Friday, 26 April 2013

Equality In Sex Education

Today Andy and I found out what Adam's school is going to be teaching him about sex and relationships, and I've got some concerns.

They're going to start by teaching them about male and female body parts, and which parts you've got if you're a girl, and which parts you've got if you're a boy. Which is great, but not all boys have 'boy parts' and not all girls have 'girl parts'. I know some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of their children learning about this stuff but I couldn't give a shit; children don't find this scary or confusing to learn about, adults do.

I was appalled to find out that this year they are only allowed to teach them about pregnancy, and how embryos grow into a baby. If a child asks them how the embryo gets there they are legally not allowed to answer their question. This is mind bogglingly stupid to me. How are children supposed to develop healthy positive attitudes towards sex when they get told "You'll have to ask your parents, I'm not allowed to answer that question."? It's sending the clear message that there's something secretive about sex and asking questions is the wrong thing to do - the exact opposite of the message that children should be getting!

The teacher showed us part of a video that they're going to be showing the children, and explained that part of it will be edited out because they've had a lot of parents say that they were uncomfortable with their children seeing it. And what awful thing did this video show? It was an animation showing a vulva and pointing out what a clitoris is, and that sometimes it gets hard and it feels nice.

That's all.

Bear in mind that they very next thing shown is an animation of a penis and an explanation that sometimes it gets hard and it feels nice. For fucks' sake people! Is it any wonder that our attitudes to sex are fucked up when we are taught at the age of seven that it's fine for boys to have sexual feelings, but it's deliberately censored when it comes to the same feelings in girls. This censorship of female sexuality is perpetuating the idea that sex is for men to enjoy, and women are just the facilitators for their enjoyment. It feeds rape culture by giving the impression that women don't enjoy sex anyway, and it tells young girls that their natural feelings are wrong and shameful. After all, if they were supposed to feel this way surely someone would have mentioned it like they did with the boys. The whole thing feeds into the idea that girls and women are supposed to be kept 'pure' and 'clean' and 'virginal', an incredibly damaging and dangerous idea.

They won't be teaching the children about menstruation until next year at the earliest, even though they've had a girl in the past start her period in Year 3. Can you imagine how scary that must be? You're 7 years old, maybe 8, and all of a sudden you're bleeding from your vagina and you have no idea why. You're told that it's natural, but how can it be? It must be something embarrassing and wrong and awful, because if it wasn't, surely someone would have told you about it before it happened?

They don't learn about contraception or masturbation until Year 6, and even then contraception is talked about in the context of not getting pregnant, with no mention of STIs. Sexuality also won't be taught until Year 6, but possibly not at all. Yes, you read that correctly. They might not even mention that there is anything to sex other than 'the man puts his penis in the woman's vagina'. I got the impression that sex will also only be talked about in the context of making babies with nothing at all about people doing it because it feels nice.

Anyway, after the meeting I asked Adam's year group leader if there was any chance of putting the edited out part of the video back in, and I swear I thought for a moment that she was going to hug me. I'm the only parent who has ever, in 12 years of teaching, asked for their child to be given that information. She also said that she wishes more parents were as open minded as we are, which was nice. She can't show that part of the video to everyone (unfortunately), but she did say she can show it to Adam separately.

So even though the sex education isn't great, it's not necessarily the school to blame for all of it. Their hands are tied by what they are legally allowed to teach, and by some parents who don't seem to be mature enough to be raising children. At least his teacher seems to be on our side though, and we're talking a lot about these issues with him at home anyway. Adam and Jack are both completely comfortable with the idea of different sexualities and gender identities because we've never treated them as anything to be uncomfortable with, and I explained to Adam what periods are about six months ago.

The whole sex education curriculum needs to be improved, but I unfortunately can't see it happening any time soon.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

How I'm Teaching My Sons About Consent

[Content note: rape]

I've been thinking about consent a lot lately, particularly with regards to children. There's a lot wrong with the way our society teaches about consent (e.g. it doesn't), but a big part of the problem is the examples we set, not just parents but anyone who has any kind of interaction with children. How many times have you seen someone tickling a child while the child laughs but also shouts for them to stop? How many times have you heard someone tell a child to give someone a hug when the child has expressed a wish not to? Or seen someone hug a child who is obviously squirming to get away?

