Tag Archives: sexuality

Protecting Ourselves

Jackson Katz asks men what they do daily to prevent being raped.  He is often met with silence.  Eventually, one student might say: avoid going to prison. 

He then asks the women the same question.  Immediately hands pop up with responses:

  • Hold keys as a potential weapon;
  • Look in the back seat before getting in the car;
  • Carry a cell phone;
  • Don’t go walking/jogging at night;
  • Lock all the windows when I sleep;
  • Don’t take a ground floor apartment;
  • Own a big dog;
  • Carry mace or pepper spray or a gun;
  • Have a home alarm system;
  • Don’t drink too much, and don’t let my drink out of my sight;
  • Have a buddy system;

And so on and so on.

Teaching our children

These are the messages we pass along to our daughters, teaching them from an early age to be aware of their surroundings, avoid certain areas, walk with a partner and so on.  Universities and Colleges offer workshops for female students to help teach ways to avoid being a victim, including self-defence techniques.  One study determined that only 22 women would need to participate in a rape prevention program to prevent one additional rape from happening that year.

What about boys?

A lot of time, money and energy is spent on helping females to avoid becoming victims.  As a result, females are often the ones held responsible for their participation in sexual activity.  In fact, in one analysis of a scenario, the commentary has focused exclusively on the role of the female since the 1990s, a point the professor continues to make.

How to prevent rape

Recently there are those who have turned the tables and created a list of things men can do to avoid raping. The emphasis in this instance in on the choices males make that could ultimately lead to rape with the encouragement to avoid these behaviours.  Underlying this message is an awareness that men are not helpless victims of their own urges but have the capacity to make better choices that will ultimately protect themselves and those whom they may sexually desire.

What do you think?  What should young people be taught?  How is this different for males and females?  When should this be introduced?  Who should teach it?  Your thoughts are welcomed!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

 

Relationships

Romantic Comedies and Reality

Years ago, a boy that I liked asked me to go with him and his friend to a movie.  When 15 year old me asked my parents, they wanted to know if this was a date.  To which I responded that we wouldn’t be alone – a friend was tagging along.  When the boy showed up in a two-seater MG, however, my mother was not convinced and insisted that my younger sister go with us.  It might have made for an appropriate scene in a romantic comedy – the boy driving a two seater car with the girl beside, and her little sister on her lap.

Romantic Comedies

The genre of rom-coms seemed to hit its stride beginning in the 1980s with hits like Sixteen Candles (1984), Pretty in Pink (1986), When Harry met Sally (1989), Say Anything (1989), and Pretty Woman (1990).  These films typically feature some unlikely couple moving through a complex journey of circumstances that ultimately lead to a passionate moment when they realise their love for each other.

Such films work best when the protagonists are portrayed as naïve and emotionally juvenile.  There is a need for the characters to grow in order for the relationship to develop.  They need to come to a new understanding of themselves, the object of their affections and the nature of relationships for them to come to a place where they can recognise that they are in love.

Life imitating art

I did date the boy with the MG for a short while but it wasn’t meant to be.  We didn’t have the kind of chemistry needed to go the distance.  These things happen.  It is rare to ‘get it right’ the first time.  In fact, I would have several relationships before finding someone with whom I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  Throughout the journey, there were several of those rom-com moments, zany times in which we laughed, learned and grew.

As I watch my kid grow into adulthood, I recognise a similar journey.  My teen has experienced the wonder of a first kiss on New Year’s Eve, the joy of an over-packed picnic in the park and the heartbreak of those moments when we realise it is not meant to be.  The story continues to be written.  We can’t predict where it will go but we will walk with our kid through the ups and downs of the journey, offering advice and the occasional shoulder on which to cry.

Offering Advice

Looking back on our relationship journeys, what advice have you received that has been helpful or perhaps just zany?  What advice would you give to those younger than you?  How have your relationships mirrored a romantic comedy?  What do you think it takes to make a relationship last?  We would love to hear from you!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

 

#NationalComingOutDay

Back in the summer, our family watched the movie Love Simon together.  The movie illustrates the challenges and struggles of being gay, particularly when someone else reveals this truth before you are ready.  As a result, this movie can provide a meaningful springboard from which to talk about what it means to LGBT2Q2ia+.

A word about the acronym

Over the years our understanding of gender and sexuality has evolved.  As a result, the acronym used to refer to the community of individuals who are not exclusively cisgender, heterosexual has also evolved.  Here is a quick glossary of the terms to date:

Cisgender – refers to people who feel that the gender identified at birth accurately represents the gender they feel themselves to be now

LGBT – Lesbian (a sis gender female who romantically and sexually prefers females); Gay (a sis gender male who romantically and sexually prefers males); Bisexual (someone who romantically and sexually is open to relationships with either males or females); Transgender (the preferred term today identifying those who are not sis gender)

Q – Questioning (those who are unsure and continue to seek to understand their sexuality and gender)

2 – 2-Spirited is a modern, umbrella term used by some Indigenous North American communities to describe certain individuals in their communities who fulfill a traditional third gender ceremonial role

ia+ – Intersex (those whose characteristics do not fit with the binary norms for male and female); Asexual (those who are open to romantic relationships but a have little interest in sexual relationships); + (the recognition that these identities continue to evolve)

Switching the Norm (Back to Love Simon)

In one poignant scene in Love Simon, the protagonist asks why the default can’t be people ‘coming out’ as straight.  Subsequently, the movie shows several of the characters ‘coming out’ to their parents and the reactions.  The scene in done with a tone of humour highlighting how parents are unlikely to be disappointed that their child is straight.  As a result, this reversal of the process helps to highlight how difficult it can be for those who are LGBT2Qia+ to admit to family and friends that who they are does not fit the norms of society.

#NationalComingOutDay

October 11th is National Coming Out Day in Canada and the US.  ‘Coming Out’ is the term used to describe the social acknowledgement of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  In reality, ‘coming out’ is only necessary for those who don’t fit the expected norms of society.  It is a very personal acknowledgement that one is different.

The consequences of ‘coming out’ can be hurtful.  Acceptance of that difference is not guaranteed.  It takes courage, hope and trust to share who we are with others particularly when who that is, is seen by some as wrong and sinful.

What can parents do?

Do you remember when your child was born?  The first time you held that infant in your arms?  Do you remember that overwhelming feeling of love for one so tiny and so helpless?  A child coming out to their parents can be as vulnerable in that moment as they were when they were born.  Our primary job as parents is to love our children.  When faced with a child who is trying to articulate who they are, the love that we have for our child is what must remain front and centre.  No matter who they are in regards to the sexuality and gender spectrum, they will always remain our children.  They will always be that infant we cradled so tenderly.  Keep that image at the front of your mind as you listen to your child telling their truth.  Be prepared to hold them once again, and remind them that you love them and continue the journey from there.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Sexual Health

What do you know?

Sex Education

It seems like an ironic juxtaposition of events: As educators, parents and a variety of advocate groups seek to take on the Ontario government to reinstate an updated health curriculum created through consultation with many different individuals and groups, news of sexual indiscretions by Catholic clergy comes to light.  Information and commentary about these two circumstances have been a constant presence on my news feed throughout this summer.  This post highlights initial thoughts about the former situation. A vital thread connecting these two moments in time are the questions: to what extent and at what point should children learn the details about their private parts.

It is interesting that we have no problem singing songs that help teach kids names of parts of the body – head and shoulders, knees and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose.  Some, however, get a bit squeamish when it comes to teaching the proper names for private parts and instead use euphemisms.  Doing so, some believe, helps to maintain the innocence of children.

The challenge, however, is that these euphemisms are not universal.  What happens when, following an uncomfortable situation, a child reports that someone wants to play with their ‘dinky’ or take their ‘cookie’?  This language can be easily misinterpreted by other adults leaving the child vulnerable to abuse.

Of course, learning the proper for genitalia is only one part of the solution.  As this article highlights, it is also important to give children agency over their own bodies.  Children need to know that they can set boundaries and that body secrets are not OK. They need to have the tools to say no when they are faced with an uncomfortable situation and know that they won’t get in trouble if they tell a trusted adult about a problematic encounter.

These are conversations that can and should happen at home.  There have been many nights when dinner conversation around our table included frank discussions about sexuality from a very early age.  Having a kid who could read at age 4 and a parent who worked in the sexual health and social justice research lab at the University of Windsor, meant that some questions came up.  As one common story is told, I was asked: “what is a condom?” after my six year old had read the word on some interviews I was reviewing.  I responded in an age appropriate way and have continued to respond to questions ever since.

I am grateful that my kid has felt comfortable asking questions about sexuality and sex.  At times, so much so, that some of the questions actually came from friends.  Having a comprehensive sexual health curriculum can be helpful in ensuring that all children and young people have the tools they need to navigate their own sexual journeys in healthy ways.  This has proved evident in the Netherlands, where such education has contributed to lower rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among teens.

Still, the topic remains controversial.  Thus, we would love to hear your thoughts.  At what point did you learn the proper names for your genitalia?  Do feel that you were adequately educated about sexual health in school and/or at home?  To what extent do you talk about sexual health with your children?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

 

Ariana Grande

Changing the script

Before my child was born, I attended a women’s retreat with my mother.  During our reflections, I admitted that I wanted to have a daughter so that I could teach her to be strong, independent and able to defend herself against any and all forms of misogyny.  The facilitator looked me in the eye and asked, why not wish for a boy so you could teach him not to be a misogynist?

It’s an important question.  So often we think of what we can do to teach women not to be victims or at least empowered enough to fight in the face of violence.  There are seminars offered at universities that teach women how not to become victims of sexual violence.  We teach girls how to keep an eye on their drinks at parties, to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid certain places and situations.  We arm girls with tools throughout their lives and yet #metoo.

The world was watching Aretha Franklin’s funeral.  When Ariana Grande took the stage, Bill Clinton enjoyed the performance from behind.  Afterward, Pastor Charles Ellis III called Ariana back onto the stage, wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close.  The pastor later apologized for being ‘too friendly’.  Still, the photos remain a catalyst for conversation.

The reality is that most women have experienced this very situation.  We know what it is like to be in public and feel like some man has held us too close and in a way that has us walking away feeling uncomfortable, questioning what has just happened, wanting to say something but expecting that it would be pointless.  Should we teach our daughters that this is the reality, men don’t typically mean anything by it, just let it go?  Or, is there another possibility?

Among the many tweets #RespectAriana about this moment are comments that affirm the length of a dress does not indicate an invitation.  There are messages confirming that Ariana’s body language clearly showed discomfort.  There are statements that say having your wallet open does not mean anyone can take money from it.

Conversations about women’s bodies are shifting, highlighting that we can’t simply rely on women to protect themselves, rather we need to teach men that women are not objects for their consumption.  Imagine what might happen if parents and teachers used the photo of Ariana Grande and the Pastor to teach boys that when they see that look, when women appear to be wanting to move away – that is a clear signal! They have crossed the line! LET GO!

We need to teach boys the importance of respecting women.  We need to teach boys to take responsibility for the ways they view and treat women.  We need to help boys and men recognise that they have the ability to be allies to women, helping other men recognise the ways in which social expectations about gender continue to undermine the agency of women and perpetuate the belief that women are objects for men to enjoy.  We need to teach boys and men to not rape and/or sexually assault women.

#metoo has helped to bring to light the many ways in which women suffer the consequences of a culture which reinforces norms where male sexuality contributes to perceptions of masculinity.  Parents and teachers can use these tools to help provide an alternative script for relationships.  It is an important opportunity.  How has this been used in your experiences at home and at school?  Do you see a shift happening?  To what extent have you participated in these kinds of conversations?  Let’s talk.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

 

Health Curriculum in Ontario

There seems to be an unending stream of commentaries, opinions and news related to Ontario’s Health curriculum and what will be taught in September.

Why this has become an issue:

Following consultation with the ministry of education, parents, students, teachers, faculties of education, universities, colleges, and organisations including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Healthy Schools Coalition and the Ontario Public Health Association, the Provincial Government of Ontario released a major update to the Health Curriculum in 2015.  This new curriculum included information about mental health, online safety, and bullying as well as information about sex and gender variations and the impact of these on relationships.

Some conservative groups did not like this new curriculum and complained that they hadn’t been adequately consulted in its development.  To appeal to these groups, Doug Ford promised to repeal the curriculum and develop a new one with greater consultation.  Thus, one of the first acts of the newly elected government has been to repeal the 2015 curriculum and ask that boards use the same curriculum that was used in 2014 in the classroom until the new curriculum has been developed.

What is at stake?

The curriculum used in 2014 was actually developed in 1998 – before today’s students were even born.  As further discussed in this post, in the twenty years since that curriculum was introduced:

  • we have seen major shifts in the rights and privileges given to the LGBTQ2+ community;
  • Mental health is gaining in understanding and acceptability;
  • The prevalence of technology and social media has opened the way to new issues including cyber bullying, sexting and phishing which place young people at risk;
  • The #metoo movement has highlighted the importance of learning about consent;
  • Research has shown that children are entering puberty at younger ages than ever before.

These are the realities of students today.  Do we really want to leave it up to the media to give young people the tools they need to navigate this new environment as highlighted in this post.

How are people responding?

A lot has been said about the importance of sex education and updated tools students need to stay safe, feel included and make healthy decisions.  Some have shared their personal experiences including this person who was kept out of sex education and suffered abuse and this father who believes his daughter would be alive today if the updated curriculum were taught in her school.

School boards are also concerned.  As of writing this post, more than 20 school boards across the province have delivered statements highlighting the importance of providing up to date tools to navigate health, sexuality and relationships in today’s world.  In this regard, the Director of the Greater Essex County District School Board, Erin Kelly has stated:

“I assure parents, guardians, staff and community members that, regardless of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum being used, the Board will emphasize respect, inclusion and safety for all. We will continue to celebrate the diversity of all our students, support our LGBTQ community and teach about gender issues and acceptance and educate students on internet safety, cyberbullying and the importance of building and sustaining healthy relationships.” (https://www.publicboard.ca/Board/DirectorsMessage/default.aspx#/view/26)

What next?

There is still a lot of ambiguity around what might be taught in regards to health and physical education in September.  There are strong opinions expressed throughout the province about what should be taught and shouldn’t be taught.  Thrive! is a program which seeks to provide tools to help families navigate through the challenges and struggles of today’s world.  So we want to hear from you.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section and/or join us live on Facebook Tuesday, Aug. 7th at 7pm as we talk with a recent graduate about their thoughts on the health and physical education program.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Becoming

A journey for parent and child

My teenager doesn’t love math.  That may not be an issue for most people, but I do love math.  I have a Bachelor of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo and taught Math in secondary schools right up until I started maternity leave.  As my child grew up, we played math games and I revealed all kinds of special tips and tricks to help comprehension.  I shared my love of the subject, but, in the end, my kid doesn’t love it.

Expectations and Assumptions

When children are born, we all have some hopes and dreams for what our children will become.  We have expectations about the kinds of things they might pick up from their parents, the patterns they will follow, the possibilities in store for them.  So, we share a bit of ourselves, enrolling our children in activities that interest us, playing games that we enjoy, and taking vacations that we think will be meaningful for everyone. Our efforts will influence who our children become but not always in ways we hope.

What parents teach…

We learn a lot from our parents.  Sometimes it is what we should do and sometimes it is what not to do.  What is important is that space is left to allow a child to become their own person regardless of whether or not that becoming fits with the expectations and assumptions of the parents.

Our children do not have to love the same things we love.  They do not have to study what we want them to study, pursue the same career paths, and marry and have children when we want them to do so.  They are their own person and even though it takes time to discover what that means, our love for our children should allow us the willingness to give them space to figure it out.

What about gender and sexuality?

For years we have assumed that gender is binary: male or female and we have assumed that the natural tendency is to prefer someone of the opposite gender.  Over time, however, we have come to recognise that there is, in fact, a continuum of gender and sexuality the understanding of which continues to evolve. As a result, individuals who are outside of our binary understanding of gender and whose sexuality is not heterosexual have now received protection from prejudice and discrimination in Ontario  and Canada .  The updated health curriculum in Ontario acknowledges this evolution in understanding which can help to build awareness among young people thus potentially reducing stigma and prejudice overall.

What about at home?

