Thursday, February 19, 2009

Becca Thinks Sexuality Studies Are Important ... and You Should Too!

As many of you may have already heard … and perhaps some of you haven’t … the legislatures in Georgia and Florida are making moves to utilize the economic downturn to cut funding for programs sexuality based studies.

In Georgia, the attack is on UGA courses surrounding oral sex and prostitution. The two representatives claim that these classes are ‘wasteful and unnecessary’ and in essence a waste of taxpayer money in the state. The research being conducted by the professor on prostitution studies the link between male prostitution and STI transmission. The research being done about oral sex is about how societal attitudes surrounding oral sex affect society.

As per the most recent article, the professors received praise for their work and research, but will still stand trial because of the legislators’ actions.

At Florida Atlantic University, the school is going to dissolve the current stand-alone women’s center and push it into the School of Communication and Media Studies. The MA program in Women’s Studies is also under attack. The school is thinking of shutting down the program and they ‘hope’ that they will be able to reinstate it in the future.

So, again, sexuality is being marginalized and the programs that work to further our understanding are under attack in the guise of ‘fiscal responsibility.’

Now that the issue has been summarized, I will put in my two cents on the issue. But before doing so, I will paste a link to a petition which is speaking out against the moves by these legislative bodies.

If you’re not convinced simply by the summary of the situation, I will talk about why I think you should sign this petition in the following blog post, and re-paste the link at the end. If you’re already on board, sign the petition now, and read my blog post later. Ha!

My Two Cents:

I am APPALLED … and saddened.

This to me is the classic sad story of this generation of legislators, which continues to believe that silence surrounding sex and sexuality is the best possible approach.

I take three basic issues with this new attack. I will state my three issues, and then I will expand upon my reasoning.

#1 UGA is a public institution.
#2 When sexuality studies are denied, the consequences manifest themselves on the bodies of the populace.
#3 The legislature in these two states are, again, subjugating an entire class of people based on cultural perceptions of importance.

Ehem. Let’s begin.

#1 UGA is a public institution.

I am non-religious. This is a commonly known fact. As someone who is non-religious, my hard earned tax dollars fund what I’m sure are hundreds of religious studies programs. They fund religion focused student groups. They fuel some groups, even, who might perpetuate hate as a result of their religious beliefs.

Do I want my tax dollars to go to religious studies, when they could be funding queer studies programs? No, of course not. Would I ever try to abolish religious studies in the institutions of higher learning in my state as a result of my sentiment?

Oh Hells No.

Why? Because, regardless of whether or not I am comfortable or happy with the idea of someone studying religion, as a rational human being, I understand that religion exists. And not only does it exist, but it affects such a large group of people both domestically and worldwide that I know it would be ridiculous to cut off attempts to further understand the implications of organized (and dis-organized) religion in the country and/or world. The more that we think about, analyze, and understand; the more power we have to attempt to change those parts of religion that can possibly be destructive. The more power we have to can attempt to bridge gaps between different religions, and possibly alleviate some of the strife felt when large groups of religious sects clash.

Despite my opinions about religion, the study of religion is valuable and important. Even though I don’t see myself becoming a pupil of religious studies (or a believer for that matter), and perhaps will never be comfortable with the idea of large masses of people blindly following ideologies put forth by churches, I would never begrudge someone their right to engage critically with religion.

Just like religion, sexuality exists and affects everyone. And, as we’ve seen in this country with the rates of rape, unplanned pregnancy, and sex-negativity, there are blatantly negative effects of sexuality. This, in my opinion, will only be assuaged by letting our greatest minds and thinkers take a crack at a more critical look at sexuality.

The representatives in Georgia, however, don’t seem to be as rational or clear-thinking as myself, and believe that silence is the best plan of action. It is not a veiled fact that their actions stem from their religious beliefs, which takes us (again … sigh) to the clash between church and state. This country was based upon the separation of the two, and yet we only elect leaders who would push these agendas and blur a line that should be completely clear based upon our constitution.

If legislators really adhered to the values upon which our country was based, they would recognize that even if their constituencies aren’t happy about it, a public institution is there to try to reach the needs of as many taxpayers as possible – even if that potentially means conflicts of interest at times. There are queer folks and part-time sex workers and women who pay taxes in Georgia. And I would care to wager that this demographic of people do feel that the programs and classes being offered at UGA are far from worthless, and in fact are necessary to break the cycles of hate, violence and discrimination that plague these communities.

UGA is a public institution designed to advance thought in all arenas, not just the ones that are socially or religiously palatable. These legislators are doing a disservice to this institution by attempting to use a crisis to shut down programs that positively benefit tax-payers, and that some tax-payers fully support.

#2 When sexuality studies are denied, the consequences manifest themselves on the bodies of the populace.

When we don’t let the greatest minds and thinkers study sexuality, we are left in the dark about an entire canon of knowledge that directly affects us.

Abstinence-only sex education is a direct example of this. Our top legislators decided that not talking to our teens about sex was the best way to go about things. Our top minds and thinkers were only given money to think about and develop these programs. These programs were implemented across the country and what was the result?

