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Jen Gilbert is a gender theorist and sex education researcher who studies bullying. As one of the leaders of the Beyond Bullying Project, her Private sex Gilbert takes her into high schools where she works with young people to understand their experiences of bullying, and with schools to help them do something about it. Gilbert is a sex education researcher and one of the lead researchers on the Beyond Bullying Project.
This initiative takes her into high schools where she works with young people to understand their experiences of bullying and to help them and the school do something about this distressing phenomenon. I spoke to her about this research project in November over coffee and I'm looking forward to learning more about it today.
Jen, welcome to the podcast. Cameron: I'm always really interested in the work that people are doing right now, but I try to understand the context of the trajectory of their research, so that I can really understand where they're coming from. Is that a fair characterization of where you're coming from in that paper?
Jen: Yeah, I think so. I think that, in that paper, I'm trying to look at the ways that adults are not so separate from the adolescents or young people they think they're educating. It's not as though adults are the ones who don't need education, need a sex education, and young people are the ones who do need a sex education.
Instead we ought to think about the relationship between young people and adults.
Cameron: Well, geez, I mean anybody who's a parent must realize that you have a lot to learn if you want to talk to your kids about sex, that you do need an education. And yet, we seem to be in a time where politicians feel it's just straight forward what we should be teaching in education, in sex education in particular. And the kinds of arguments that are made from people all across the political spectrum about what they think should be in sex education really reveals a lot about themselves and their values and that comes into all of our policy decisions.
So it's that kind of the thing, that question about what we as adults think has to happen in sex education. Jen: That sounds right.The Vampire Diaries - Katherine Mason - Stefen Elena kiss
I mean, I think, on the one hand, adults are trying to repair the injuries of their own youth. They're trying to prepare young people to have a different youth than they had. Or they may have had a really great adolescence and they want young people to repeat that version of adolescence that they had. Sex education debates really show how much adults need from young people in the name of sex education. If you ask young people what they want from sex education, sometimes it's quite different when then what we offer as teachers or the ministry documents and curriculum and so on.
Cameron: You go so far in your papers to state that there is no such thing as an adolescent in the sense that the whole idea of an adolescent is something that is socially constructed by adults to make sense of this period of youth. That whole category is a social construction in itself, right? Jen: Yeah. But also that when you think about youth, you can't just think about the young person themselves. You have to think about their parents, their family, their culture, their community. You have to think about the media, digital cultures, all of the context in which the young person is growing up.
And sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between that individual and the social realities that they're grappling with every day. So to say there's no such thing as an adolescent is to say, in order to understand young people, you really have to take this much bigger view Private sex Gilbert their world.
Cameron: So it's like an objectification of this category that we slot these humans into and we treat them as if they are exemplars of that category. Rather than having their own rich complex history.
Jen: Yeah, exactly. I think that young people are as complicated as adults are and we need to work harder to recognize how complicated their lives are and to actually acknowledge the distance between us as well that we can't remember what it was like to be That what it's like to be 15 from the vantage of a year-old is quite different than from the vantage of the year-old.
Cameron: Yeah. We either have a romanticized view of our youth or a horrified view of our youth, depending on our experiences on a given day. Cameron: I know that when I was growing up, there seemed to be this huge disconnect between the questions that I had about sex and the answers that my parents were prepared to give me and the ways in which they're prepared to give Private sex Gilbert the answers. And the same thing with the school curriculum around these things that seemed woefully inadequate for me. And I don't imagine that too much has changed, but I think that there seems to be a lot more richness in sex education today because of the growing understanding of things like trans and queer issues, trans and queer peoplewho have to be included into this debate at all.
Is that something that's essential to your work because of your own perspective on it, or are you just simply dealing with what's out there in the sex ed curriculum right now? Why does that become such an important topic for you in your research? Jen: Well, definitely it comes out of my own experience in the world and being a queer person, and advocating for the rights of queer people to see themselves represented and supported in school environments.
That's always been very important to me in all of my work. But I think what else has happened is by thinking about queer issues in school, it actually enriches how we understand heterosexuality. I think when you think about what queer and trans young people need from sex education, it allows us Private sex Gilbert make a sex education that's better for everybody, not just for queer and trans youth.
That our ideas about sexuality and gender are enlarged, they're more generous, and they make more room for everybody, not just for people who identify with the LGBTQ alphabet. Cameron: It's kind of a general struggle I think for — well, struggle is overstating it, but an intellectual argument — that is constantly there for academic research, which is breaking down these binarywhether you're talking about a subjective objective divide or a binary opposition between men and women.
It's from a research perspective, things always get more interesting when you start to break down that binary opposition and realize the nuances within each side, but also all those spaces that are left out in between those two opposed. So that must make your research so much richer as you're working through all these different variations on the theme. Jen: Absolutely. And I think when you're studying young people as well, that they're beginners at these in some cases. That there's a way in which we think of these as quite solid and always already existing in a person.
But in fact, it takes some fumbling around and experimentation to figure out even what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman or what it means to be queer.The Vampire Diaries - Katherine Mason - Stefen Elena kiss
And I think when you study youth, you get access to the messiness of it and it helps us remember I think our own messiness. So there's something really wonderful for the academic researcher to be able to spend time thinking about that. The in-process, the becomingness of identity. Cameron: That's something that for, I think most healthy adults never goes away.
You're constantly in the process of becoming. I mean, now of course it's wonderful to study youth Private sex Gilbert you're very close to being a youth. But there's something that happens to the academic researcher. If you study, like I started studying youth when I was basically still myself very young. I continued to study youth, but now I'm not young. And that's really an interesting process to understand how my own relationship to the category has shifted as I've aged.
And it helps me think about what it means to be older, actually. Cameron: Have you passed the age where you can still be considered the cool prof? Now I'm older than my students' parents. That sort of freaks me out. I used to be my student's age or just above them and now I've passed all the way through and now I'm older than their parents.
So that's hard. It is a different kind of transition. As I get grayer and grayer, I become more and more distant from my students and I don't know what that's doing. I try to just remind myself that the teaching is not about me.
Jen: It's true. But I sort of, I forget that I'm not And so I'm talking to them as if we have something in common, when in fact we might not have that thing in common that I imagined we did. Cameron: I'll tell you what reminds you that you're not 26 is when you bend over to pick up a rice crispy. Jen: And throw out my back. I know. It's terrible. So the reason you're not in the studio today, just to fill the listeners in, the reason you're not in the studio is you threw out your back just bending over to pickups a rice crispy.
And so you were unable to travel. I'm very grateful that you're willing to spend the time to at least use Zoom to talk to me. One of the central features of this project that makes it so fascinating to me is that you actually Private sex Gilbert up recording booths in high schools and let students tell their own stories about bullying. And it just seems like such a powerful way to do research. This is not you sitting there with a lab coat on and a notepad asking them interview questions or something like that. This is just giving them the space to say what they feel they need to say.
Can you tell me what that's like for the kids, but also for you as a researcher to be a part of that?Private sex Gilbert
email: [email protected] - phone:(476) 523-5248 x 4106
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