It is a fifth grader’s right of passage—Human Growth and Development aka Sex Ed. Parents unconsciously brace for it from the moment their child exits the womb. After the ritual of counting fingers, toes, and other essential parts, they take their bundle of joy home and right away begin to reference body parts with their proper, physiological terms, even as they toss their I Love Boobies t-shirts into the dryer. “Alright,” they tell themselves, “we have ten years to prep the kid so that when the day of reckoning arrives, the trauma is vastly lessened—for both the kid and us.” It’s a grand plan of action and so they fist pump and begin the journey. Along the way, they acquire a house, cars, flat screen televisions, Blue Ray, GPS, smart phones, health club membership, embrace a few charitable causes, and save space on their dressers for a collection of colored bracelets that convey the URL for various social and cancer awareness websites. They are creating consciousness in their little tyke who has his own onesie that reads Big or Small Save Them All.
So the big day arrives, when girls team up with their Moms and boys pair up with their Dads and enter different rooms at their school for the low down on the grandest of all exits. There are colored kisses and pink totes filled with sample sizes of Secret, nail decals and tampons for the girls and drab, dour brown bags for the boys with sample sized Axe and a pamphlet on why teenagers stink. Embarrassment saturates the boy’s room as Dads stare fixedly on a spot on the wall as they inwardly cringe at all the awkward questions they’ll have to field on the way home. Moms deftly deflect awkwardness by promising to buy their daughters bras and nail polish.
The mechanics of the Act, abstinence, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies is explained in a powerful .pptx that makes the point.
But the folks who created the Sex Ed curriculum miss the larger point. They have a captive audience of impressionable 10 year olds at their mercy. What a perfect opportunity to teach them to respect the opposite gender, to tell boys that girls are not to be objectified, harassed or teased, that girls are not just a sum of their body parts but thinking, feeling individuals who are someone’s daughter and sister. SPELL IT OUT because it behooves us as a society to find every opportunity to forge it into the collective consciousness of boys, who will be men, that respect is the cornerstone of ALL relationships—casual, platonic or romantic.
My daughter knows a girl who socked a boy’s snout when he wouldn’t stop teasing and bullying her. They were both in elementary school at the time. He moved on but she had to attend anger management classes for showing poor self-control. What’s more, she has been flagged as a potential trouble maker for this act. In other words, that incident and her subsequent mitigation is part of her official record which followed her through high school and will likely piggy back on her to college.
It strikes my daughter as unfair that often boys tease and taunt girls with impunity. It’s harassment plain and simple, but it’s explained away in clichéd sound bites—boys will be boys, just kidding, don’t over-react, girls are such drama queens, she asked for it and the like. Why do they think they have permission to comment on our bodies, appearance and behavior? She wonders. It is shocking that parents don’t teach their sons to respect girls and women.
The New York Times ( Thursday, April 10, 2014 The Arts) featured street art by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, a painter and illustrator from Brooklyn who took her show to Atlanta to protest street harassment of women—catcalling in street parlance. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/arts/design/tatyana-fazlalizadeh-takes-her-public-art-project-to-georgia.html?_r=0 Her poster-sized drawings pasted all over Atlanta portray young women “demanding civility” with statements such as “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation”, “Critiques on My Body are Not Welcome” and “I am Not Your Geisha China Doll Asian Fetish.” It’s daring and in-your-face.
So it’s come to this.
Women face street harassment on every continent. According to StopStreetHarassment.org (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/) most women, (more than 80% worldwide) will face gender-based street harassment in their lifetime. And it doesn’t matter if you live in Yemen or Indianapolis, these behaviors run the gamut from leering, honking and vulgar gestures to other revolting behavior such as blocking a woman’s path, touching, grabbing, and assault.
The offenders come from all socio-economic walks of life. The affluent are by no means better behaved. Since these behaviors are so pervasive, it begs the questions; WHY? What AREN’T we doing to stop this pandemic?
Legislating behavior is fine and dandy, but enforcing it is harder. Law enforcement has too many fires to put out elsewhere in cities. They are spread too thin. Street corners the world over are overrun with louts. And every one of those misfits has at least one parent who can make a difference.