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Body Positive

Pop Culture Representation of Sexual Education

More and more studies are coming out that show the importance of comprehensive sexual education. Earlier this year, our governing body (the Illinois Coalition against Sexual Assault) encouraged agencies to participate in Sex Education National Week of Action. The coalition views comprehensive sexual education as a form of sexual assault prevention education (for more information, please contact Sean Black). This may be as a result of more and more youth demanding that they receive adequate comprehensive sexual education and more and more people are lamenting the fact that they did not receive proper sexual education. 

On top of that, society is receiving more and more information about comprehensive sexual education via TV shows and movies. Not only that, but these pop culture moments are providing the evidence that comprehensive sexual education is important. Popular TV shows like Euphoria, Sex Education, and Big Mouth are diving into this previously taboo topic. And I, for one, would have loved to see this when I was in high school.

As stated by Anna Silman, “Teenage sexuality has hardly been absent from TV, but its depiction has tended to veer between one of two poles — either idealized, melodramatic romance that doesn’t come close to capturing the sloppy awkwardness of real life, or quasi After-School Specials replete with sexual assault, diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and all of intercourse’s worst consequences.”

If these are the two options that you have, you are gonna be left confused and disoriented. Left with questions like: What is the right way to go? Is there a middle ground? Or do I have to choose one way and just stick with that? This leads to a culture where words like prude, promiscuous, dirty, clean are thrown around and often directed at female and non-binary identity students. I would have loved to see myself referenced in the material that I was learning. Representation matters! Seeing yourself matters! Sexual education has long been focused around white, European, upper class values that have long commodified the bodies of People of Color. 

Comprehensive sexual education sets out to alleviate this divide. It does not advocate for the youth to be having sex whenever or however, but just like any other subject it gives students the tools and techniques they need when they are “out in the real world.” They might not experience sex in high school, but I also never used many of my calculus skills until I got out of high school and those were still taught to me during my time.


View this AWESOME explainer video:


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Written by Cassidy Herberth, Prevention and Education Specialist.

ZCenter aims to end sexual violence, mobilize and educate the public, and support survivors of sexual assault. Our blog addresses issues related to ending oppression and violence, since all oppression and violence are intersectional with sexual violence. All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.


It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus (But is it feminist?)

It would be more than two decades before I would enjoy Disney’s
Hocus Pocus. I found it ridiculous. The last witch hanged in the Salem Witch Trials was on September 22, 1692; the film starts with Salem townspeople hanging witches a year later in 1693. I knew that no one in 17th Century New England wore the bright colors of the witches. I also knew that those hanged in Salem were the ones who would not admit to witchcraft, not the openly practicing witches, as in the movie.

I was always bothered by the stereotypes that the movie perpetuated. Witches harm and/or kill humans. Witches are ugly old hags. Magic is a means to cause harm. At worst, the film is complicit in the patriarchal notion that only Abrahamic religions are true religions, not earth-based religions like witchcraft. At best, it was goofy. Silly. 

But there is something magical about a Halloween movie that was filmed in Salem. There is something nostalgic about walking through the Salem Common and remembering where Max and Allison walked through the autumn leaves. The movie celebrates Halloween, with a cult-level following. As I celebrate Halloween with my own children and learn its joy all over again, I begin to see how Halloween allows us to break social norms, slip into different roles, bend gender norms, and face our fears. We connect with a child within us that we repress all other days. 

Also, who doesn’t love a witch movie with a talking black cat?

In the film, protagonist Max famously says, “It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus.” But is it feminist? I’m not convinced that Hocus Pocus is a feminist film. The teen female protagonist is reduced to her sexual body parts. “Max likes your yabos. In fact, he loves them,” taunts Max’s little sister. The witches obsess over their appearance and beauty, succumbing to the societal norms about how women should look. All the harm that they cause is directly related to making themselves look younger. None of this feels empowering to those identifying as women.

As intersectionalists, we look to fight oppression of any kind. The film has a striking lack of any People of Color, though we know the town of Salem, Massachusetts is not exclusively white. We also see no LGBTQIA individuals in the film; everyone is defined by heteronormative and cisgender characteristics, though I know for a fact that Salem has Pride events. As feminists and sex educators, we also question the use of virginity in the film. A virgin lit the black flame candle, bringing the witches back from the grave. But we find this problematic as we look at the patriarchal use of virginity to oppress women. When does one’s sexual journey begin? Must we define our sexual journey by the first penile penetration? Why does virginity even matter unless women are property?

But again, my heart swells to see Salem in the fall. Bette Midler sings I Put a Spell on You. It’s very hard to love Halloween and not love this movie. These witchy women, as despicable as they are, are defying social norms, despite the many threats to their safety. They have no dependence on men and they do as they please. The teenager Allison has choices about dating the protagonist; she decides on her own time about romantic entanglement, even after rejecting him at first. The young sister Dani speaks her mind and asserts her needs. 

Hocus Pocus would be quite a different film in 2021, in the time of the #MeToo Movement, the Women’s Marches, and Black Lives Matter. Is there hope? Let’s see when Hocus Pocus 2 comes out next fall. In the meantime, don’t light any black flame candles.


