Feminist Aspie

“But won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!”

on October 29, 2014

(TRIGGER WARNING: Mention of sexual abuse, including child abuse. This post may be NSFW [although text-only]. Also, I’m heterosexual and cis, so please feel free to let me know if I’ve messed up in any way with regard to people who aren’t!)

Earlier this week, I came across this great Vice.com article by Cliff Joannu on the massive need for sex education in the UK to acknowledge same-sex relationships. A few minutes later, I came across the comments on the Facebook post that directed me to it. And I started reading these comments. A word of advice – don’t.

Currently, in so many places, what passes for “sex and relationship education” is little more than the biology of penis-in-vagina sex and pregnancy, and if you’re lucky, contraception. Nothing about relationships, nothing about communication, nothing about consent, nothing about any aspects of sex other than PIV, and nothing at all about marginalised sexualities and/or gender identities. This is woefully inadequate. Yet, calls for any sort of improvement on this, however minor, are invariably met with similar responses: children and teenagers are apparently too young to understand, teaching children this stuff is somehow imposing opinions on them, it’s seen as something children aren’t supposed to be aware of, won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!?!

Firstly, in the context of the more explicit stages of sex education, when someone mentions “children” it’s likely that they mean teenagers or at least children who are nearing the end of primary education, not four-year-olds as the naysayers tend to wilfully misinterpret. Secondly, the existence of trans people, non-binary genders, and sexualities other than heterosexual is not up for debate, and definitely not just an opinion. Thirdly, those who claim we should not be teaching this stuff to children forget that we are already teaching this stuff to children.

With the state of media representation and what passes for SRE as it is, we’re teaching children that only straight cis people exist, and anyone else – and it’s likely that at least one person in that classroom is, or will grow up to be, in a marginalised group – is not only inherently bad, but totally alone in their experiences. Won’t somebody think of those children, or is it just the cis heterosexual ones that matter? It seems we’re happy to teach heteronormativity and cisnormativity; it’s only when someone suggests we start including everyone in SRE that people are suddenly up in arms about imposing particular views and children not being able to understand. Here’s a thought – the only reason children would currently find marginalised sexualities and gender identities confusing or inexplicable is because they’ve grown up in a world that systematically denies their existence.

Roughly the same argument can be applied to consent – we’re already living in a rape culture, we’re already teaching children these myths, victim-blaming tactics and total disregard for consent, but nobody complains about imposing these views on children at too young an age. Children who never learn about their inherent right to say no grow up into adults who don’t feel able to say no. Unfortunately, not only will many adults encounter sexual abuse in their lifetime, but some children already are, and they need to know – we all need to know – that what is happening to them is not okay, not “just normal”, and certainly not their fault.

“Thinking of the children” requires thinking of all children, not just a hypothetical class full of straight cis children who have somehow grown up without being informed by the current general bigotry of the world. Sex and relationship education – and I don’t just mean a quick biology lesson on where babies come from – is so, so important.

Otherwise, we’re just passing on these heteronormative, cisnormative, and patriarchal attitudes to sex and relationships by default.

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7 responses to ““But won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!”

  1. Reblogged this on Create Parity and commented:
    I’m happy to pass along this message. Sex education has many problems and these are just some of them. I’m grateful for the progress that’s been in this regard, but there’s a long way yet to go. It really deserves a whole mandatory semester of the freshmen year of high school or better integration into “Health” studies. Either way, we need to teach consent, variant genders and sexualities, and so much more that we are ignoring right now.

  2. I would like to suggest that the kinds of rhetoric which you describe may accurately represent symbolic violence — a form of strategic, dehumanizing rhetoric, oriented toward domination —rather than oriented toward mutual understanding. Thanks for sharing this important perspective. This commoditization of human relations sets some persons up to act out the perp roles and others the compliant/scared victim roles—except not as equal, or carefree partners. I’m autistic, though, and thus my analysis of “normal communication” would likely be stereotyped as distorted
    I suspect that most autistics communicate just fine when the shared orientation is toward achieving mutual understanding—rather than domination. Contrary to dominant theoretical views, communication is not interchangeable in meaning with *control*—a straight forward observation which, I suspect, many autistic children are derided for sincerely noting—openly. Irony doesn’t seem quite strong enough as a characterization, in this case (& so many otthers that come to mind.) Fabulous (salient) topic for discussion—and also critically explicated!

    • Thank you!! 🙂

      “communication is not interchangeable in meaning with *control*—a straight forward observation which, I suspect, many autistic children are derided for sincerely noting” ….yep. 😦

  3. alexforshaw says:

    There is a history, particularly in Anglophone countries, of regarding anything relating to sex as shameful. Parents are often embarrassed to talk about the subject with their children (even with each other in some cases) and these attitudes are passed down the generations. I believe that this attitude is a large factor in the marginalization of SRE. A lack of detailed knowledge possessed by many people (as a result of their own lack of education) also makes them reluctant to bring up the subject and risk exposing their ignorance.

    I’m sure when some people objecting to wider SRE in schools use the “think of the children” line they are worried about their children coming home and raising questions that they as parents are ill-equipped and embarrassed to answer.

    I agree completely that the only way for society to move beyond these attitudes and fears is through more education, exposure to a wider variety of sexuality, gender and relationships seated in the context of regular people living regular lives (no matter how far they might lie from the average along the scale of human existence).

    • Thank you!! 🙂

      This didn’t really fit into my actual post, but another thing I noted was the number of people going with the “it’s the parents’ job” line, and I think you’ve brilliantly explained the problem with that. I wonder how many of those people would actually be willing to talk about this stuff to their own children? To me it seemed like a very thinly veiled “it’s up to the parents to choose not to educate their children and carry on as they always have”.

      • alexforshaw says:

        Yes! 😀

        It would be great if parents in general were up to the task. In my experience people from families where there was open discussion on the subject have few hang-ups (if any), which corresponds with the principle that attitudes are learned from those with whom we have close contact. In the absence of parents setting an example it must be the role of educators.

        There is also the influence of the media to consider: how many TV shows or movies aimed at high school-age children have realistic portrayals of these subjects? I guess that’s a topic that would need a whole post to itself at the very least! (Maybe there’s an equivalent of the Bechdel test for sexuality, non-binary genders and so on?)

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