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How Abstinence-Only Programs Perpetuate Dangerous Stereotypes

It's bad enough the media teaches my daughter harmful gender stereotypes. Does she have to get it at school, too?

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The curriculum warns, however, “The guy who is great at getting things done can become so goal-oriented that he walks all over people in his drive to achieve his goal. The girl who is wonderful with people can become so people-centered that she is distracted and has a hard time focusing on her goal.”

The pictures alone set gender equality back 25 years. More importantly, providing such stereotypical portrayals of what men and women excel at undermines the lesson’s goal of increasing self-confidence. Young people should understand that sex does not determine what they will and will not be good at in life.

All of these differences, however, seem only to be included in an effort to underscore how very different men and women are when it comes to sex and relationships. In truth, neither gender is depicted positively. Men are portrayed as cads who desire casual sex with any and all women but are frequently misunderstood and the victims of nagging women. Women, on the other, will use sex to get love and are forced to tolerate the bad behavior of the men.

These stereotypes are particularly apparent in the stories the curricula tells about young couples.

Choosing the Best JOURNEY tells the story of Ashley and Jerome who marry after just three months: “Soon Ashley began to notice some things about Jerome she had never seen before. He continued to go to sports bars and party on the weekend with his guy friends…She suggested that they go to museums or plays, but Jerome wasn’t really into ‘cultural stuff.’” Roughly the same story appears in SOUL MATE, though his name is now Michael: “When Ashley suggested they go to the library, Michael said he was proud that he hadn’t read a book since college and didn’t want to start now.”

A first person narrator in Choosing the Best SOUL MATE tells a different tale of woe:“My wife Lateisha has always been a major shopper…When I ask about her many new outfits, she always has some story about how she was ‘given’ the clothes. Lateisha keeps bouncing checks and running up credit card debt.”

The most offensive gender stereotypes, however, come in the stories of the “Disappointed Princess” and the “Knight in Shining Armor” also in SOUL MATE (which, by the way is intended for high school juniors and seniors). These parables give young people clear rules on how to interact with members of the opposite sex.

Soon after meeting a handsome and charming knight and considering marriage, the princess becomes upset because she “wanted to spend time talking about their future life together but the Knight was obviously not interested in listening. He preferred daily jousts with other Knights.” He did, however, bring her lots of gifts.
Still, the princess was lonely until one day she has horse trouble and meets a blacksmith. Despite the fact that he is “rather plain” he listens to her and she decides to marry him instead. The moral of the story “To win and keep a princess, expressing love through active listening and engaging conversation trumps gifts, activities and even looks.”

Though the moral of this story makes sense, the portrayal of women as princesses who simply crave the attention of a man is disturbing. More disturbing, however, are the messages in the curriculum’s other parable.

It begins: “Deep inside every man is a knight in shining armor, ready to rescue a maiden and slay a wicked dragon. When a man feels trusted, he is free to be the strong, protecting man he longs to be.”

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