Most of Taylor’s life I have been sneaking in tiny conversations about consent. This started when she was very young (she is 10 now). The conversations revolved around not being forced to hug friends or family members – for any reason. This was important to me because I wanted to instill that it is okay to push back against the expectation that a child or a girl must submit to an adults demands (especially in regards to her body). Children may not remember adults that they do not see often or know well. Many times as adults we forget that we hear stories or see pictures of our friend’s and relative’s children on social media – thus feeling like they are very familiar.
We discuss how she needs to be polite and acknowledge people when they talk to her, but a verbal response, hand shake, high five or hug is completely acceptable based on her comfort level. We talk about how she does not OWE anyone a hug or kiss after giving or receiving a gift, but she must give a verbal thank you and be respectful. This has carried over into school and friendship.
Over the last couple years I have been really pushing conversations with Taylor about consent and control and autonomy over her own body. This past Fall, there was an incident where Taylor kissed a boy (on the cheek) on the bus and the teacher reached out to let me know about it. She had talked to Taylor about how it was not appropriate and Taylor was very concerned about being in trouble. At the very beginning of our discussion I inquired about why she kissed the boy. I asked her if her friends were daring her to (having a small discussion about peer pressure). After she said that she wanted to give him a kiss because she liked him, I asked her if she asked the little boy if it was okay? Did she get his permission or consent to? When she said no, I asked how she would feel if some little boy that she may or may not like came up and kissed her without asking for permission. She was thrown off guard and stated she wouldn’t like that and it would make her uncomfortable. This was a great lead into why consent is so important – for big and little things. So we talked about how going forward she should ask for their permission first and also about how she probably shouldn’t do it on the bus so she didn’t get in trouble at school. I also let her know that since it was her choice to kiss him that she would not be in trouble at home.
Well, fast forward a six months and it is a wonderful Thursday morning. Taylor is getting ready for school and packing up her lunch. She has a tiny gold ring on her finger that is creating skin fat rolls on each side of the band and turning the tip of her finger the light purple. When asked remove the ring, there was a deep red mark where it once was. Since it was right before she had to leave for the bus, there was no time to find a new ring, therefore she was given two choices. She could wear the ring on another finger or not wear a ring that day. With the knowledge that we would find one that fits her pointer finger that evening so she could wear it the next day. She did not like how the ring “felt” another fingers so after a brief argument about the ring I made the executive decision and told her the ring needed to say home because I couldn’t trust her to wear it on her other fingers (where it was not going to cut off her circulation leaving her with 9 digits). She threw the ring onto the kitchen counter and it bounced not only across the counter, but across the kitchen floor. She picked up her backpack and stormed out of the house, slamming the storm door behind her. I opened the front door and called out “I love you even though you’re upset with me!” She zoomed to the end of our yard, turned towards me and yells at the top of her lungs for the whole neighborhood to hear “My body, my choice!” and takes off running to the bus stop.
Initially a large part of me was embarrassed they have her screaming that for the whole neighborhood to hear. However, after a moment the other part of me was quite proud that she had been listening and digesting all those conversations about having ownership over her body. Although it wasn’t applied in the correct situation this strong-willed, stubborn daughter of mine hopefully will grow into a powerful, independent young woman who is able to advocate for herself in regards to body, appearance and life choices. Later that morning I received a phone call from Taylor. When I answered she said “I love you too. OK bye.” and hung up. This also made me smile since she has learned the value of still caring about someone even when you are upset with them.