And what about surgical abortions? Non-medical abortions are considered to be a surgery. A minor, outpatient surgery in the first and early second trimester, but a surgery none-the-less. That means that only certain types of doctors can perform them. Despite studies showing that trained nurses actually have improved safety records with first-trimester abortions, it remains a procedure that only doctors are legally allowed to administer. This limits access in additional ways, especially when you consider that ob/gyns are not required to learn how to perform an abortion as part of their required training!

Why aren’t more of us fighting to change this? I can understand not requiring family practitioners to learn this skill, after all they are not specializing in reproductive health. Yes, many of them will administer a basic pap smear or STD panel, but once a patient is pregnant, they recommend them to a specialist.

Part of caring for people of reproductive age and biological sexual maturity is helping them to manage the potential consequences. Whether that comes in the form of advising sexually active people to use barrier methods of STD and pregnancy prevention, prescribing other forms of birth control, administering STD tests, prescribing medicine to treat STDs, helping someone stay healthy through a pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby, or end an unplanned, unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.

Abortion care is part of sexual and reproductive care. It is not separate. It is not “other”. When 1 in 3 women require a service, that’s an indicator that that service is basic care and that the doctors who treat other issues related to that service, should be required to learn how to perform that service as part of their training and licensing.

And before anyone jumps into, “but FREEDOM!” ALL ob/gyns have to know how to do a pap smear, test for and treat STDs, give a manual breast exam, etc. etc. In order to call yourself a doctor, there is a list of things you must know how to do and when you specialize, additional items specific to your specialization are added. Abortion services are part of reproductive health services, thus doctors who choose (there’s your freedom, right there!) to go into reproductive health should be required to learn how to perform this incredibly common, safe, legal medical procedure, and medical offices which offer reproductive health care that include pregnancy services, should be required to offer and provide the entire range of pregnancy related care, which includes ending a pregnancy when keeping it is not in the best interest of the pregnant person. No ob/gyn gets to say, “But I object to looking inside vaginas” and keep their ob/gyn license. Likewise no doctor specializing in pregnancy care should be allowed to say they will not help a pregnant woman end an unhealthy pregnancy.

Back in the early days of this nation, abortion was legal. Midwives performed them as part of their standard arsenal of care. It was understood that not all pregnancies were viable. Not all pregnancies were safe. Not all pregnancies would end in the birth of a live child.

Abortion was understood to be a necessary service that kept women healthy, safe and alive – so that they could continue being mothers to any children they already had, or so that they might remain healthy and alive to bear children at another time in their life, or simply so that they could remain healthy and productive in some other capacity – because not all women want to or are able to bear children.

It’s time to get back to seeing abortion as standard medical care. It’s time to take it out of the shadows and bring it back into the mainstream. It’s time to treat reproductive health as essential health. We need to train our doctors, allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to join the pool of people allowed to perform early abortions and administer medical abortions. We need to ensure that anywhere that reproductive services are offered, those services include the full range of reproductive health, including abortion.

Women should not be going to jail because they could not access legal medical services. Women should not be showing up in clinics or doctor’s offices requiring care for botched self-induced abortions. Those days should be behind us, but they won’t be as long as we keep treating abortion care as a fringe medical service, as something rare and dangerous and separate from other standard, basic reproductive health care.

 

12 Comments

Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Emotions, deeply held beliefs and actual facts.

I’m 3/4 of the way through 6 articles right now – Part 2 & 3 of the American Gun Culture conversation, a piece on teaching children compassion, a piece on immigration reform and Obama’s rumored executive action on that, a piece on being an askable adult and a piece on buffer zones and free speech.

I haven’t been able to work on any of them for the past couple of days because I have been blinded by rage. And… as much as I like preaching to, or screeching with, the choir from time to time, recently I’ve really enjoyed using this space to try to speak a little more calmly and clearly about issues that matter to me and to try to shed new light on contentious issues.

So… I’ve been doing some gardening, some cooking and when I could, some reading.

I’ve been trying to breathe and find my peace in the world.

This afternoon, finally, I was able to slink past the visceral emotion for a brief, shining moment to give a friend some additional facts to support her argument that Monday’s SCOTUS decision regarding Hobby Lobby was complete and utter political/religious bullshit.

*deep breath* Trying to calm the rage and get back to facts – because… The facts simply aren’t on the side of Hobby Lobby.

Here’s the tip of the iceberg –

Beyond the fact that Hobby Lobby  has no problem importing most of their cheap products from China, which engages in forced abortions, or the fact that their retirement plan invests in companies that make bank producing and selling contraception, including the forms they claim to object to…

Hobby Lobby’s employee insurance previously covered precisely the forms of birth control they “sincerely object to” – until they re-examined their policy in light of ACA and pressure to bring suit by an outside organization.
http://www.becketfund.org/…/Hobby-Lobby-Complaint… (Note 55, page 14 of their original complaint.)

They claim they did not know they were covering it, but here in Colorado, if you offer insurance to your employees, you are required to cover all forms of FDA approved birth control if prescribed by a doctor, so… They knew because birth control coverage is mandated in 26 states in which Hobby Lobby operates! (For those who need a little help, that would mean that the majority of US states recognized contraception as basic health care prior to the ACA.)
http://www.ncsl.org/…/insurance-coverage-for

A side note here – this can be looked at two ways, as employers being required to pay for things they don’t agree with, or as insurance companies being required to cover a defined minimum set of standard medical care options, including contraception.

