How to Parent with Consent in Mind (formerly “How to Raise a Feminist”)

(Note: After some thought, I’ve decided to do standalone articles on the different sub-topics on this.  It started out as one big post about the whole topic (How to Raise a Feminist), then I decided there was too much material for one post and set up a series.  Folks, I think there is just too much material here. Also, this topic is kinda the central theme to my blog in the first place. So I’m going to go with that plan.  The title to this post has changed.)

Let’s get right to the meat of the matter, shall we? What makes me a feminist daddy (let alone a Christian one)? How does this all fit together?

When I say that I’m a feminist daddy, that carries a little different meaning than just being a feminist. For one thing I’m a man, which automatically puts people on edge, feminist or not. Male feminists are only recently finding their identity and embracing the role. For me being a feminist means surrendering my male privilege whenever I spot it to the women around me so that they can have the exhilarating experience of being treated like human beings. It means challenging the assumptions that lead to that privilege and building assumptions that lead to true equality. Translating this to my daddy role requires me to take a hard look at how I treat my family of three female humans. Integrating this with my Christian faith is actually no biggie once certain faulty assumptions are brushed aside.

My impetus for starting up this blog (as stated in my introduction) is the Duggar scandal that has recently taken the Fundy world by storm. This is a sad situation, one of:

  • a young man who for one reason or another sexually molested girls as a teenager,
  • parents, clergy and law enforcement who – for the time being I’ll assume the best here – had no idea or training on how to treat the situation
  • and arguably as a result of all this, a married man who has admitted – after being caught – that he is addicted to pornography and has cheated on his wife (it’s up to the reader to wonder if his admission to “unfaithfulness” refers to actual adultery or just the “emotional impurity” Fundies are mortally afraid of)

As I look at it, there has always been a real uneasiness in my gut about it. I really could never put my finger on it until I read comments from Jessica Kirkland. I have never met Jessica or even heard of her until her comments took the internet by storm this past week, but she verbalised my feeling precisely. She speaks of teaching daughters to claim their basic human rights and to demand to be taken seriously. Her catch phrase was that she wanted her daughters to believe they could “breath fire”. I have to agree that there were some key things missing from these girls’/women’s toolbox when it came to dealing with their victimization. Imagine if these girls had been able to recognize sexual exploration for what it was and had the assurance that they could report it and see resolution. You can bet the farm that Josh would have thought twice about his internet hijinks if he wasn’t secure in the knowledge that his wife would roll over, cry and blame herself. My point is, if these girls/women had been raised in the principles of equality, this whole situation would look much different now.

How does one raise a feminist, then? Well, I’m not going to claim to be an expert on the subject. I have a 3 year old and a 9 month old. By all means I am open to the opinions of more seasoned feminists who may read this. However I will outline some of the practical steps I’ll be taking and theories I’ll be applying. I’ll also go into how my Faith plays into each of these. (By the way, I cannot talk about raising my daughters without disclaiming that my wife and partner is fully on board with this. I wouldn’t be much of a feminist if I ignored her, would I?)

1. Teach consent from day one

Do I really need to rehash the concept of consent for the folks that are reading this? I kinda feel like the people who are reading with interest understand what it means. It has always struck me as a really simple idea, and one that I think requires a special kind of stubbornness to not “get”. That is, whenever I’ve heard someone having trouble with it, it is not because they don’t understand it; it is because they don’t like it. If you are one of these people I suggest you move to the next news feed story or tweet. The only thing you’re gonna get out of this blog is an aneurysm, dudebro.

For the rest of us, how does a parent counteract in a daughter’s mind the idea that her body belongs to someone else and that she has no self-agency? At what age do you start? Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this. Wouldn’t it be easier just to start with the assumption of self-agency? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your daughter never had the idea to begin with that she belonged to another human?

I understand this could be pretty difficult. It requires a lot of de-programming for a dad (I’m still in the process!). For centuries men have been told that a woman’s body, person and sexuality belong to a man, whether her father, her husband, her king, her owner, or her clergy. Some man, but never to her. It can be really hard to shake that mindset of male entitlement.  However you have to try.  After all isn’t this what being a male ally is all about? What better place to demonstrate this than your own home?

