In one 500-word post, respond toat least oneof the following questions:If you were asked for input into a sex education curriculum (you decide what grade levels), what suggestions might you make? How have the readings in our class so far informed your vision of effective sex education? How do this week’s readings prompt us to expand how we think about and address sexual violence — whether we address it through activism, policy changes, writing, art, media, or something else?You should provide examples and citations fromat least two readings. Citations should look like (Garcia 2012: 61) or like (Garcia 61), for example. You are also welcomed and encouraged to reflect on your own experiences.
In one 500-word post, respond toat least oneof the following questions: If you were asked for input into a sex education curriculum (you decide what grade levels), what suggestions might you make? How
NYU Press Chapter Title: The Sexual (Misyf ( G X F D W L R Q R I / D W L Q D * L U O s Book Title: Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself Book Subtitle: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity Book Author(syf / R U H Q D * D U F L a Published by: NYU Press. (2012yf Stable URL: JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at NYU Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to >> 57 3 The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls For our first scheduled interview, I met Samantha, who had character- ized her mother as “old-school Puerto Rican,” at Centro Adelante, where she was organizing poster-size diagrams for a presentation she was prepar- ing on safe sex. 1 The professionally printed diagrams illustrated female and male reproductive organs and different birth control and safe-sex methods. Samantha, along with Carolyn, a young African American woman, had been training to be a peer health educator at the Chicago Committee on Youth Health (CCYH). Under the supervision of a CCYH youth coordinator, the two young women of color led an engaging one-hour workshop on safe sex for a group of fifteen to twenty young women and men that afternoon. Their audience, composed mostly of Latina/o youth, listened attentively and asked pointed questions about access to sexual health resources in the community and about safe-sex methods. A young man asked where one could obtain an HIV test and whether parental consent was required for such a test, while a young woman inquired about parental consent for access to birth control. With minimal assistance from the youth coordinator, Samantha and Carolyn This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 58 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls confidently addressed questions directed at them. Later, I asked Samantha whether she had been nervous during the workshop. She confidently replied, “I’m just trying to spread some knowledge other teens might want to know about. Please, especially when a lot of these schools don’t really do a good job of telling it like it is, they don’t care about what we wanna know or need to know, just what they think we should know and shouldn’t be knowing and doing.” Samantha, like the majority of girls I spoke with, expressed her dissatis- faction with school-based sex education. 2 Describing some of her own expe- riences with sex education in the classroom, the honor roll student stated, “Everyone is always telling us, like, ‘Knowledge is power,’ this and that. But when it comes down to it with some things, like sex ed., some teachers are like, ‘Uh-uh, that’s too much information for you. You only need to know this.’” School-based sex education, whether abstinence-only or comprehen- sive, left much to be desired in terms of the knowledge that was imparted to the Latina girls who shared their experiences with me. Research on sex education has revealed that sex education policies are informed by national and local struggles over the meanings and conse- quences of gender, race, class, and sexual categories. 3 The implementation of sex education has generally been guided by the perceived need to protect the sexual innocence of youth or to protect youth from the dangers of their own sexual curiosity. Decisions about which objective to pursue are often guided by assumptions about race/ethnicity. 4 While middle- and upper-class white youth are often perceived to be in need of intervention to guide them through their “normally abnormal” hormone-besieged adolescence, youth of color are typically constructed as always “at risk” and a source of dan- ger. 5 And feminist scholars have pointed to the ways that gender and sexual inequalities are produced and maintained through sex education lessons. 6 Thus, it should not be assumed, as the sociologist Jessica Fields contends, that all young people encounter sex education curricula in the same manner. 7 In this chapter, I explore Latina girls’ accounts of their school-based sex education experiences in middle school. Their interactions with teachers and sex educators were tied to various assumptions about Latinas and were cen- tral to their stories of school-based sex education in middle school. Their experiences reveal not only how sexism, racism, and the presumption that all girls are heterosexual structure the content and delivery of school-based sex education for Latinas girls but also how these young women relate their need to be informed sexual subjects to their educational plans. Their narratives indicate that their ability to be academically successful is also an important component of their crafting of femininity, a process that entails negotiation This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 59 of their sexual subjectivity and respectability. The intersection of Latina girls’ multiple identities—as U.S. Latinas, as daughters of immigrants and/or migrants, as students, and as sexual subjects—shapes their understandings of the role of education in their lives and the importance they assign to their future success. Sex Education and Public Schools Presently, sex education curricula are grouped into two broad categories: abstinence-plus (also called comprehensive sexuality education) and absti- nence-only-until-marriage (also called abstinence-only). Comprehensive sex education does cover abstinence but also teaches about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and abortion. Slightly more than half of the girls I spoke with described access to this type of sex education. The rest of the young women were provided abstinence-only education. Abstinence- only education does not teach about contraception or abortion. When sexu- ally transmitted diseases and HIV are referenced, it is typically to highlight the negative consequences of premarital sex. With the exception of two girls, all of the young women who participated in this study were or had been at one point Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. 8 Since the average age of young women at the time of interview was sixteen, their middle school sex education generally occurred between 1998 and 2002, a period marked by increased federal funding for abstinence-only programs. Although the Reagan administration had made federal funding available for abstinence-only sex education beginning in the early 1980s, the support and promotion of abstinence-only programs intensified in the mid- 1990s. More than $1 billion were channeled to abstinence-only sex education programs between 1996 and 2006, while federal funds were not made avail- able for comprehensive sexuality education. 9 Although girls discussed their sexuality education experiences at all grade levels, it was their experiences in the sixth through the eighth grades that they elaborated upon in great detail. 10 During the years, while these young women were middle school students, the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools did not take an official stance or provide guidelines on sex education. Thus, it was possible to have variations in the quality and content of sex education in CPS. However, there were similarities in the girls’ descrip- tions of their sex education in terms of how they participated in it and who was designated to teach it. For example, the majority of the girls said that female and male students generally received sex education together in the classroom, whether it was comprehensive or abstinence-only sex education. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 60 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls Guest speakers, most of whom were women, typically taught sex education in middle school, according to most of the young women. 11 But teachers also figured prominently in the girls’ discussions of their sex education. 