Sexualization of Children

I recently read that children were caught having oral sex in a third grade classroom. As a result, the teacher was fired.

There are three possible explanations for this behavior:

1. The children were simulating something they saw at home, either because a) they were exposed to porn b) they were exposed to adults in their household having oral sex c) someone in their household had oral sex with them. All three cases might count as different types of child abuse.

2. The children were engaged in innocent play, and exploration of their bodies.

3. The children’s behavior was a result of their being sexualized by a society that increasingly sexualizes minors (yet was not the result of directly viewing oral sex, viewing it via TV, or being solicited for it by an adult) and is indicative of a general social trend.

This article makes me lean towards the latter alternative. I want to clarify: I do not think that sexuality is un-innocent, or shameful, or anything like that. I do however, believe that everyone needs a pre-sexual phase of their lives, and everyone needs an asexual domain in their lives. This is why I believe that keeping childhood a sex free domain. It is also why I believe incest is so harmful – family life (except for the husband-wife relationship) serves the role of providing that asexual realm, and its asexuality should not be violated.

That is also why I believe in mechitzas: Prayer halls, too, can fulfill – perhaps should fulfill – the role of being a sexual free realm – and they can’t really do that if men and women sit next to each other, since almost by definition, men and women will check each other out, or be self-conscious about the possibility of being checked out. Leaving aside the whole sex-free realm thing, this provides a distraction from the prayers. The counter-argument to this is a) that it is heteronormative b) that if men and women were used to sitting next to each other in synagogue, they wouldn’t be distracted and checking each other out. I have no response to A. I do believe however, that as long as our society continues to sexualize male-female interactions, having them both in the same room will be a distraction for straight men and wome. There are many spheres in which males and females interact daily: school, the office, the street, shops, etc. – yet this does not prevent them from checking each other out in those settings, so why should the synagogue be any different?

There are a variety of issues – such as women’s publicly reading from the Torah or leading prayer services – that are often lumped together with mechitza, but in fact, those issue are separate: Provided the bimah is at the front of the room, or at the center – i.e., easily accesible from both sides of the mechitza – there is no reason to assume that having a mechitza and having a woman read from the Torah or lead prayers are incompatible. In fact, today, there are an increasing number of prayer services with a mechitza that do have women read publicly from the Torah and lead parts of the prayer services. (Usually, these services are called “Partnership minyans”, and the customs of each may vary.)

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