May 26, 2010

Sex ed for young kids

Indonesians, worried about sexual exploitation of children, launched a sex ed program that features anatomically explicit dolls. Check out the video here: Sex Ed for Kindergardeners in Indonesia
How would sociologists approach the multiple issues described in the video? Well, first of all, let's use the sociological imagination to examine ideas from the video. The sociological imagination, which you will recall is one of the most important foundations of the discipline of sociology, makes a link between personal, private troubles and public issues. In a society where children are sexually exploited, individual children suffer. This is the "private trouble" C. Wright Mills talks about. But the sociological imagination reminds us that sexual exploitation of children happens only within certain social contexts. These particular social contexts are the "public issues" C. Wright Mills describes. From the video, what are some of the public issues--the social contexts--that perpetuate the sexual exploitation of children? And as a society, how is Indonesia responding to alter the social contexts that allow sexual exploitation?

Another way to think through the issues sociologically is to think about how each of the three sociological paradigms would analyze the issue of child sexual exploitation. Structural functionalists, who think that societies seek order and stability above all, would ask if the education program increases stability and order, or if social change is happening too fast. Indonesia, like the US, tolerates some degree of child sexual exploitation. Structural functionalists would wonder if Indonesian society will spin out of control if small children are routinely taught to resist exploitation. Critical power conflict theorists, who think that dominant groups in societies organize to maintain their dominance, would be interested in the conflict generated by the educational programs. They would be especially interested in the threats of violence by religious groups who have organized to oppose the educational program. Symbolic interactionists, interested in how symbols are used and understood in a society, would ponder how the children understand the symbolism of the anatomically accurate dolls. How, for example, do children come to interpret the yarn on the dolls as pubic hair?


  1. Children are socialized from birth to understand the roles of their gender; however they will not begin to grasp the physiological concept of sex until approximately three years of age. In order to recognize either gender identity or sex they must be socialized. The symbolic interactionist would view this as “understanding the meaning of performances.” Messages that girls are gentle and caring while boys are rough and unemotional are the scripts they have been coached to play.

    Children would not understand the symbolic nature of the anatomically accurate dolls. The teacher under the guidance of the school is attempting to prevent “botched performance” by preemptively educating the children to understand the meaning of sexual boundaries that apply to their bodies.

    Indonesia acknowledges the context that places young children in a position to become victims, rather than engaging the predator they are educating the prey.

  2. pureprairieleague--good sociological analysis!! I especially appreciated your last sentence: "rather than engaging the predator they are educating the prey." Do you think the program will work? In my own work, I have increasingly moved away from studying the victims of oppression and now focus on the systems of oppression. I wonder if, in the long run, the children who participate in this program will grow up intolerant of child sexual abuse. Perhaps as a result of this program the boys will grow up to be men who do not sexually abuse small children, and who also refuse to tolerate this behavior from their adult male peers.

  3. Actually that seems a logical conclusion, if we educate the prey then it stands to reason they would not become the next generation of predators. I believe the best weapon to fight any battle, anywhere is education. When we are able to educate children they know what is inappropriate behavior. I like this shift in focus, the victims are just that; life players who met with oppression, through no fault of their own. To stop blaming victims and turn a bright light on oppression is to expose it so that others may become educated as well.

  4. The problem is that we see sexual abuse and sexual oppression different than other cultures. The task to change a culture's view on this subject is a huge undertaking and will take more than a few generations. Rapid social change is everything they protect themselves from. These cultures believe a bad haircut is shameful to thier prophet and is punishable by death! This honor/shame society is a viscious circle that is not easily interrupted as proven historically by Western attempts.
    Of course change to a system always starts small and the children will eventually create thier own culture but these cultures are primarily based on thier religions who put men as the group in power. Coincidentally it is these men who cause the oppression.
    Education is always the answer but in order to truely change this behavior in this cultural setting the men will need to be educated and shamed. Having woman tell them that it is wrong because of reason 1,2,3 will not alter their actions. They must be tought that it is shameful in the eyes of other men. Of course to be able to even teach such a subject in school is a major breakthrough and I hope it sparks additional programs across a wide variety of groups in that region. As a primarily Muslim country the secondary effects of this instruction will be interesting to follow.

  5. I agree that for sexual abuse to completely change it has to be shaped by society. Changing cultural setting of shaming the abuser would help to eliminate sexual abuse. The hard part with sexual abuse, is that it is considered such a "taboo" subject. Especially in religious communities where sex is sinful outside of marriage. Regardless of a religious communities, sexual abuse takes place everywhere and all the time. Fairbanks and Anchorage have high percentage rates for sexual abuse and many would not know or suspect that.

    The way to change how people view sexual abuse is by starting with education. To have the children become more aware is setting new norms with their generation. Education can help lessen the shock value of sexual abuse, and hopefully bring more awareness and help to victims.

    I feel that taking the approach like the man's wedding ring could also help. With the man's wedding band, they had to use the changes of the time to help their campaign. By using the younger generation to educate and learn new sexual norms, can in turn affect the way the society will view sexual abuse. Also adding more media advertisements against sexual abuse could help.

    Mindy Haugeberg