All of these issues are matters of consent that we are teaching children about, whether we realise it or not. When you say to a child "Give your granny a kiss or she'll feel sad and think you don't love her any more." you're teaching your child that it's okay for people to emotionally blackmail you into physical contact, or that it's an acceptable thing to do to other people. When you keep tickling a child because you love the sound of their laughter you're teaching them that if you're bigger and stronger then it's okay to restrain someone and do things to them even though they're asking you not to.

As a parent to two young boys I am especially aware of these lessons. Messages about rape prevention are usually phrased as "Don't Get Raped", but I have the opportunity to teach "Don't Rape" instead. Obviously they're a little young for being told about actual rape yet, but there are things that Andy and I do that teach them positive messages about consent.

  • If you're tickling someone and they say stop, you stop immediately.
  • You ask before you hug or kiss someone, or climb on their lap.
  • If someone asks you to hug, kiss, or touch them and you don't want to, you are absolutely allowed to say no, and to enforce that no by pushing them away if you have to. Surprisingly this doesn't mean that they've ended up smacking the crap out of a grandparent for being too pushy with the hugs.
  • When they're in the bath we hand them the sponge and tell them they can ask if they need any help. We never wash any part of them without their permission.
  • If they ask for privacy when using the bathroom we let them have it, and the same goes for getting undressed.
  • We ask their permission before taking photos of them. If they're doing something and we don't want to disturb them we'll take the photo and ask later if they are happy for us to keep it.
  • We never upload photos to social media sites without their permission, and we never upload them to anywhere publicly accessible.

Adam and Jack are only young children at the moment so these rules will obviously change as they get older, but they're a good starting point for teaching them that they have to respect other people's personal space. It might sound like our house is devoid of hugs and physical affection, but I assure you that the opposite is true. Adam and Jack are extraordinarily affectionate, particularly Jack, but they know what the boundaries are, and they don't cross them.

At 4 and 7 years old they already understand the meaning of "No" with regards to physical contact, so why the hell do so many grown men have such a problem with it?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

An Open Letter To The Girl Who Oinked At Me

[Content note: fat shaming, self-harm, anxiety, disordered eating]

To "the girl who oinked at me in South Kensington tube station",

I'm sorry for the impersonal greeting there, but obviously, I don't know your name. I suppose I could call you "the vicious, spiteful little fucker", but that hardly narrows it down, does it? Still, it's more polite than the way you greeted me yesterday - by walking right up to me, oinking in my face and laughing with your friends as you walked off.

I get it, I'm fat. Fat people are stereotyped as pigs. Ha ha.

Did you happen to notice that I had my husband and four year old son with me? You may not have done because they were a little bit in front of me, and you no doubt had your hands full trying to manage walking and preparing for your hilarious joke at the same time. I know, these things are hard when you have the intellect of a gnat. Anyway, when we had our oh-so-funny run-in, I was on my way home from spending an afternoon out at a museum with my husband and our youngest son. It was the first time in six months that I'd felt brave enough to go anywhere on a train, and it was the first time in more than a year that I'd been able to take my son somewhere like that.

I find these things hard to do because of arseholes like you. To you, it's just a quick joke, "Ha ha, let's make fun of the fatty!", but to me it's another three weeks stuck at home because I don't want to risk getting similar abuse.

Did you happen to notice the scars on my arms? They're from cutting myself; I started at the age of 12 because of bullies like you.

Did you see that I was staring at the ground, not daring to look up in case I saw someone looking disgusted at me? I kinda think you did. It would explain why you got so close, just so I would be sure to realise that it was me you were directing your abuse towards.

I'm sure you're thinking "It was just a joke, how could I know any of this stuff? I was just messing around!" You couldn't have known that I frequently have days of starving myself, of not eating for 36 hours at a time, as a punishment for anything and everything. You couldn't have known that your 'silly little joke' would cause me to have a panic attack on the train. And that's entirely the fucking point. When you do things like this, you don't know what the other person is going through; you don't know what your little joke might do to someone, SO DON'T DO IT.

The thing is though, the fact that I'm fat was the only thing that you knew about me, and it is by far the least important. I am also an excellent baker. I enjoy crocheting, even if I'm not very good yet. I watch It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve with my husband and I cry like a baby every time. I have several first edition Stephen King books. I am a wife, and a mother, and I am loved. I am human.

And now, you obnoxious privileged brat, I'm going to let go. I refuse to give you any more space in my head, and I won't let you push me into staying home for weeks. I am entitled to exist in a public space even though I am fat.

I hope one day you look back on what you did with shame.

Yours sincerely,

Feminist Cupcakes