Monday, May 24, 2010

Repulsive and potentially damaging

While I don't agree with the author of this piece in every respect, it is still an interesting look at something that has cropped up in the care and education of children in Australia--and might be headed to America before long:
HOW would you react if you found out an adult had been in your three or four-year-old's childcare centre asking the following questions:

"Do boys give you the dreamy eye?"

"Are you a flirt?"

"Have you ever kissed a boy?"

If a carer asked these questions, I would be complaining to management in no uncertain terms.

If someone off the street tried to ask these questions, I would be calling the cops.

So why is it acceptable for Monash University academic Mindy Blaise to be asking three and four-year-olds these exact questions, as part of her ongoing study into what she calls post-structuralist and queer theory?

Sure, the questions come from an illustration in a popular Clarice Bean book by Lauren Child. But it doesn't make any difference. Regardless of the source, they are still inappropriate.

As she details in a paper in the latest Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, Blaise wants to show that young children are already sexual beings and that she is just creating a safe space for them in which they can express their "sexual knowledge".

In fact, she even wants the early childhood curriculum to be changed to give teachers a chance to "engage with children differently about their sexual knowledge".

In one experiment in an Australian childcare centre (she won't say which one), she gets the children to photograph objects or dolls they think are cool, sexy or pretty, and in another to respond to a photograph of two crocodiles kissing. One of the children notes that "one is a boy and one is a girl".

Blaise responds: "Heather (the child) has drawn upon the heterosexual matrix in her naming of the crocodiles as complementary genders. In doing so, the possibility of imagining same-sex desire has been closed off."

Is it just me, or does Blaise actually seem disappointed that some kids aren't showing signs of being gay?

Do read the whole thing; like I said, I don't agree with the author about some major issues, but that's part of what makes a piece like this so interesting--because two people from very different philosophical backgrounds can agree that the attempts at sexual indoctrination or other sexualization of young children is simply wrong.

Even other researchers are not happy about Dr. Mindy Blaise's research, as this article from Austrialia's Daily Telegraph shows:
Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said he was deeply concerned by the research and surprised it cleared the university's ethics committee.

"Why the hell can't we just let children be children?" he said.
Why not, indeed?

Here's a clue, from the same Telegraph article:

Monash University's Dr Mindy Blaise, who spent five days at an unnamed childcare centre, wants sexuality to be an official subject at kinders and preschool centres.

It would include discussions about homosexuality.

Dr Blaise said it was important that kids felt "healthy sexuality was not dirty or wrong". [Emphasis added--E.M.]

And why do three and four-year-olds need to talk about homosexuality? Well, remember those crocodiles? Again, from the Telegraph:

During her research, Dr Blaise also asked children to photograph things they thought were cool, sexy or pretty, and to discuss a photograph of two crocodiles kissing.

She described encouraging a discussion about sexuality, desire and love in relation to the crocodile picture.

When one child noted that the crocodiles were a boy and girl, Dr Blaise noted that the children appeared to think only about heterosexuality.

Not once did children talk about the possibility of girls being attractive for other girls, or boys being cool for other boys, she concluded.

In other words, you see, three-year-old and four-year-old children are already too "heteronormative" to satisfy society's desire to reshape sexuality in a way that ignores the reproductive aspect and tears down all gender constructs as too oppressive and damaging to be left in place. Gender-specific words and concepts like "mother" or "father" have to go, as do any other references to gender roles or the idea that men usually find women attractive, or that women usually find men attractive.

Thus, it's not even remotely acceptable to certain academics like Dr. Blaise for a child to assume, that because two crocodiles are kissing, that one must be a boy and the other a girl. That tiny tot clearly has been oppressed by the heteornormative agenda, and must be liberated by frank discussions of lesbian sex in preschool! (The rank speciesism of showing two reptiles engaging in a human-specific love-expression will be addressed when further studies are funded, etc.)

Otherwise, the dreadful possibility that toddlers will think that sex, or at least some kinds of sex, is dirty and wrong looms over us all. Of course, the notion that toddlers, who have barely figured out their excretory organs, should be learning anything at all about the reproductive act (oh, sorry, how un-p.c. of me--about the various sexually pleasurable acts humans are capable of) is one that most parents will find astonishingly wrong and misguided--if not, as the author of the first piece I link to suggests, absolutely criminal.

But the natural modesty of children, and the whole idea that there is a "latency period" during which children's curiosity about adult behaviors is mostly dormant or limited to various easily-answered common sense questions (such as "How does the baby get out of Mommy's tummy?") which mainly deal with actual reproduction and not the various sex acts humans are capable of, are under attack by many different forces in society. So long as young children still think that parents come in opposite gender pairs and that love and affection between adults is mainly ordered toward creating these pairs, society will remain appallingly heteronormative. And that's simply unacceptable to the type of professional academic who has a vested interest in seeing to it that children reject "heteronormative" gender roles and embrace alternative sexuality--or, more accurately, in convincing schools and other academics that her ideas are cutting-edge and important, instead of, from the perspective of parents, repulsive and potentially damaging to the psychological states of young children.


David said...

Gender-specific words and concepts like "mother" or "father" have to go, as do any other references to gender roles or the idea that men usually find women attractive, or that women usually find men attractive.

Where do you get this stuff? It's delicious on the level of paranoid fantasy, but from where does it flow?

I wish I had access to the paper she submitted (since I would doubt it's the indoctrinating fears that the article purports, especially if it passed the Australian equivalent of an IRB). If we are, as you taught me, to be skeptical of media reports on the Church with recent events and their reporting on the molestation cases, then I would hope we realize that the same sensationalism (teacher asking four-year-olds about sex!) wouldn't suddenly be abandoned on a different subject.

Erin Manning said...

David, I have read more than I'd like to of "queer theory," for one thing.

But one needn't descend into the academic ghettos to find out where I get this stuff. This news article from this past March, from Britain, will suffice as one example, though a little searching brings up plenty more:

I did some searching on this not that long ago and found that some schools in Canada no longer refer to a child's "mother" or "father" but only to the child's "parenting partners." Can't offend anybody who doesn't have a mother/father, you see.

It's not fantasy. It's the future.

David said...

Neither of those examples are saying the concepts of "mother" and "father" have to go, nor any such movement behind those actions with that aim. (I'm sorry, but not including the words does not equal a plot to rid them from our language in some allusion to Newspeak thought control).

It is one thing to criticise elements of Queer Theory and quite another to presume any tangential connection is evidence of its more radical elements/goals at work in our society.

I won't deny you are challenged: the reality is that while for most people, men are attracted to women and vice versa, there a few for whom this is not the case. You can pretend otherwise, but it's a reality we face as a society. It's much the same way with the thousands of categories/concepts we deal with (and children as they learn and develop) and try to compartmentalize into perfect squares, ignoring how flexible they really are in everyday practice. Children discover that, unlike their family German Shepherd, not all "dogs" are German Shepherds and can come in quite variety of shapes and sizes, some that question where "dog" more resembles something like "cat" or "rat." In the same way they could come to learn that not all people are a certain hair color, drive a certain car, have certain skin color, or recognize even the amazing flexibility within the categories "man" and "woman" (I know the children I work with distinguish mostly on hair length and body size alone in that area).

What seems to be the big clash here, apart from moral religious differences, is that people think some of those categories can be extended to fit more situations, like elastic balloons, and people such as yourself (Maggie Gallagher, David Blankenhorn and others) are of the opinion that to extend them would cause them to burst and be essentially useless and nonexistent. I will be honest, I think the latter opinion is comparable in outcome to parents objecting to a wheelchair ramp being installed at a school with the reasoning behind it that it will lead to more children being in wheelchairs or assuming that because we accommodate for something on a societal level, it means it will become more prevalent or that children will suddenly assume--contrary to their generalizing abilities in the past to learn several breeds of dog or cat--people no longer walk.

The parallels are quite obvious: children knowing about gay people, gay parents, and gay couples; society accommodating for gay relationships.

And with accommodation, we occasionally find misguided measures at fixing problems, like those you cited (and given reluctance to engage on how to fix those problems in the first place from opponents who would basically want nothing more than gays to vanish, hide your amazement when things aren't well thought-through). In the case of the UK, I wonder they were trying to address a real concern, that of surrogate parents and establishing parentage at birth in kind of the similar way that the state affirms the responsibility of the biological parents with most births. Surrogacy for hetero or even homosexual couples involves at least one person abrogating their responsibility to child. It seems like a way of establishing the parents and ensuring the child is cared for (as much as I wish you could appreciate this gesture, I know you're appalled by the entire concept). I can't say the way it was put in place is the best means myself, perhaps using a separate form for those cases of surrogacy to keep good records of lineage (not that we don't require paternity tests as better proof of biological connections when they're contested anyway for obvious reasons that follow the natural biology man and woman...I jest, but it's also true).