Written by Kristin Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

The Power in Reclaiming Femininity

Note: Throughout this article, “women” is used to refer to cisgender and transgender women, as well as non-binary femme-identified people; this is a stylistic choice only and not intended to equate or universalize different peoples’ experiences and identities.

If I had a dollar for everytime I was told, “you throw like a girl,” or “you run like a girl” I would be on the Forbes list for Billionaires under 25 (maybe that is an exaggeration, but you get the point). While my parents fought this message, it was one that I heard from many other adults and kids. It made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like if I embraced femininity, I was somehow weaker, more fragile, and less then. So I completely rejected it. I said One Direction was for girly-girls, I thought pink was ugly, and I thought princesses were useless. I rejected the feminine because I thought that is what I needed to do, so I could achieve those big dreams. 

So where does this rejection of femininity come from? Why do we still view masculinity as the ideal? The Second Wave of Feminism (also known as Women’s Liberation) fought against the roles that women were being forced into. The key word here is FORCED, but it was taken too far. We thought that the rejection of femininity was an ideal form of reclamation. That it wasn’t that masculinity was dominating, but that femininity was a sign of submission. A part of this is because of the gender binary understanding of society. As explained by Philippe Leonard Fradet, femininity and masculinity are viewed as opposites of each other. Therefore, the idea of claiming femininity is often associated with the loss of dreams. People who are feminine are destined to become JUST a wife, JUST a mother, and not see themselves as the CEO of a Fortune 500. It is not wrong to want to be a wife or a mother, and we know that these are not easy jobs, by any means, but it is the idea that embracing your femininity means choosing. You cannot be a femininie CEO, a femininie astronaut. As they say, it is a “man’s world.” We broke up with femininity long ago and now many of us are looking to make up with it. 

But femininity and masculinity are not opposites of each other, and it’s important that we embrace both sets of qualities in whatever ways make us the most comfortable and feel the most like ourselves. Embracing femininity is not just about female-identifying individuals enjoying things that society tells them are “girly,” but it’s about tending to one’s emotions, perhaps getting in touch with our creative side, and connecting with each other in a collaborative and nurturing way. When we utilize our feminine side of collaboration and working together, it lends us another tool in fighting against oppression. We can break away from the binary of men needing to be strong and masculine and women need to be simple and submissive, to create a society where each individual leans on masculinity/femininity at different levels depending on what they need at that moment. 

So how do we get there? How can we embrace our femininity when for so long we have been told to repress it? It’s not easy, and definitely not achieved overnight, and can start small. Setting aside time for yourself to get creative– whether that’s painting or knitting or just simple pencil drawing–and to get in touch with your imagination where anything is possible. Maybe it’s wearing something pink, even though you rejected the color when you were younger. It is learning to love what you were told to hate, because it was girly. Embracing your femininity is seeking community, and talking with close friends or family. Start where it feels natural for you, and continue from there. There is no right way or one way to embrace one’s femininity– so make it your own.

Written by Sarah Brennan, MSW, Volunteer and Activism Coordinator, and Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.











Dress Codes: Formed for Function or Oppression?

Here we are at our keyboards, working, scrolling, shopping, blogging. Regardless of the activity, we are using a computer and connecting to the outside world virtually. The last 18+ months has shown many of us with computer based jobs that work can be done from anywhere, while wearing just about anything…so what does that mean for a back to office dress code? Does what you are wearing make you a better employee or increase your output? Does it make you a more trusted professional? 

Dress codes are often meant to bring comfort to those around us, not meant for the person wearing the clothing. Our office recently discussed the back to office dress code and there was a huge range of opinions on what is and isn’t acceptable. The outcome was that our clothing gives a perception to the outside world, and in order to show that the work we do is serious, no longer tie-dye and Birkenstocks, we have to stick to business casual. 

That being said, many of us remember dress codes from school days, things like spaghetti straps, short skirts, and baggy pants almost always made this banned list (and still do). Dress codes today put the onus on the wearer, not their peers to dress and act a particular way. Why is a young girl responsible for covering her shoulders to not distract another student, instead of the other student allowing a girl to be left alone while exposing her shoulders?

Why do we continue to put the blame on the person wearing something, versus the person perceiving what that person is wearing to be sexualized, villainized, or culturally unnerving? 

Are these items inhibiting learning and work output or are they simply outside the white-heteronorm dress code and therefore considered a distraction? Moreso, school districts and workplaces often gender various additions of personal expression such as earrings, nail polish, and belts. Are we hyper focused on outward attire instead of discussing where these societal expectations come from? Lessons could be learned regarding the root of these cultural views and gender norms, and an increase in cultural competency could be an output from these discussions. 

Challenge yourself, your office, and your peer group to discuss what an outfit says about you, or what you think an outfit says about someone else. If we use these examples for discussion and not as a punishment perhaps our workplaces and schools would become more inclusive and culturally diverse, making the “norm” people being comfortable in their expressions and less comfortable in a blue button down shirt. 

Written by Anna Lehner, Director of Development

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org. 





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