Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Deconstructing Gender, Teaching Consent, and Using a Current and Relevant Sex Ed Curriculum in Ontario

These are curious times, my friends. An old and outdated sex ed curriculum from 1998 will instruct the young minds of the future in Ontario starting next week. This is unreal. I am particularly concerned about how the dangers of cyber bullying and respecting people regardless of their sexuality or gender identity won't be taught especially after I read an article this morning about how poor nine-year-old Jamel Myles of Denver committed suicide after coming out to his classmates and being bullied. His mother Leia Pierce found Jamel dead in the home and insists that bullying was the cause. “Four days is all it took at school. I could just imagine what they said to him,” Pierce told KDVR-TV. “My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself. I’m just sad he didn’t come to me" (https://ca.style.yahoo.com/9-year-old-commits-suicide-coming-gay-classmates-201811792.html). This breaks my heart as this senseless tragedy could have been avoided. Children must learn that whether someone is straight, homosexual, bisexual (attracted to both men and women), pansexual (attracted to men, women, androgynous or agender individuals, or trans people; https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-pansexuality) or transgender, it doesn't mean that he or she is subhuman, mentally ill, or less deserving of respect and dignity. We are all special and unique and valid. This must be taught in schools and the home. As a critical thinker, university graduate, and feminist, I know that gender is a social construct. Pointe finale! According to Medical News Today, "biological sex" is the difference between the sexes in terms of women having vaginas and higher levels of estrogen and progesterone while men have penises and higher levels of testerone. While both women and men have 46 chromosomes, women have two X chromosomes and men both a X and Y chromosome (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232363.php). The trouble is when a baby is born with a mixture of genitalia (he/she would be referred to as "intersex"), the parents then decide which sex their child will be. Intersex births also occur in Mother Nature. The Urban Dictionary defines "gender binary" as "the social construction of gender in most societies in the world where gender is a dichotomy between male and female" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). It states that female and male gender expectations, roles, and functions are generally "very rigid," which means "the presence of alternate gender constructions are usually denigrated, ignored, or made oblivious" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). Some of these expectations are that women are more emotional, passive, and weak while men are more rational, aggressive, strong, and should therefore be treated differently, i.e. raised differently. This construct doesn't take into consideration how a lot of this is due that patriarchy, socialization, and nurturance within the home is to blame. Many cultures still discourage boys from expressing their emotions or crying and encourage them to "be a man," while girls are encouraged to be gentle (not rough), quiet, passive, and act "like a lady." Sure, many men are more aggressive than women, but there are some women who are less "lady like" and considered "tom boys"; men who cry and are too sensitive and are seen as "nancy boys." One writer/activist known as thewongmann feels very strongly about this issue and states: "The gender binary is crap and doesn't allow for individual gender expression like being genderqueer or two spirit" (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gender%20Binary). According to the World Health Organization (WHO): "Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed" (http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/understanding/gender-definition/en/). Planned Parenthood goes further: "It’s easy to confuse sex and gender. Just remember that biological or assigned sex is about biology, anatomy, and chromosomes. Gender is society’s set of expectations, standards, and characteristics about how men and women are supposed to act" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). Then there is the issue of gender identity: "(It) is how you feel inside and how you express those feelings. Clothing, appearance, and behaviors can all be ways to express your gender identity" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). According to Planned Parenthood, while most people feel that they are either female or male, some feel like a feminine male or masculine female. Some people feel neither male nor female and may choose labels such as "genderqueer" or "gender fluid" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). Then of course there are transgender or trans folk who "feel that their assigned (or biological) sex is that of the other gender from their gender identity, i.e., assigned sex is female, but gender identity is male" (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity). They vehemently reject the gender binary. Moreover, children should be aware that are many kinds of families in today's society other than the traditional opposite sex couple/nuclear family and taught that consent is an important issue especially in today's rape culture. Of course safe sex is just as important as is knowledge about the reality of sexting and being aware of the option of abortion. These are some of the many issues that the old sex ed curriculum in Ontario will not teach students this fall, which has left many parents, teachers, and citizens in general concerned. On the other hand, I am concerned and disturbed by the fact that the sex ed curriculum, which former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne introduced in 2015, was designed by disgraced bureaucrat Benjamin Levin (he was the former deputy education minister) who pleaded guilty to and was jailed on child-related porn charges in May 2015. In particular, he was jailed for having created and possessed child porn and counselled others to commit sexual assault (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). Judge Heather McArthur wrote that Levin had a “hidden, dark side” hidden from his family and political friends. This included visiting chat rooms “devoted to topics of incest and the sexual exploitation of children,” something he’d done for years (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). Levin was ultimately brought to justice after being caught communicating with police officers posing as single mothers and encouraging them to sexually abuse their children. In some cases, he shared photos (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). This is downright appalling and disgusting. How and why the hell was such a depraved and dangerous predator allowed to design the sex ed curriculum that would teach the very population he enjoyed seeing sexually abused and scarred for life? It is beyond me! In one case, Levin sent photographs to a New Zealand police officer, one showing a “close-up of the face of a crying child, her face smeared with black makeup.” He suggested to her that the image was “hot,” according to parole board documents. Another photo he sent showed a young female bound and leashed, with a gag in her mouth and Levin commented, “Mmm, so hot to imagine a mother doing that to her girl to please her lover” (https://torontosun.com/2017/10/07/ex-deputy-education-minister-jailed-for-child-porn-charges-out-on-parole/wcm/0d5fc1be-152e-49d2-9f2f-5e4966ad3dbe). My God! What was Wynne thinking? I believe that a new sex ed curriculum (1998 belongs in 1998!) should be drafted and include input from experts, educators, and parents. Regardless of what your personal or religious beliefs are, sexual education does save lives and empowers people for the future. It is necessary and must be taught. It ensures that people are treated with dignity and respect. It dispels fear while promoting love, self-awareness, and acceptance. Knowledge is power. Let's leave the Stone Ages behind us once and for all.