Category Archives: education

Gender and the Potential of Children

There’s been a lot about children and gender identity on my radar screen lately, from stores with gender-neutral children’s clothing to the media ridiculousness surrounding little Shiloh to the tragic murder of a 16-month-old little boy whose mother’s boyfriend didn’t think the infant was “man” enough.  I’ve also been tapping into my own inner-child potential as I try to resolve issues with depression and finding my gender identity.

Childhood, ideally, is all about play.  Children who are given safe spaces to exercise their curiosity and explore their surroundings as they grow up are more likely to be well-adjusted adults.  Adults, in fact, could learn something from children.  It’s amazing how a problem changes shape and how solutions present themselves when you take a step back and approach the problem with your imagination guns a blazin’.

And that’s the thing about childhood.  Imagination doesn’t do well with boxes.  It’s about exploring possibilities, playing, learning.  As we get older, society draws lines and we all learn where those lines lie.  We learn that boys do this and girls do this, and we learn behaviors that society considers “appropriate” to our gender.  And for those of us who don’t feel 100% comfortable with our gender, it may take years to unwrap those neat little packages we’ve been dressed up in and try to find who we are, independent of this thing called “gender.”  It may take a lot of play.

Blogging “Yes” Day 25: Real Sex Education

For day twenty five of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki.  Cara is one of my favorite bloggers because she keeps everyone updated on all the crappy victim-blaming stuff that goes on, but sex education is also one of her big topics.  I remember reading this essay for the first time and being really intrigued because I knew I was for comprehensive sex education, but I had no way of picturing what that would look like.  If you think about what Cara’s proposing, it really could be revolutionary.

Read the rest of this entry

No words.

Question of the Day: Can I live like a student for 3-5 more years?

Like many recent and upcoming graduates, I’m starting to panic just a little at the economy.  I assumed that when I finished law school in summer ’09, I would be able to just slip quietly into an entry-level position at an NGO and work my way through the ranks, but with the economy like it is, there are no entry-level NGO jobs.  No entry-level anything, really.  I’ve been considering diving back into academia and hiding for a little while, but there’s a bit of a Catch 22.  The fellowships I’m looking at have January-March due dates on the applications, and they start July-September.  I wouldn’t really be able to start looking for jobs till April or so, I’d assume.  I mean, I think if you’re listing a job, you’re looking for someone to start within the next few months at least.  So I kind of have to make a decision.  Honestly, I love academia but I have no money.  I’d rather be able to work a few years and make some, but if I end up having to waitress, I’m not going to make much of that.  Here are the academic possibilities:

Columbia Law/Center for Reproductive Rights Fellowship:  Money-wise, this one is ideal.  It’s a two year research fellowship with a $55K/year stipend, which is actually enough to live in New York.  It’s geared towards reproductive rights/human rights, and it’s designed for those planning to go into legal academia, which I’ve been considering.  The problem is that I can’t necessarily commit to it, because if later something opened up in an activist direction, I might want to take it.  I do plan to research all my life, but that may not be as a professor.  Also, it starts in July, which is a problem with a lot of these – I’ll be prepared to start when they say, but I don’t know if they’ll accept me because I won’t have the J.D. in hand until August.

Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences:  This is a PhD fellowship in Bremen, Germany.  The program looks interesting, but not necessarily practically useful if I don’t go into academics.  However, if I wanted to teach in European universities, I might be able to do so with a European PhD.  The theme of the PhD is “The Future of Social and Political Integration,” and they have five topic areas you can pursue, all very interdisciplinary.  Fellows all get a 1200 euro/month stipend for three years and no tuition.  I would probably have to get a part-time job if I did this, depending on cost of living in Bremen.  The good news is I have until March 15, so time to think about a dissertation topic.

New York University:  I could get a JSD, which is basically a PhD in law.  The deadline is January 1, so I’ve decided that I’m not applying for this one this year.  It’s just not enough time to come up with a dissertation topic or commit to something as major as a doctoral degree.  However, this is a definitely possibility (for that matter, as is a Fullbright) if I can’t find a job and end up waitressing or temping this time next year.  It is a funded program, but $20,000 stipend for three years isn’t close to enough to live on in New York, so I’d need to find a job where I could make that again in salary.  

European University Institute: This is one of the most interesting programs to me.  The program is English/French, and I could do history or law.  Both are doctoral level, and it’s in Florence, where I’ve always wanted to go.  The catch is that funding is only available to European citizens, so this isn’t an immediate option.  Still, it’s in the back of my mind as something I might do in 5-10 years after saving up some money if my career isn’t really blossoming.

Book club reminder: Poll closes Sunday.  If no one votes, then I may just start selecting books myself from the suggestions given, so please vote if you’re interested in doing so.  If not, then I don’t mind picking and we’ll all read along!

