This morning I went to parent-teacher conferences. I'm going to skip the part about how parent-teacher conferences are constructed by Twelve's school in a manner that is almost completely inaccessible to working and/or single parents, and get to the part about abstinence-based sex education.
Going around the room, Twelve's teachers all said pretty much the same thing: She's smart, doesn't always attend to detail or try very hard, and talks too much in class. No surprises there. She's a great kid, smiles a lot, has a great peer group. Yup, I knew that too.
What I didn't know until I met with her PE teacher is that when sex ed is covered in health class next year, she'll be taught that sex is stupid. Okay, I'm with you at this point, and I actually agree that it's stupid for eighth graders to be having sex, but tell me more. Oh, it's abstinence-based? How so? It gives them info on contraception, right? Okay, go get the curriculum, I'll wait here. Hmmm ... protection and contraception methods are covered as an afterthought in lesson seven? You refer to them as 'safer stupid'?
At this point I'm trying very hard not to panic and just focusing on not alienating this guy. The PE/health teacher is a nice enough young man, and I'm sure that when he mentioned 'protecting one's reputation' as one of the reasons why eighth graders should refrain from sex, he meant to reassure me about the thoroughness of the curriculum. He probably wasn't expecting me to ask him if he plans to cover the gendered sexual double standard and women's double bind, since he looked at me blankly and asked what I meant.
Mind you, when faced with utter ignorance, my policy is to practice the flies-with-honey approach when at all possible, and I had had my tea by this time, so I paused for a bit of mental rummaging-around.
How do you convey ten weeks' worth of information, discussion, and in-class exercises into a ten-second sound bite? This guy hadn't even read the assigned readings in preparation for our discussion! I backed way up and just started blabbering. "Like how when boys sleep around they're considered studs, but when girls do the same way, they're called a whole list of derogatory names." Tracking with me here, he nodded thoughtfully, and made a connection to how they had been talking about body image the week prior, and he had pointed out to the class that body image is a bigger deal for girls than for boys.
It was rather precious, actually; he had the same reaction as Twelve's kindergarten teacher the day that she realized that the day's story did, in fact, contain a gender stereotype. The Dawn of Awareness, I'll call it. No, that's too strong a term. The Beginnings of an Inkling of Awareness is more like it.
I can work with this.
I consider it a privilege to be present at such moments, and I'd hate to puncture anyone's burgeoning awareness bubble, so I left it with a brief mention of my masters degree and offering to be a resource for incorporating an awareness of gender into the curriculum. I didn't bother to explain that femininity and masculinity are social constructs of the meanings of biological sexual differences, I just said that there are lots of things that we all know and that we just don't have the terms to articulate them yet. He seemed receptive enough, so we'll see how it goes.
Of course I daydreamed about possible in-class activities all the way home: I think eighth graders could handle the gender box exercise, where things that are okay for girls are written inside the girl box and things that are not okay for girls are written outside, and vice verse for the boy box. The 'sit like a boy/sit like a girl' activity would work just fine - it's one of my favorites because it's so simple, yet so profound - and I betcha they could generate lists of terms that are applied to promiscuous individuals of each gender. I dunno if they'll let me guest-lecture - Twelve, I'm sure, would be appalled at the very thought - but at least I won't be blindsided next year during Curriculum Night.
When I got home, Twelve asked what her teachers had said about her. I asked what she thought they said, and she grinned. "I talk too much?"