The Sex Ed Hall of Shame (reprint from

In light of NYC’s mandate, we look at states with the worst policies when it comes to the birds and the bees
The sex ed hall of shame


This week people were abuzz over news that New York City had mandated sex education — and some were simply scratching their heads at the realization that this wasn’t already the case. Seriously, it took this long?

Well, seriously, there are still 24 states that haven’t mandated sex education, including New York state.

That’s too many states to cover in any detail, so I’ll narrow it down to the worst of them. These are states that not only fail to mandate sex ed, but require that when it is taught, abstinence and the “importance of sex only within marriage” are stressed. These states make sure to defend “traditional” values, but they don’t protect scientific ones: Unlike some states, they don’t require that classes provide medically accurate information. Without further ado, the embarrassing eight that meet this criteria:

  • Alabama has “among the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis of any state in the union,” according to youth advocate Amplify, and has the 15th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Another not-so-fun fact: It bans schools from teaching anything positive about homosexuality.
  • Arkansas has landed on some unfortunate top-ten lists: When it comes to STI rates among young people, it ranks 5th in terms of chlamydia, 7th for gonorrhea and 10th for syphilis. It also has the 8th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.
  • Florida has the sad distinction of ranking 1st in HIV infections and 12th in teen pregnancies.
  • Indiana fares well in terms of teen pregnancy and STI rates — relatively speaking — but the state’s teens “are among the least likely to report having used condoms the last time they had sex,” according to Amplify.
  • Louisiana has the highest syphilis rate among young people in this country. It’s also in the top ten for both chlamydia and gonorrhea, and 11th in terms of teen HIV.
  • Missouri was given a “C” rating on teen health by Amplify — while most of the states on this list received closer to a “D” — but, still, “the state has higher than average rates of STIs and lower than average rates of condom use among sexually active high school students.”
  • Texas has several claims to sex-shame: It ranks 5th for teen pregnancy, 3rd in young people with AIDS and 4th in terms of syphilis among teens. A whopping 96 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence only, according to a study by the Texas Freedom Network.
  • Virginia has the 8th highest syphilis rate among young people. While it’s seen a decline in unplanned pregnancies, a study found that between 1991 and 2004 teen births still cost taxpayers roughly $3.1 billion.

The good news is that there are 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, that currently mandate sex education. But that’s a very basic achievement — it says nothing of the requirements and restrictions that are made on curricula across the country. Guttmacher reports that “26 states require that abstinence be stressed” in sex ed classes; meanwhile only 19 states insist on any mention of contraceptives. And we wonder why the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world.

Does Pink Nail Polish on a Boy Create Gender Confusion?

You may be aware of the controversy over a mother painting her five-year-old son’s toenails neon pink in a recent J. Crew ad. One pundit called it “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” Psychologist and author Keith Ablow advises the mother to put money aside for her son’s future psychotherapy. Here, Jon Stewart weighs in on The Daily Show:

I wrote a post a couple of years ago about this topic (“Pink is for Girls“) but even then I didn’t seriously consider that people would cry “Transgender!” if a boy painted his toenails. (Or is it that they’re pink that’s the problem?) And what’s with all the blame being heaped on the mother for seeming to encourage this behavior?

One of my readers directed me to an article in Mother Jones about the “pink problem.” In it, the author points out that until the 1920s, the gender-assigned colors were reversed: pink was for boys and blue for girls. And boys used to be dressed like girls (long hair and all) until they graduated into short pants.

The fact is, there are many strands in the process of gender socialization and color is probably the least significant. How we talk to, handle and play with our children has more to do with how they perceive their gender. That’s why many parents with children who prefer to “cross-dress” don’t seem to be unduly concerned. Do a Google search on boys loving pink and you’ll be surprised at how many parents report that their perfectly normal boys are enamored with the color. There’s even a Facebook page titled “My Son Likes Pink.” Sarah Hoffman writes about her son looking great in a dress in a article.

Why are we so concerned about little boys dressing like girls and not the reverse? (Although there has been some media speculation about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and her tomboy ways.) A woman has to go really butch to get people second-guessing her sexual identity, but all a man has to do is wear hot pink.

And these assumptions are buried deep. It’s the rare person who doesn’t feel discomfort at a man in a skirt, for instance. I once attended a blues concert where the performer wore a long pleated skirt throughout the entire show and I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. I’m still puzzled. (The performer never mentioned his attire.) But why should I be? Women wear pants, don’t they?

An alternate question might be, what harm does gender socialization do anyway? Isn’t it important for a child to be clear about his or her sexual identity? For one thing, small children might “know” their gender, but don’t view it as set in stone. Many children wish they were the opposite sex at some point in their development. Some even think they will change at a later date or that they’re free to choose. It’s not until a child hits preadolescence (ages 8-12) that his or her gender identification— and adjustment to it — becomes critically important.

Caring which way your child goes has more to do with discomfort about transgender and homosexuality than anything. Because the bottom line is, so what if your child identifies as the opposite sex, or is only attracted to the same sex? We do our children a great disservice when we force them into boxes they may not feel comfortable in.  (See tomorrow’s video, “The Man Box.”)





House Republicans Jeopardize Women’s Health Care

Last Friday (Feb. 18)  House Republicans voted 240-185 to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

I find this incomprehensible. Planned Parenthood is a respectable, indispensable source of health care for low and middle income women that has been around for 95 years. For some women it is their first, and sometimes only, contact with gynecological health care. Since we still don’t have universal health care in this country, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Planned Parenthood is not an abortion mill. Only 3% of its services have to do with abortion counseling and procedures. That means that most women who walk into a Planned Parenthood facility do so for birth control, breast exams and Pap smears, and testing for STDs.  [Planned Parenthood’s 2008-2009 annual report states: “For the three million patients our doctors and nurses saw, we provided contraception (36 percent of our total services), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (31 percent), cancer screening and prevention (17 percent), and abortion services (three percent).”]

Estimated savings from this proposed bill are $347,000. That’s peanuts in a $3.6 trillion dollar federal budget, but one-third of the yearly income for Planned Parenthood. Where is that money going to come from if the federal government withdraws its support? But if the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at all bothers some people, then why not cut the amount being given to Planned Parenthood by the amount of its income that comes from abortions: 3%?  Why take away all federal support of an institution that provides essential health care for over 3 million women a year.?

Ironically, those who argue for limited government intervention are more than willing to put the government in charge of what women can do with their bodies. Government should never be about restricting choices, but about freedom.

Some argue that the private sector will have to pick up the cost of abortions. What that means is that all women should have to pay for their abortions completely out of pocket unless they’re victim of rape or incest or their health is compromised by a pregnancy. Because more and more health insurance plans are refusing to pay for elective abortions, and some won’t pay for abortions under any circumstances. In some instances, women are being forced to buy additional riders for abortion coverage. That’s ludicrous. Women don’t plan to have abortions any more than they plan to get cancer.

If these lawmakers were really concerned about cutting the budget, they should be for, not against, abortions. For example, one of my daughters recently had a D&C after a miscarriage. It cost $4600. If she had had an abortion when her baby’s abnormalities were first diagnosed, it would have cost approximately $350-950 at Planned Parenthood. [Source here.] If she had not had a miscarriage or an abortion, but her baby had been born with severe complications, it would have cost a great deal more.

Conservatives like to cite the irresponsibility of single mothers and “welfare queens” as one reason why our federal budget is so high. And yet they are willing to severely cripple the effectiveness of one organization that helps women to be more responsible about when or whether they will have children. Shame on the House Republicans and anyone else who votes for this proposal.

Read Rebecca Traister’s excellent article about this issue here.

How We Dress: The Oppression of Women

It is commonly accepted that Muslim women are oppressed by their husbands and their culture. But many Muslims, women included, counter by claiming that Western women are “oppressed” by the demands their society places on them to be sexy.

A Muslim woman can be alluring, too, which is why the whole modesty thing as a reason for covering is somewhat pointless. Men will fantasize about women no matter what. In fact, you could argue that the more covered a woman is, the more a man fantasizes about her. But no matter how a woman is dressed, a man should never be allowed to use the excuse that a woman enticed him by the way she was dressed.

My standards are looser than most Muslims. I’m not offended by bare arms, necks or legs (as long as the dress or shorts don’t expose more than the leg!).I am uncomfortable with cleavage and bare midriffs, not to mention bikinis. But I don’t think that a woman who is “uncovered” is bad or even wrong. What I do object to is the subtle ways that women (and even girls) are told that they must be desirable to men.

Perhaps it is biologically wired into women to try to attract men, but that doesn’t mean that we should be doing it all the time, at any age, and regardless of our relationship status. What reason does a married woman have to doll herself up in front of other men? Hasn’t she already attracted her mate?

Some say that women dress as much for other women as they do for men. But why are they trying to prove that they’re sexier if they’re already in a relationship? Others say that men like their women to be perceived as attractive, even sexy, by other men because it’s an ego boost for them. But isn’t it a little crass for men to put their women on display as if they’re mere possessions?

Many non-Muslims think that the reason Muslim women are “made” to cover is because their men don’t trust them. They think they’ll attract the attention of other men which might lead to infidelity. They also don’t trust other men to keep their hands off their women. Because they know what men are like, they believe that a woman shouldn’t do anything to make a man think about her sexually.

While this may be true for some men (Muslim and non-Muslim), the Qur’an makes it clear that women are to be honored and cherished. The implication is that dressing modestly helps men to hold them in high esteem, not because they would blame women for being sexy if they didn’t, but because they appreciate it when a woman knows her own value.

I reacted strongly when I saw this picture of Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover of Elle magazine. Why did she have to pose in nothing but a sweater (and at least a bra) with her one shoulder bared provocatively? Wouldn’t she have looked just as attractive if she had been wearing slacks or leggings and had kept her sweater all the way on? It’s not that I think she looks sluttish (for this type of picture, it’s fairly tasteful), but I can’t help but wonder why she felt she had to pose this way? Or why she was pressured to?

I think I know what motivates some women to agree to pictures like this: It’s because women are seeking affirmation that they are desirable. If they see themselves in a photograph or painting looking sexy, it reassures them that they are. I would guess that most women would like at least one photo of themselves looking sexy and beautiful. That’s one reason for the popularity of Glamour Shots®. What woman doesn’t want to be recorded as looking beautiful at least once in her life?

But why do they want these pictures on public display? Wouldn’t it be enough to have them at home? I can see Paltrow hanging this picture in her bedroom for her husband to enjoy. But what motivates her, and so many other women, to present themselves this way to the whole world?

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t try to be attractive. I think there is something in a woman’s makeup that makes her want to be beautiful. (One reason why some women wear the niqab or full burqa is because they’re trying to erase that desire from their psyches. They believe that it is only appropriate to glorify God, not themselves.)

But when women start feeling that they will enhance their careers or be treated better if they dress the way that men want them to, they have crossed the line between self-esteem and self-pandering. “Selling” the way that they look in return for favors. What’s that called? Oh, yeah, prostitution.

Cross-posted on I, Muslimah, a blog about my thoughts and experiences as a Muslim convert.

The Female Vampire: A Model For Feminists?

I was reading an article on Ms. Blog yesterday about the remake of the Swedish movie, “Let the Right One In.” I haven’t seen the new version, which is titled, “Let Me In,” so this is not going to be a comparison of the two or a review of the latter. What I want to write about is female vampires in general, and whether or not they are good models for feminists.

Certainly, female vampires are strong figures since they have the power of life and death over mortals. The fact that they are aggressive is itself a departure from the usual depiction of women as passive. They don’t sit and wait for male vampires to bring them their sustenance; they hunt and kill for themselves. The subtext, as with all vampires, is that their actions are motivated by sexuality as well as survival. In that, too, female vampires are seen as aggressive, which makes them seem somewhat unfeminine.

When women act on their sexual desires, they are seen as seductresses, not as healthy women seeking to satisfy a normal human urge. If you consider the female vampire, you can see how unnatural sexual autonomy seems to be for a woman. Female vampires are excused for being aggressive because that is their nature: their lust for blood makes them into sexual predators against their will. Mortal women have no such excuse.

The female vampire, like the witch, is suspect because she acts outside the accepted norms for women in our society. She is self-contained, she doesn’t rely on men, she goes out and gets what she wants no matter the consequences,  she  “forces” people to do things that are against their nature, and she is certainly not nurturing!

The only nurturing female vampire I can think of was the woman (Madeleine) in “Interview With The Vampire” who cared for Claudia, but she was nurturing before she was “turned” and in fact was willing to be made into a vampire in order to continue to take care of Claudia and provide her with maternal companionship. Claudia wasn’t trying to do her a favor; she was merely following her own selfish desires.

In the movie, “Let the Right One In,” Eli is protective of Oskar, but not exactly nurturing. She kills for him, and offers him companionship and a way out of his dreary life, but is she motivated by love? The implication is that she can’t really love Oskar if she is “saving” him in order to satisfy her own needs. Women are just not supposed to love that way; we are supposed to become martyrs when we love.

I think that some people view feminists in much the same way as they do female vampires: they are seen as selfish, too interested in sex, and non-nurturing. But the female vampire—and the feminist—challenges us to be more assertive about meeting our own needs, to be more intentional in our lives’ purpose, and to be self-sufficient. The problem is, when mortal women model that behavior, they are seen viewed as if they were blood-sucking vampires who drain the very life from men, children, families, and society.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a woman could be sexual and strong without being seen as some kind of mythological boogey-woman?

For an interesting gender analysis of “Let the Right One In” read this review, including the comments, on Feminist Review (now reincarnated as Elevate Difference).