Posts Tagged ‘Abstinence’

Dear Mr Rudd,

Australia is a nation of drinkers, and, indeed, has been ever since the first boatload of raggedy, starving convicts and their bored, resentful gaolers landed on the pristine beaches of Sydney-to-be and realised, somewhat belatedly, that their only form of viable entertainment for the next hundred years was distilled from sugar. The fact of historical precedence does not make alcoholism palatable, nor should we accept drunken violence as an unfortunate cultural side-effect. I am happy, Mr Rudd, to endorse social policies the like of which, had they been implemented a century past, would have seen Brumby Innes locked up, sent to AA and anger management sessions, served with a spousal restraining order and generally kept off the streets. However, I am not happy to pretend that alcohol  Рor, more specifically, its effects Рare all bad.

Which brings me, firstly, to your new anti binge-drinking campaign,¬†examples of which¬†already seek to instil youngsters with a healthy fear of government-issue puns, and, secondly, to the resigned conclusion of at least one educated commentator, who¬†doesn’t believe it will work.¬†As both a card-carrying member of the targeted demographic – that is, a young Australian fond of a tipple –¬†and someone who voted Labor at the last election, I feel¬†moved¬†to point out that the latter pundit is, in fact, correct, although he doesn’t¬†quite seem to understand why.

Allow me to elaborate:

We know you are lying to us. No rational-thinking¬†drinker – and these¬†not only exist, but¬†constitute the majority –¬†buys the government’s¬†theory that having more than two standard¬†drinks¬†per day¬†is bingeing. This is¬†because the word ‘bingeing’ itself, while certainly implying destructive behaviour,¬†does not differentiate¬†abuse from¬†normalcy¬†through so naively simple as a means as¬†scaling. More importantly, we as consumers recognise, even if the government cannot, that the simple¬†act of drinking regularly does not make one an alcoholic, any more than the act of taking drugs regularly is synonymous with addiction. In both instances, what makes a user one or t’other is choice: their ability to control consumption such that, even where it occurs frequently, it is not¬†a frequency born of need. Nor¬†should it impinge on an individual’s ability to function socially: to pay rent, maintain domestic stability, hold down a job and enjoy healthy relationships. Within those astonishingly reasonable bounds, there is easily room enough for a little – dare I say it – friendly hedonism. By itself, a hangover¬†does not¬†signal delinquency.

Yes, there is a dark side to liquor. Drinkers can behave rudely, badly, violently and get sick in public places. Often (if not primarily) they are young, sometimes under eighteen. Bad things can happen, but neither are they all that happens Рwhich means, Mr Rudd, that your scare campaigns are lying by omission. Perhaps you view this as lies-to-children, and therefore harmless, conscionable in service to a Greater Good. But we are not children. We, Gen Y, are self-aware teens and adults. We recognise condescension when we see it. We do not like to be patronised.  And we know, from experience, that drinking can be fun. 

Much like¬†abstinence-only sex education,¬†trying to scare¬†young folk¬†off¬†alcohol doesn’t work, because – Lordy! – they’re just¬†going to try it anyway. But teaching damage control – how to¬†drink in moderation,¬†how to tell if you’ve had too much, how to¬†eat first and¬†look after your¬†friends –¬†is life-saving. The best advice I ever received on liquor consumption was to¬†call it a night when¬†I started to hiccup,¬†have a glass of water every second or third drink, and to eat plenty of carbs beforehand, none of which vital information was forthcoming¬†either through school or government propagandising. And yet, if the aim is not to stop people from¬†drinking altogether but¬†rather to ensure a culture of responsible joviality, this is exactly what needs to be done.

In short, Mr Rudd, you are looking at things from entirely the wrong perspective. I understand you abstain from having a drop yourself, which is all fine and fair enough, but if Australia really wanted a leadership under which the new broom swept dry, we’d move to Saudi Arabia.

Yrs hopefully,

Foz

Honest to goodness? I just don’t get the Republican party.

Let’s ignore, momentarily, the fact that I’m an atheist Australian left-winger opposed to gun ownership and creationism, and focus on the issue of contraception. John McCain, that cuddly ol’ cadaver, has recently expressed confusion as to whether condomns can stop the spread of HIV. His exact words on the subject, in fact, were: “You’ve stumped me.”

From this, it’s easy to see why McCain is opposed to sex education – he has none himself. The man is, after all, a conservative in his seventies. Back when¬†he was in school, the liberated sixties were but a twinkle in their daddy’s eye, and there were certain things about which one simply¬†did not speak in schools, let alone anywhere else. When AIDS became a¬†big issue in the eighties, McCain was already in his fifties. Nowadays (in Australia, anyway) every child¬†is, sooner or later,¬†sat down and taught about the value of contraception: not just as a means of preventing pregnancy, but as the only reliable method of preventing STDs. I’ve known this since I was eleven. It didn’t make me want to have sex, and it sure as hell didn’t glamourise the concept, but it did ensure my everlasting belief in condoms.

Which leads us to McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, whose seventeen-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant to a self-professed redneck with a poor disposition towards fatherhood. Now: I’m not attacking Bristol. If she chose her current circumstance, well, that’s her prerogative; and if she didn’t, she deserves sympathy. If her mother lived a more anonymous life, she wouldn’t have to endure being scrutinised, judged, shamed, defended, picked-over and used as an example by millions of strangers at a time when, more than anything, she probably wants privacy.¬† But even if she were Miss Jenny Everyteen from Hicksville, Iowa, she would still exemplify the problem of sex education – or rather,¬†the lack thereof¬†– in American schools.

The only cure for ignorance is knowledge. Not so long ago, respected European¬†doctors believed that menstruation had nothing to do with pregnancy,¬†but was, rather, an aberrant condition that would soon die out. Not long before that, most of the world believed that royalty were innately special, and that being born rich was a sign of God’s approval, while peasanthood implied that you’d done something to deserve it. Go back further still, and humankind poured libations of blood even for the Judeo-Christian God, while¬†menstruating women (again) were¬†isolated from the world at large, believed to be unclean.

Put simply: biological knowledge is not obvious. It has taken our species thousands of years to understand how our bodies work, how women conceive and how disease is transmitted, which understanding has culminated in surgeons, medicine, hospitals, obstetricians and contraception. Once, such information was kept hiden among an elite few, or else spoken of only in whispers. Now, we are able to talk frankly. Western representatives travel to stricken nations in Africa, teaching local communities how to guard against HIV/AIDS, while at home, women and men know to check themselves for stray lumps, the genesis of cancer. All such knowledge is derived from identical scientific principles, and from this data, we deduce ways of solving health problems before they become serious.

John McCain and Sarah Palin are against this.

We are not discussing abortion, which is a rightfully complex issue. Nor are we discussing morality, which touches on when to have sex, or with whom. Rather, we are entertaining the wacky notion of hygiene and disease prevention: the idea of intelligent measures, comparable to a flu shot, which enable men and women not to contract illness, and sensible learned behaviours, which allow couples to decide the circumstances under which they conceive a child. How such an idea might be construed as subversive or wrong remains a mystery to me, and yet, this is what the Republicans are arguing vociferously against: the idea that telling teenagers how to use condoms is good.

Time and again, statistics have shown that abstinence-only education has a much higher fail-rate than its sexual counterpart, elicting greater rates of teen pregnancy than any other approach (as Sarah Palin’s daughter can attest). It almost makes one wonder whether the decision is deliberate: that, like Anne Coulter, the whole party supports a return to traditional young marriage and pregnant¬†housewifery, viewing sexual education as anathema to this agenda. The irony of women politicians advocating such a position is not lost, but neither is it unpredented; nor, oddly,¬†does it gell with the Republican stance that young mothers stay in school or lose their welfare benefits. The only logical conclusion is that John McCain and his ilk believe sexual and biologcal consequences – disease and/or¬†pregnancy – to be self-evident; and yet, as McCain himself is clearly ignorant when it comes to HIV, and as Sarah Palin’s methods of education have failed to serve her daughter, their party leaders epitomise the¬†falsehood of this belief.

In short: the Republicans,¬†in my estimation, are deeply, profoundly confused. Their policy is rooted in an era of sexual silence, the days of John McCain’s childhood and source of Sarah Palin’s morality, when there was no need to know why or how women fall pregnant, because this was all women were for: they married, they bred, they nurtured, and all else was the will of God. That sentiment no longer holds politically, and yet,¬†its consequence lingers, breeding unforgiveable ignorance in a time when all other aspects of culture represent – if not vaunt –¬†sexuality, without stopping to explain it. Whether the media should be curbed in this respect is a different debate entirely: in the interim, however, I cannot conscience such¬†willful ignorance in adults, nor their desire for learned ignorance in the next generation. The fact that McCain and Palin desire to lead a whole entire country only makes their stance more shameful.

As much as I traditionally loathe the Australian Liberal Party, they’re at least a¬†far cry from the Republicans. The closest we have is Family First, a minority party incapable of gaining federal governance in an effective two-party system, and except when Steven Fielding has to get his tie-break on in¬†the Senate or says something spectacularly unsettling, very few people pay them any heed.

And as much as I’d love¬†to be¬†a U.S. citizen-for-the-day in order to vote for Obama, McCain and¬†Palin make me glad I live in the planetary south, and¬†not the deep.

There is a saying: those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

In light of human nature, I feel moved to posit a companion phrase: that those who know history are still capable of repeating it, particularly if they thought it was a good idea the first time round.

With that in mind, here are three recent, related, news articles:

1. The tradition of Albanian sworn virgins;

2. The rise of hymenoplasty among young French women; and

3. The advent of American purity balls.

As far as the history of womens’ rights is concerned, I’m a remarkably privileged person. I wasn’t raised to believe that sex before marriage was bad (or, conversely, threatened with shame, penalty, violence or social exile should I indulge in it). Although I’m happily married now, I had a choice about how to live my life, with whom and under what circumstances. I was taught that women and men are equal.¬†I live in an era of contraception and¬†sexual freedom, and believe these are both good things.¬†And because of my friends and family; because of my¬†Australian citizenship, race, socio-economic status and – yes – atheism, I’ve never had to fight for this to be the case. ¬†

In a nutshell: I take these freedoms for granted. To a certain extent, I can’t help it – because I’ve never had to seriously defend them. Oh, there were times early on at primary school when boys would tease or exclude me from games because I was a girl, and therefore The Enemy, but the fact that I was persistent, assertive and more than a little tomboyish meant that, nine times out of ten, I¬†won them over. As a teenager, I butted heads with blokes about the social role of women, and as a university student, I went online and debated feminism (of a sort) with Christian Evangelists, but these were all theoretical debates, and¬†society¬† – I knew – was On My Side. Day-to-day, I’ve never been kept back, excluded, ridiculed, restricted or punished for being female: my gender has never earned me a separate set of social rules or expectations. Unlike my mother, I’ve never had a bank laugh at me for trying to take¬†out a loan as an umarried woman. I know these are recent developments, and I’m grateful for them. Should the need arise, I’d be ready to come to their defence. I also know women in most of the rest of the world aren’t half so lucky.

But what I struggle with – what I really struggle with – is the idea¬†that glass ceilings, sexism and¬†patriarchy still exist, not overseas, but in my society. The idea that western democracies can still have double standards where women are concerned feels…wrong. Logically, I know it’s true. And despite a wealth of inner scepticism, it’s not that I’m sceptical when I hear of it – not in the least. It’s just so far¬†removed from my own experience that it’s like finding a sweatshop under the local council.

Take the idea of purity balls, for instance. The article mentions talk of making a similar thing for boys, but only as an afterthought.¬†The problem isn’t with encouraging teen abstience: it’s in the execution and the mindset. Because only girls are targeted. There is no balancing idea that mothers keep the virtue of their sons: rather, it harks back to the day when men passed their daughters on to other men, and the women went quietly. One father, at least, drew a line at the idea of Indian-style arranged marriages, just wanting the parents to be involved, but presumably this can happen without attending a¬†purity ball. As a system, it seems more likely to encourage parental veto of potential suitors than not – mostly because these dads use the word¬†suitors to begin with, a term which¬†connotes the necessity of permission. And where permission can be granted as a matter of course – by gum, it can be withheld. ¬†

‘Purity’ isn’t a helpful word, either, because more than promoting abstience until¬†such-and-such a¬†time, it actively¬†suggests dirtiness, or wrongness, in the alternative. This, I suspect, is the¬†core of why abstinence-only sex education programs¬†fail: they consider virginity more important than waiting until you’re ready. This isn’t a semantic distinction. As a religious concept, virginity means considerably more than¬†not having had sex. It implies¬†waiting, not until you’re ready, but until marriage, committing to this ideal rather than simply being sensible about the circumstances of your first time. Because, sooner or later, there will be a first time. Exalting virginity rather than talking about¬†being comfortable¬†– which, of necessity, means talking about actual sex – isn’t a great approach. And purity balls, as an extension of the concept, are hardly a step up.

They’re¬†a step down, in fact, because they’re only aimed at girls. Unplanned pregnancies aren’t fun, especially for teenagers, but the idea that female virtue needs to be guarded that much more closely because women give birth overlooks the whole notion of male involvement as anything other than guardians.¬†It says¬†that because¬†boys can’t¬†get pregnant by slipping in the abstience stakes, there’s less (or no) need to worry; the fact that¬†they can still impregnant girls is, apparently, the girl’s problem. Jumping to another glaring anachronism, the whole ‘purity ball’ concept hinges on daddy giving his daughter to a strapping lad, as opposed – say – to someone else’s daughter. That, methinks, is a whole ‘nother issue for the type of folk likely to attend purity balls, but damned if it doesn’t rate a mention. ¬†

Hymenoplasty – surgery to reconstruct the appearance of virginity – is another concern. In France, young Muslim women in particular have been paying to have it done before their weddings, which raises an interesting question of sexual progression vs. traditionalism. Clearly, their husbands-to-be place a value on virginity, as one notorious court-case has made clear; but the women themselves, comfortable with sex outside of marriage, need only the semblance.¬†Need, not want: this is a key point. They feel they’ll be punished for having had sex, and¬†sadly, in some instances, they will be.¬†

The last sworn virgins in Albania¬†are now old women; they’ve lived their whole lives as men, on the condition that they never have sex. In some instances, it was all they could do in a patriarchal society where their family had lost the male head of the household; others, doubtless, chose as much from sexual orientation as a desire¬†for social standing.¬†Oddly, the basis for this system was the¬†appropriate weregild – blood-price – paid¬†for the deaths of different people. Women were¬†worth less¬†than men; but virgins were worth the same. Logically, then, a virgin was as good as a man, and for as long as she stayed a virgin, a woman could live as a man.¬†As ever, there’s no¬†extra worth for a virgin male, because¬†regardless of where on the globe you are – France, America, the Middle East, Albania –¬†virginity is only praised in women. Sometimes, we pretend otherwise. But not often.

And in this spirit, we have father-daughter purity balls.

In this spirit, we have hymenoplasty before traditional weddings.

In this spirit, we have women only equal to men through celibacy – and even then, they cannot live in equality as women, but must take on the role of men.

Because in this spirit, women are not equal.

Writing on his blog about Dua Khalil, a 17-year-old girl beaten to death in an honour killing while a mob looked on, Joss Whedon had the following to say:

“How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I‚Äôm no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn‚Äôt buy into it. Women‚Äôs inferiority ‚Äď in fact, their malevolence — is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they‚Äôre sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished.

“…I can‚Äôt contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we‚Äôre shaping…I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.”¬†

Because no matter how civilised or enlightened we think ourselves, if we want our daughters to be pure and virginal above all else, and if we punish them for straying, then this is where we are headed. 

And history, as Shirley Bassey sang, keeps on repeating.