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Award-Winning Student Project: "Ideology and Inequality in Canadian Sex-Education Films"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Shauna McLeanShauna McLean completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree, with a major in Social Development Studies and a minor in Psychology, in the spring of 2013. In her final term of study, Shauna completed an award-winning independent research project, entitled “Ideology and Inequality in Canadian Sex Education Films: A Brief History.”

“When I began this project I had no idea how large it would become—at times it was a bit overwhelming and I am so grateful for the amazing support, expertise, and guidance of my supervisor, Dr. Kristina R. Llewellyn, ” says Shauna.

The web-based project explores the history of sex education films in the Canadian school system. “These films provide a record of dominant Canadian norms and values and are really central to understanding where we have come from, and where we are going, when it comes to the complexities of sex,” says Shauna. “I’ve always been very interested in human sexuality and in how cultural norms of sexuality are established—this project offered a really fun and interesting way to explore these two interests.”  She notes, however, that, “Canadian sex education films have not yet attracted sustained academic interest, despite their richness and diversity as subjects of study.”

Because there is little preexisting material on the subject, Shauna’s search for films and related materials included scouring media archives, online, public and university libraries, the National Film Board of Canada, and private collections in both Canada and the United States. Some of the films are over 60 years old and many proved difficult to locate. “There has actually been very little effort to preserve these artifacts,” says Shauna. “I think it’s really quite sad that many of these early Canadian films have already been lost forever.” 

The website includes an interactive timeline of some of the major Canadian sex education films from the past century, a comprehensive catalogue of Canadian films, a sex education film analysis tool designed for use in the classroom, and an academic exploration of how these films function as period-specific ideological tools.  “My hope is that the website might serve as a starting point for future research and preservation in this area,” says Shauna. “I also hope that it will open up a larger discussion about the quality of the sex education that students have received, and are receiving, in Canadian classrooms.”

Shauna’s project was nominated for, and was awarded, the Social Development Studies Faculty award for the best project worth 50% of a final grade.

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