Sarah Palin on contraception and sex education: “I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don’t have a problem with that. That doesn’t scare me, so it’s something I would support also.”
My own experience with sex education was pretty weird. One day in the 5th grade the boys and girls were segregated, rooms were darkened, and films where shown about adolescent development. This is what a woman is and these are the characteristics typical to her. I assume it was similar for boys. I don’t know that any of us girls ever asked any boys what they experienced. It was a pretty disconnected experience and at 10 years old, it didn’t occur to me that my status as a girl would naturally result in the evolution to a status as a woman. I was about 14 before I made that connection. By then, I’d already had sex.
I’ve shared with readers my experiencing living in one of the toughest slums in Louisville, KY. I’m pretty open about the fact that I was dirt poor growing up, lower than working class really. Before we landed in that housing project, we’d called various patches of dirt in and around Houston, TX home. The most stability I ever knew growing up was when my father managed to keep it together long enough to qualify for a loan as a result of his Vietnam veteran status. We lived in the house for almost 3 years. People don’t really like to think about what it means to be a woman in this murky underworld, and an honest account of a girl coming of age in that world is an even less welcome topic of conversation.
I don’t know if what happens to a girl in that murky underworld-the world of the financially desperate, the world of alcoholics and drug addicts, of sex workers and waitresses, unskilled laborers, welfare recipients, and a disproportionate amount of handicapped people-happens in other classes of folks growing up. I can only speak to my own experience, and my experience was half in that murky underworld and half in a system of protection, even from myself.
When I was 14 years old I was declared a ward of the state (KY) and, thank goodness, got shuffled into what was one of the finest juvenile justice systems in the world, the system of the 1980s, which had its roots in bipartisan legislation of the 1970s. It was a system focused on therapy and character development, on building relationships and trust in the individual, showing them ways of being that where utterly foreign to them. This is what it means to be a human being. This is how a human being makes a bed. You are worthy of being a human being. Please make your bed. For two and half solid years lessons as simple as these, along with lessons about the value of stability, and the worth of my relentlessly resilient spirit were drilled into me. You tell me if that was money well spent.
That juvenile justice system is long gone now, dismantled in the negotiating between the war of the sides, where Democrats appeased until they bled while Republicans kept up an unyielding assault. But, of course, that isn’t what I came here to talk about. I’ve gone on a rather long-winded digression, though not really. I suppose it’s all necessary, because all of these experiences inform my opinions, which are changing as I shift from an objective of defending my rights and freedoms as a young women to my 14 year old daughter as she herself evolves into womanhood, and defending her from the kind of scary, abusive, sexist experiences I had as a girl. Much as I’d rather not, I suppose it’s time to tell the truth.
Let me preface this by saying that this is a particularly difficult topic to discuss because women’s complaints about mating rituals and sexual treatment are often seen as castrating feminine bitching, and thus automatically invalid and worth dismissing. The woman who complains about unfairness and sexism in the dating world is called a man-hater. But that world is unfair, and that fact doesn’t get talked about enough. There is still the double standard that men who are promiscuous are robust and healthy while women who are promiscuous are whores, of course, but that isn’t even the worst of it. There’s also the fact that some males play a sort of sex sport. Like predators they target the weakest of the herd, the very young, single mothers, fat girls, crazy girls, drunk girls. You get the idea. This is not something girls are usually informed of either. They usually have to figure it out via multiple mistakes of naïve judgment, subjecting themselves to plenty of shame-based criticism both externally and internally. All for just being too stupid to know how the world works and not having honest adults who will tell them.
(Not that I’m blaming men entirely. Boys and young men don’t have it any easier. Girls are told throughout their lives that they should dress to suggest sexual availability, and then deny him until he is ready to commit. Is it any wonder a male today would grow weary of that kind of deceit and deceive back? Meanwhile, he’s told that he should get as much gratuitous sex as possible before he has to give up the lifestyle upon marriage. But I digress.)
In addition, the girl who is poor has to deal with all manner of inappropriate sexual advances and line-crossing with males. I’ve heard this is a universal problem on NYC subways as well, in terms of unwelcome and sometimes unidentifiable groping. My own experience was that from the time I was 12 years old on, I could expect random men as old as 50 to grab a breast or my butt, or to innocently offer a ride home, at the end of which they would intrude upon my mouth with their tongues. Disgusting, confusing, arbitrary, made-you-feel-dirty shit. One evening as I walked the well-lit path to the bus station, a couple of guys, one black, one white, “kindly” offered their services to walk with me, and along the way tried to talk me into a three-way on a slope of unlit grass beside a factory. It took some real cunning to shake those two, but shake ‘em I did, even though I was only 13 years old.
I don’t know if girls in higher classes have had to deal with that. I do know that I didn’t have to deal with it as long as I was in the confines of the very upscale neighborhood in which my group home had been built. But each weekend I would trudge home to the shitty apartment complex in the south end of Louisville (we’d finally escaped the housing projects when my mother got her nursing degree), and it would be as different as night and day. I could find myself at a mall in the good neighborhood and move about unmolested, but as soon as I returned home, boys would be at my door and men would say the most inappropriate things to me as I walked around in public places. For instance, walking down the street, I once came across a 20-something male slouched against his car. As I walked by, he said to me sneeringly: I bet you’re so young your nipples won’t even stay hard without someone playing with them. I was all of 14.
This is the world that poor girls and working class girl have to deal with. They are sexualized from a very young age, before they have the mental acuity to know what’s happening to them, before they have a voice to protest. They are shuffled around their isolated neighborhoods, whole worlds of Lolitas pushed about and duped by neighborhood Humberts. Then they are blamed when they aren’t quick enough to figure things like birth control out after they failed to successfully navigate another “no” when another pushy male arbitrarily molested them, so they end up single mothers at 16.
But, as bad as these experiences were, they aren’t anything like what my daughter is bound to face today, in the world of 24-hour triple penetration gang-bangs, free to anybody of any age who has access to a computer. They aren’t anything like blow-job bracelets and anal sex as a means to preserve virginity. Hell yes I want abstinence to be a big part of the sex education that I agree is a good idea for schools. I teach my own daughter sexual abstinence in our home by sharing with her some of my experiences, by letting her know what I think is going on in this increasingly sexualized, perverted world, and by giving her information on the limits of her own body, which is unlikely to provide her with much pleasure from the sex act for some time. She knows about condoms and can’t wait to get on Yaz (4 periods a year, mom!), but she is not sexually active or interested. I consider it a job well done so far. Why wouldn’t I want that lesson reinforced in a school setting? Go ahead, teach her about birth control and STDs and venereal diseases, teach her about the kinds of relationships that are open to her, absolutely teach her about conception and pregnancy, but go ahead and talk about the value of waiting too. I know I wish I’d had someone even mention the idea to me while I was being educated in the real world about proper sexual availability and futility. I wish I’d been told I could say no.