Monday, October 30, 2017

A word about teaching consent

A while ago a class of 4 and 5 year olds had a lesson on consent. At least one of the parents was very pleased to see her son asking for hugs.

I had a mean thought, imagining a manipulative child asking for hugs while knowing it would look bad for anyone to refuse. I'm not saying that's what happened, but some people enjoy making others uncomfortable. Finding ways to disguise that better works great for them.

So teaching consent is important, but the thing that needs to be taught with it is bodily autonomy. My body is mine, so I should have the ultimate say in who gets to touch it and how they get to touch it.

I have had good experiences with people asking if hugs were okay. I was recently reading about someone who had some past trauma that had some lasting effects. She loves and trusts her husband, but if he were to surprise her with a hug he could really be surprising her with a flashback. If he did not respect that he would not be worthy of her trust. That goes beyond hugs.

There can be room for negotiation. If one half of a couple is in the mood for sex, and one isn't, the one not in the mood should be able to refuse. It is also possible that they will go along with it anyway as a concession to the relationship. The other half could also not want to impose, and wait. There could be a discussion about what would help get moods and schedules synchronized. That can be beautiful if it involves love and respect, and gross if it involves guilt and coercion, but a lot of that will come down to whether each one respects both their own and their partner's body.

That belief in individual rights may sound obvious, or it may sound like too much.

For example, if I am on a crowded train, I cannot dictate that everyone maintains a six-inch distance away from me; that would be unreasonable. Mainly we all try and not crowd each other, and maybe it's not pleasant but it's fine.

You also have people who will take advantage of the crowded conditions to rub against others for their sexual gratification. This is called frotteurism. (Actually, I see frottage more, but when the rubbing is specifically non-consensual, it's frotteurism.)

I should have a right to not have people grind on me; most people won't even disagree with that in a hypothetical. However, in the event of it happening, there is still a good chance that I will not be able to get someone to believe me or not think that I am making too big a deal of it, or that I might not have signaled in some way that it was okay, or that I should just acknowledge that it could have been worse.

It should be obvious that each person has a right to their own body, but there are too many indications that it isn't. It is more likely to be a minimization or denial of what happened than an actual denial of that right, but it still happens. Perhaps that means it isn't obvious, and needs to be taught.

I can imagine a lot of objections to this, especially with teaching children that they have a right to their bodies. One example that is frequently given is that you should not force your children to hug or kiss or sit on the lap of anyone that they don't want to, and then your child's shyness is embarrassing you at the family reunion.

Possibly, but if the reticence is related to abuse, you are going to regret pushing the issue later on when it all comes out. If there are sensory issues where the child has a harder time dealing with being touched, surely that can be supported. Even with shyness, just acknowledging that the child's desires matter can be a hugely encouraging thing and allow them to warm up more.

I was feeling like a bit of a hypocrite, because I physically restrain children regularly. This primarily happens when they are at the stage where shoving their hands in other children's faces or snatching toys away appears to be the only fun thing to do. I use words to talk about why this is not good and give them other options, but I am also holding them. (These are generally children aged from 18 to 30 months, so some words may sink in, but you can't necessarily tell.)

I feel better about that realizing that my restraint is specifically for teaching them not to dominate others, regardless of their intentions. I don't restrain them for convenience.

A lot of preserving power is about convenience. We can - without personally abusing our own power - uphold a system that makes abuse of power easy.

So here is a baby step: acknowledge that everyone has autonomy over their own body. Do you believe that? Do your actions support it?

Can you handle hearing "No" from your significant other? Can you say "No" to your significant other without fearing that you will be rejected or injured? Can you trust that allowing your children to question you won't automatically make them monsters?

Is that the rule in your workplace? If it isn't, would you know? What needs to change for that to be a reality?

It's okay if these questions make you uncomfortable, but don't let that stop you from thinking about them. It may be the surest sign that you need to.

No comments: