Monday, June 04, 2007
does anyone remember that sweaty nervous day in 4th or 5th or 6th grade when all the boys went with the gym teacher and all the girls stayed in the classroom? remember those little pink pamphlets with the flowers? remember? remember thinking you already knew everything because, after all, you already read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret?
remember asking your teacher "is there any way you can, like, NOT have your period?"
I always wondered what the boys were doing. It had to be more interesting than what we were doing with all those flowers and maxipads. I remember we were all on the cusp of menstrual technology - the birth of the beltless, pinless, adhesive sanitary napkin. sweet liberty, so we were told.
but really none of us wanted to talk about bleeding. we wanted to talk about boys. boys boys boys. except not. we wanted to talk about "doing booty". except not. we wanted to talk about our parents getting divorced and why bras were important. except not. thanks to our parents, largely, and the brisk circulation of "dirty" paperbacks smuggled from our mothers' bookshelves, most of us had, I think, at least somewhat of a handle on the physics of sex, - it was the chemistry that made us all dizzy and sick and feverish with curiosity. but, when given every opportunity to ask a real live woman - nothing. not a peep. we were scared.
so, aside from some basic questions about cramps and stuff, we were all silent.
And we remained so, at least in an academic context, until high school. It wasn't until ninth or tenth grade that the subject was even touched upon again, and then the focus was on pregnancy and STDs, and how to prevent such things at all costs. And again, we were on the cusp of something - AIDS.
This time, the adults were more scared than the kids.
"No." they said. "No. not in a box, not with a fox, not in a house, not with a mouse. No. just - no."
"but what about...?" NO
"how about...?" NO
"hey - I read that..." NO.
slowly that turned into "not until you're married, or, if you simply must, not without a condom."
"why? and what about?"
"hey - don't look at me, kids. I'm not here to compromise anyone's family values. This is what the curriculum says - not until you're married, or, if you simply must, not without a condom. See you next week."
and if you grasped that much, you passed with a lady's or gentleman's "C" and were left alone, to muddle your way through as though you never had the class at all.
think you're queer? talk to the shrink.
think you're pregnant? talk to your parents.
think you're sick? talk to the doctor.
because the teacher was not there to really educate the class. the teacher was there to tread the thread between state mandates and parental pressure. She couldn't really help it. She was a field hockey coach impressed into service, not really a sexual health education specialist.
I don't imagine that's changed so much in twenty years.
do they still separate into boys' classes and girls' classes? do parents still do "The Talk" or "The Book" or whatever?
(I always imagined myself giving a powerpoint presentation to my children. did anyone else do that?)
does any woman remember anything else besides those little flowery pamphlets, at the end of it all?
They did for us when I was in 5th grade, though the specific person who talked to us was amazing, looking back on it. Instead of waiting for questions, he went into tasteful descriptions of his experiences, repeatedly said that consent was crucial, and without it, there is no such thing as sex, and was able to say "I don't know".
The 7th grade Life Science unit was co-ed and very video-centric. We watched Magic Johnson's infamous "banana on a condom" AIDS special. And, PBS's The Miracle of Life, which ends with some woman from the 70's crowning in a hospital room, and resulted in two of my fellow classmates instantaneously projectile vomiting.
We had "Sex Ed" in "Health" in 10th grade, which had the much-ballyhooed STD Slideshow, a lot of diagrams, and a mimeographed piece of paper from Planned Parenthood on birth control options.
And, that was in Texas. These days, that wouldn't fly.
you do the math. :P
So my parents send us to CHURCH for sex ed. Seriously. And what did the church say? Don't. No. Because God said so. Again, no talk of contraception or disease or anything. Well, they did say you could get pregnant. But they didn't say how NOT to get pregnant either.
And I thought it was funny, because I knew a good half of the people in the class weren't virgins anyway.
So... no. It was pretty similar in both cases. But, I got through 10th grade Health class before the Baptist Mommy Brigade took over the school board in '95. My mom was FREAKED at the difference between what I got in sex ed, and what my brother (abstinence only), who's 7 years younger than I am, got. Unsurprisingly, his class had a pretty harsh Gonorrhea outbreak.
my sex ed was pretty perfunctory--like, one third of a trimester, and pretty strictly biological function stuff.
the only person i knew who was "excused" from that section, interestingly enough (you needed parental permission slips), was the chick who lived across the street, whose brother (and, rumored, father also) was a neo-Nazi.
whatever that tells you.
I kid you not. That was the movie we watched in 5th grade.
Because I was a tomboy and my best friends were guys, I also learned what the boys got that day. It was a lecture about the evils of unknown miscreants who stuffed a toilet with paper towels and flooded the boy's bathrooms.