For the first time in over a decade, the rates of teen pregnancy increased. Success!! Oh … wait.

Imagine what would have happened if all that abstinence-only funding had gone to thinking more critically about and examining more deeply comprehensive sexuality education programming.

Imagine how many teens would have utilized proper methods of protection. Imagine how many teens would not have had to face down the choice of keeping the baby or terminating the pregnancy. Imagine how many teens would have avoided having to endure 9 months of pregnancy and then giving that child up. Imagine how many teens would still be enjoying their youth status, instead of being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.

But instead we informed our teens that condoms weren’t perfect, so abstinence was the only way!

Our cultural discomfort with sex directly manifested itself in a failure to our youth. Because we are unable to think, talk or stomach the idea of dialogue around sexuality, we failed our future.

This current assault is no exception. These legislators would rather silence the important study of HIV prevention and attitudes surrounding oral sex so that they don’t have to deal with it. It’s ridiculous and short sighted and makes me angry.

And it’s all about language. These representatives hear the word queer studies, and I would bet they know very little about what that means. Instead of doing some research and quelling their own ignorance, they would rather let their ignorance dictate that these programs be cancelled.

When queer studies programs are cancelled, lives are lost.

When people don’t know what’s going on in the queer community, people like Brandon Teena and Gwen Araujo die because of ignorance and misinformation. Because when our greatest minds aren’t allowed to study these things, the populace remains shrouded in continuing ignorance. Ignorance creates fear, and, for some, that fear justifies what is in my opinion, unjustifiable violence.

And even if violence isn’t enacted upon the bodies of those within the queer community, a dearth of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and aloneness within the community, which can in turn lead to suicidality or other unhealthy manifestations of these feelings of isolation.

Here’s how I see things: With more understanding, comes more acceptance and tolerance. With more acceptance and tolerance comes a sense of belonging and well-being. A sense of belonging and well-being translates into productive community members.

And productive community members are good for everyone, including those who don’t identify within that community.

And isn’t that the goal of the legislature? To enact processes within the community that will make it better, rather than worse?

It also needs to be noted that we live in a world where women are STILL paid less than their male counterparts for equal work. FAU, according to one article, is a place where male professors make $16,000 more a year than female professors. That reality alone should be a sign to administrators that the women’s center is not only necessary, but should be required to remain open until that gap no longer exists.

Also … it seems to me that women’s studies programs are part of a greater movement that helped women in the legislature to even be there.

Respect the processes that put you where you are women in the legislature.

#3 The legislature in these two states is, again, subjugating an entire class of people based on cultural perceptions of importance.

It’s is always interesting to me what the first subject on the chopping block will be when financial times are bad.

Sexuality studies are real life. You don’t rock sexuality studies, everyone suffers (as per my previous talking point).

But sexuality studies is an easy target. There are very few formalized sexuality programs, and so fighting back is not as easy. You don’t have an alumni (read: donor) base to piss off. The sexuality community is often fragmented, and so mobilizing or finding allies in other sexuality programs can be difficult.

Plus, because we continue to shroud sex in a cloud of silence, it scares people, and the general ignorant populace will either agree or see no reason to speak out.

But the discrimination here is simply a continuation of the discrimination against these classes of people experienced on a day to day basis.

No one cares about LGBTQI people … let’s cut their programming.

Sexuality is scary … we’ll just cut the programming … no one will care.

No one cares about women … sigh.

When I hear about these types of cuts, these are the messages I hear.

And at the end of the day, I can’t believe this is the message the legislature is trying to send.

I think they are scared and misguided and let their fear overpower their sense of rational thought, and don’t think about the messages of bigotry, intolerance and hate they are portraying to the public.

In the end I am sad that these people would allow their opinions to dictate such translucently discriminatory action.

And I am angry, and so I write to assuage my sense of anger, and to do my part to fight it.

I don’t live in Georgia or Florida, but I signed the petition.

I hope you will too.

In angry solidarity,

PS. The students at UGA are grown ass adults, and their enrollment determines what’s important to be studied. If a class is well attended, then the students have spoken to its importance. If the students don’t like the idea of that class, they won’t take it. The fact that the classes at UGA exist and are taken, means they are deemed important.

1 comment:

  1. I think this just highlights a broader issue, which is that legislators should never be in the business of deciding precisely which research programs are funded. This is why we have funding agencies, so that legislators can delegate this job to experts in the relevant fields.

    It's too easy to take a study out of context, as we saw with research on bears and drosophila genomes during the presidential election.

    In that regard, I think sexuality is just one of several easy targets for any politician looking to bluster on about "wasteful" spending. So my guess is that it's not that, "they are scared and misguided and let their fear overpower their sense of rational thought," as much as it is they are politically savvy, and aware that many of their constituents are likely to be scared and misguided. Which is probably worse: it should be their job to convince their constituents that these programs are important, not to play on their fears.

    Also, I agree on principle that "[t]he fact that the classes at UGA exist and are taken, means they are deemed important," but that doesn't mean *in-and-of itself* that they aren't a waste of money. If there was a class at UGA on beer pong, I'm sure it'd be well-attended, and therefore "important" under some definition. But taxpayers would have reason for concern.