College: Not for Everyone?

I saw a blurb on my Google Reader this morning from the Times book review about a book where one man argues that college is not for everyone and another that college should stick to the basis.  Those arguments always get to me, and here’s why.  

The basics are what you learn throughout school.  Obviously they’re fundamental, which is why they’re required.  It’s probably not a bad idea to have a core curriculum in college as well.  However, by the time you get there, you know whether you like/are good at math, science, english, and social studies already.  If you like them, go for them!  But if you don’t, you should have other opportunities.  I think college is for everyone, if you find the right environment, are able to get financial support, and find a subject you really love.

Even within the basics, there are branch offs I imagine the back to basics folks might cut.  For example, art history, creative writing, poetry… I’m afraid I can’t speak with authority on math or science, but there are certainly some “off beat” things there, too.  What about computer science?  For me, I hated history right up until 12th grade, when I took AP European.  Suddenly, there was history that was interesting!  And if my school had offered Middle Eastern or African or some other histories besides Europe, America, and a wee bit of Asia, I would have been thrilled!  

And then there are the subjects outside the basics that most high schoolers don’t even know about.  I tutored a junior high student for a while, and she wasn’t interested in college.  But when I started telling her about the kinds of things you can study, I could see an interest sparking.  She was kind of going in an English direction, so I told her about creative writing, journalism, communications, etc. and she’d never even considered these options.  For me, I wish that I’d discovered sociology and anthropology earlier but I didn’t even know what they were, really, until late in my final semester of college and never got to take a class.  Languages – we should be offering more, not fewer!  People get really interested when a school starts offering Arabic.  For me, going from UMBC to law school at Iowa, I wish that I had gone here for undergrad whenever I look at the course catalogue.  Whole classes dedicated to a single poet!  Israeli literature!  History of the Islamic religion in the context of human rights!  Croatian!  Don’t narrow the curriculum, folks.  You’ll get more kids like me who as sophomores, are seriously tempted to drop out, no matter how smart they are, because there’s just nothing there.  Do we really want that?

Talkin' bout my…education?

Cara at the Curvature recently wrote a very thought-provoking post about what she calls “real sex education.”  I’m not going to talk a lot about the post, because I think you should just read it – she makes some really interesting points – but I would like to share some thoughts about sex ed.  Cara’s real sex education involves teaching young people that sex is supposed to be consensual + pleasurable for both parties.  At first I looked at that statement and thought “hey, no brainer.”  Then I thought wait a minute, I may be progressive and all but I don’t want to be teaching kids about sex.  Then I thought, well, you know what, she has a real fucking point.

The big focus now for sex education is on teaching about how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.  There’s a big debate, I gather, between abstinence-only folks and comprehensive sex ed folks, but when they say comprehensive they still mean focusing on disease and pregnancy and how to prevent them.  It never really occurred to me what kind of a role sex ed could have had in my unfortunate early experiences, but now that I think of it, yeah, that’s a good way to start.

I’m not sure if my own sex education would be considered “abstinence only” or not.  In fifth grade, we took a course called “Human Growth and Development.”  It was a one-week part of the science curriculum that required parental permission, and of course everyone was very excited about it because of the sense of taboo that surrounded the course.  We essentially learned about anatomy – I dutifully labelled charts of male and female anatomy, though I know for a fact that a clitoris appeared nowhere on those charts (the focus being “the reproductive system”).  We had a quiz on the anatomy, then for the last class period we were huddled into a separate room from the boys and a female teacher told us briefly what a period is and what a sanitary pad is – my first introduction to the subject.  And that was that.

In eighth grade, we very briefly heard something about AIDS in health class, as part of a list of various diseases that we should be able to identify, but nothing about other STDs or how to prevent them.  In high school, there was a brief unit on the family in health class where we learned that a family is a married man, woman, and children, and though other families can and do exist they are technically dysfunctional.

And then out into the world I went!  

So when I thought about my nether regions, I mainly associated them with periods and reproduction.  My mother taught me that sex was appropriate in a loving relationship.  When I started college and did have a sexual relationship with a man, though, she was uncomfortable talking about oral sex and felt that it was something very intimate, something that while it was not necessarily to be saved for marriage, was only for special relationships and was not to be discussed.  It certainly wasn’t, as my friends had informed me, foreplay, something that you do before intercourse.

I never ended up having oral sex.  Oh, I was on the giving end plenty, as that was something he needed almost every time to have intercourse, but there was never any touching or anything like that for me.  It was very clothes off, let’s go.  I knew how to masturbate, but orgasms were something for alone time.  He asked if it was all right (the intercourse), but never offered to do something in addition.  I did finally get the courage to ask after about six months of sexual activity, and he said matter-of-factly that he “wasn’t interested in that.”  That’s fine.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But it was still disappointing. 

