A Lesson in Abstinence

Allegory of Chastity, by Hans Memling (1475, oil on wood)

Early Wednesday afternoon, when Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, moved to introduce a Bill to ‘require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes’, she set alight to the feminist blogosphere (See here, here, here, and here, for examples).

Central to the feminist criticism is the clear gender asymmetry contained in the proposal, as immediately pointed out by her detractor Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda (a transcription of the debate is to be found here). ‘For a start, the Bill is just about girls,’ complained Bryant, ‘I am not an expert, but it seems axiomatic to me that if we want to tackle teenage pregnancy, we have to talk to the boys and the girls.’ Continue reading “A Lesson in Abstinence”

Bacha Posh and masculine civil spheres

Last week Jenny Nordberg published a fascinating piece on the Afghan practice of Bacha Posh.  Much of Afghanistan’s civil culture is close to full-blown gender apartheid.  This creates serious trouble for families that have no sons.  Their daughters can’t attend schools, don’t have access to most jobs, can’t leave the house without a male escort, and so are unavoidably unproductive in the family.

To deal with this problem there’s a practice called Bacha Posh, by which families can effectively re-assign the gender of one of their daughters.  They can decide, one day, to start dressing up a daughter as a boy, and then everyone treats her as a boy.  Continue reading “Bacha Posh and masculine civil spheres”