Monday, June 4, 2012

Sex and the Twilight Saga

I've been composing today's post in my head for several days, judging my words carefully. This is not a post about Bill 13, the "Accepting Schools Act", legislation debated by the Ontario provincial government regarding anti-bullying measures including section 303.1(1)d which specifically mentions "activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name". This bill is very controversial. I myself am quite torn on the issue - am I allowed to say I support both sides?

The main reason I mention Bill 13 in my preamble is to demonstrate how sensitive certain issues are, especially ones dealing with human sexuality. It is around this time of year (the late spring / early summer) that most teachers I know choose to teach their "sex ed" units; I suspect because it's one of their least favourite subjects to teach. It can be awkward, the students can get silly, and educators become concerned about what kind of information is too much, too little, or just right to provide.

I have a very librarian-y solution that I happened to stumble upon: the use of fiction.

My daughter is currently in grade 6. She is a voracious and proficient reader but we still enjoy having bedtime reading time. We've done the entire Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and right now we are reading Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the Twilight saga. Long-time readers of this blog from the time when it was hosted on the Library Network Group site will remember that I'm a pretty big Twilight fan. This is my seventh time reading the books from cover to cover, but the first time as a read-aloud with my girl. It's been a different experience. My dear friend Wendee and I talked about this and she hypothesized that because many of the books consist of Bella's internal thoughts, having them said aloud makes them sound excessively dramatic in some sections and overly fawning in other parts. I think she has a point. My own private dialogues in my head can veer to hyperbole (e.g. "my husband is the most perfect person on this planet and I just don't deserve to be with someone this intelligent / kind / good-looking / fill-in-the-blank").

Because I'm a fan and the movies are so ubiquitous, my daughter knew about the basic plot long before she read the books. She knew that Edward and Bella get married and have a baby in the last book of the series. (The author, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon and I think this impacts how she writes - the scenes of intimacy aren't graphic at all, even the honeymoon section.) The great thing about reading this book together is the conversation we have after reading a chapter or two at night. I won't go into too many details because I want to respect the privacy and sanctity of our discussions - how would you feel if your mother blogged about a "birds and the bees" talk she had with you? The nice thing is that our chats aren't just about the "birds and the bees"; they can touch on all sorts of different aspects, from the mechanical to the emotional and ethical. Because we are talking about fictional characters, we can get into detail without the "ick" factor kicking in - the only question that ever veered into the personal was when my girl asked about my emotions on my wedding day. It's a super opportunity to share our family's values regarding certain subjects but also expose her to different points of view. Literature can bring us understanding to situations beyond us, like Finnick's horrible abuse by the Capitol in Suzanne Collins' series, in ways that make us care more than by reading a non-fiction text on consent and coersion. Focusing on the story grounds us and leads to more choices for discussion.

This post is long enough, so I won't go into the interesting but lengthy anecdote about a Grade 6 teacher reading Veronica Roth's Divergent to her students. (Maybe I can return to it if I run out of topics for the blog during the summer.) The long and short of it is that Breaking Dawn has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to talk with my daughter about sensitive issues; thanks Stephenie!

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