12 In what follows, I discuss themes and patterns that cut across both types of sex edu- cation curricula, allowing us to further understand how inequalities emerge and are reinforced through sex education in general. Maintaining Inequality through School-Based Sex Education The girls’ narratives reveal that heteronormativity was central to the content and delivery of both types of sex education curricula. In girls’ descriptions of their sex education experiences, lessons were crafted around heterosexuality and heterosexual norms. And heterosexuality was most often discussed in relation to masculinity and femininity. In other words, masculinity and fem- ininity were tightly linked to heterosexuality, and femininity was connected to the good-girl/bad-girl dichotomy within sex education lessons. However, the institutionalization of heterosexuality via sex education also entailed the incorporation of racialized gender stereotypes to produce specific lessons for Latina youth about how they should engage sex education in the classroom and what kind of sex education information was most relevant to them. Lessons about Engaging Sex Education in the Classroom Whether they were speaking of abstinence-only or comprehensive sex educa- tion experiences, many girls told of interactions with teachers and sex educators in which students were invited or expected to ask questions but were then dis- ciplined for their level of engagement with sex education. Much as my friends and I did when we were middle school students, they characterized their male peers as “acting foolish,” “not taking it seriously,” or “saying ignorant things.” Quite often, girls told of incidents in which boys were scolded or disciplined by teachers for misbehaving during sex education. Girls, on the other hand, were described as being reprimanded for their active engagement with sex education in the classroom. In other words, it was possible for female students to be too interested in learning about sex. Such was the experience of seventeen-year- old Minerva, whose mother, Carmen, rejected the idea that Minerva was a lost cause because she was no longer a virgin. Not one to shy away from speaking her mind, the talkative young woman often made comments that elicited either laughs or gasps from her peers at Hogar del Pueblo. Raising her arm as she described doing to ask a sex educator whether it was “true” that the morning- after pill could prevent pregnancy, Minerva said, “Anyways, she [sex educator] This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 61 was starting to answer me when Ms. Phyllis [her eighth-grade teacher] was like, ‘Now why do you want to know about that, Minerva? You don’t got anything to worry about if you’re behaving and, anyway, we are out of time.’” Other girls told of similar exchanges with teachers and sex educators in which their inqui- ries were met with suspicion, suggesting that they were perceived as “knowing girls” and therefore assumed to be sexually active because they displayed some knowledge and/or curiosity about sexuality. 13 By publicly questioning Minerva about the motives behind her inquiry, her teacher communicated to the stu- dents not only that certain questions were invalid but that they could shift girls unto the wrong side of the good-girl/bad-girl dichotomy. The young women vividly recalled that their teachers and sex educators prefaced or followed lessons with a statement about the need for girls to be mindful of their respectability, emphasizing that they should behave like “good girls” or “young ladies.” A young Puerto Rican with pink-streaked hair and a small silver hook ring on her eyebrow, seventeen-year-old Imelda, told me of how her eighth-grade teacher interjected this message during a guest speaker’s comprehensive sex education presentation: Like the woman [the sex educator] was talking about sex as being a per- sonal choice and not letting anyone pressure us, and that when we were ready we should remember to be safe, and all that, you know? And Mrs. Damenzo [the teacher] is like, “Yeah, but they shouldn’t be doing it, right? They should act like young ladies so that the boys will respect them.” According to girls, these contradictory lessons left them uncertain about what to do with the information presented to them. Inés, whose mother slapped her when she found out about her sexual behavior, frustratingly explained, “I don’t get it, they tell you all about being safe, then turn around and tell you, ‘But you really don’t need to know this, unless you a hoochie.’” Teachers and sex educators were never described as warning boys that their respect was tied to their sexual behavior. These gender-specific mes- sages implicitly communicated to girls and boys not only that girls were the intended recipients of sex education but that there are limits to their sex edu- cation, given that the knowledge sought should reflect sexual modesty. Yet, the girls’ narratives also suggest that these gender-specific messages were fused with perceptions about them as Latina girls. Teachers and sex educators inscribed the good-girl/bad-girl dichotomy with racialized sexual stereotypes of Latinas that functioned to specify the kind of “bad girls” they should avoid becoming (i.e., the pregnant Latina teen or the sexually pro- miscuous Latina). The majority of young women described interactions with This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 62 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls teachers and sex educators in which references were made to these particular “bad girls.” Olivia, who desired to be a social worker, encountered such a les- son from her seventh-grade abstinence-only sex educator: The lady [the sex educator] talking to us was all about how true love waits. Every time I asked a question she didn’t like or whatever, she would say, “That is not something someone your age should even be thinking about.” . . . I think I was annoying her ’cause she just said, “Maybe a lot of girls you know are having sex, but you need to be better than that. When you ask things like that, it makes people think you are like those girls.” Like Olivia, other young women reported that teachers and sex educators assumed that they already knew or were acquainted with “those girls,” who were perceived to be prevalent in students’ neighborhoods. This was seven- teen-year-old Elvia’s experience. A cadet in her high school JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) program, Elvia shared how her eighth-grade sex educator responded to her when she questioned her suppositions about Latinas: “She got all embarrassed  .  .  . and just said, ‘Well, I’m just telling you how it is. Numbers don’t lie, there are a lot of teenagers in your community who are making real poor choices when it comes to sex.’” The mention of “those girls” and “a lot of teenagers” by these young women’s teachers referred not to girls or youth in the general sense but specifically to Latina youth. Latina girls’ sex education experiences reveal that their interactions with teachers and sex educators constituted a heterosexualizing process that sup- ported gender inequalities between boys and girls and among the girls them- selves. Teachers and sex educators not only presumed that all students were heterosexual but also invoked a good-girl/bad-girl dichotomy that kept boys’ sexual behaviors invisible and unchecked. Furthermore, this dichotomy was racialized, in that it both borrowed on and supported the notion that Latinas are culturally predisposed to fall on the “bad” side of it. 14 Lessons about “Latino Culture” and Pregnancy Prevention Another point that was widely discussed in the girls’ accounts of their school-based sex education experiences was the emphasis placed on preg- nancy prevention lessons. Although these young women were warned not to be like “those girls,” their narratives suggest that they were still viewed as a particular type of girl—a Latina teen always at heightened risk for preg- nancy. Minerva articulated her awareness of how this perception of Latinas figured into her sex education: This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 63 Sometimes they come at us like we are these ghetto-ass kids who just make babies and drop out of school . . . like we all have single moms on welfare that don’t show us how to be responsible so they talk down to us, like, “OK, we know that in the Hispanic culture it’s okay for girls to get preg- nant young and become mothers, but not in American culture, okay?” Minerva, like many other young women, criticized teachers and sex educators for often connecting Latina girls’ risk for pregnancy to a “Latino culture” in which not only were Latinas presumed to be sexually oriented toward Latino men but also gender relations among them were assumed to be shaped by a unique machismo system oppressive to women (“machismo” is