Friday, 29 August 2008

Catholic Schools Denying Girls the Right to Choose...

Catholic schools have been up in arms recently about a vaccination that is going to be given to school-age girls to protect them against two strains of a sexually-transmitted virus called HPV. This virus can result in cervical cancer. The Catholic church's objection to this vaccination is that it could promote promiscuity.

The church has currently said that it will allow the vaccination at Catholic schools... but at a price - girls will not be given any sex education about 'artificial contraception', which of course includes condoms and 'the pill' (article on this here). Hmm, I was under the impression that if girls were given more information about their bodies and how they would react to sex (i.e. teaching them the ability to say 'no', because sometimes the facts of STDs aren't enough if a girl feels she cannot say 'no' or a boy feels that he has a right to sex), rather than just the same old 'penetration is sex' nonsense, they would be much more well-informed to say 'no' if they didn't want sex and 'yes' if they were ready for it. So in other words, girls will pick up information about sex at school whilst socialising that is not necessarily correct and there will be no opportunity to gain an insight from sex education lessons. Presumably girls will still be informed of the mechanics behind pregnancy, but even that posits the egg as passively waiting the active sperm (see here), thus portraying women's internal biology (as well as their external bodies) as passive receivers of men during sex.

When I was at primary school, sex education was for children of ten years old. Parents were invited in to see the videos first, and then they would decide whether they wished their child to see them. That was all sex education consisted of - those three videos. The first one was about sex, which pretty much described there being only one form of sex - penetrative and in the missionary position, which (as they made abundantly clear) was the ideal position for conception. The second one was about male and female genitalia (Jeez, I hate that word). The video showed diagrams and how everything worked. But, the mechanics of the female genitalia was only talked about in the context of conception - i.e. where the sperm would go. Everything was given a name, but the parts that really had no purpose in conception were not given a function. The look on the headmistress' face when the presenter suggested that girls get a mirror and use it to look at the position of everything 'down there' was classic. She told us that she wouldn't recommend us doing that. Anyway, the third video was about childbirth, and featured a man and woman walking naked around a house. I don't recall any information given about contraception - I think I would have had more knowledge of it when I got to secondary school if it had been in those lessons.

In sex education, sex is always posited from the perspective of men - the man ejaculates as a result of sex. But from the education children are given, I'd be forgiven for asking What happens to the woman? And more to the point, penetrative sex is not the only form of sex. The mainstream posits sex as being preceded by foreplay (unless you're reading a fifties magazine, of course), but the actual sex isn't portrayed as starting until penetration. This, again, gives the impression that women are passive receivers, because it's the men who do the penetrating.

According to this, by law girls have the right to accept the HPV injection if their parents refuse it, or refuse it if their parents accept it because "[t]he law recognises that it's her body that is about to be invaded or protected - according to your viewpoint. The decision is hers. It follows that she should be fully informed on the matter". I assume that "according to your viewpoint" bit is because the Catholics don't believe that a woman's body (or indeed a man's) is her own - it's God's. What I have a problem with, other than that last sentence, is that parents seem to have to decide whether they think their child is going to have underage sex (because the vaccination can protect them against those two strains of HPV if they do). Surely that's something that no parent could know. Parents are not privy to everything that goes through their child's mind - they have a private world that should be kept private so they can develop some degree of independence of thought.

The author of the above linked article (in the previous paragraph) states that she is concerned about the vaccination because of the amount of chemicals young girls have already taken in the form of other vaccinations, and will go on to take in the form of oral contraceptives on the grounds that "they are born with the eggs that will become the next generation". I would like to point out that there are choices for women other than giving birth. Regardless of what mainstream society says, women can have a career and choose to live their lives on their own terms without having a child dependent upon them and without a man. Women are not to be constantly perceived as mother-figures!

Anyway, she goes on to say something extremely important - "isn't it time that men carried some of the cost and responsibility of this shared business of sex and reproduction and its untoward side effects? It is only women's bodies that are doctored. Why?" I can answer that question for her - it's because contraceptive is still considered to be the female's business. Afterall, men don't get pregnant. And don't even think about spouting that nonsensical term that men say when they're delighted that their partner's pregnant - "we're pregnant". Yeah, right. Unfortunately, the article's writer does not dwell on this.

Girls should have the right to choose for themselves whether they want the vaccination. They should be given the statistics of cervical cancer and they should be given information about sex (which, along with the 'how women get pregnant' bits, includes information about STDs, contraception, women's role in sex (not from a male perspective), what happens to a woman during sex (also not from a male perspective), that sex doesn't have to involve penetration, and, SHOCK HORROR, the female orgasm). The more information they have, and the more assertiveness they feel they have in deciding to have sex, girls will be more likely to make educated and rational decisions about sex.

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