consent

Teaching consent is not difficult

Today I was in the middle of responding to a text message from my husband when my son started climbing all over me and horsing around. He was happy, laughing and having a grand old time. I asked him to stop but he was in his own world thinking it was just a game. I quickly thought about how often this very thing happens to us throughout our lives, people violate our boundaries and have no regard for what we want (or don’t want) in the name of playing around. My son is two and a half years old but his age is no reason to put off starting a lifelong conversation about consent.

I gently told him that mommy didn’t like what he was doing and that I had asked him to stop but he hadn’t. “No means no,” I said to him. He looked at me and apologized then went on to play something else. It was such a quick moment but I have no doubt that it was an important one. I don’t believe that we should wait to start speaking to our children about consent. Consent encompasses a lot more than just sexual situations. It means that we regard everyone as fully human and respect their likes and dislikes. It’s about taking feelings and preferences into consideration. Consent means that my son is never under any obligation to show affection to anybody. Even to me.

Sometimes I ask him for a hug and he says no. I don’t try to guilt him into giving me a hug. I simply shrug it off like it’s not a big deal, because it’s not. My son comes up to me and gives me hugs and tells me he loves me all on his own. There is no need for me to feign hurt simply because he decided in that moment that he didn’t feel like hugging me. If we manipulate our children into showing affection they will think that it is okay to manipulate others into showing them affection as well. Affection should be freely given, not coerced. Naturally, I don’t encourage him to kiss and hug family members unless he wants to. Saying hello is enough.

I remember growing up and being made to make physical contact with people who made my skin crawl. It was considered impolite not to. The social anxiety that this caused made me dread seeing family. I just didn’t want to hug and kiss people. I wish back then I could articulate this and furthermore I wish that I believed my parents would even care. Now I’m of the mind that when it comes to MY feelings you can fuck your feelings. We are almost universally socialized to take other people’s feelings into account over our own. In some cases it is down right dangerous to offend someone or piss them off. Women have been killed by men whose advances they rejected.

So here is where I am at with consent. I will respect my son’s boundaries (although he’s not getting out of baths and naps!) and expect him to respect others’. This education has to start at home and it can’t wait. Children are never too young to start learning to respect and be considerate of others. Empathy, especially in boys, is important to nurture. No toxic masculinity here,  that is trash.

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I am teaching my son not to rape

There have been many news stories recently that have caused me to contemplate Diego’s future and what I want to instill in him. I have a lot of thoughts in my head so this post will probably be all over the place. The shooting of six women in Isla Vista brought about an important conversation about the treatment of women. The gunman’s manifesto has become an example of the mysogyny that runs rampant in our society. The hashtag #yesallwomen was a heart-wrenching read. And it’s absolutely true that all women have at some point or another experienced sexual harassment of some sort.

Men feel entitled. They are taught to feel entitled to access to women and their bodies. You hear men complain about being friend-zoned. I have such an issue with this term because it puts an emphasis on sex and romance being the point of any male/female relationship. I have seen a disgusting meme featuring a sloth whispering in a woman’s ear with the caption “She put me in the friend zone so I put her in the rape zone.” Even more disgusting is the fact that this meme has a name: rape sloth and if you’re brave enough to Google it you will find hundreds of memes that reduce rape to nothing more than a joking matter. If you are a man it’s not enough to not have raped, or to not plan to rape. By sitting back and doing nothing when your buddies joke about it makes you an accomplice. Men like that contribute to the problem. Any person that stays silent when this is joked about is perpetuating this idea that it is acceptable to joke about rape. It is never ok.

Growing up I remember very clearly a delineation between what was male and what was female. I understood at a very early age that boys were better, stronger, faster, and smarter. I was taught that when a boy hit me, stole my pencils and pulled my hair it meant he liked me. I will never forget when my sixth grade teacher dismissed my complaint about a fellow male student and then proceeded to tease me that he liked me. I “dated” him for a while in seventh grade. It all ended when he forced his tongue down my throat and disgusted, I pushed him away. I wasn’t ready for that but he forced it on me. Other boys told him to dump me for being frigid. When I told him I wanted nothing more to do with him he seemed shocked.

I learned a lot from that brief relationship. I learned to be scared of boys. They don’t respect boundaries. They are taught that boundaries are meant to be broken, pushed, annihilated. Boys are taught from an early age that girls are things to conquer. I’ve had strangers grab my ass, request that I flash them my boobs (because when you’re well endowed you’re no doubt looking for attention), and been felt up without my consent. And that’s just the physical stuff, men have made lewd remarks since before I was of age.

Now I have a son and I feel a huge responsibility to raise him to be the man that all men should be. The kind of man that will respect women not because she is another man’s daughter but because she is a human being. That is reason enough to treat women right. I cannot begin to explain how infuriating it is to hear people use women being someone’s mother, sister, daughter or wife as a reason why they ought to be respected. Why should my relation to another male be what determines my worth? I reject that reasoning.

Diego is still young, much too young to have a conversation about consent but the educating starts now. It starts by teaching him that no and stop are powerful and meaningful no matter who uses them. This is important because I want him to feel empowered to use them himself but also because it will teach him that when the words are used the action stops. Every single time.

Forced affection is also something that I will not subject him to. I think it sets a bad precedent for the rest of a child’s life to be forced to hug and kiss against his will. Not only is this dangerous for children in general in terms of child abuse/molestation but it teaches him that even if affection is unwanted you still have to submit to it. It will always be his choice how to express his affection. This is also about teaching him consent. Both his own as well as that of other people.

It’s time to push back against what’s become so common: the belief that women need to avoid rape, that where we go, what we wear and how we act somehow contributes to rape.  Rape is ALWAYS the fault of the rapist. It’s time for this conversation to be at the forefront of our consciousness instead of relegated to radical feminist talk.

I am teaching my son not to rape. I am teaching him not to slut-shame, fat-shame or body-shame. I am calling out my husband when he says something sexist. It’s an on going conversation that we will continue to have as a family. I don’t think that it should take having a daughter for a man to understand that the constant threat of rape that women live under is unacceptable.

Not long ago I was walking to the pharmacy and a guy was walking behind me. Pretty mundane, except my hairs stood on end and I was on high alert. I was walking down a busy street in the middle of the day. I know for a fact that my husband would not have given the other pedestrian a second thought. That is male privilege.

There is so much to be said on this topic. A lot has been said on it already but I hope it continues to be discussed. We have a long way to go. I see men that I love and respect fall short everyday. I see micro-aggressions all the time. In tweets, Facebook posts, comments, etc. I will never again stay quiet because complacency costs lives. Because I have a son who will one day go out in the world and leave his mark. Because my friends have daughters who will one day be out in that same world and I want to do my part to make it better for all of us.

Women are right to fear men and to the men who are offended when women fear them don’t tell me you’re offended. Don’t tell me that not all men are like that. Tell your fellow men to not be scum to women. Call them out and set them straight. There aren’t enough good men around.