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Teaching consent

Someone recently posted for discussion an idea they’d heard (not agreed with) that “Guys are the gas and girls are the brakes”. This was an infuriating concept on pretty much every level, but got me to thinking about the messages we send kids and what we need to teach them. Because in my experience, a HUGE percentage of rapes are as much a result of poor training and lack of consideration as actual malice or active intent.

Messages like “Guys are the gas”, or “If she doesn’t say no, she means yes” actually train guys to rape. It is entirely possible for a sexual encounter to seem like “no big deal” from one side and “soul destroying devastation” from the other, and when that is the case, ultimately we have to point at training. I have, in my own personal experience, known men who raped without being aware until after the fact that it was rape. Who once informed of the issue, corrected their behavior and expectations. Those are training issues. And we can fix them.

There has been a lot of talk recently about a relatively new concept… “Yes means yes”. Training kids that the default is “respect boundaries until invited in” is essential, fundamental to changing the current paradigm. How does that look?

I’ve started with my son while he is still a toddler. He’s not even 3, is still breastfeeding, and I’m setting limits with him about grabbing and touching. He has to ask if he can nurse. If I say no, he doesn’t get to grab. I don’t put up with him casually grabbing my boobs anymore at all, or with him getting aggressive with me.

We have to start that young. We have to teach little kids that hurting people we like is never okay. Simply insisting on manners can go a long way toward teaching mutual respect. Teaching those manners often requires demonstrating them. My husband and I spend a couple weeks saying to each other, “May I please be excused?” at the dinner table, because that was what reminded my son to ask. Things he says, “Gimme” for are rarely gotten. When he says “Please, may I” he usually gets what he wants if it is reasonable.  I am often startled by how few children actually ask for things rather than demanding.

But most important, I think, is teaching simple self control. Delayed gratification. Teaching kids to think forward about consequences. It is not impossible. But the teaching never stops. I spend hours talking to the 21 year olds in my life about boundaries and limits and ways of handling the tricky situations they find themselves in.

In a lot of ways I’m very glad that I was born female, because I suspect that with the kind of training boys and girls got when I was a kid, I probably would have ended up raping someone without even understanding it as a young adult.

We teach kids a lot about “no means no”, but when you factor in the “freeze” response to “fight or flight”, the fact of the matter is that someone has to be able to communicate in order to say no, someone who is scared or drugged may not be able to do that. It has to be, it MUST be, “Yes means yes, No means no, Stop means stop, and silence is not consent.”

We have to teach kids to separate fantasy from reality. We see so many “sexy” scenes on television where an aggressive kiss with fighting back becomes willing participation…but in reality, we can’t risk that. The freeze response creates relaxation, and that relaxation could easily be confused for “lack of rejection”. It is possible to have fantasies of being overpowered, while absolutely never wanting that in real life, and we have to teach our kids about the difference. I can love reading science fiction and reading about space flight and not actually ever want to sit on the rocket ship, you know? I can adore stories about medieval cultures without ever wanting to live in a real one. I can enjoy watching a drama on television without ever wanting my life to be that dramatic.

http://www.lifecentre.uk.com/dealing_with_the_effects/the_freezing_response.html

is a good starting point for understanding why “No means no” is never enough.

Published in Feminism Lessons for my kids Life Parenting Questions Political

One Comment

  1. Angi Long Angi Long

    It’s weird that our culture now has the belief that men are the sexual instigators and aggressors and that women don’t want sex as much, when Victorian culture — not long ago at all — held the opposite belief, that men were the sexual innocents until women aggressively seduced them, that women were sexually insatiable and had to be kept at arm’s length. Maybe even more weird that many people know this, and still believe that we’ve got the perception right today.

    I’ve been raped a number of times. (Most by my first husband, as long as you count each incident with him separately. If that makes sense.) I’m not sure it’s ever been out of malicious intent, exactly. There might be *some* difference in how it affects me, because of that. But not as much as some people seem to think. (Really, “I/they didn’t *mean* to hurt you that much” does NOT automatically reduce the hurt to zero.)

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