I don’t know that any of this is directly related to the lack of sex education in my life, but I can’t help but wonder if it might have helped.  I’m just now learning about safe sex for lesbians, and even there all the sources wildly conflict.  I think a few things could help.  1) Comprehensive safe sex information for gay and straight sex in high school.  2) Include the clitoris on the damned diagrams.  3) Teach the consent + pleasure model that Cara advocates.  4) Be realistic about sex.

I think that a huge problem with my education is that I masturbated from the age of eleven or so, but I always assumed that sexual intercourse would be this big things with fireworks and even more amazing orgasms.  When I learned that it’s kind of all right, and no orgasms whatsoever, I was disappointed.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s waited until marriage and then suddenly realises “fuck, I signed on for this?”  I also assumed that the actual process would be easy, tab A into slot B.  It was actually a little difficult, and clumsy, and took a lot of maintenance on my part to keep the guy ready to do his job.  This was a bit of a let down.  After sex with men, I started feeling that sex was pointless.  I mean, nothing can be better than the orgasms I give myself, so I should just give up.  Sex with women is basically going to be masturbation with someone nice to look at.  Then I started re-thinking it, and realising that it doesn’t have to all be orgasm driven.  A lot is about the touching someone, tasting someone, kissing someone, and loving someone.  I think the same could be true for heterosexual couples, especially if the woman doesn’t enjoy intercourse.  But you’d never know that from sex ed.  I think they should be frank.  Ladies, you deserve to enjoy sex.  You might not enjoy intercourse.  That’s okay.  You should search together for other ways to derive pleasure.  Etc, etc.  I think just re-framing the norms about sex that we all carry around with us would make for a much more enjoyable experience when the time comes.

Something's fundamentally wrong here

There’s been a story circulating around the Internet about how the principal of a South Carolina high school chose to resign when students chose to form a GSA (Gay Students Association).  Now I personally don’t have a problem with the man’s choice.  It seems like he handled it very well – he made it clear that it was for personal and religious reasons that he was leaving, he decided to stay out the term until 2009, and he indicated that he wouldn’t be mentioning to the students his specific reasons for leaving when he made the announcement to the school.  He also, as far as I can tell, didn’t block the formation of the GSA in any way.

The part of this news that made me think, though, was something in his letter of resignation.  What troubles him is that this and no other club deals with students’ “sexual orientation, sexual preference, and sexual activity” and that the way he sees it, the club requires acknowledging that students are sexually active with a certain sex, whether the same, different, or both.

Wait, what?  Back that train up, please.  Besides the obvious problem that others have pointed out in blogging about this article with sexualising the gay movement in general, I’m a little concerned about this specific context.  Coming out, to yourself or to others, doesn’t mean anything about how sexual you are.  Whether or not you are attracted to someone of the same sex is relevant, but sexual experience is in no way required to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between – including straight.  If sexual experience were the only indicator, I’d be straight, and I’m sure as hell not.  

But it’s not just that alone that bothers me, it’s the inherent assumption here.  In order to be gay, he seems to be saying, you have to admit that you’re sexual with someone of the same sex.  Is the same true in order to be straight?  I actually think it might be almost all right if we just said, no one is anything until they have sex (putting aside the obvious huge problems with basing orientation entirely on experience).  It wouldn’t really be accurate, but at least it would be equitable.  Instead, I think what we obviously say in society is that everyone is straight by default.  Straight is the presumption, that has to be rebutted.  How do we rebut it?  By having sex.  Hmm.  

So what we’re saying, I suppose, is that people are straight until they have a same sex experience.  You can’t have an abstinent gay person.  And I suppose it would be problematic to require straight people to have sex to prove their straightness, because, well, if you fall into a certain religious group, they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place until they’re married.  Queers can’t get married, so they might as well go have sex?  Oh, I don’t even know.

Thinking back, I realise that I encountered this attitude quite a lot when I was younger.  I said I was bisexual (which is how I identified till I was 21 or so) and people would say oh, okay, that’s great, well you don’t really know until you’ve tried it, but good luck!  Even people who were completely okay with LGBT folks, my family included, would put it that way.  This may have been because I very aggressively tried to be cool as a kid, and cool included being girly and boycrazy, so I seemed rather obviously straight, but even so, I think all this really does is encourages kids to go out and have sex to prove you wrong (whether they’re ready or not).  Now that I’m older, people assume that, because I say “I’m a lesbian,” that I’m sexually experienced with women.  The fact is that I’m not really, mainly because of timing (my one serious relationship with a girl was in high school) and the fact that I’m very picky about relationships and enjoy being single, so I’m less experienced than some people my age.  I don’t really mind that assumption so much, but I think that in general it’s a good rule of thumb not to assume.  Sex and sexuality are obviously related, but there’s no correlation between sexuality and how much sex you have.  

Just food for thought.