commonly conceptualized as a strong and exaggerated sense of mascu- linity specific to Latinos). Loudly popping her gum every so often as she thought about my questions, sixteen-year-old Miriam, a self-described “tom- boy,” recounted with much annoyance such a lesson provided by her sev- enth-grade sex educator: “[She] started talking about Latino culture and say- ing that because of machismo, guys were always gonna try to control us and tell us how many babies to have, and that they were too macho to wear con- doms.” Experiences such as Miriam’s illustrate how the heterosexual param- eters of femininity are maintained through gender and race/ethnic-specific sex education lessons; such lessons depict young Latinos as sexually manipu- lative and ignorant about condom use and also communicate to young Lati- nas that their main task as unmarried young women is to develop the skills necessary to effectively fulfill their sexual gatekeeper role. The significance of racialized gender stereotypes of Latinas was particu- larly evidenced in the ways in which information about the Depo-Provera shot was provided to girls. Some young women related that sex educators spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing the shot as an effective form of birth control. Their narratives suggest that sex educators generously supplied both information and advice about the effectiveness of this particu- lar birth control option. Sitting cross-legged on a sofa across from me, six- teen-year-old Maritza remembered how a sex educator introduced “the shot” to the young women in Maritza’s eighth-grade class: So this woman [the sex educator] has the nerve to get up there and say, “I ain’t gonna spend too much time on condoms ’cause you probably won’t use them anyway. Guys usually don’t wanna wear them ’cause of all the machismo and stuff. So if you are gonna have sex, and you really shouldn’t, then you should wear a condom and at least know about the pill or shot so you won’t get pregnant.” This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 64 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls Similarly, fifteen-year-old Marta, who always seemed to be taking pictures of her friends at Hogar del Pueblo and was a cadet in her high school JROTC program, told of how the sex educator presented information about Depo- Provera to her eighth-grade class: “She [the sex educator] said something like, ‘Too many Hispanic girls feel that having a baby is no big deal, but don’t believe it . . . the shot is a good way to help you be safe.’ . . . I felt that she thought we were all pendejas [idiots or stupid], like the shot would be easier for us since all we worried was about getting pregnant.” The pregnancy prevention lessons that Latina youth encountered in their sex education are informed by the heteronormative designation of sexual relations and bodies as reproductive. The experiences of Maritza, Marta, and many other Latina girls reveal that they are assigned hetero- sexuality but that they are seen as failing to conform to idealized hetero- normative standards. Their bodies, read through a racial-gender lens, are interpreted as excessively reproductive. Historically, there have been racial- ized gender stereotypes about the reproductive decision making of Latinas in the United States, such as in depictions of them as wanting large fami- lies and refusing or unable to use birth control. However, scholars have asserted that Latinas’ sexuality and reproduction have recently received intense scrutiny entrenched in a larger concern about the immigrant “invasion.” 15 Anti-immigrant discourses and policies have fueled public ste- reotypes about the “hyperfertility” of Latinas, which inform the develop- ment of social policies directed at them, particularly at their bodies. 16 For example, there has been controversy surrounding the 1992 FDA approval of the Depo-Provera injection; among the key issues are the unethical test- ing of this form of birth control on women of color in developing coun- tries and the heavy marketing of this form of birth control to women of color in the United States. 17 These scholarly insights on societal perceptions of and responses to Latinas’ reproduction provide a way to make sense of the experiences Latina girls encountered regarding the presentation of birth control information in sex education. And, as the girls’ narratives indicate, they perceived their sex education to be limited; they attributed this to racial-gender biases, exemplified by Marta’s statement that the Depo-Provera shot was emphasized because the sex educators assumed that all Latina girls “worried was about getting pregnant.” The racialized heteronormative assumption of Latina bodies as potentially overreproduc- tive that girls encountered often constrained their access to information, particularly the knowledge sought by young women who in middle school were exploring the possibility of identities not defined by heterosexuality, as I discuss in the next section. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 65 Learning to Conceal Same-Sex Desire Young Latinas who identified as lesbian said that, while in middle school, they had not yet identified themselves as such but that they had an aware- ness of their emerging sexual identity during this time. Several shared with me that they had had “crushes” on girls at this age. As Margarita put it, “I thought this girl in class was nice, but it was such a crush!” Recollecting her attraction to her middle school friend, the high school senior, whose mother saw her kissing another young woman, occasionally smiled and laughed out loud. Similarly, Imelda reflected, “I knew that I liked girls, but I don’t think I saw myself as a lesbian at that point.” This group of girls often described being confused during middle school about the feelings they had for other girls. These young women indicated that they did not experience school-based sex education as a supportive context in which to explore their feelings and questions. As eighteen-year-old Cristina explained, “I knew I didn’t look at guys the way I looked at girls, but, hell, no, there is no way the teachers were gonna wanna hear that!” Cristina, a young Puerto Rican with short, curly brown hair imagined out loud how teachers would have responded had she dared asked a question about “getting it on with girls.” Shaking her head at the possible scenario, she said, “They would’ve been like, ‘You must be crazy!’ and probably just ignore me or call my mom to tell her I wasn’t behaving in school or something.” With the exception of only one young woman, this group of girls did not report asking questions during their sex education les- sons in middle school. Seventeen-year-old Linda was the only lesbian-identified girl who reported venturing to ask a question, albeit anonymously, while in middle school. Taking a moment to pull back her straight black hair into a pony tail, she recalled that her eighth-grade teacher instructed the students to write down their questions so that she could “pick some” to provide to the sex edu- cator the next day. As the teacher reviewed the questions out loud, she came upon Linda’s question: She started yelling, “Who asked this?! Who asked the question about books about lesbian teenagers?!” Shit, I did, but I wasn’t gonna say any- thing!  .  .  . She got more pissed off and was like, “I don’t know who did it, but I hope it wasn’t one of you girls, because you should know better than to act so immature.” The response to Linda’s anonymous question is yet another example of how teachers directed gender-specific comments exclusively to girls about This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 66 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls acceptable sexual behavior. Such a response is also reflective of the expecta- tion that girls will assume “femininized responsibility” for helping maintain order within the classroom. 18 However, the dismissal of Linda’s question as “immature” once again reflects an assumption that all the students were het- erosexual and reinforces the message that that anything outside of hetero- sexuality is abnormal. The middle school classroom for this group of girls was generally not a site in which they felt safe exploring their sexual identity. Like Linda, the other girls stated that they were “not gonna say anything” that would draw unwanted attention to their same-sex attractions. To further ensure this, they also spoke of making efforts to be recognized as “straight” by peers and school authorities. Eighteen-year-old Barbara, whose mother told family members that Barbara was too dedicated to her studies to be interested in boys, recounted how and why she performed a heterosexual femininity in the eighth grade: There was this guy in our class who everyone thought he was gay. . . . Any- way, the guys would always pick on him a lot, calling him “maricón” [fag]. During a workshop, some of the guys were being smart-asses and said, “So, Manolo wants to know about having sex with other guys, ’cause he’s a fag.” Most of the class laughed and the messed-up thing was that the sex educator ended up laughing, too, even though she told them to be respect- ful. I didn’t want to be treated that way, so I just acted like I was just a regu- lar girl, you know, saying that I thought this boy and this boy were cute, even though I had a crush on a girl in my classroom. Like Barbara, other lesbian-identified girls explained feeling intense pres- sure to conform to heterosexuality to avoid mistreatment by peers, which they saw as especially being inflicted upon gender-nonconforming boys. While a couple of these young women described themselves as also being gender nonconforming (i.e., “tomboyish”), they still felt compelled to express desire for boys to deflect their peers’ potential suspicion and thereby avoid verbal or physical attacks. Barbara’s description of the sex educator’s laugh- ter at the comments made about Manolo resonates with other studies that have found that teachers, intentionally or inadvertently, support heteronor- mativity in both their response and their lack of response to expressions of homophobia. 19 However, two girls told of instances in which they did attempt to chal- lenge the heteronormativity they encountered in their middle school–based sex education classes, specifically the virginity pledges presented to them in This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 67 abstinence-only sex education. As part of abstinence-only programs, young women and men are often asked to pledge to refrain from premarital sex, typically in the form of signed contracts. A friendly olive-skinned young Puerto Rican woman, seventeen-year-old Arely related that her seventh- grade teacher made her stand outside in the hallway during the remainder of a sex education presentation as punishment for “ripping the virginity pledge” form that she had been asked to sign by a sex educator. When I asked her whether she thought this was fair, she responded, “I didn’t care. It’s not like I really wanted to listen to that bullshit about the only right way to have sex is when you are married and with a person of the opposite sex. She [her teacher] never really asked me why I ripped the form.  .  .  . I don’t think she wanted to know, know what I mean?” The teacher’s reaction to Arely can be interpreted as indifference to her students’ thoughts on the subject matter presented to them (i.e., as being focused more on having “docile” bodies in the classroom than on taking the time to find out what provoked the behavior ), but it can also be reflective of teachers’ lack of training and their discomfort in addressing the needs of LBGTQ and gender-nonconforming students, especially within an absti- nence-only sex education context. 20 Arely’s challenge to heteronormative mandates by refusing to sign a virginity pledge may have briefly created an opportunity to destabilize heteronormativity, but it was quickly shut down by her teacher’s refusal to engage the “teachable moment” presented by Are- ly’s contestation. Arely’s interaction with her teacher, along with the narra- tives of girls who identified as lesbian, reveal that same-sex identities, prac- tices, and desires remained unacknowledged within sex education, which reinforced heterosexuality as the norm and assumed that the only significant identity for Latina/o students was a racial/ethnic identity already rooted in heterosexuality. 21 Latina girls’ own understandings of how their identities mattered for their access to school-based sex education and for their larger educational ambitions, which I turn to in the next section, make evident the ways in which they negotiated their development of themselves as informed sex- ual subjects in relation to their futures. They expressed a determination to secure for themselves successful futures, which, for them, was a neces- sary component of their femininity. Their narratives indicate that they also sought to claim sexual respectability for themselves through an emphasis on their educational plans. The importance that Latina girls assigned to their education and futures was shaped by the complex ways in which their racial/ethnic, generational, and class identities intersected with their gender and sexual identities. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 68 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls Risking Educational Failure The setting sun cast a warm glow in the large second-floor hall at Hogar del Pueblo. The hall was usually utilized for the preschool program and the weekly high school tutoring program, but on this June evening it had been transformed into a ceremony and reception space for the graduating seniors of the tutoring program. 22 Tucked away on the low shelves lining the walls were children’s toys and puzzles, and the only remaining evidence of the preschool program was the children’s summer-themed artwork that decorated the large windows on the perimeter of most of the hall. The usual long folding tables and chairs used for the high school tutoring program had been replaced by rows of festively adorned chairs that raced the small stage area. Several people were congregated toward the back of the room near a buffet table of appetizers and beverages that included items such as empanadas, flautas, guacamole and chips, and agua de horchata (rice water). Instead of wearing their usual wardrobes of jeans, t-shirts, sweat- shirts or the school uniform of polo shirt and khakis, almost all of the youth participants of the tutoring program, whether graduates or not, were dressed up for the occasion. The pride that the young men and women took in their outfits was evident in their smiling compliments to each other on their dress shirts, shoes, ties, blouses, and summer dresses. A few of them blushed at the flattery but still seemed pleased with it. Many of the gradu- ates’ parents and siblings were also in attendance. As we waited for the cer- emony to commence, a projector screen displayed a slideshow of various activities the youth had participated in over the course of the year. Many of the images showed them studying, working on computers, or discuss- ing homework with their mentors. Some pictures illustrated their volunteer activities and various outings, such as sports games, festivals, and college visits. Occasionally, there were outbursts of laughter as the youth recog- nized themselves and their friends in pictures that they had not realized were being taken at the time. During the ceremony, graduating students were asked to approach the front of stage to be individually acknowledged. I, along with others who par- ticipated in the tutoring program as staff, mentors, or students, was pleas- antly surprised to see Nancy because she had stopped participating in the tutoring program toward the end of her pregnancy. That she was there with her family, including her baby boy, indicated that she had managed to gradu- ate from high school. Her mother and father, both in tears, enthusiastically applauded for their daughter, clearly very proud of her accomplishment. As the ceremony came to a close, the director of the organization reminded all This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 69 of the young people to not let anything “stand in the way” of their education and told them that, as alumni of the high school tutoring program, they had a “responsibility” to continue with their educations. I decided to head home after assisting with some of the reception cleanup. Outside I found seventeen-old Jocelyn and Stephanie, who were waiting for Jocelyn’s older brother to arrive and give them a ride home. “Next year, it’ll be your turn to graduate,” I told them. “Can you believe you only have one more year left of high school?!” They both nodded, “For real! It’s gonna go real fast, I bet!” exclaimed Jocelyn. Stephanie then said, “Did you all see Nancy’s baby? He’s a lil’ papi-chulo [handsome/cute young man]!” “Man, I’m glad that Nancy didn’t drop out of school!” Jocelyn added. After a pause, she continued, “She kinda messed up though. She should’ve waited.” At that moment her brother arrived, so we were unable to continue our conversation. I walked away from that conversation puzzled by Jocelyn’s comment that Nancy should have “waited.” I wondered whether she meant that she thought that Nancy should have waited to have a baby, waited to have sex, or waited for both? I was trying to make sense of her remark in light of our first inter- view, during which the tall young woman said that it “annoyed” her when adults told young people to “wait” until marriage to begin having sex. A few weeks later, during her second interview, I asked her about it. Lorena: When you said that Nancy should’ve waited—were you talking about her waiting to have sex? Jocelyn: No, I didn’t mean it like that! I meant like waiting to have a baby. I mean, she finished high school and that’s all good, but she should’ve waited and finished college so she can get a good job and then have a baby. Like many of the other young Latinas, Jocelyn thought there was specific order in which certain milestones should be achieved in the transition into womanhood. For instance, Lourdes, a young Mexican with plans to become an accountant, told me, “I’m gonna graduate, go to college, work and enjoy my social life first. Then maybe marriage. But I’m gonna be able to take care of myself and a baby when I have one.” And Annabelle, who wanted to be a police officer, had this to say about her future plans: “I just gotta do what I gotta do for me now, know what I’m saying? I’m going to college, gonna get a job, maybe a car and a house. Then maybe get married. And have kids. But I need to have my shit together first, I just want to make sure I’m stable.” Every single girl I spoke with mentioned her intention and her This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 70 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls desire to go to college, suggesting that these young women did not see a high school diploma as sufficient to guarantee their future opportunities. Without prompting, almost all of them formulated in similar order how they wanted these milestones to play out in their lives, with education and career at the top of the list. 23 According to Latina girls, the sequence of these achievements was impor- tant for their ability to have better life chances, as Rosalba expressed to me when she shared with me her desire to have a “business-type” career: “I just want to do things the right way [my emphasis] so that way it ain’t so hard in life.” In other words, they expressed a belief that, if they pursued these milestones in the order in which they were “supposed” to, successful futures would be possible for them. As I became more attentive to how they described their aspirations, I came to realize that Latina girls’ perspectives on their pathways to adulthood reflected their attempt to assert some con- trol over their futures and to shed the stigma of being identified as young women who were “at risk.” Linda, for example, prefaced her plans to become a school counselor with this comment: “Most people look at me and other girls like me and probably just think we ain’t shit and ain’t gonna do noth- ing with our lives.” Young women constructed their sexual respectability not only through that which they would not do or become, as I discuss in chap- ter 4, but also through that which they gained, namely their educational and career credentials. The weight that they placed on their need to do well academically was significantly informed by their identities as second-generation Latinas. They saw their educational aspirations as having implications not only for them as individuals but for their families, as well. For instance, though uncertain as to the career that she wanted for herself, Margarita insisted that she had to graduate from high school and go to college “Because my parents never could do that. They got here and just been working hard. I got a chance to go to school because of all they’ve been through.” Likewise, Celia stated that she wanted to attend college to become a nurse: Partly ’cause I feel like it would be disrespectful to my mom not to, ’cause she’s been bustin’ her ass working at that school cafeteria all these years. And then, too, when I went to PR [Puerto Rico], I seen how she used to live, and some of my cousins still live, and I think, it would just be messed up if I didn’t go to school when I could. Latina girls thus incorporated their knowledge of their parents’ sacrifices and their sense of transnational ties into their articulation of the place of This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 71 education in their lives. When they shared with me their educational aspi- rations, every single girl I spoke with referenced her parents’ im/migration experiences, and some, like Celia, also pointed to the living conditions and the lack of opportunities for improvement that faced their relatives in Mex- ico or Puerto Rico. The Latina girls I came to know were not immigrants or migrants them- selves, but they were daughters of immigrants and/or migrants, and thus their parents’ immigration and migration experiences had significance for them, too. According to almost all of them, on various occasions, their par- ents had shared with them details about the harsh living conditions that informed their decision to im/migrate to the United States. In the case of many of the Mexican girls, their parents described the difficulties they had encountered when they made their way across the U.S./Mexican border as undocumented immigrants. It is important to note that, with the exception of two girls, these young Mexican and Puerto Rican women reported that they could speak and understand Spanish. This bilingual fluency allowed them to communicate with their parents and other adult family members and also enhanced their ability as second-generation Mexican and Puerto Rican girls in the United States to identify with their parents’ homelands. 24 Moreover, some girls reported that their families had made trips to their par- ents’ hometowns for events such as weddings and quinceañeras and for the holidays. Some of them described spending one or more summer vacations in Mexico or Puerto Rico visiting relatives without their parents. These expe- riences therefore were all important to their development of transnational orientations. Latina girls’ approaches to education reflect their dual frame of refer- ence. 25 Scholars such as the anthropologist Marcelo Suárez-Orozco have found that immigrant students compare their current circumstances in the United States to conditions in their country of origin, seeing their current situation as improving their life opportunities despite the various challenges they encounter in their new context. 26 Furthermore, through interactions with their parents and also by witnessing their parents’ efforts in working at one or more physically demanding jobs, these students often develop an awareness of their parents’ sacrifices as they strive to provide their children with opportunities. The value that some immigrant students assign to edu- cation is shaped by this dual frame of reference, through which they come to see educational advancement as a way to meet their obligation to their families and to make their parents’ struggles worthwhile. Like their peers who are immigrants, the second-generation Mexican and Puerto Rican girls I spoke with also assigned importance to their academic success as a means This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 72 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls to build upon their parents’ efforts to improve their family’s socioeconomic circumstances. 27 But the girls also specifically highlighted their mothers’ experiences and efforts when speaking about their educational ambitions. Celia did this when she asserted that it would be disrespectful to her mother if she did not go to college, given her mother’s struggle to provide financially for her family on a school cafeteria worker’s wages. Other young women also expressed a sense of accountability to their mothers when it came to their educational pursuits. For instance, Minerva said that her mother often expressed how she would have liked to have a chance to go to school as a young woman, especially when she saw Minerva doing her homework. In my interview with Carmen, Miner- va’s mother, she revealed a great desire to go on to college. Because of her family’s poor economic circumstances in rural Mexico, Carmen was unable to attend school beyond the sixth grade. According to Carmen, her family could afford to send only her older brother to school; as the eldest daughter, she was expected to help out at home with household chores and to care for younger siblings. She was nearly in tears when she told me, “I was so sad about that, especially when I would see him [her brother] with his books.” All of the mothers reported frequently communicating with their daughters about the value of education, emphasizing, “que se preparan para una carrera (that they should prepare themselves for a profession).” My interviews with their daugh- ters confirmed the importance that their mothers assigned to education. Like mothers interviewed in other studies on gender and sexuality social- ization among poor and working-class Latina and black women, these mothers stressed educational success as a way for their daughters to gain more independence and avoid economic reliance on men. 28 While mothers attempted to restrict their daughters’ movement outside the home to sexually “protect” their daughters, they did describe being flexible about their atten- dance at educational activities. One key manner in which many mothers promoted the importance of an education was by encouraging their daugh- ters to seek additional educational opportunities at community centers, such as tutoring or summer enrichment programs. In some cases, the girls’ par- ticipation in these types of enrichment activities was met with opposition from other family members. For example, some of the mothers reported that their daughters’ fathers were worried that the daughters would not be properly supervised at these places. And some relatives, such as grandpar- ents, aunts, and uncles, criticized the mothers for permitting their daughters “demasiado libertad (too much freedom)” outside the home. Yvette told me that her mother responded to her aunt’s criticism of the time Yvette spent at Hogar del Pueblo: “She told her [Yvette’s aunt] that this was helping me with This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 73 school, so that I wasn’t doing anything bad. I am keeping my grades up so that when I go to college, my mom could be like, ‘See, I told you so.’” A young Puerto Rican who always seemed to have neatly manicured nails with inter- esting designs, such as hearts or imitation jewels, Yvette went on to detail her plans to become a teacher. As their narratives indicate, some Latina girls felt that their mothers risked having their parenting skills questioned in allowing them to participate in educational activities outside of school; they did not want to let them down. However, the girls’ educational aspirations also revealed another frame of reference, one grounded in their identities as U.S. Latina youth. Specifically, as they talked about their desires and plans for their futures, they defensively rejected stereotypes about them. Lisa, for instance, shared with me that she was initially wary about the motivations underlying my project. The young Mexican with dyed-blonde hair and blue contact lenses raised this during our second interview as she was telling me about her goal to become an ele- mentary school teacher: “Man, at first, when I saw you around here, I was like, ‘Oh oh, she’s probably some kind of reporter or something and wants to talk to us about [shifting to an imitation of a TV reporter] why Latina girls want to be baby mommas and not finish school.’ I was like, ‘I ain’t talking to her!’” After we both laughed at her impersonation of a TV reporter and her first impression of me, Lisa told me, “I wanna be a teacher, like maybe a sixth-grade teacher. I think that that’s when kids start maybe feeling like just confused about a lot of stuff. I wanna be the kind of teacher that helps them believe that they can be whatever they want, no matter all the negative stuff that people say about them.” I asked Lisa, “Like what kind of negative stuff?” She replied, “You know! At least for me, I be getting tired hearing all the time that we’re all gangbangers, or going to jail, having babies, stu like that. I’m like, ‘I do good in school,’ and watch, I’m gonna become a teacher and show people that we all ain’t like that!” Other girls also stressed educational success as a way to counter notions about who they were as young urban Latina women, particularly the expectation that they would fail. In line with the findings of some studies on the educational perspectives and outcomes of students of color, this group of Latina girls did not associate educational suc- cess with a desire to “act white.” 29 In other words, these young women did not interpret academic achievement as assimilation into the dominant society, or what the late educational anthropologist John Ogbu called an “oppositional stance.” 30 Like the second-generation young Caribbean girls that the sociolo- gist Nancy Lopez interviewed, these young Latinas’ “race-gender” experi- ences and identities shaped their perspective on education as an important vehicle for contesting gendered-racial stereotypes about them. 31 This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 74 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls While Latina girls’ articulations of their educational and career aspira- tions can be understood as characteristic of the experiences of all young people as they undergo the process of adolescent development, their narra- tives demonstrate that we must attend to how young people’s experiences of adolescence also intersect with other aspects of their identities, such as gen- der, race/ethnicity, class, and sexuality. 32 Drawing attention to young wom- en’s current constructions and experiences of femininity, some girls’ studies scholars have asserted that, in the current neoliberal context, a new category of girl or young womanhood has emerged that is defined by individualiza- tion, choice, and capacity. 33 Citing what they describe as the emergence, in the 1990s, of a “successful girls’ discourse” that highlights girls’ academic achievements and advancements as evidence of the weakening of gender inequality and of girls’ ability to move beyond it, these scholars argue that this discourse has interfaced with neoliberalism to reproduce a new young womanhood grounded in disciplinary notions of meritocracy. The sociolo- gist Jessica Ringrose writes, “Girls’ new found ‘equality’ and power becomes a meritocratic formula, a signifier, a ‘metaphor’ for the hard work needed to attain educational and career success.” 34 This reconstituted normative femi- ninity is promoted to girls through their encounters with media and popu- lar literature and through their educational experiences and is seen as re/ producing the regulation and control of young women—but now it is young women who are self-monitoring themselves. Thus, these Latina girls’ plans, particularly the order in which they wanted to pursue key achievements, and their policing of their sexual behavior and that of other young women from whom they distance themselves (as I discuss in more detail in chapter 4) may reflect how they engage with this discourse of success as young women of color who already cannot afford to fail. Desires for Informed Sexual Subjectivity In view of the importance that Latina girls assigned to their ability to achieve academic success, I wondered what place they thought sex education should have in their larger educational curriculum. In other words, did young women perceive sex education to be a central component of their overall education? When asked about this, all of the young women replied without hesitation that sex education should be offered in schools. Marta, for instance, had this to say: “How are we going to know about that [sex education] if not in school? It ain’t like everyone’s mom or dad talks to them about it, I mean maybe to tell you not to do it [sex] or whatever, like my mom does sometimes!” Other young women shared Marta’s perspective on school-based sex education. Yvette insisted: This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 75 Some stu you gotta know right now and some stu you gotta know it for later. But you should still learn about it, even if you don’t need to know it like right this minute. . . . We might not get tested on sex ed like with those tests we take, like the Iowa Test [Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)] or what- ever, but someday we gotta know some stu about sex ed, too. Marta’s and Yvette’s viewpoints indicate that these young women under- stood sex education to be relevant knowledge to which they should have access in the classroom. Yvette’s comment also draws attention to the emphasis on standardized tests in schools—a theme that repeatedly surfaced in my interviews with young Latinas. I was surprised by how often standardized testing was refer- enced in narratives about their school-based sex education experiences. An aspiring artist with a pixie haircut and large hazel eyes, sixteen-year-old Irene recounted how her seventh-grade teacher pressured her classmates to forgo their scheduled sex education lesson to allow more time for test preparation: He got up there and was like, “You all really don’t want to learn about this stu right now, right? What’s more important to know, stu about sex or getting ready for the Iowa Test?” I could tell everyone wanted to say they wanted to learn more about sex, shit, at least I wanted to! But everyone was too scared to say something, so nobody said anything and he was like, “Okay, then, here are a couple of brochures and handouts for you to check out at home, if you got any questions, just let me know.” He then played some phony-ass video about this girl who gets HIV and ya, nada más [that’s it, nothing more]. And seventeen-year old Minerva described how her eighth-grade teacher framed sex education as subject matter disruptive to test preparation: She [her teacher] went to some meeting and came back all pissed off, slam- ming the door and telling us that she needed to let a speaker come talk to us about sex.  .  .  . She started saying all this stu about how we weren’t supposed to be learning about sex in the classroom, that we shouldn’t even be thinking about perverted stu like that, and that we were just gonna be wasting time we needed to get ready for the Iowa Test. I don’t know, she made us feel like we were doing something wrong for even being curious about any of it, you know what I mean? And since she stood [remained] in the classroom when the speaker [sex educator] came, nobody really wanted to ask anything. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 76 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls Thus, another challenge that young women encountered in their access to school-based sex education was the priority placed on standardized test- ing preparation, such as for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) 35 and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). 36 Both Irene’s and Minerva’s teachers communicated to their students that sex education consumed time that should be dedicated to test preparation, with Irene’s teacher going so far as to frame sex education as a choice to his students, a choice that was ultimately incompatible with their need to perform well on their standard- ized tests. Teachers, it is recognized, also find themselves under pressure to ensure that their students perform well on standardized tests. 37 The narra- tives of Irene and Minerva demonstrate that sometimes their teachers had to make decisions about how much time to allocate for sex education in a high-stakes testing climate. And Minerva’s experience with her teacher who openly expressed her opinion that sex education was a “perverted” matter indicates that sometimes this decision making was informed by teachers’ own attitudes about the usefulness of sex education in the classroom. In such a context, sex education may be cast as superfluous and not necessary to stu- dents’ overall educational development. 38 However, girls believed that sex education should indeed be a part of their larger education curriculum. As their narratives indicate, they often emphasized the “need” for students to have this particular knowledge. When I asked them to elaborate upon why they felt that school-based sex education was necessary, the majority of them first made sure to preface their responses as Olivia had when she asserted, “Cause, it ain’t like I’m a pervert or something, I’m just saying whether people like it or not, it don’t matter, ’cause some kids do have sex.” Other young women made sure to point out that their own interest in sex education was not based upon their sexual desire. Irene, for instance, had this to say: “I don’t want to learn about sex in school because I’m a freak and shit. I just wanna know what I need to know to take care of myself and avoid drama. Some people say that to do that, just don’t have sex. Okay, but what about for those of us who do have sex? What are we supposed to know?” The “drama” that Irene and other girls referenced related to the potential negative outcomes associated with sexual behavior and the impact of such results on their plans for the future. As they explained why they needed sex education, they always related it their educational and career ambitions, incorporating a discourse “of not getting in trouble” or “avoiding drama.” For this group of girls, preventing an unplanned pregnancy or an STD and avoiding parental detection of their sexual behavior were seen as particularly critical for their ability to pursue their educational aspirations. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 77 The majority of young women expressed worry that their parents would not support their plans to leave home for college if they uncovered their sexual behavior; they feared that their parents might, for example, withhold financial assistance. Alicia, who switched from using the birth control pill to the Depo-Provera shot to minimize the chance that her parents would find about her sexual activities, conveyed this when she outlined her “game plan” to obtain a four-year college scholarship, telling me, “I just gotta make sure not to mess it all up now and end up like pregnant or something stupid like that. I seen too many girls get themselves into drama like that. I ain’t trying to end up like that.” Alicia, like most of the young women, understood that her sexuality potentially posed a risk to her plans. In other words, Latina girls cited their educational and career goals as another reason why they needed to be vigilant about their sexual respectability—suggesting that their school identities were also significant for their fashioning of their identities as sexually respectable young women. These young women did not report “saying no” to sexual activities as a way to secure these educational achieve- ments; rather, they emphasized their need to know about safe sex as a way to protect their ability to continue with their education. Sex education, according to girls, should provide them with an opportu- nity to develop themselves as informed sexual subjects. When young women considered their sex education experiences, they often specified what they wanted to learn from sex education lessons. For instance, when I asked sev- enteen-year old Carla why she asked her close girlfriends about using con- doms, the petite young Mexican, who wore a shiny gold name tag necklace, explained: “Like they [sexuality education instructors] actually didn’t want to say any real words. It was interesting because they assumed that we knew everything there was to know leading up to what they were saying, know what I mean? Like, to say, ‘use a condom,’ they assumed we knew what it meant about how to use it.” Similarly, Celia turned to some friends for infor- mation: “When I first started messing around with him and we were gonna actually do it [sexual intercourse], it was weird because I really didn’t know how to bring it up [condom use]. I did, but I remember thinking, ‘Why don’t they teach you about this in sex ed, you know, the stu that really happens and how to handle it?’” As Carla’s and Celia’s comments indicate, girls sought to learn practical knowledge and skills that would enable them to practice and negotiate safe sex with partners. Unlike the academically successful young black women observed and interviewed by the sociologist Lea Hubbard (1999) who said “no to boys” as a strategy for school achievement, the heterosexual-identified girls I spoke with did not see it as impossible or irreconcilable to be in a relationship with This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 78 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls a boy and remain focused on school, so as long they “handled their busi- ness.” 39 Though some of them characterized their relationship as a roman- tic/love relationship, in general, most heterosexual-identified girls expressed some doubts about being able to rely on their male partners for support, whether financial or emotional, should they experience an unplanned preg- nancy. 40 Of her boyfriend, Jocelyn said, “It ain’t like I’m gonna be believin’ that he’ll be there no matter what. In the end, if I get pregnant I gotta deal with it, I got no choice. He can walk away like nothing happened ’cause he ain’t the one pregnant. I ain’t letting no guy keep me from going to college.” Thus, these girls’ interest in such pragmatic details was also connected to their understanding of their disadvantaged gendered position in the face of such a sexual outcome. Noticeably absent in their expectations of school-based sex education was mention of an interest in learning more about their sexual desire and/ or pleasure. Girls’ silence on lessons or queries about their own sexual desire and/or pleasure is a reflection of their awareness of both the potential for pleasure and the threat of danger that their desire holds for them, which is communicated to them within a larger culture “that denigrates, suppresses, and heightens the dangers of girls’ sexuality.” 41 In such a cultural context, girls often come to understand their ability to be academically successful as dependent upon their behavior and sexual morality, which for them means that desire, when imagined, is often interpreted as representing complete loss of control. 