How does honoring her mind fit in to the work on building consent culture? Earlier in the series, we handled issues about body autonomy. This is a good place to start because the violation of girls’ bodies as the physical property of others starts early and is perhaps the first issue of consent girls will face.
It’s important that we give children choices about how they interact with others physically, and it’s important that we not force them to physically comply with requests for hugs. This, as a mom, is harder than it sounds. A nice moment with family can turn weird when you’re the odd one insisting that your kid doesn’t need to hug. Tips for handling expectations around hugs can be found in the first part of the series.
Along with giving your child the confidence to refuse a hug come several key components of building a culture of consent.
Today, we’ll look at how honoring your daughter’s MIND and IDEAS can play a significant part of building a culture of consent in your family.
Stay tuned for a free printable on teaching consent at the bottom of the post!
Her Voice Matters
When we say “culture of consent” we mean building a world around your child where she has the full confidence that she is in charge of her body, that she is protected (as well as possible) from the intrusions of other people’s ideas about her body, and that she is given the clear message that her body is fine the way it is.
Building autonomy, protecting against the opinions of others, and deflecting shame are all significantly important.
A big part of consent culture is having the dignity and self-confidence to say what we think.
Every girl deserves to grow up confident in herself, clear about her right to decide about her body, and free from the worry about what others’ think about her appearance and her life. This way, we inoculate our girls against a culture that assumes her body and her life are consumable and that her attention should be spent on pleasing those around her.
One more aspect here is the idea that her voice matters.
How do we teach our girls that their voice is important, that it has weight, and it will be listened to?
A big part of consent culture is having the dignity and self-confidence to say what we think. We want to raise our girls to know that they are just fine the way they are and are empowered to follow their own mind and their own instincts. That requires them to have self-confidence.
Years of violations of girls’ bodily autonomy coupled with shame about the rightness of their bodies has an effect on our confidence.
If we weren’t humiliated about our bodies and (simultaneously) taught that men and boys’ ideas were the dominant, most preferred ones, we would have very different preparation for the experiences of sexism.
I’m not saying that women learn to be victims. I am for damn sure not blaming women and girls, or their mothers. I’m happy to blame society, so let’s do that: we live in an oppressive society that teaches girls to confront unwanted sexual attention with passivity because that’s what men like better.
A culture that shames women for their bodies and makes private and secret the very words we use to describe it is the foundation for the humiliation that keeps girls silent and passive. Shame about our bodies as girls makes it likely girls will stay silent when their boundaries have been violated. Shame about our bodies makes girls feel like there is something inherently wrong with being a girl, and that the opinion and desires of men are the most important factor in their own thought process.
Give Her a Head Start
I would venture to guess that the girl who is yelling at mom about her vulva in the Target hasn’t been shamed yet. Good for her. I’d bet that girl has a foundation of pride and confidence in her body and it’s rightness, and is building a solid platform from which to set boundaries, say no, and make decisions about what is right based on her ideas.
Similarly, the girl that hasn’t had decades of practice exchanging unwanted physical contact with well-meaning adults in order to make nice in the family, the girl that has had permission to say no to a hug, is a girl who actually has space in her mind to ask herself whether she wants physical contact or not.
Most girls grow up with a heavy tolerance around the exchange of unwanted physical contact. Add to that a sense that other people’s wishes are the most important, and we end up not even knowing what we want around physical touch.
Giving your girl the permission to say no to a hug and the idea that her life isn’t up for discussion is a great start in encouraging our girls to know their boundaries, know their mind, and have their power.
It’s about whether her ideas get to be front and center, get to be the ideas picked, the instincts followed, and the voice that is trusted.
So consent culture isn’t just about girls saying no to touch. It’s not just about whether your child has to hug or not, or whether she’ll be subjected to humiliating tickling.
It’s also about whether her ideas get to be front and center, get to be the ideas picked, the instincts followed, and the voice that is trusted.
So outside of the traditional ideas about consent, I want to throw in there an idea for parents: honor the word and the mind of their daughter in any of the ways you can.
Honor Your Child's Mind and Voice
We can’t always let our kids run the show, but we can raise them with a solid foundation of confidence that their opinion and their instincts are valid.
That means when she says she has to use the bathroom, you treat it like a real issue. When she says she doesn’t like broccoli, say okay and move on. When she doesn’t want to sit next to a certain friend at the table, smooth the edges of impoliteness with a joke and honor her choice. These may seem like the small things, but they’re the big things now.
When she’s a teenager and she senses something’s not right, she will have had plenty of years of your validation at the rightness of her thinking. She will have practiced voicing an opinion and having it validated, and she will be all the more likely to speak up from a place of confidence. We want girls like that to enter the world and change it.