Early sex education

Is the vocabulary to properly talk about our own bodies too sophisticated a topic for children to be introduced to as early as kindergarten? Bill O’Reilly seems to think so, at least in regard to the word “uterus”, which apparently the mere knowledge that a woman has one is enough to “blast” a child out of their childhood.

It’s interesting how taboo words get rationalized by terms like “sophisticated” and stigmatized as being harmful for kids, especially when a basic knowledge of the term (that babies come from a part inside a woman called a uterus, for instance) is something that can help build a strong foundation for us to know our own bodies and what they do.

What do y’all think? Should we introduce children to the correct terms for their bodies, even the taboo parts, early on, or should we use/invent sanitized words that mean the same thing (like “wee-wee” instead of “penis”)?

Via Iris forums.

I <3 NY

[Crossposted to my Vox blog.]

It’s been a while since I’ve heard good news on the reproductive rights front – it’s been abortion bans and “conscience clauses” for so long.

Yesterday the New York Court of Appeals issued a decision in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio upholding a provision of the Women’s Health and Wellness Act which requires all but a narrowly defined category of religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception if they provide prescription drug coverage.

It should be noted that some religious entities can exempt themselves from this requirement, if they meet the following criteria:

(a) The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the entity.
(b) The entity primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the entity.
(c) The entity serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the entity.
(d) The entity is a nonprofit organization as described in Section 6033 (a) (2) (A) i or iii, of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

(That last provision means that the entity qualifies as a church or religious order under the federal tax code.)

What the WHWA does not exempt are religious organizations engaging in fundamentally non-religious activities that wish to use their clout to deny contraception to nonreligious employees:

It is also important, in our view, that many of plaintiffs’ employees do not share their religious beliefs. (Most of the plaintiffs allege that they hire many people of other faiths; no plaintiff has presented evidence that it does not do so.) The employment relationship is a frequent subject of legislation, and when a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.

They actually recognize that everyone has beliefs, not just the anti-choicers!

Finally, we must weigh against plaintiffs’ interest in adhering to the tenets of their faith the State’s substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care. The Legislature had extensive evidence before it that the absence of contraceptive coverage for many women was seriously interfering with both of these important goals. The Legislature decided that to grant the broad religious exemption that plaintiffs seek would leave too many women outside the statute, a decision entitled to deference from the courts.

Finally, this shouldn’t need pointing out, but even if you take the idea of “judicial activism” as a bad thing seriously, this is not a case of “judicial activism,” but of enforcement of legislation. It is the religious organizations who wish to deny contraception coverage to their employees who are petitioning for a duly enacted law to be overturned.

Catholic League Plays the Victim Blaming Card

The Catholic League in response to former congressman Mark Foley remarking that he was abused by a clergyman:

“As for the alleged abuse, it’s time to ask some tough questions. First, there is a huge difference between being groped and being raped, so which was it Mr. Foley? Second, why didn’t you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?”

Getting victim blamed for abuse and molestation ain’t just for the girls, apparently. Not exactly the kind of “gender parity” I’d like to see, though.

Via Darth Sidhe.

Hate Speech on Campus: Abortion Compared to Genocide

The Center for Biological Reform was invited to my school on Tuesday and Wednesday by Western for Life, my university’s anti-choice club. They put up a display comparing abortion to genocide in the center-most public area of campus. There were signs that read, “Warning, Genocide Ahead,” but the area is difficult to avoid and many students told me they proceeded expecting something about a real genocide.

I took a few pictures of the displays. They are graphic and probably not work safe, so you may want to skip this post if you’re not up for being in a bad mood.

I took these pictures on the second day. On the first day, there were small children behind the barricade, in the sun, and infants being carried by women.

Continue reading

Complexity, not Satan, as the real enemy of fundamentalism

Emma has written a thought-provoking post on her brief foray into fundamentalism.

Although most UK fundamentalists are middle-class their theologies do not appear to be influenced by their access to education. Fundamentalist thinking forces every issue, problem, idea, challenge, ideology, and state into a framework in which things are either good or evil. Complexity, not Satan, is the real enemy. “Secular” sources of information and analysis are viewed with extreme caution, and I have witnessed more than one repentant bonfire of “secular” music.

This black and white thinking is taken into the area of gender. I was involved with a particular church that viewed non gender-stereotyped behaviours and clothing as a sign of spiritual immaturity. One particular women was forbidden by the church hierarchy from using tools around the house (masculine behaviour) until she adopted the modest dress they felt befitted a Christian woman.

Clearly this is batshit crazy, but a gender gap was observable in all of the churches I attended. Men filled the spots within the church leadership, except those posts that related to women and children. Women ran the creche, typed up the church newsletter, and provided and cleared up after refreshments. Men taught, women learned. Men led, women followed. Men protected, women obeyed.

I think the most chilling, though unfortunately not unexpected, part of the post came when she talked about some of her actual experiences with the church. Debates over which tea was more holy were fought with more fervor than that of the plight of domestic violence victims. That, and the emphasis on marriage/childbearing being the only acceptable goal for women, is as good an indicator as any for what kind of “morality” those kinds of institutions teach. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing good, right, or moral about treating human beings the way that Emma describes.

Newsflash: Religion is harmful to society

Finally, people are researching the claim that I’ve observed anecdotally for years: all this “god” stuff hurts more than it helps. An article in The Times reports on a new study recently published examining the assertion that religion is necessary for a healthy society.

The study comes from a US academic journal called the Journal of Religion and Society and was authored by Gregory Paul. From the article, it seems that he took data from several respected research bodies and used them to create correlational data between several social factors and religion. Without the study, I can’t verify for myself how strong of a correlation he would have been able to draw, but before anyone gets too excited, I want to point out that there’s too many variables to be able to prove a causational model in this area.

