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Teen speaks out against her school’s sexist sex ed program on Facebook
Note to sex educators: Teenage girls don’t love it when you call them “gals.”
If you’ve ever perused teen sex questions on Yahoo Answers, you know the state of sexual education in this country is extremely dire. Apparently, the crappiness of sex ed programs also extends to Singapore, where one teenage girl wrote a Facebook post eviscerating her school’s family values-based sex education curriculum for perpetuating dangerous and inaccurate gender stereotypes.
Agatha Tan, a teenage girl at Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore, posted the following open letter to her principal earlier this week, after attending a sex ed workshop sponsored by the Christian non-profit Focus on the Family. In the lengthy post, Tan accuses the Focus on the Family workshop of, among other things, promoting offensive gender stereotypes, propagating rape culture, and using LGBT-exclusionary language.
“While sexuality education rarely manages to teach me something that I have not already learnt through past sessions or mainstream media, this booklet was different,” Tan says in her post. “From merely glancing through this booklet, I learned a simple yet important lesson: That bigotry is very much alive and it was naïve of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.”
One of the primary issues Tan had with the sex ed workshop was that it propagated offensive gender stereotypes, frequently making sweeping generalizations about male versus female behavior and using the word “gals” to refer to young women:
According to FotF, “gals”—as it is written throughout the booklet —are fragile and need guys’ support, and everything a guy does in the relationship is excusable simply because he is a guy and is wired that way. “Gals,” it writes, “need to be loved,” “can be emotional” “want security,” “[want] you to listen to her problems,” and “[want] to look attractive,” and validation of each of these can only come from the support of a male. It paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys.
Tan also took issue with the cover page of a booklet the event’s facilitators passed out prior to the workshop, which featured various thoughts teenage boys have about girls and vice versa, including the phrases “No means yes?” and “Yes means no?” The booklet also includes a section on what men and women “really mean” versus what they say, with men being depicted as frank and straightforward and women as misrepresenting their true thoughts:
The facilitators from FotF neglected to mention that thinking a girl means “yes” when she says “no” is actually completely wrong. Rather, they spent their four hours with us discussing things such as what a girl “really means” when she says something else, as opposed to guys who are “direct” and “always mean what they say.” By telling the student population this, FotF sends a dangerous message: that you should always assume that a girl means something else (like “yes”) when really she just means “no.”
Judging by these ridiculous screengrabs from the booklet, it appears Tan has a point:
Tan also accuses Focus on the Family of silencing students’ dissenting views on sexuality. When a fellow student asked the organization why the pamphlet didn’t include language targeted at LGBT or polyamorous couples, for instance, Focus on the Family shut the question down, saying “her views were not what the audience wanted to listen to and that perhaps she could remain quiet for now and bring it up with him afterwards.”
Since Tan posted her excoriation of Focus on the Family earlier this week, it’s been shared more than 2,800 times on Facebook. In response to the uproar over the post, Focus on the Family spokesperson Vicky Ho told the Online Citizen that the workshop is not intended as a sexual education program, and is instead “designed to be a relationship program to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships.”
Ho also added that the organization was in contact “with the relevant parties” to address Tan’s concerns about the curriculum. It seems like they have an awful lot of work to do, but first things first: Stop calling high school girls “gals.” They’re young adult women, not secretaries in a 1930s screwball comedy.
H/T Mic | Photo by Daniel Oines/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.