|What’s wrong with this poster?|
So this is festive.
I wrote about sex & relationship education relatively recently, but in the last week or two, I’ve stumbled across a couple of articles that only reinforce the worry that our whole attitude to teaching young people about relationships is dangerously out-of-touch. Firstly, there was this, which was found by the Boy when he was doing his thing of reading the headlines on the BBC app on my phone while waiting for me to finish taking my face off and come to bed. As you’ll notice, only one of those letters is addressed to a boy.
And last Sunday, the UK media’s official troll, the Daily Mail, ran this feature. If you can’t be bothered to read it – or as is more likely, you don’t want to give them the page-views – I’ll summarise: two American women have founded a ‘workshop programme’ called TRAAP (Teenage Rape Awareness and Prevention), and they’re visiting schools over here to talk about sexual violence and personal safety. Here’s a couple of quotes from the founders: “[We] want to make things a little bit easier by telling [girls] that it’s always OK to say ‘no’, whether it’s to a date who’s being too pushy, or a boyfriend who wants you to do things you’re not comfortable with, or a creepy guy at a party…” and: “we don’t want our daughters – or you – to make the mistakes that we did and our friends did”.
You know what? If there is a problem with sexual violence among teenagers, if there is a problem surrounding the issue of consent – and I can believe there is, having been a teenage girl once and having had to explain through gritted teeth that “no” means “stop, and get the hell off” – then women like this are PART OF THAT PROBLEM. Women like this aren’t changing things for the better, they’re perpetuating them. Why? Because all the time girls are targeted as the gate-keepers, the ones who must be in control, say no, protect themselves, it’s not a boy problem.
Newsflash: it’s a fucking human problem. (Or, if we’re going to be crude, a human fucking problem.)
By framing the discussion in these terms – by saying girls must protect themselves from pushy, sexually aggressive boys – the underlying assumptions are that a) everyone is heterosexual, and b) it’s always going to be that way round – that boys are the aggressors and girls must fend them off. Those assumptions aren’t applicable to everyone, so we need to stop using them. Furthermore, by telling girls that they’re the responsible ones, that the onus is on them to stop bad stuff happening, you take all the fun out of the good stuff. Sex stops being something glorious and experimental and guaranteed to give you a dose of the warm fuzzies and starts being something that has all the joy of a nasty dental procedure.
Taking this approach – and, while we’re here, separating boys and girls for sex education – immediately sends out the message that there are secrets to keep, things not to be shared. That sex isn’t a collaborative thing. That our bodies are weird and do weird things and that no matter what, we should protect the opposite sex from that. I get that kids are separated for those lessons to spare everyone’s giggles and blushes, but it’s a short-term decision that has long-term effects. What would be the harm in teaching everyone everything?
The pressure needs to be taken off girls. So much so-called ‘helpful’ advice is directed at them – be safe online, be safe with your phone, and most insultingly, be safe if you’re out alone at night. Why is that insulting? Because it assumes, wrongly again, that most rapes and sexual crimes are committed by strangers. Newsflash #2: the majority of them are committed by someone known to the victim, someone with whom they have been, or are in a relationship. There’s no excuse for not knowing that now; the stats on that one have been out there for a long time.
It’s quite simple: respect each other. Be considerate. It’s boring but it’s true – do unto others as you would have them do to you. Just be nice. Don’t be a dick. You’re going to be a lot happier that way.
The only explanation I’ve got for having paid actual money for this track is that it’s been a very hormonal week, so I’ve been more susceptible to floppy-haired boys who write sentimental songs (it is quite cute though).
I’ll redeem myself with this one.