Practically, how does this play out? Here are a few pointers I’m trying to integrate:

In my house “No” means “No,” and I’m not talking about my “No.”  I mean, of course, when my daughter, a human being with all the rights and privileges thereof, says “No.” Folks, we absolutely HAVE to let go of this notion that “I’m the parent, that’s why” is a valid excuse for dismissing the person-hood of our child.  As parents, we have a responsibility to care for, protect and direct our children.  However, as normally happens when it comes to human nature, this responsibility has turned into some kind of freakishly off-the-wall “right.” One only needs to cruise social media or YouTube for a few minutes before one encounters parents doing seriously bizarre things to their children “because they can.”  If they’re not mowing over their son’s video games, they’re telling their children the day after Halloween that they ate their candy – just to see their reaction – for laughs.  In another corner of the internet children are paraded in public wearing signs that shame them into compliance.  Don’t even get me started on the folks who staged a kidnapping of a child to teach them internet safety. Parents seem to have this perception that they can do whatever the heck they want in the effort to teach their children what they deem necessary lessons for life. Actions that would normally result in legal recourse if done to an adult are regularly excused where children are concerned. This needs to stop.

Do children sometimes have to do things they don’t want to do? Certainly. Do parents need to do things sometimes that their children do not like or want? Definitely. Do these cases excuse everything parents do to their children these days? Absolutely not! The distinction, in my opinion, is that there are things that need to be done for a child’s benefit, and there are things that parents decide to do for their own reasons.  I encourage the reader to take a long look at the things you decide to do or require of your children.  Do they further the child, or are they convenient, entertaining and pleasurable to you?  Think about it very hard.  Try your best to shake off the mindset of former generations that the young are here to serve the old.  It really is the other way around.

Another area where consent and self-agency come into play: Have your children ever said “No” to a hug from Grandma?  If you force them to hug back you are violating their consent. Does your child not want to be held in your lap? Don’t force them. Your child’s body belongs to your child.  Forcing affection or physical love on a child carries the lesson “I do not have the right to refuse when someone wants to please themselves with my body.” Don’t do it.  Don’t even manipulate by telling your child “It makes daddy sad when you don’t hug him,” or how do you think she will respond ten years down the road when her boyfriend says the same thing about sex? When a children are forced to participate in unwelcome physical touch they learn that their body belongs to others to use for their purposes.

This has been an especially difficult habit for me to shake. I’ll freely admit that it hurts when my daughter refuses a goodbye kiss when I go to work, or squirming out of my arms or lap. However, my feelings don’t trump her self-agency. I’m learning. Learning very slowly.

When you tickle (as most parents do with their children), does your child ask you to stop?  Do you stop?  If not, you are violating consent.  “But Steve,” I can hear you say, “I stop and she asks me to tickle her again.”  Then tickle her again and stop when she says to stop.  Her body isn’t yours. It is hers. You are not the only person who is going to get physical with her, I can say with certainty. She needs to know that a good person honors her self-agency. She needs to know that when someone doesn’t, there is a problem and she needs to find an adult.

And that brings me to the last point I can think of at the moment.  At certain times in my daughters’ lives I intend to sit down with them and explain good touch and bad touch to them.  Gradually, as they get older, they will learn more about their bodies and about physical interaction with other people. With each of them, I will reiterate (as hopefully I’ve been doing with my actions to date) that bad touch is first and foremost touch that she does not want.  We’ll discuss what touch makes her uncomfortable and what touch makes her feel loved. I may find out about things I’ve been doing that she would like me to stop doing, and that’s ok. It may change each time we talk and that’s ok. The point is that she is in control. I’ll also ask her if she wants me to help deal with anyone who has been an unwelcome source of touch. Has this person been responding when she says “No?” Does she think she can handle it, or does she want me to intervene? We’ll arrive at conclusions together, hearing both her and my concerns. In theory, anyway.

I’m sure there are other points.  Please feel free to give any suggestions!

(Coming Soon in Parts II and III)

2. Prepare for manipulators

3. Don’t expect respect that you don’t intend to show

4. Tear down modern characitures of masculinity and femininity

5. Model what a feminist man looks like

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One thought on “How to Parent with Consent in Mind (formerly “How to Raise a Feminist”)

  1. Explaining good touch and bad touch is very important, early is best with reminders as they age. I felt that their own feelings could help them decide if I helped them understand that no one has the right to touch them without their permission. I specifically mentioned doctors, teachers, my friends, their father, and I, as examples. And I told them they could tell me or anyone they trusted if it happened and they would be believed and protected.

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