Last, their sincerely held belief that IUDs cause abortions is scientifically and demonstrably false so having the Supreme Court uphold their right to deny their employees medical care based on false beliefs is truly terrifying. SCOTUS’s response that the government can come in and pay for/subsidize these forms of birth control is naive since the Hyde Amendment bars the federal government from funding abortions and SCOTUS just agreed with Hobby Lobby over medical science that these 4 forms of birth control are actually abortifacients if you just clap your hands and believe hard enough.

These are actual facts – that Hobby Lobby’s “sincerely held belief” only began once Obama signed the ACA into law, that prior to that they had never sued any of the 26 states which required all employee insurance plans to cover all FDA approved forms of birth control and that their belief that these forms of birth control are abortifacients is simply false and therefore SCOTUS just showed an employer’s religion preferential treatment over their employees, thus actually violating the intent of the first amendment they claimed to be upholding.

Here are some more facts.

If we have insurance, we are all paying for things we disagree with. That is how insurance works. They take all our money, pool it together in one giant pot and use that money to pay out claims – without consulting us. I don’t have a say in whether Bob next door gets to take viagra, or whether June down the street really needs medication for her depression. Those are decisions that are made between a patient and a doctor and the insurance company’s job is to pay the damn bill. And yes, my money, as a healthy person who never goes to the doctor, is being used to cover those treatments whether I agree with them or not.

This whole, “But I don’t want to pay for your…” argument is tired and boring and ignorant.

pay for war

I don’t agree with war. But my taxes still pay for it.

We are ALL paying for each other via insurance premiums and tax dollars.

In addition to that – allowing employers to say that they don’t want their insurance plan to cover certain items is dangerous and despite what SCOTUS said, should be illegal.

Here’s why.

Insurance offered through your employer is part of your overall compensation package which consists of wages AND benefits. How we spend our wages cannot be controlled by our employers. How and where we use our vacation time cannot be dictated by our employers. How we use our insurance shouldn’t be either.

Freedom to impose your religion

Your freedom ends at my body.

If Hobby Lobby really has a sincerely held religious objection to these 4 forms of birth control, then does that mean they can dock the wage of any employee using these forms of birth control, or fire people who are using them (or benefiting from their use)? I ask because of this whole, “They shouldn’t have to pay for your slutty choices.” argument.

If they are paying wages to someone who uses those wages to purchase an IUD or Plan B or any other form of “objectionable” birth control (If they were Catholic that would be ALL of them…) that really is the same as offering insurance to their employees which covers those options.

Could an employer fire someone because they used their sick days or vacation time to access an abortion? If not, they should not be able to dictate how an employee uses their private insurance which is offered to them by the company as part of their overall compensation package.

What people fail to understand about the birth control coverage mandate is that – it requires insurance companies to simply cover all FDA approved medical prescriptions – including but not limited to birth control. It requires those to simply be part of every plan. It does not actually require anyone to USE that coverage, any more than it requires me to get a colonoscopy even though that too is covered by my (and your) insurance plan. If I don’t want a camera up my ass, I don’t have to let a doctor put one there. But if my doctor tells me that it would be a good idea to take a look, at least I will know I won’t have to pay $1,000 for the discomfort.

(And not because I have “pre-paid” for that service via my monthly premiums but because the other members of my insurance plan have been paying into the pool. So, you might be paying for that. Since Rush Limbaugh wants video of my slutty sex if birth control is covered by insurance, does that mean he also wants the video of my colonoscopy!?! That thought almost makes me want to get one… Because I’m malicious that way.)

A last note – I know that Obama created a work-around for actual religious institutions and organizations. For the record, I was pissed off then – and this is why, because of the slippery slope it created. I am tired of women’s health being up for debate. I am tired of being told that no one wants to pay for my slutty sex while staying absolutely silent on the continued coverage of penis pumps, viagra and penile implants.

I am so tired of the argument that birth control is frivolous and therefore shouldn’t be covered by regular insurance alongside viagra.

Seriously? Men have a “right” to erections, but women don’t have the “right” to protect themselves from an unplanned pregnancy?

See, birth control is something that is used for many purposes outside of slutty sex. The pill is something you have to take every day whether you plan on having sex that day or not. If you plan on having sex that month, or the next month – you have to take the pill every day. If you’re worried that you might get raped, you have to take the pill every day. IUDs are long term birth control that a woman gets and tends to just leave in until she decides she wants to have a child. It isn’t worth the hassle or expense of getting one put in, taken out, put back in… They ARE NOT abortion machines delivering 365 abortions per woman per year. (366 on leap years.)

The pill, IUDs, the Ring, Depro, etc. are all basically insurance policies for women (and the men having sex with them). They are not things women use and pay for so they can have slutty sex every day. They are tools for planning and controlling family size and timing. Many of the most effective methods are used by women for long periods of time even when they are not having sex.

I used birth control for a full year before I ever had sex. And I stayed on it during every “dry-spell” in between partners. It helped me walk home late at night from my job as a security guard in the middle of a rape epidemic. I hoped being on it would mean that even if I was raped, at least I wouldn’t ALSO have to deal with a pregnancy and abortion.

Beyond preventing pregnancy, many birth control methods are also tools for promoting the overall health and well-being of the women who use them. Women use birth control to treat a variety of ailments that have nothing to do with sex or preventing pregnancy.

The reasons a woman is using birth control, as well as her reasons for choosing one method over another, are private medical decisions that take place between the woman and her doctor and she should never have to justify them to her boss, to her legislators or to strangers at her insurance company. Contraception is basic, common preventative health care and it’s time we started treating it as such.

As for who is going to pay for it – we all are. Just like we all pay for the other basic, common, non-controversial health needs in this country. It’s time we recognized women’s health needs as legitimate health needs.

11 Comments

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant