Last week, Betsy DeVos made comments on Title IX, saying that it had “failed too many students” and that she even desires to roll back legislation on it.
I agree that we have failed students; but it goes back further than that. Overturning Title IX is not the answer.
In the state of Tennessee, our “sex education” classes — if you can call them that — are based on an abstinence-only curriculum. In 2012, Governor Bill Haslam passed a bill called HB 3621/SB 3310, that required sex education to "exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual experience."
But that's not all this bill does.
It also prohibits educators from discussing non-coital sexual activity such as genital touching as an alternative to sex, since legislators have designated that as the offending "gateway" sexual behavior. Outside instructors or organizations who discuss gateway sexual behavior in a sex ed class can also be fined $500.
I know the intent is to limit sexual activity and delay it until marriage if possible. But due to this lack of education on something so pivotal to development, young people are desperate for knowledge, and they will look for it anywhere they can find it.
According to a study by Priya Nalkur at the Annenberg Center, 14-to 17-year-olds used media as their secondary source of sexual information, following only their friends, which was shown as another cause of sexual under-education.
The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) holds unique power in this situation by controlling what content our young people consume by deciding what film is acceptable for each age bracket. In 1968, the branch of the MPAA that handles ratings called the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) was created.
The system sought to “inform parents of the content.” The initial rating system was “G,” everyone could see it, “PG,” parental guidance for children under 12, “R,” persons under 17 not admitted without parent or guardian and “X,” adult films. “PG-13” was added during the 1970s to fill in the discrepancies of films that were either too PG to be rated R or vice versa.
As it turns out, parents were more concerned with their children imitating sexual content than violent content. With a lack of sexual education or a frank discussion about human sexuality, teenagers turned to the options present in culture: R-rated movies or pornography.
So what do porn and R-rated movies teach us about human sexuality?
A critical study of top ranked American films from 1950 to 2006 revealed that of the four widely distributed rankings, R-rated films were the only ones in which the average sexual content exceeded the violent content. In fact, if a movie is between two rankings, an explicit sexual scene is cut before a violent one.
R-rated movies, though more mainstream, typically contain five times the violence or sexually violent activities found in X or XXX films. Female nudity is so common that in 786 films from the years 2006 to 2010 that warned of nudity, only three included male nudity.
Films such as “Blue Valentine” (2013)or “Blue is the Warmest Color” (2013)created backlash when they received NC-17 rankings for female oral sex and lesbian sexual content. The argument was that if it was a male receiving oral sex or heterosexual content, the censorship would be less severe. In this way, the NC-17 serves as more of moral judgement of the contents of the film than on the propensity of the film to offend.
According to a study by Simon Hardy published in the Sex Education journal, pornography is typically presented from the point of view of a white, heterosexual male with no distinguishable traits besides sexual dominance, wherein a desirable woman acts opposite the desiring male. The female is the object of the film and the typical narrative presents her acting of her own agency until she acquiesces sexually, then the man is in control and she submits. The supposed pornographic user then situates this narrative within the context of their own unfulfilled desire to achieve resolution.
The woman is the object to be desired and the man is who desires her.
She is within her own sexual agency until she succumbs to his advances, then her sexual pleasure is fulfilled by the consummation of his own. This narrative ascribes to a single binary trajectory of sexes and seeks to separate sex from reproduction, which in modern times are uncoupled. This community focus on male desire leaves female desire a mystery, only activated by the presence of the male.
Not to mention the fact that as students enter college and come of age, they start to consume alcohol. And the way alcohol is advertised reinforces a similar theme.
The pub or bar is an important space for the enactment of masculinity, where men engage in homosocial interactions around sports. Women were portrayed in one of two ways within this context: either vulnerable and emotional or sexually available when drunk. This is done by presenting drunken females as problematic and more likely to engage in sexual relations after the consumption of alcohol and by using the female body as an object to sell alcoholic beverages.
All of this creates one narrative for young people in search of sexual education: that men's sexual desires are primary and that women are meant to submit, always being sexually available. This reinforces rape culture. This is the problem created by lack of sexual education and media literacy. This is what our culture has created.
I remember the sex education class I had in high school that included a slideshow of mutilated genitalia, accompanied with disease names and pledges to remain abstinent.
I didn't date much in high school because my mother was so protective. So when I came to college, I wanted to make up for lost time. I was taken aback by the discussion of consent and sexual assault in my orientation sessions. The leaders were frank about sexual interaction, but with a lack of primary knowledge, I didn't quite understand the particulars.
I used Tinder to date around, and never went too far because I always managed to find boys who would respect the boundaries I set.
Until I found someone who didn't.
I wasn't drunk and it wasn't my wedding night, but that night he took something from me that I was taught I would never get back.
I tried to pretend it never happened until a Bible study meeting I had that fall. I felt guilty, and cried because I had no idea how to tell these girls about what had happened to me. I stopped going after a while.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror later that month, unclothed, and being horrified at what I saw. I didn't recognize my own body, or the pain it had endured. I remember my own shame and anger in the Women's Health Clinic when the doctor gently pointed out to me a part of my own body that I didn't even recognize.
We are actively denying young people this vital knowledge about themselves and how they relate to others, and it has resulted in confusion, pain and shame for many.
We have to do better for our girls. We have to do better for our young people.
Abstinence-only sex education is not the answer. Waiting until marriage is not the answer. R-rated movies are not the answer. Pornography is not the answer. Consuming alcohol is not the answer.
We cannot teach them to be ashamed and fearful of their own bodies. We cannot teach them that sex is despicable and evil except in specific contexts.
We have to teach them that their bodies do not belong to their future spouses or to their country, but to them alone.
We have to teach them that they don't have to be touched if they don't want to be. We have to teach them that they can allow only the people they want to touch them to do so.
We have to teach them about contraceptives, how things work and how to connect with another person.
We have to do something different, because Title IX hasn't failed students. We have.
JoAnna Brooker is a senior in Journalism and can be reached at email@example.com.
Columns of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.