By Corey Gilkes
September 04, 2014
I come to pelt jep nest again. In a few days school will be reopened and in light of all the various bacchanal going on, in and out of Parliament, it isn’t surprising that many may have forgotten that the Ministry of Education is supposed to be embarking on a revamped programme dealing with sexuality, relationships and sexual health aimed at schoolchildren.
I know I kinda out of touch nah, but I can’t recall hearing much about this during the holidays in the way of public consultation (that dirty word again). So I’m wondering, has anyone seen it fit to monitor the programme(s) being developed and ask certain questions? Or are we content to leave it in the hands of the Ministry of Education and the government like we do pretty much everything else?
Ok, I know that kinda harsh; since the Manning administration it is clear more and more people are becoming politically aware and vocal on issues that impact on all of us. But still, this is way past good touch, bad touch and “this is the male reproductive organ, called a penis…..” We need to seriously embark on an education drive that teaches about our bodies, sexual desire, condom use, STDs, STIs, same-sexuality, monogamy, non-monogamy, “hookup” culture, choice (*including* the choice to remain chaste, monogamous, etc.). This may be the only chance we have to get right a comprehensive package that educates children, youths and even older people on human sexuality and relationships in the modern world. The mere fact that there is still a very strong current of thought that holds that if you teach children about sex outside of the very basic (and even the basics) they’ll then become sexually active – as if many of them aren’t already brushing, or at least masturbating – is cause for major concern. But sex is always something that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable in really irrational ways sometimes and on this very emotive issue I have to wonder how many people out there are aware or willing to ask questions such as:
– What exactly are they even going to teach the various age groups?
– When was any of this discussed?
– How many current teachers have been (re)trained on the subject?
– How much of this is to be based on documented research?
– Will there be even a basic understanding of the history and evolution of sexual morality in the West and Eastern cultures and of ours in the Caribbean?
– Whose models are they using for guidance? Is it the European/Scandinavian models that have a more mature, practical approach to human sexuality or are they going with the path of least resistance and look at North American models? And is it going to take into consideration the unique history and sociology of the Caribbean and how that feeds into our understanding of sex, family life and family support structures
– Are the topics going to be variations of familiar narratives such as “pre/extra-marital sex is a sin; “good’ girls do not have certain desires if they have respect for their bodies; monogamy is the benchmark of sexual morality; same-sexuality is unnatural…
– What part do the religious bodies have to play in the teaching of this? Will the proposed programme be based on proper researched information or is it going to be made to conform to their religious beliefs and customs?
These latter points are particularly important in my opinion because I think that even many of those who find what passes for Health and Family Life Education (H.F.L.E.) in schools outdated may nonetheless hold views that are no less egregious, outdated and conservative and are thus part of the problem. Certainly, many teachers do. Indeed, I know personally of a couple teachers who, because of their religious beliefs, should not be allowed to even advise the students under them on issues of intimacy, let alone run a revamped HFLE class . . . not that they are intending to do it anyway. And another close friend of mine who is a librarian no less, still becomes acutely embarrassed at the mere mention of the term s-e-x (yes, she actually spells it like that in the presence of her 8-year old son). We are facing a crisis in terms of STDs, STIs along with sexual, psychological and physical violence. But if what is going to be taught in the schools is just a variation of neo-colonial ideas of sexual “respectability,” and ideas of the primacy of masculinity, “ownership” of a partner’s sexual organs, we may as well don’t bother.
It’s no secret that there’s widespread ignorance about human sexuality in our society. Much of that ignorance and misinformation stem from colonial schooling and indoctrination we retained after so-called Independence. That colonial indoctrination was conveyed principally by religions and religious teachings many Trinis hold so dear and close to them. The same religious teachings and bodies that comprise the IRO who from what I gather have already begun to sink their claws into the programme. Sorry eh, but before they come to tell my children about sexual morality they need to deal with their own ignorance and complicity in fomenting the culture of misogyny that have boys and men beating and stabbing girls they feel are their “property”. Their sermons and scriptures are what spurs many to be afraid of even learning about their bodies . . . and end up engaging in the same behaviours they were being shielded from.
Religious leaders need to deal with their central role in spreading anti-sensual, anti-touch, anti-women attitudes that, on the one hand, sexually shames people, especially females, for being sexual and on the other so messes up some people’s minds that their only forms of sexual expression are downright illegal, violent and deviant. Their faiths developed the ideas behind sexual shaming, viewing the body as dirty, sex as filthy, sensuality as suspect, pleasure as pollution. And the cultural foundations behind that is rife with contradictions; patriarchal culture that puts women and men, particularly those in non-white cultures, in a bind where there is simultaneous pressure to be both sexually available and sexually “pure” at the same time so as *not* to appear the stereotyped hypersexual native. There is no choice that won’t subject you to vicious critique. Western Christianity of course is especially guilty but all the major faiths, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, can be fingered (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist that).
Throughout the centuries, sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality, has been the source of much irrational angst and almost schizophrenic policing through physical and psychological violence. That is what unites all the major world’s religions. Regardless of denomination, all the faiths of the IRO seem to be united by a cultural anxiety that views human sexuality as the main source of societal decay, much more than violence and corruption, which are more likely candidates. These attitudes originated in *economic* considerations as well as psychological issues among ancient nomadic Eurasian tribes; nothing to do with any god or breakdown of society as is so often touted. It is important to understand this because this worldview is cultural, not divine, so this uncritical acceptance of religious authority has got to stop . . . or be stopped.
I know, I know, it’s not totally their fault, they not even doing anything wrong, they’re just doing god’s divine will.
To paraphrase Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, “god” was just a deification of secular, patricentric culture. So for now, ideally, these clerics and people like Leela Ramdeen need to stay out . . . correction, need to be firmly KEPT out of this until they acknowledge their “sins” and show they are working on reversing the effects; such as the erroneous ideas of guilt and sexual shame that have us in this position. If they insist on holding to their religious teachings, no problem, the Constitution guarantees them the right to do so. But when it comes to public policy, dais ah different thing. And the longer we take to understand that, the longer we will have headlines of women being raped, underage pregnancy, incest, horrific acts of domestic violence and so on.
More than that, this reaches as far as the political realm. A person’s sexual past, even their present preferences, is often used to gauge whether or not they are “morally” fit to hold public office or some corporate position. This egregious way of thinking can be traced all the way back to ideas expressed by the ancient Greeks – later taken up by Christianity – where the ideal “citizen” is an asexual being who has mastered his (not hers, women were/are never completely able to do it in patricentric ideology) natural sexual drive which was seen as his one limiting, corrupting trait. He had to live and carry himself in such a way as to show that his sexuality had been “vanquished” and thus prove he rose above his natural self. Sex became just another avenue to display power and control. Today, people who engage in sexual acts with other consenting adults outside of the approved norms, are looked upon in that same way the neoplatonic thinkers did well over two thousand years ago. Their ideas live on in our political, public and business worlds having been modified by Christian and anti-Christian philosophers whose ideas informed modern day capitalism and politics. It is woven into the tapestry of modern society which is why it is often so easy to shame many people into silence. It’s not just about bullying young teenagers, this also is used to intimidate activists, people agitating for social justice in and from places like Beetham, Morvant, La Romaine, Woodland, John-John, Laventille, Sea Lots, people in the LGBT community, all of whom already have to contend with certain preconceived ideas from the more righteous and saved among us.
So as I end my rant, I just want to know from those more qualified and those who have genuine concern if they keeping any kind of focus on this issue along with all the other things swirling around.