Saturday, October 1, 2016

How to discuss sexual formation without discussing sexual development ... or... how not to teach sex ed

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Family, an organization absorbed into the new Vatican dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, recently issued a sex education program entitled, "The Meeting Point - project for affective and sexual formation."  The first curious aspect of this sexual formation program’s material is the absence of any content on human physical sexual development. 

Inspired by Pope Francis’ pontifical exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, as well as other comments by the pope, such as ones from his May, 2015 general audience in which he criticized “intellectuals” who “silence” parents in an attempt to protect youth from harm…such as bullying…the curriculum offers an alternative approach to teaching sex that promotes sexist stereotypes and omits biological development information.    Pope Francis evidently scorns "intellectuals" who think kids should be armed with facts and shouldn't have to deal with good old-fashioned sexism, bullying, harassment or abuse.

The sponsoring hierarch, Archbishop Paglia also feels parents are being shafted by, “Cultural, legislative and educational projects..." which use silly tools such as science and facts to teach sex education.   He expressed concern that such fact-based approaches "directly or indirectly challenge the Christian vision of the body, of the difference and the complementarity between man and woman, the exercise of sexuality, marriage and the family."  It seems he prefers contorting allegorical writings into scientific truths rather than allow scientific advancements to call into question centuries old hierarchical stances about marriage, sexuality and women written by unmarried men with classically unhealthy sexual identities and relationships, especially with women.

The work assumes most parents disagree with science-based curriculum foisted upon them by governments and educational institutions.  Maybe it's less an assumption than a hope that parents scorn institutions operating in facts rather than unquestioningly adulate whatever proceeds from the mouths of clerical men.  A recent Pew Research study found most U.S. Catholics do not agree with the hierarchy's long held views on sexual sin.  So, it seems actually the majority don’t feel harangued by educational institutes' pesky science and facts.

The curriculum uses standard misinformation tactics such as intermingling valid points with wildly absurd ones.  For example, it tries to promote healthy relationships, which is laudable.  However, the Unit 2 educators' manual blatantly promotes the notion that men and women have intellectual differences wherein, "man is more analytical and has a greater capacity for analysis" than woman. 

It's hard to believe, I'm sure, but I as a woman was capable of analyzing that statement and realizing it is unsubstantiated, degrading, damaging sexist bullshit.  I also have a university degree in computer science, an engineering curriculum based upon logic and analysis.  After reading the Vatican's sex ed curriculum, maybe we should all be amazed that I successfully completed an engineering curriculum.  Those darn intellectual elitists!  They must have both silenced my parents and fed my delusions of analytical capabilities by permitting me into the program and placing me in the top quartile of my graduating class. Is it too late to get a refund on my tuition?  (By the way, my success as an engineer would be called a "primary source" of evidence invalidating the Vatican's sexist stereotypes.  And, I am not the only female engineer on the planet...more data points invalidating the sexist stereotype. We can add in the many other women doctors, analysts, teachers, moms and basically any women capable of problem-solving too.)

Instead of having intellectual capacity, the curriculum asserts that, "Women tend more toward what is transcendent, while men are more pragmatic," when it comes to spirituality.  I am again going to step into this scary, scary analytical land for women, but if women are more capable of spiritual transcendence, then why are men leading the Catholic spiritual organization?  Why would anyone take a shred of spiritual guidance from a man?  Based upon the Vatican’s curriculum, it would seem they are less capable, if capable at all.

Some of the curriculum’s more blatant sexist stereotyping involves side by side comparisons.  For example, one lesson presents various social situations and asks which type of bag a man or woman would use.  In the man column, every situation from school, to vacation, to picnics, to beach activities is best accented with a black backpack while in the woman column a wide array of pink specialty bags for each occasion are presented as the norm.  Oddly, this portrayal of women as impractical fashionistas is promoted by men who wear different colored ornate silken gowns for every liturgical season.

I confess I do not own a single pink bag and I use the same brown backpack whether heading to a school, office, resort, or beach...because it's practical....  Oh, darn again!  I can both analyze and be practical! Clearly the intellectual elite have created a monster in me!  I'm happy to report that I have a master degree in theology so as to at least fulfill that stereotype of spiritual transcendence.  Without that we might start to wonder if I am actually a cross-dressing, gender-confused person who had to adopt children since conceiving them in my body should have been impossible.  After all, how could I have both a uterus and a critically analytical, practical brain?

My favorite sexist side-by-side "the differences between men and women are so blatant" set of comparisons involves showing isolated body sections of men and women.  For example it shows a person wearing a sports bra working out compared to a picture of a person with biceps the size of a cantaloupe.  Another comparison is between the mouth of someone wearing lipstick and the mouth of someone with razor stubble.  The text explains that differences between male and female should be obvious.

My analytical mind found that statement so interesting that I decided we could play a short version of that game here, right now.  I'm going to show some pictures and you decide if it is a man or woman.


2. .

The answer key is:

1.  No, that is not a grandmother bedecked in her latest Easter bonnet; it is a man - Cardinal Raymond Burke.

2.  No, that is not a female bride in her extravagant wedding gown; it is a man - specifically Pope Francis.

See how easy this game is?  Men who dress counter to gender attire stereotypes like to impose gender stereotypes on everybody else.

Folks, let's call this curriculum what it is.  An attempt to get more parents to join the "blind obedience club" so that church hierarchs who are increasingly losing their secular power might regain it.  And nothings seems to heighten their sense of losing power more than women achieving their full God-given potential.