Although I don't really see how it helps reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STD's, many of these abstinence-only programs try to push rigid gender roles onto students in which women are empty-headed and obsessed with marriage and men simply can't control their sexual urges... no matter how aggressive they become.
Focus on the Family's No Apologies curriculum, which is used by several school districts in Texas, tells girls:
LADIES BE LADIES
In another article, we talked about chivalry and knights and gentlemen being gentlemen. But there are two sides to every coin, so girls, we have to ask: Are you acting like the kind of lady who would attract such a knight in shining armour? Think about it. Maturity attracts maturity. Class attracts class. Ladies attract gentlemen.
Indeed, it seems like Focus on the Family is using federal money for abstinence-only education to push feudal-era gender roles on American youth.
This is part 3 of my weeklong series unpacking the new Wilson and Wiley study on what's really being taught in abstinence-only programs in Texas, the largest recipient of federal sex-ed money. Part 1 was on homophobia, and part 2 was on teaching religion in public schools.
Some of this sexism gets pretty ridiculous, and those of us far away from either Texas or the school system might not know just how bad it is on the ground.
The Religious Right, which has fought tooth and nail for decades for abstinence-only education, is a pretty sexist group of people. The main reason they oppose same-sex marriage is that it will "destroy" the institution. That only makes sense if one thinks that marriage is not a partnership between two equal, consenting adults, or a contract made between two people, but rather as a man taking up a woman as a domestic servant.
Same-sex marriage, for them, is an assault on gender roles more than anything else. It makes them feel uncomfortable to see others living even somewhat outside the binary, so they seek to expand and impose their view of right and wrong for boys and girls on everyone in public schools.
One of the most recurrent themes discussed in Wilson and Wiley's study is the idea that women long for validation through relationships while men seek validation elsewhere. As one abstinence-only program put it:
Women need "financial support" and "family commitment." Men need "domestic support" and "admiration."
Focus on the Family's curriculum goes so far as to say:
(T)he safest place for a woman to live is married to a man.
One school district created an easy-to-follow handout about how boys and girls simply will act. No room for gender or sexual diversity, just pick a column and stick with it!
|Sexual Differences Between Male and Female:|
|"Erotic Bill"|| "Romantic Susie"|
|Inclination for Sexual Intercourse||Not So Inclined to Want Intercourse|
|Easily Aroused||Not So Easily Aroused|
|Visual - "Turned On" Easily by Sight||Auditory - "Turned On" More By What She Hears |
|Focuses More on Genital Activity||Focuses More on Feelings|
|More Often||Less Frequently|
|May Tend to Use "Love" to Get Sex||May Tend to Use "Sex" To Get Love|
These gender roles are dangerous, beyond the fact that they're overly restrictive and out-dated, because:
- they completely erase same-sex attraction and love;
- they are guidelines with which to police gender, as if high school students needed more ways to do that;
- they portray as abnormal any woman who enjoys sex or gets aroused;
- they depict men who aren't having sex, or who aren't doing everything they can to get sex, as abnormal and emasculated; and
- they set up a paradigm in which women are cold and asexual and must be pushed to have sex and men are always controlled by their sexual needs, normalizing sexual aggression against women.
The last point leads into the other major gender stereotype that Wilson and Wiley found in abstinence-only programs: sexual assault is boys being boys, and girls not protecting themselves enough
The danger in presenting sexual assault as the victim's fault should be obvious to anyone, but apparently the Religious Right, along with hating gays, hates any woman who doesn't conform to their standards for how she should live her life. One program used in Texas says:
Girls, taking into consideration that guys are more easily sexually turned on by sight, you need to think long and hard about the way you dress and the way you come on to guys...If a guy is breathing, then he's probably turned on...How can you tell a girl is an easy target for a guy?...By the clothes she wears...A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: 1) She's pretty ignorant when it comes to guys, and she has no clue what she's doing. 2) She's teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! 3) She's giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, "Here I am. Come take me."
Even if she expressly says no, sometimes a girl actually wants to have sex. Come on, boys, you know what you're bound by nature to do!
Another program presents it as a narrative:
The Why kNOw? curriculum, for instance, includes a story about a young couple named Stephanie and Drew who are trying to remain abstinent until marriage. In this material, which is used in 21 Texas districts, students are told that Stephanie is too affectionate and wears tight clothing. Drew "likes her a lot, but lately keeping his hands off her has been a real job!" Stephanie has clearly communicated to Drew that she does not want to have sex - "her actions, however, are not matching her words."
One has to wonder just who thought it would be a good idea, though, to include all these sexist stereotypes in abstinence-only education. It obviously doesn't help reduce teen pregnancy rates - 94% of Texas schools use abstinence-only education and yet the state has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy and is recognized by the CDC as having elevated levels of sexually risky behavior.
I imagine it has to do with the fact that, for the Religious Right, opposing same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, women in the workplace, comprehensive sex ed, and opposing alternative families are all part of the same package: forcing people to live by their rigid rules (that they rarely follow themselves) based on an over-simplified and negative view of human sexuality. Gender roles and homophobia are as much a part of the life they want to impose on everyone as condomless sex and forced pregnancy are. So why shouldn't they be taught all together?
Read more on real abstinence-only programs: