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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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Unfortunately for this knight in shining armor, his princess is not one to sit back and allow herself to be rescued. Instead, she has ideas about how he might best slay the dragons. When the second dragon attacks, she suggests that instead of the sword he uses a noose. This works and “everyone is happy, except the knight who doesn’t feel like a hero this time. He would have preferred to use his sword.” The princess’s continuing suggestions (for the third dragon she recommends poison) make the knight doubt his own instincts and feel ashamed despite the fact that he continues to slay dragons.

Then one day he hears another maiden in distress. Though he initially doubts himself, at the last minute he remembers how he used to feel “before he met the princess” and successfully uses his sword. He never does return to the princess. Instead, he lives happily ever after with the maiden, “but only after making sure she knew nothing of nooses or poison.”

The moral of this story: “Occasional suggestions and assistance may be all right, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.” 

The suggestion that women should not have their own ideas, or worse, should suppress them in order to make men feel good, is remarkably offensive. It is bad enough that Walt Disney is teaching my daughter that she should be pretty but quiet; I don’t want her learning it in school.

Perhaps the princess knew more about dragons than the knight and understood that the second dragon had a skin too thick to be pierced by a sword or that the third should be poisoned because its neck was too strong to be quickly snapped by a noose. According to the curriculum, she should have kept this information to herself despite the risk to the castle all to ensure that she did not offend her man.

I have been married long enough to know that there is a grain of truth to the whole “men are from Mars women are from Venus” kind of thinking. But the solution isn’t, as John Grey and Bruce Cook would have us believe, to accept these behaviors as innate and unchangeable and let either sex (though let’s face it, mostly men) behave badly as result. Instead of just being told that this is what it is, students should be asked to question the nature, validity, and origin of these gender stereotypes, and to explore how stereotypes affect communication within friendships and sexual relationships.

I am pretty confident that my daughter’s princess phase will pass and she will use her strong will and stubborn streak to defend both her rights and abilities as a woman. Maybe I should remind her that the little mermaid saved the prince from drowning, not once, but twice. 

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