advice

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

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Halves, Wholes & Other Emotional Maths

We all grow up differently. Some people are self-conscious about their weight. Some people hate their noses. Some people think no-one is ever going to like them. Whatever it is, everyone has their insecurities, and from my experience, sex ed didn’t really make anyone feel better about them. The teacher was awkward, the students were worse, the curriculum was reeled off and that was pretty much it. The biology was covered, and ‘pastoral care’ mentioned, but what no-one really touched upon was how big a role emotions and self-image play amongst all this growing up.

I spent a lot of my teen years feeling uncomfortable in my body and insecure about how I looked. I was one of – in hindsight -many people that thought no-one would ever want them. I doubted that anyone would ever feel anything for me, yet maintained the hope that should something happen, it would be the answer to everything. I’d be fulfilled, complete and wanted, entirely satisfied with myself and my life.

Looking in the mirror and not only seeing the ‘ugly’ and the negative seemed an insurmountable thought for me. I was stuck in a rut of worthlessness, hopelessly looking to be wanted and reassured. I had the expectation that finding someone who saw more in me than I did would automatically bring happiness, irrespective of how I was feeling. I was not prepared for the emotional experience that thinking would bring about.

21244662_10211805042095761_2026440898_nThere’s that saying; ‘looking for my other half’, that people use when they talk about finding that person who is their soulmate. Whether that’s important to you or not, I think there’s something about this quote to bear in mind. No-one else should ever be your other half because you are already a whole. This is actually quite a new revelation for me, but one that has made all the difference, both to my relationship with others and with myself.

Adopting this perspective is, in essence, very flexible. It can mean that you need to go and be single and find happiness with yourself completely alone, but it doesn’t have to. It can mean constantly surrounding yourself with family and friends to build up morale, but only if you want it to. Whichever suits, my point is that no matter how endearing your environment is, the positive words from people around you cannot fill the sadness of how you see yourself forever. You must give yourself time to learn, to help yourself.

I am a huge advocate of drawing from the people around you. Having hated myself for so long, I have found so many parts of myself that I now love through other people and how they saw me. A few years ago, however, these positive words will have needed to be regular; I was in constant need of recognition that I was of any value. What they were saying wasn’t sinking in, because deep down I still couldn’t see past what I saw.

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When no-one was around to reassure me, I plummeted back into sadness, which took a toll on almost every aspect of my life. As I watched myself let everything slip away, I realised that I was losing myself. I decided that something had to change. I took a deep breath and a step back. I spent a summer with less social media and less communication with friends. It gave me a chance to reflect on myself, the words of others, and how I wanted to see myself. I built up confidence, proving to myself that I was of value rather than needing someone else to tell me this. It was a long process, and how I went about it may not suit you at all, but what matters is making that change.

I finally allowed my friends’ words to change my own mind, and as a result, I’m starting to embrace a happiness which is beyond fulfilling. This happiness comes from within. This is where we come back to that quote because that is what we all deserve. You are – always have and always will be – enough, but we need to take charge of our own self-worth to truly realise that. No-one can permanently plug that self-doubt you have, no-one can fill that space of insecurity forever. Using the people around you and their appreciation for you, you can build up the image you have of yourself into a whole that you become happier with.

While I think that’s important for wider life, it’s also important for the health of your relationship. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t let go for the benefit of yourself or your partner because your entire world depends on how their opinion of you builds you up. Even whilst in a relationship, you are two very different individuals who have their own lives but needn’t depend on the other. Value one another for the love you give but have enough confidence in your self-worth that you don’t need it to be satisfied.

As I said before, everyone is different, and everyone improves themselves differently. Your environment, be that a relationship, friends, or family is a gold mine for learning about what others value in you. The importance of the emotional awareness that sex ed neglects, lies simply in seeing this within yourself. In no time at all, you’ll find yourself taking the world by storm because knowing yourself – the ‘to-be-improved’, the value and the good – is nothing to be afraid of. Rather, take your happiness into your own hands and go for it, in love, ambitions or everyday life, all while knowing just what a good egg you truly are.

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Images from Rubyetc, Picture Quotes and The Online Odyssey.
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Blue Monday, Blue Winter, Blue Year.

Blue Monday is not the most depressing day of the year, nor is it any more or less depressing than any other day of the year.

January can be a difficult month as we tend to pile even more pressure onto ourselves with sweeping New Year’s resolutions that often force us to think we should be fitter, stronger, or better than we already are. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to watch more films because I keep watching the same ones over and over .

I do not plan to get smarter, thinner, or better at riding my bike because I have as much control over the year as I do the weather. This year I’m going to try my best to look after myself while I attempt to embrace the mess that is life after uni.

I don’t believe I will be happy all year. I don’t believe I will be healthy and happy for the next New Year because I don’t know what life will bring. My attitude differs to the popular resolve I’m sure, but it seems fair to me.

As such, I know people will think I’m being negative by saying that Blue Monday is as depressing as any other day. I feel I should however remind you that Blue Monday is false, has no scientific backing, and was made up by holiday company Sky Travel in their 2005 press release. Blue Monday is pseudoscience, and an angle for marketers. So all of this (see below) is bullshit.

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My point with this piece isn’t to mock you, or to tell you how foolish you are to buy into all the companies and newspapers telling you to be depressed every January 16th. My point is to tell you that for many people, the entire month, season or year can be so awfully blue, that one day won’t make a difference.

We should not see Blue Monday as a day to feel bad about ourselves unnecessarily, but as a reminder of how much work we need to put into looking after ourselves, as often as we can. Whether it’s a seasonal affective, or year-round depression, it’s important to focus on the good.

Articles from the Daily Mail (*cough* trash) telling us why things are terrible and ‘more depressing than usual’, should be replaced with good news, and things to be happy about. We should not feel bad for being upset, and we should definitely not feel bad on behalf of others when we are sad. It is a human right to feel. It is a part of living to cry and feel down, as much as it is to laugh and feel joy.

This Blue Monday, I ask that you stop reading articles about the bad in the world and to instead watch a film, or have dessert or a hot chocolate. I don’t want you to feel bad because you’ve been told to. I ask that you look after yourself as well as you should every other day of the year, and to do your best to keep it up from now on.

Blue Monday isn’t real, but your health and feelings are. Look after what counts, and be kind to yourself.

 

Words by Briony Brake

Here’s to Michelle

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Donald Trump is becoming the second most powerful man in the world this month (second only to Vladimir Putin), the White House will simultaneously be losing potentially the most inspiring and captivating First Lady it has ever had. Michelle Obama has been the role model that America needs; inspiring women of all backgrounds and ethnicities that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and not to let anyone hold you back.

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 If I’m ever feeling a bit down, or doubting myself,  or (especially) if I’m pulling an all-nighter, and need motivation to finish an essay, I tend to watch a bit of Michelle to get me back on track.  Not only does she have a law degree from Princeton and Harvard Law School, she’s also launched a campaign, ‘Let’s Move!’ in an attempt to combat childhood obesity, and she’s used her position as a way to encourage girls to pursue the careers they are interested in (‘Let Girls Learn’).

Michelle has also been extremely vocal about being a black woman in America, and the challenges those facing discrimination come up against. On top of all that, Michelle has never been afraid to be herself; she’s even been shopping with Ellen DeGeneres and on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. Not to mention she’s also raised two kids…

Here are some of my favourite Michelle quotes that will hopefully get you through those exam/ January/ dissertation/ general blues:

1. “I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls. And I told them that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I told them that they should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them, and that they should make their voices heard in the world”

Talking about meeting young girls in the US and around the world in her New Hampshire Speech Oct 2016.

2.There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish, whether that’s in politics or in other fields.”

Talking about what she tells her daughters in a 2012 speech about the US.

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3. “The women we honour today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all.”

In a speech in 2009 at the Women of Courage Awards.

4. “If had worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn’t be married to the president of the United States today… Compete with the boys…Beat the boys.

During a panel session hosted by Glamour in September 2015.

 

So there’s your inspiration and reminder that you can do this. Go slay x

 

Words by Sophy Edmunds
Photos and videos by NY Times, The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube, and Let Girls Learn/the White House.

