Glee takes on abstinence and sex education

I am loving Glee. As a kid I thought life was a musical (and I never grew up). This show feels like it was made for me. It’s so gay. It’s got Jane Lynch as a delicious villain who loves social hierarchies and is constantly claiming gender discrimination. There might be more musical talent on display than in the High School Musical movies. And unlike those films, which push a conservative Mormon “family values” agenda, Glee has already shown itself to share some of my politics. Bullying is depicted in a way rarely seen in pop culture: Quinn Fabray constantly aims transphobic insults at Rachel Berry. Bulimia and body image issues are covered. And in the second episode the show takes on abstinence only programs and comprehensive sex education.
Glee takes place at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, the kind of public school where the principal’s pastor gives him a list of acceptable songs for the Glee Club to sing. The school has a Celibacy Club, led by Quinn, that demonstrates abstinence is about a lot more than not having sex: programs in U.S. schools push a religious ideology, teach conformity to the compulsory gender binary, and censor information about contraception. Celibacy Club meetings start out divided by gender before the students “come together to share [their] faith.” We’re shown just how little these young people actually know about sex. While talking about cheerleader’s skirts (all the female members of the Celibacy Club are cheerleaders) Puck, one of the guys, says, “Santana Lopez spun open her [skirt] the other day and I swear I could see her ovaries.” Funny? Yes. Also, scary. There probably actually are high school guys who don’t know what ovaries are or where they are located. I feel really bad for any woman who sleeps with a guy so clueless about her anatomy. The cheerleader motto about the skirts is: “It’s all about the teasing and not about the pleasing.” Talk about teaching conservative gender roles. Women are supposed to attract men using their sexuality, but not give men what they want: sex. Abstaining is women’s responsibility because desire for sex is supposedly a male trait.
Rachel attends a Celibacy Club meeting and during a ridiculous activity with a balloon this exchange happens:

Rachel: Did you know that most studies have demonstrated that celibacy doesn’t work in high schools? Our hormones are driving us too crazy to abstain. The second we start telling ourselves that there’s no room for compromise we act out. The only way to deal with teen sexuality is to be prepared. That’s what contraception is for.
Quinn: Don’t you dare mention the “C” word.
Rachel: You want to know a dirty little secret that none of them want you to know? Girls want sex just as much as guys do.
Male student: Is that accurate?

Like I said, I love this show. Not only do they show some of the ideology taught in abstinence only programs, they offer a passionate and compelling argument for education about contraception.
Glee really might be the anti-High School Musical. While that series of movies models abstinence and heterosexual gender norms, Glee is actually engaging with issues in an intelligent way. And the show is hilarious, moving, and full of fabulous musical numbers at the same time.
You can watch both episodes of Glee online here.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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