David said...

I wanted to add: what I find interesting is your tongue-in-cheek we "can't offend anybody who doesn't have a mother/father." Now, I agree it is a ridiculous aim for any of us to try to achieve or even a principle at large (hence why I don't address your second example in my post), but wasn't that the whole point of Charles Chaput and his reasoning for removing that lesbian couple's order to not offend her with Church doctrine?

Erin Manning said...

David, in your comment you seem to be equating gender with things like the differences in dog breeds or hair color or car choices. That fits in with the queer theorists' idea that gender is a mere social construct, something which is malleable and impermanent.

I see gender as being far more intrinsic and immutable than that (leaving aside the statistically tiny incidences of hermaphroditism or other physical anomalies which are still *physical* in origin), and as having a biological physical basis which can't be overruled or ignored. Teaching children that categories like "male" or "female" don't *really* exist would be like teaching them that there's no real difference between a cat and a dog, and encouraging them to call cats "dogs" or vice-versa.

A statistically small number of people (far less than the number usually cited, by the way) will end up experiencing same-sex attraction. But redefining the whole concept of gender as mere social construct and indoctrinating three-year-olds to see two kissing crocodiles as a same-sex sexually active couple is flat-out wrong, even if the goal is to accommodate that statistically tiny segment of the population.

David said...

That's not what I'm saying at all, Erin, and it’s my fault for not being clear and using pronouns that suggested two rather "categories" in general. And, by the way, you are correct: we talk past each other a lot.

I was not talking about the categories of man and woman. I was talking about the category marriage, that a child might learn the category marriage can include a few examples of same-sex couples without the apocalyptic consequences described before.

I am a bit confused by this: while I was not talking about social constructions of man and woman and you clearly believe in innate essentialism for these traits, their roles and behaviors, you somehow operate under the belief that socialization is very strong in manipulating and indoctrinating children to new views and truths, to where those innate things aren’t actually innate but to the whim of society. Which is it? If you actually believe in complete nurture (how you actually operate when debating this, though you profess otherwise) over nature, there are strong warrants for your fears, but you need to first organize what you believe and make sure your premises match for consistency (i.e., who’s to say we haven’t been indoctrinating children with your traditional understanding for many centuries rather than it being innate?)

***And to correct you (and where we need to take off our blinders for one moment and remember what I mentioned about sensationalist media):

But redefining the whole concept of gender as mere social construct and indoctrinating three-year-olds to see two kissing crocodiles as a same-sex sexually active couple is flat-out wrong

That’s not what she was doing! (And again, that’s not what I was saying about categories) She was observing (in a qualitative study) how children at that age when seeing two crocodiles kissing, or whatever, labeled them male and female. It was an observation of the construct and how it operates, how it was more or less automatic and no pause for whether they could be a similar-sexed couple. It’s like an association. A stereotype, something that serves well for many instances but may not be correct for all.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Dr. Blaise appears to have uncovered substantial empirical evidence that three and four year olds naturally assume that human life is heterosexual, without needing to know any details about the behavior of adults in the privacy of the bedroom. A classic case of starting out with a hypothesis and disproving your own fond hopes. It takes real work to force children into considering homosexuality as even within the realm of possibility.

I'm with the succinct comment "Why can't we let children be children?"

Anyone doing this kind of research should have signed permission from each parent of each child to be interviewed. No way should day care center operators be authorized to give permission on their own.

It is of course true that a significant minority in each generation is attracted to their own gender. There is no need to teach children about that in the abstract. When it becomes a practical reality in their lives, it needs to be cogently responded to, without inspiring paranoia or hatred. On the other hand, heterosexuality is the norm for the human species, for reasons which pre-date the Constitution of the United States, the Roman Catholic Church, Moses's trips up Mt. Sinai, and the first domestication of plants and animals for settled agriculture.