 

20 Pieces of Advice I’d Like to Give After Being a Woman for 20 Years On This Planet We Call Earth

Look for other great women. Around you, near you, in the media. Don’t copy them, but learn how they do it, and then you do it too.
Caitlin Moran made a snap decision one day to stop sitting around and do something. Bridget Christie thought, fuck it, a comedy show about feminism, why not, got nothing to lose. My mum keeps on going, keeps plowing through, and she’s the bravest woman I know. Every day on Women’s Hour there are more and more examples of incredible women doing amazing things. There’s always someone to look up to and there’s always someone that they learnt from too. You’re part of something. You’re part of a line, so look back at it.  

You won’t get anything if you don’t ask.
Want to do stand up? Ask someone how. Want to go to university? Ask to. Want to have a job? A career in a certain area? If you don’t ask, no one’s going to offer it to you. You’re already at a disadvantage, the world views you as something less. You’ve got to ask, because it’s not going to be handed to you. You make your own luck.

Take every opportunity you have.
Women couldn’t always vote but you can, so go and vote, because you’re very very lucky. Malala Yousafzai was shot for trying to get an education as a girl. If you live in a western country, you have the chance for free education. Use it. I simply can’t say this enough. We certainly don’t live in a post-feminist society, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have opportunities or that we’re not lucky that some things are the way they are.

There is no one way to be a woman, and it’s not dictated by feminism.
Do you like wearing dresses? And make up? Or don’t? THAT’S TOTALLY FINE. The point of feminism is that you have the choice to do all those things, or not do those things. Do you want to shave your legs? That’s fine. Don’t want to? Also fine. Gender is not binary, gender is not fixed and gender should not dictate your actions.

Sometimes you have to shout a bit louder.
It’s ingrained in society, from a historical standing, that women should be seen and not heard, and that they’re objects, accessories, possessions. We’re slowly moving away from this mindset, but you might still need to remind people of this. Argue your point. Tell them they’re wrong. prove you have a voice, and an opinion, and that it matters, because it does.

Your body belongs to you and no one else.
As long as you’re happy with it, and happy inside your own skin, then what else matters? It’s your body and you’re the one who has to live with it forever, so look after it and treat it right. Fill it with yummy food, and laughter and fruit and veg, and air from the seaside, and excellent alcohol that warms you up and makes you dance. Love your body; all its flaws and all its brilliant bits. Love your boobs and your vagina, and your thighs and your toes. Please, please, please look after your body. You only get one and it’s so important and beautiful.

Your soul is yours, but lend it out.
I’m not talking divine spirit things here. What I mean is that feeling when you see your very best friend dancing their arse off. I’m talking about when all your family are around you and they’re all absorbed in each other. You can only get these feelings if you let people in, and give them that little piece of yourself to hold on to.

You make your own happiness.
It’s important to give away these little pieces of yourself to the people you love, but you’ve also got to learn to be happy on your own, being on your own, being by yourself, doing things for yourself. This is one of the most important life skills you can learn.

Surround yourself with good, kind, intelligent, funny, women.
You’ll learn more about yourself by spending time with them, as well having a jolly good laugh.

Surround yourself with good, kind, intelligent, funny, men.
Ditto.

Always take free furniture from the sides of roads.
Painting chests of drawers is like a kind of meditation. Plus, free furniture.  

Walk, don’t get the bus.
You’ll feel insanely better for it, even if you are slightly sweatier.

Your bodily functions are FINE.
We all fart and poo and sweat and that. It would be weird if you didn’t, why are you pretending that you don’t?

Look after your mind.
If you don’t feel okay, tell someone. If you feel sad, or confused, or lost, tell someone how you’re feeling. Meditate. Read books and watch films and let your mind act like a sponge soaking it all up. Your mental health is so so so important, please look after it.

Sometimes, you do just have to adult.
You have to do your washing and ring the doctors and cook food for yourself. It will make you feel like a proper grown up, and that’s well fun.

When your friends tell you that that person is no good for you, they’re probably right.
They know you pretty well, and they only want the best for you, so they probably know what they’re on about.

Ring your mum.
She’s done it all before and she will always know what to say. She’s the best advice you’ll ever get.

Listen to music by women.
Read books by women. Watch films made by women, about women. Watch comedy by women. Let them inspire you and course through your veins.

Not everyone is learning these things as quick as you, be patient.
Learn for yourself, and don’t get angry when other people aren’t getting it right. They need more time.

Don’t beat yourself up for getting things wrong.
You’re learning too, remember – it’s okay to fail, and try, and fail and try again. As long as you’re trying.

 

Words by Sian Brett.