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Reclaiming our collective vaginas

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Glenda Simms, Contributor

Sandy Daley's provocatively titled book shines a spotlight on the power issues behind the vagina.

Senior representatives of both UNFPA and UNICEF argued that Jamaican teachers and guidance counsellors are uncomfortable discussing human sexuality with the children in their classrooms and counselling centres, the Observer reported a little over a fortnight ago.

While it is easy to fall back on the idea that most persons are not socialised to discuss sexual matters with either adults or children, it is clear that teachers must get over their sexual inhibitions and develop an intelligent approach that will equip them to respond adequately and honestly to the questions about sex that children will pose at any period in their development.

This means that teacher training must include a highly organised body of knowledge, not just in curriculum content and teaching methods, but in the obvious developmental information that is related to humanity in a holistic and realistic framework.

How can we protect our children against sexual abuse if schools which should be homes away from home, and teachers who are expected to be parent surrogates, are incapable of adjusting to the demands of children's developmental stages?

It is the right information that helps children to make the right and healthful sexual choices when they mature into adulthood. Developmental psychologists have posited many theories about human development, and a perusal of the most up-to-date theories will reveal that the following ideas are based on solid research:

Confident, competent teachers help in the developmental goals that will lead to confident and competent girls and boys.

Young people have a right to sex education in the same way that they must be exposed to a variety of teaching methods and ideas that will ensure the maximum development of their cognitive, emotional, physical, social and spiritual skills in an effort to maximise their human potential.

discomfort with sex

It is not surprising that the United Nations officers have had the experience which informs them that the key professionals in our schools are uncomfortable in discussing the sexual information that every child and adolescent need as they move from stage to stage.

According to the newspaper article, the UNFPA country representative claimed that teachers have themselves admitted that they are challenged by some of the information about sexuality.

This discomfort with dealing intelligently with issues of human sexuality is happening at a time when the Jamaican society is currently being challenged with a wide range of sexual dysfunction and social issues. Some of these are:

Far too many cases of teenage pregnancies.

Gross sexual abuse of young children and women of all ages.

Large numbers of unwanted pregnancies by women and girls.

Traditional ideas of masculinity and manhood that drive young men to produce children that they cannot support.

Uninformed and barbaric belief systems which drive men to rape young girls in their effort to cure sexually transmitted infections.

The inability of teachers to comfortably discuss sexual issues at any level of children's development will negatively impact on the little boy who, during the sharing period at the beginning of the school day, declared to the class and his teacher that "when I wake up on the mornings, my penis is always sticking up". Such a little boy needs a frank response from his teacher. He does not need some embarrassed muttering about "ask your mother when you get home".

This little boy should not be sent to the guidance counsellor because the uptight teacher thinks he is "disruptive" and "rude" because he is talking about his penis in a public space.

The point is that discussions about sexuality are not limited to sexual intercourse, the use of condoms, the confusion around sexual identity or the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Human sexual issues are part and parcel of the process of development from womb to tomb.

The challenges of dealing with sexuality in schools which have been pointed out by the UN agencies must be addressed by teacher-training institutions, the Ministry of Education, faith-based organisations, parent associations and organised and democratic homes that should be the ideal environment for family life and child development.

no sexual education

When I look back on my three years' experience at Bethlehem Teachers' College when 90 women from across the island resided there for three years over five decades ago, I realise that sexual education was totally absent from the curriculum.

None of my college mates even talked about their understanding of their bodies. No one admitted to having a boyfriend or of being sexually active. The principal, who had a wife and two lovely sons, never raised the question of human sexuality in his Moravian sermons.

The home economics teacher was almost sexless. The one bald- headed male tutor lived below the girls' dormitory, and years before I entered the institution, some devilish girls had cut a small hole in the dividing panel board to his apartment.

There was no historical record of this event, but curious girls like myself always gathered together to peak into the man's apartment. We were curious to see if he had a 'penky', but all we could see when he entered his bathroom was his shiny bald head.

We were girls trying to find out something sexual about the lone, single male in the college.

While it might be acceptable to rationalise the sexual inhibitions of 50 years ago, it is unacceptable for us as a nation to accommodate to the retarded attitudes of professionals who are being paid out of the public purse to maximise the developmental path of our current generation of future leaders.

However, let us not be too hard on the sex-averse Jamaican teachers and guidance counsellors - they are a small sample of the global population of uptight and misguided prudes. A case in point in 2012 happened in the Michigan State Assembly.

Vagina Monologues

Recently, it was reported in a variety of media houses that a group of women took back the Michigan Capitol by staging The Vagina Monologues (VM), written by feminist Eve Ensler. Ms Ensler journeyed from California to join Michigan senators, other civic and political representatives, local activists and actors in this very special performance of the VM.

This special event on the steps of the Michigan Capitol was part of an organised response to the recent banning of Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown from publicly speaking in the House.

This fiasco was triggered when Representative Brown was banned by Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas and the House Republicans for using the word 'vagina' during a debate on a bill that puts restrictions on abortion providers. Ms Brown used her personal and human rights autonomy to vote against the proposed bill. She summed up her objection in the following statement to the supporters of the bill:

"I'm flattered you're all concerned about my vagina. But no means no."

In short, the naming of the vagina created a monumentally unbelievable moment in American political history.

This strange incident is an opportunity to reduce our inhibitions to discuss sexual matters in our schools, churches, homes, parliaments and other institutions. An opportunity to shout 'VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!'

After the naming and acknowledgement of our right to be comfortable with our sexuality, the world will become a more peaceful and caring place for all our children and our women.

Glenda Simms, PhD, is a gender expert and consultant. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glendasimms@gmail.com.