Colorlines: How Can We Help Kids Define What Is and Isn’t Healthy Sexuality?

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Colorlines’ Akiba Solomon interviewed Hey, Shorty! co-author Joanne Smith and Girls for Gender Equity community organizer Nefertiti Martin on how to define positive sexuality for today’s youth.

I had one of my first major lessons about gender and power dynamics in third grade playing Catch a Girl, Freak a Girl during recess at Henry C. Lea School in West Philadelphia. In our version of the game, which is known in other regions as Hide and Go Get It and—alarmingly—Rape, the boys would chase girls around tag-style. If a girl got caught, her captor would dry-hump her on the spot or march her off to a less visible crevice of the schoolyard for dramatic effect.

Now, as a precocious child hopped up on the late ’70s sex positivity of “Where Did I Come From?: The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and Illustrations,” I found Catch a Girl, Freak a Girl irritating. If a boy wanted to freak, wouldn’t it be more efficient and pleasurable for both parties if he simply asked?

I tested out this theory one day when a kid known as Bad-Ass Edward targeted me for Catch a Girl, Freak a Girl. While I routinely met his hellos with the requisite eye-rolling and called him all kinds of ashy, ugly and stupid when he teased me about my African name, I had a thing for this towering butterball of hyperactivity. So that recess when Edward chased me, I slowed down to a trot, pivoted to face him—and stood still. Horrified by my breach of protocol, poor Edward darted away. Sadly, I spent the last few minutes of that recess chasing him up and down the schoolyard, hoping to express my consent and submit to the much ballyhooed act of freaking. I never did catch him.

I’ve been wondering if and how Catch a Girl, Freak a Girl, a game that I remember fondly, fits into what activists call rape culture.

How can adults help children navigate sexual exploration, particularly within a media environment that inundates children with exploitative portraits of girls and women, equates manhood with promiscuity and sexual aggression, and criminalizes boys when they exhibit normal sexual behavior?

In search of a foolproof set of principles, I talked to three New York City educators who work with adults and children of color on issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment and healthy masculinity.

These fine folks couldn’t provide a magic formula for an issue so complex, nuanced and dependent on individual experience. But what I got from my discussions with CONNECT’s Quentin Walcott and Girls for Gender Equity’s Joanne Smith and Nefertiti Martin were four key ideas. Read these four key ideas in Colorlines here.

 

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