Bea Magazine: What we teach small children about consent

So, here’s a post wot I wrote for Bea, all about issues of everyday consent, being aware of children’s personal space and remembering the role of permission in setting boundaries for children.

It’s already spawned a really interesting conversation with Bea editor Keris and Rachel on Twitter about whether lack of pressure (or rather, lack of pressure as part of a passive aggressive approach / threat of abandonment) is another form of coercion. I definitely agree that it can be, which is why it’s so important to make “you don’t have to” an honest statement, and not include sulking or implied hurt or distance. But there’s definitely a whole other extended conversation to have about less obvious negative signals and being conscious of those.

Discussion of your experiences is very welcome. You don’t have to be a parent – we were all children once!

 

Gender markers, kids and confusion

At the moment, one of our favoured bedtime stories is Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Tiggers. It’s a shrewd observation of a life lived with cats, most of which goes right over Ramona’s head but she enjoys it anyway.

It also features this page:

Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Tiggers - Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

And Ramona always says “why is the man made to step on the hairy pudding?”. After having tried to explain hairball humour, we then have this conversation, every time:

Me: How do you know it’s a man?
Ramona: Because it’s a he not a she.
Me: How do you know?
Ramona: Because it is.
Me: What makes it a he?
Ramona: He’s wearing he clothes.
Me: Ramona, have you ever worn blue and white?
Ramona: Yes of course, silly!
Me: Well, what colour are boy clothes?
Ramona: ALL colours!
Me: What colour are girl clothes, then?
Ramona: All colours! *laughs*
Me: (knowing she has worn a skirt or dress all of five times in the past year, because she chooses her own clothes much of the time and prefers trousers) Do you wear trousers and pyjama bottoms?
Ramona: Yes.
Me: So if you wear trousers, and blue and white, and stripes… how do you know this is a he?
Ramona: Because it is.

Perhaps I’m being a bit disingenuous here, because I too can see it’s meant to be a man. I know what cues I’m looking for, even if I think they’re silly ones – and obviously so does she, even though she can’t fully articulate them yet. And she’s just 3 years old. If she’s already categorising people according to markers she barely comprehends, that’s really quite worrying.

Yes, it matters. It might be a very small thing in the grand scheme of things, but lots of small things make up big and scary things, so we start here. Let me make it clear that I do not expect this to be of importance to every feminist, much less every person, but I personally think it’s something worth noting.

So I’ve noted it. And now, one way or another, so have you.