Walking my daughter in to school today, she pointed to a boy a few feet in front of us.
“Yesterday I was playing ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ with my friends, and while I was frozen he walked up and burped in my face,” she shared.
“That’s disgusting – what did you say?” I replied.
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“Nothing. If I moved I would be out and I didn’t want to lose the game.”
As I thought about how to tactfully discuss consent and permission with my 7-year-old daughter, my blood was boiling.
Because, let’s be real, it’s just a burp. On its own – not a big deal. But it’s the start of a pattern of behaviour that can lead to so much more.
The issue of sexual consent has been in the headlines this week, after the woman Luke Lazurus allegedly raped came forward to share her side of the story. I say allegedly, because Luke was ultimately acquitted of all charges, but anyone who reads the undisputed facts about what happened would surely have a problem agreeing that she consented.
This is the absolute worst end of the scale of what can happen, and it reveals that the discussion around consent needs to be broader. It begins with smaller acts of dominance and aggression – as when boys grow into men thinking they can do (and deserve to get) everything they want, we run into trouble.
It’s things like: don’t tell her what to wear, or what not to wear.
Don’t assume that where you want to go and what you want to do is the final word.
Don’t tell her how she should wear her hair, or what opinions she should have.
Don’t put your hand on her body, unless she’s flirting with you and into it.
Don’t try to kiss a girl unless you’ve been given the green light.
Don’t burp in her God damned face, believing that it’s your right to show dominance because you’re a boy.
These habits start early. My son is 2. We were at the park and he started pushing another little girl on a big, round swing. I said to him: “Is she okay with you pushing her? Make sure she wants you to push her before you do.”
Consent doesn’t have to be all about sex, and there are things we can do to teach our kids about respecting others from an early age. A move in this direction could help us a reach a point where men don’t seek mere consent; they seek enthusiastic consent. A willing sexual partner, as opposed to someone who hasn’t said ‘no’ clearly enough.
Either that, or we could flip the discussion entirely, and put the onus on men in these discussions.
“If he didn’t want to be charged with sexual assault, then he should not put himself in a situation like that. I mean, clearly he was asking for it by separating the girl from her friends and taking her to a back alley. What was he thinking? He was asking for a rape trial. If he didn’t want to be accused of assault and have his reputation dragged through the mud, he shouldn’t have gotten so drunk.”
The conversation never goes like this, though, does it?