In eighth grade, my friend Becca had to lug a plastic baby doll around for two weeks. She was in Home Economics, and those babies represented the pinnacle of the teacher’s Curriculum for Southern Young WomenTM. They produced a horrible, pre-recorded squall every few hours if a certain button wasn’t pushed. This made them the absolute delight of a distraction-obsessed student body.
They were also — for the same reason — the bane of every sane adult at school. Our math teacher threatened detention for any girl who forgot to push the button. There was still at least one student per day who, blushing, frantically rummaged in her plastic spawn’s onesie for the off switch.
Oh, those babies. At this point, I could take this post in three directions. I could laugh about how ridiculous the whole thing was, and tell you about my schoolmate Tricia. She was so devoted to the mechanical fruit of her loins that she spent hard-earned babysitting money to replace its standard-issue beige clothing with a bedazzled pink ensemble.
I could also regale you with how the football players used to steal girls’ babies and sling them around the field while the “moms” squealed in distress.
Or I could (and very nearly did) pound out a scathing manifesto on how incredibly sexist it was that only girls were allowed to take Home Ec. That meant only girls had to complete this sorry excuse for an academic assignment. Only girls had to understand the consequences of a baby crying at all hours of the night, and spend at least one class period weighed down by the giant fake belly Mrs. C. kept under lock and key.
And — of course — only girls were ridiculed years later in high school, when a few of them did become pregnant. Only girls dropped out because of sheer embarrassment and bullying. As far as I could ever tell, only girls suffered the consequences of my tiny home town’s entirely abstinence-based sex “education.”
But. This is one of those times when I think the phrase “trust your readers” comes into play. You don’t need me to break down what was wrong with all this, and I don’t have the stomach to put a funny spin on the misogyny. Instead, I’ll just give you the rest of the story.
In the first year of high school, boys and girls started taking Physical Education separately. One day when we had Health class instead of sports, the girls were marched to the auditorium for a movie screening. When our teacher hit Play, the screen sprang to life and we were instantly beset by a giant image of a bleeding vagina accompanied by a woman’s agonized shrieks.
The Health teacher didn’t say a word. She just started intently at the laboring woman, then peered out at the class to make sure we were all paying full attention. Three minutes of crying and bleeding later, the baby had been born. She shut off the film.
Then she asked us all to pull out a pencil with a decent amount of eraser left on the tip. “If you ever feel funny in your private area, don’t go looking for a boy to kiss. Just rub a pencil eraser on you lips and you’ll feel much better. Let’s try it now!”
She proceeded to pace up and down the rows of seats until she’d confirmed that we all understood the divine pleasure of scrubbing a smudgy eraser across our mouths. Then she gave us a post script about how we should never be alone with boys, because they would definitely rape us, and then we would definitely get pregnant.
(So wait — I was wrong. This pitiful excuse for sex ed did harm boys as well. It made us see them all as potential attackers.)
At that point, the teacher asked if we had any questions. Terrified of further contact with our pencils,every girl shook her head.
We spent the rest of the class labeling a worksheet with line drawings of the female reproductive system. The teacher observed our work and contributed helpful comments like, “Let me remind you, ladies: Real babies don’t have an off switch!”
When class ended, I had completed the full coursework for my middle school’s sex ed curriculum.
Given this “education,” I consider it a personal miracle that I didn’t get pregnant in high school. (Of course I was sexually active. The CDC reported in 2013 that 47% of high schools students are.) The truth is that abstinence-only sex ed DOES NOT WORK.
This is a huge part of why I support universal free birth control, why I believe in a woman’s right to end a pregnancy, and why I don’t think parental consent should be needed to access either of these services.
What kind of sex “education” did you receive? What are your kids hearing at school? Do you think comprehensive sex ed should be mandatory, or should it be left up to parents? Let me know…