42 The girls I interviewed asserted control through their claims to sexual respectability, which included their knowledge and practice of sexu- ally responsible behavior. One significant reason why this was important to them was that it would facilitate their control over their educational and career aspirations. Knowledge about their own sexual desire and/or pleasure perhaps was not seen as essential to what they needed to know to protect the achievements they sought for themselves. With little validation of themselves as desirous sexual subjects in and outside school-based sex education, girls who do engage in sexual activities may also find themselves having to pri- oritize what information is essential to their claims to sexual respectability. Latina girls’ emphasis on the links between their sexual respectability and their educational and career achievements are reflective of what the educa- tional researchers April Burns and María Elena Torre term “anxious achieve- ment,” which “results in a reordering of the erotic, away from an erotics of the body as a site of pleasure and the self as sexually desiring, to an erotics of achievement and material success.” 43 While the Latina girls I came to know did not adhere to a school-sanctioned femininity that deemphasizes the sex- uality of young women, 44 they nonetheless saw themselves as performing a This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 79 school-oriented femininity that was a pathway to better academic and life chances. This school-oriented femininity allowed space for their sexual behavior as long as they safeguarded their educational and career aspirations through their sexual respectability, namely their knowledge and practice of safe sex, leaving little room for their claims to sexual desire and/or pleasure. Conclusion When considering school-based sex education, we typically focus on the debate about whether abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education is the most appropriate and effective approach to teaching students about this subject. All too often in these discussions, we lose sight of the fact that stu- dents do not encounter similar educational contexts and that their location in our current racial/ethnic, gender, class, and sexual hierarchies matters for the quality of their schools and education. We need to remember this when we consider the purpose and merit of school-based sex education. What are the lessons we can learn when we ask different groups of young people about how they experience school-based sex education, what they think of it as part of their larger educational development, and what they would like to gain from it? The experiences of Latina girls show how the interplay of heteronorma- tivity, sexism, and racism in their sex education simultaneously reproduces, normalizes, and conceals inequalities, further constructing these girls as “at risk.” Thus, in this context, Latina youth can be understood to be more broadly “at risk” of these oppressions, a view that arguably poses greater dan- ger to them than sex or pregnancy. For instance, one especially troubling les- son that they are taught is to regard the masculinity of young men in their communities as a threat; however, they are not invited to critically exam- ine the larger societal culture (and not just “Latino culture”) that privileges male sexuality. Latina youth are thus taught that, while they have control of certain things, such as whether they will or will not get pregnant, they are also taught that they have no control over disrupting gender inequalities. Another risky lesson that they are taught is that survival in and outside their schools necessitates an adherence to heteronormative imperatives and that queer subjectivity is not possible within a Latina/o subjectivity. Together, such lessons contribute to their already vulnerable status as young women of color in this society. The emphasis that Latina girls in this study placed on their educational and career aspirations as they discussed their experiences and expecta- tions of school-based sex education reveal that they were well aware of their This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to 80 << The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls vulnerability. We generally assume that girls who engage in sexual activi- ties must not be thinking about their futures, especially African American and Latina young women, who are already designated as being “at risk.” We particularly home in on the negative educational and occupational experi- ences of those young women who encounter an unplanned pregnancy and/ or become mothers to lay out for girls the ways in which expressions of their sexuality at this point in their lives threaten their futures. But the young Lati- nas I came to know did not interpret their sexuality as incompatible with their future plans so as long as they practiced and maintained their sexual respectability. They did not want to jeopardize their futures and, as sexually active young women, sought to develop themselves as informed sexual sub- jects through sex education. Building on their desire to give meaning to the sacrifices made by their parents and families, their desire to push back against their racialization, and their desire to secure their futures, they placed importance on their acquisi- tion of success. And they saw this as possible if they followed a well-organized plan for their life and achievements. I am proud of them for envisioning such possibilities for themselves and am excited for their futures, but I also cannot help wondering if such ambitions will be met with the necessary resources and opportunities, given the challenges already present in their lives. Sex education, however, if thought about differently, does have the potential to enhance their ability to navigate them. I draw upon Jessica Fields and Deb- orah L. Tolman’s assertion that we work toward teaching young people to critically engage sexual risk in a way that confronts social inequalities, rather than operate on the idea that sexual risk can be completely eliminated via sex education. 45 As Fields rightly points out, the development of a liberatory sex education necessitates that we move beyond a dichotomous approach to sex education (abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education). 46 Similarly, Michelle Fine and Sara I. McClelland assert that sex education must be situ- ated within structural contexts and linked to other human rights struggles, such as that for LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, and education reform. In this way, sex education can be part of the process of teaching students to claim an entitlement to learning the skills necessary to confront and disrupt the intersecting inequalities that shape their lives. 47 The sex education experiences of Latina girls reveal that, to truly appre- ciate the processes by which young women come to negotiate and develop their identities as students and informed sexual subjects, it is also neces- sary to understand that their desire for success is also shaped within a neo- liberal educational context that emphasizes high-stakes testing, the need for achievement, and individualization. Latina girls’ articulations of their This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to The Sexual (Mis)Education of Latina Girls >> 81 educational and career aspirations can also be understood as a way in which they distanced themselves from those young women whom they saw as not assuming responsibility for their sexual behavior and for their futures. As the sociologist Angela McRobbie asserts, “The acquisition of qualifica- tions comes to function then as a gendered axis of social division. Young women are in effect graded and marked according to their ability to gain qualifications which in turn provides them with an identity as female sub- jects of capacity.” 48 Though there were many instances in which the girls I interviewed expressed an awareness and a critique of the structural inequali- ties they encountered as young women of color, they still pointed to the role of individual effort in determining one’s success. I contend that Latina youth are at risk but that the real risk here lies in the fact that they are being taught a particular lesson about who is to be held accountable for the inequi- ties in their sexuality education, their general education, and in their social worlds—that they are the ones who will be held primarily accountable. This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to This page intentionally left blank This content downloaded from on Thu, 13 Jun 2019 23:07:12 UTC All use subject to

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