As parents, we are not only confronted with the possibility that our children will not love math like we do, but also that they may challenge our understanding of gender, sexuality and relationships.  What then?  In the midst of our struggle to understand something that may be extremely foreign to us, how do we provide support to our children in their efforts to develop an understanding of who they are? Should parents be the ones who try to push their children to conform to a particular standard of gender and sexuality?  Or should parents support their child’s journey regardless of how difficult it might be for both parent and child?  The decision is not easy.  Either way, it will influence our relationship with our children?  What would you do?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Lessons from SVU

My teenager has been binge watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit this summer.  This has provided an interesting juxtaposition of life and art in a time when the Sexual Health Curriculum in Ontario is a major topic of conversation as the government seeks to repeal and replace it.

No real person or situation…

Each episode of the series includes a disclaimer that no real person or situation is depicted in the storylines.  At the same time, this show clearly touches on real issues regarding gender, sexuality, consent, bullying and the Internet – all themes that are in the updated curriculum that has now be repealed.

Example 1 – “A Misunderstanding”

The storyline depicts two teenagers who converse via text and then find themselves in the darkroom during a school dance.  The male, wanting to be memorialised as part of the “Cherry pickers’ club”, becomes aggressive despite the pleas of the female for him to ‘slow down’ and ‘don’t go down there’.

The investigation and trial becomes a he said/she said battle that is complicated by teenage insecurity and parental assumptions.  I suspect there are those who could easily relate to and sympathise with the characters on both sides.  As a result, we are reminded that, all too often, young people are not equipped to navigate sexual relationships appropriately leaving them vulnerable to the consequences of ‘a misunderstanding’.

Example 2 – “Transgender Bridge”

A transgender teen is bullied by a group of teenage boys and falls off a bridge.  When the transgender teen dies, the District Attorney decides to try the 15 year old assailant as an adult with the hate crimes statute attached.  The defense argues that a teenager’s impulse control is not fully evolved and that, presented with someone who contradicted his understanding of maleness, he reacted out of confusion and the fear that he didn’t want his friends to think he was gay.

This premise seems to suggest that education about the transgender community could have changed the outcome of such an encounter significantly.  Protection from discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality are provided in Ontario and Canada. Ensuring that young people are taught about these individuals could reduce stigma and the possibility for bullying and violence.

In real life…

Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 years old when she killed herself after having been assaulted by four teens at a party and finding photos of the event online which led to bullying and harassment.  After reviewing the updated Ontario curriculum, Rehtaeh’s father suggests that if that particular curriculum had been taught at his daughter’s school, she might well be alive today because the curriculum “…talks about mental health, it talks about suicide and it talks about consent.”  He goes on to say: “I think the young men involved in Rehtaeh’s case don’t believe what they were doing was sexual assault or rape.  They don’t believe that whatsoever, and I think a lot of the kids in Rehtaeh’s school who victim-blamed her had no idea around issues of consent. If they had, they may not have been so willing to torment her.  If there were courses at school about sexting and sharing an image like that of her – people would have said this is child porn, this is against the law.  And other kids would’ve come to her defence, or they might have confronted the ones who were victim-blaming and calling her names.” See here

There is much to learn…

As mentioned in this post, a lot has changed in the past 20 years.  Art has highlighted these changes through programs like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  In Ontario we are currently confronted with the question: what will be taught in schools come September?  What tools do you think our children need to ensure they can safely navigate through the realities of life in 2018?

We want to hear from you: Would you allow your children to watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit?  How might this program become a springboard to talk with young people about sexuality, gender, relationships and consent?  To what extent do you think these topics should be discussed in schools?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

What has changed?

1998-2018

“What were phones like in 1998?”  The question from my teenager could have been viewed as another opportunity for a young person to roll their eyes at ‘Stone Age’ technology from the time before they were born.  It could have been, but, in this case the question arose out of a sense of urgency when it was revealed that the new Provincial Government was rolling back the health curriculum twenty years, fulfilling an election promise.

Twenty years may not seem long for some.  In reality, there are many twenty year periods during which there was not significant changes that would require updating school curricula.  The introduction of a new curriculum in 2015, however, suggests that there were at least some people who felt an update was important.  So, what has changed in the last 20 years that might be useful to include in a health curriculum?

The Toronto Star reflected on this in a 2009 article which looks back on the previous decade and identifies 50 significant changes.  Other notable changes that embrace the two decades include:

  • Google was founded in 1998 and became a recognised verb in dictionaries in 2006 as more and more people used this search engine to discover answers to any question they could ask
  • Legalisation of same sex marriage in Ontario on June 10, 2003 and in Canada on July 22, 2005
  • Gender identity and gender expression have been protected from discrimination in Ontario since 2012 and in Canada since 2017
  • In Sept. 2010 “Bell Let’s Talk” began a new conversation about mental health in Canada in an attempt to raise awareness and funds to support programs that address mental illness.
  • Facebook was founded in February 2004, Twitter in March 2006, Instagram in Oct. 2010 and Snapchat in Sept. 2011
  • Cyber bullying has increased significantly with 1 in 5 young people reporting they had experienced cyber-bullying as early as 2014.
  • The death of Jamie Hubley on Oct. 14, 2011 led to the Ontario Legislature mandating school boards across the province develop tougher anti-bullying programs and offered legal protections for gay-straight alliances in the province’s schools.
  • The deaths of Amanda Todd (2012), Rehtaaeh Parsons (2013) and others, highlighted the vulnerability of young people to exploitation and abuse through the Internet.
  • Time’s person of the year for 2017 was “The Silence Breakers” the women whose experiences of sexual violence led to a renewed awareness of the need to better understand boundaries and consent through the #metoo movement.

These are only a snap shot of the significant things that have happened in the last 20 years.

Parents will always be an important resource for children especially in regards to determining morals and values.  With all that has changed, however, I wonder how many parents feel appropriately equipped to address these changes with our children?  How confident do parents feel about talking about health, gender, sexuality, bullying and relationships in an era when there has been such a significant shift in how we communicate and understand who we are?  If schools limited the health and sexuality content to a curriculum that was written 20 years ago, are parents prepared to fill in the gaps so that our children have the tools to effectively navigate relationships, community and sexuality today?  What do you think?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Dress Codes

A reflection on recent events at Essex District High School

Social media is a powerful tool.  We’ve glimpsed its reach as millions took the ice bucket challenge and lamented this power as young people chocked over cinnamon and tide pods.  It has also been used to raise awareness about the struggles and challenges that exist, particularly when questions of fairness and justice arise.

Recently, young people at Essex District High School used social media to complain about the school’s dress code and its implementation.  In fact, the criticism is not new.  There are students around the world, usually females, who are frustrated by the ongoing prevalence of dress codes which they see as unfairly targeting them.

What is it?

Dress codes establish expectations about what is appropriate for students to wear in school.  The dress code for EDHS can be found here.  Certainly it is reasonable to expect all students to be sufficiently clothed in a manner that is respectable and safe.  As our understanding of gender, sexuality and consent continues to evolve, however, people are slowing awaking to the reality that, some of the expectations for females have been established based on the belief that how a female dresses can become distracting for males.  This awareness is compounded by a perception that females are more likely to be disciplined for dress code violations leading to complaints.

Why is this problematic?

Whether we agree or not with the particular complaint for this situation, the fact is these young women have a point as reflected in these comments from a local sexual assault crisis centre.   It is unfair to hold females responsible for the urges of males.  Males are free to dress as they choose, including going topless in the warmer months and wearing pants in such a way that their underwear is clearly visible.  While neither of these is considered appropriate for school, there are no expectations that males should refrain from such apparel in other contexts in order to avoid enticing females.

In contrast, there is a significant commentary on the extent to which women are viewed as dressing ‘provocatively’.  These perceptions have then played out in cases where women are sexually assaulted as suggesting that perhaps the woman was ‘asking for it’ or ‘advertising’ her sexuality.  Such discourse thus requires one gender to consider the impact of their dress on the other while the opposite is not true.

What can parents do?

As the discourse on gender, sexuality and consent continues to unfold, it is important to have conversations with our children regardless of gender.  All children should be taught that their sexual urges are their own responsibility.  All children should have tools to ensure that, if they get distracted, they can refocus their energy.  All children should understand the foundations of respect and consent in regards to bodies.

Conversation is important.  This includes a willingness to listen when issues are raised which call into question long standing social norms.  It will be interesting to see if this current situation will lead to a renewed understanding of the appropriate framework for the dress code at Essex District High School and beyond.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/