From the article:

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

I highly recommend reading the entire article. I would love to get my hands on the paper itself, as I’m very interested in this learning more study. (Darn you, UBC library!) Heck, I’m very interested in the journal itself, seeing as the title of it leads me to believe that it focuses on the examination of how religion and society interact. I hope that Paul’s research here leads to a more in-depth examination between the impacts of various belief systems on societies and the people who live in them.

Via Pandagon.

Update: Found the study, it’s available for public viewing on the Journal’s website: Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.

Sidenote: I am so pissed at WordPress right now. I was having some trouble updating this, and it had gone through, so I closed the unsaved file that I was keeping my update in and logged out. Guess what? The entire post went from published to unpublished status and lost the update I had written! ARGH.

Religion And State = OTP?

So, I just got back from writing my first final (one down, two to go) where I wrote a masterful essay on “church-state” relations in Japan. In this achievement of literary prose that is sure to achieve me full marks on that section (yeah, right), I posited that, as things existed, neither religion nor the state could ever reign supreme without acknowledging the power of the other. Now, we all know that talking out of one’s ass is a time honoured university tradition, but I must confess that it made perfect sense in the context of the essay. Having had all of twenty minutes to think about it, I’ve begun to wonder: do religion and the state really need each other?

In the Japanese model I used for my essay, I examined the power of the state versus Shinto (indigenous, polytheistic, kami worshiping religion), Buddhism, and Christianity. Overall, I saw these relations as a dance between the state and religion – oscillating between one extreme and the other, but normally existing in a delicate balance with each other. I discussed the rise of Buddhism, how it (in the guise of “protecting” the state) eventually undermined state authority, which led to a violent suppression of religious power in the Tokugawa period. I finished with a discussion of the new religions that emerged in Japan, which restored an uneasy balance between state and religious authority. In all the cases, neither religion nor the state were able to fulfill all the needs of the people; even when one had its high watermark, the need for the other would change the balance once again.

Clearly, what happened with Buddhism and later the absolutist state of the Tokugawa are warnings against either religion or the state gaining too much power. I can think of other, modern day, applications of this principle (not naming any names, but the Shrub.com domain is often mistaken for a site devoted to making fun of a certain president that this applies to). I’m not all that knowledgeable about communism, but from what I know any attempts that communist states have made to suppress religion have either failed or backfired. Indonesia comes to mind, as part of its constitution, as either direct or indirect backlash against the attempted communist coup, states that one must have a religion, any religion as long as its not a lack of one.

As much as the bitter atheist in me hates to admit it, religion offers something to both the state and the people. For the state, it can be used as a tool to legitimize a rule – whether it be the Japanese Emperor tracing back lineage to a goddess or President Bush using “God” as a smokescreen for his real agendas (Iraq, I’m looking at you). The people get a sense of community that cannot be offered by the state, as well as access to easy answers that often erase those pesky grey areas of life and replace them with simple black and white binaries. What results is a triangle of state, religion, and society that looks more like my South Asian professor’s mapping of Ashoka’s reign in India than my binary model of state/religion. Well, I suppose that just goes to show me that nothing fits into a neat little box, or triangle as it were.

So, are state and religion the One True Pairing (to borrow from fandom)? I don’t know. I do know, however, that they have a long history of fighting and making up with each other that’s not likely to disappear anytime soon. I may not have said anything riveting or novel, but least thinking about this sort of stuff is more interesting than studying for my next final exam.

My Body, My Morals

Amanda over at Pandagon takes on the “morality” of the so-called “conscience clause” pharmacists. I’ve been trying for so long to explain that someone else’s morality should in no way trump my morality when it comes to issues of my body, but I think Amanda has really hit the issue at its heart.

As a staunchly childfree woman, I need to remember this one for when I start trying to find a doctor who will sterilize me:

Having baby after baby would be wicked of me. I cannot provide for one child, much less 6 to a dozen. And it’s not just a money issue. My boyfriend and I are both crazy busy people who barely squeeze in time to feed and play with our cats, so a baby would certainly suffer at our hands. I have strong beliefs that one should only have children if you are committed to raising that child up the best you can, and since I can’t do that for a child, I feel it would be immoral of me to have one.

Amanda’s right; it is, in my moral code at least, completely immoral to have a child you cannot and/or will not properly take care of. For someone like me, who never wants kids, I have the option of permanent sterilization (if I can find a doctor willing to perform it on a young, childless woman). For others, though, it’s not that they never want a baby, but that they don’t want one right now. For them, using birth control is the only moral choice. And I, for one, stand by that choice: children should be a product of an informed decision, not an accident due to negligence!

The religious right steps up and says, “If you don’t want children then practice abstinence, you immoral slut!” That’s all well and good for some people, but not for me. I may be childfree, but I’m not asexual. My moral code says that I need to do what it takes to keep myself, my partners, and my relationships healthy and happy. For me, that means that I will engage in safe sex as part of that happiness regimen.

And frankly, it’s stupid and immoral to expect me to prioritize the precepts of a religion I don’t follow that worships a deity I don’t believe in over the well-being of myself and my partner.

I could write an article on this line alone, but suffice it to say that Amanda has summarized one of my biggest critiques about the conservative government currently in power. I must say that I’m heartily sick of this so-called “moral” legislation which is “the only morals are my morals.” Really, it’s not so hard of a concept to say that “as long as my morals hurt no one, then they should be protected.” Don’t like BC? Fine, don’t use it! But stay the hell out of my way when I want it.