On teaching consent/respect
For those of you not in the know, I’m having a boy. Now, this scares me more and less than having a girl. On one hand, I won’t have to deal with the fashion, the sexualisation of youth, the attitude, the frills, the sequins, the sparkles, the never ending amount of toys that portray girls as nothing more than future moms of children and dogs – though I admit that those are getting somewhat better as we wake up and smell the lavender tainted tea. (Seriously, I’ve yet to see a female doll whose chosen profession is a garbage disposal worker or steelworker. Those just aren’t “girl” jobs. Blech!) Anyways, you get my point.
On the other hand, I will have to deal with the fashion, the sexualisation of youth, possibly sequins and glitter – who knows? – and, because what goes around comes around, the attitude. (Ever had the threat of “I hope your kid is just like you” thrown in your face? Yup.)
Girls are taught at an early age that dressing a certain way will get them attention, that being a certain way will make them more desirable, that acting a certain way will make them popular. Yes, even this modern society with modern ideas and modern values place girls, no matter their age, in categories. Even today we make inappropriate comments about young ladies, whether it’s their clothing choices or lack of clothing choices. Students shouldn’t have to worry about the way they dress because it makes their teachers uncomfortable. If you are a teacher and have those kinds of thoughts about your much younger students, then you need to re-evaluate if school is the place for you. A shrink may also be required.
If the girls are distracting the boys in her grade, then, guess what, she’s asked/told to change. Because obviously a boy’s education trumps girls in the classroom. I mean really, how do the girls who are following the dress code and don’t want to melt from the heat in an air-condition-less school expect the boys to pay attention to their lessons when there’s so much ankle showing?
See how ridiculous that statement sounds? And we wonder why the boys with no manners and respect slide under the radar and succeed while women fall off the map all together.
So, in a nutshell, this subtly (and sometimes overt) sexist attitude is what scares me. I’m sure other things will crop up, but in today’s world, raising a boy with no concept of consent or appropriate behavior in public is a recipe for disaster. I mean, I’ll do my best to instill good values and have him understand the amorphous concept of consent, but it doesn’t stop me from worrying.
And if it does happen, gods forbid, I sincerely hope I don’t turn a blind eye to the issue simply because he’s my “angel” and would never do such a thing. May the phrases “boys will be boys” never escape from between my lips unless it’s to describe rambunctious play and getting hurt in the most imaginable ways possible. (I grew up with a brother who did/still does the oddest things to get hurt. He once stepped under a saw as it went through a branch, good thing for a hard head! Never mind the time he had a doorknob pattern ingrained on his forehead.) Never should those words be used when describing interactions with girls.
And I’m going to start teaching him early.
For example, how many of you force your children to hug relatives upon arrival/before you leave? Oh, it’s nice for Uncle Tom and Aunt Frieda to get their squishes, but what if the child doesn’t want to? That child is often considered rude, has no manners, doesn’t respect his elders. (this goes for girls too) But what are we really teaching him/her?
You guessed it, that his consent doesn’t matter. But who said respect is a one way street? We are teaching them that other’s feelings trump what they’re feeling, that their bodies are ours to command and control, not theirs, until they come of age. And when exactly that will be is also our decision. So, once they have power over something, like, say, a drunk girl, they will simply relate back to their early experiences, decide she doesn’t know what she wants with her body, and consent flies out the window. You think this example is extreme? Then you haven’t been watching/reading the news. Of course, this kind of attitude doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a build-up of experiences and forced encounters over time. It’s a lack of education in those small moments, the ones that really count, like being able to say “no” to a hug or learn that teasing a girl you like to the point where it becomes hurtful/harmful to her isn’t appropriate.
So what happens when we teach them that it’s alright not to hug that aunt if they don’t want to? Or that if their friend doesn’t want a hug/kiss goodbye, that’s alright too. They can simply say goodbye, be all cute and adorable, and call it a night. These simple lessons/concepts will be the ones to stick with them as they get older. They’ll be the ones respecting the decisions other people make about their bodies, not giving unsolicited attention to people who interest them and don’t return said interest. They’re the ones parents can trust their child with, knowing full well that if their progeny go out for the night, no one will be hurt. Hopefully.
It all starts with the simplest of life lessons.
And while you’re at it, teach your girls to speak up for themselves. Teach them about consent early. Don’t hide the ugly lessons simply because they’re uncomfortable. Teach them about inappropriate touching, that they can always talk with you about their issues and you won’t belittle them or slush off their feelings as stupid. Discounting a child’s feelings is the first step towards losing their trust, no matter how old the child.
I’ll be doing my best with my boy too.