It seems the flood of sexual harassment and assault allegations against U.S. Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, this week are making women and even parents of little girls re-think and re-calibrate exactly when a line has been crossed. In particular the line of consent. The line of harassment and of assault.
The allegations against Trump reflect a male privilege culture that says to women “your wishes don’t count, only what I want counts. Your body is not yours, it’s mine.”
Trump has given the world a very clear picture of what so many women face daily – at work, on buses, at home, in bars, just walking down the street. The remarks, the pushing and shoving, the power imbalance, the shame and fear and the silence that meets it all because what can you really do?
Today women are questioning so many interactions with men in so many places. That Christmas party where their boss put his hands up their shirt, the touching by a man in a bar that made them want to cry, the man on the crowded train who kept rubbing himself against their backside.
They want it to stop. They want it to stop with their daughters.
Do we start by teaching little girls that if they are uncomfortable touching anyone, or having anyone touch them including relatives their feelings should be acknowledged? That we should not as Laura June argues in New York Magazine’s The Cut ignore the needs and desires of little girls.
"We should reassure ourselves that there are things — even small things — we can do to teach our children how to be better," she writes. "We can teach our sons to respect the personal space of others, and we can teach our daughters that they don’t have to touch people they don’t want to, at the expense of their own comfort."
Is starting young and in the home with relatives the right place to learn and teach consent? Or is that giving Trump too much power?
Here, Shauna Anderson explores whether forcing kids to kiss relatives is harmless - or harmful.
So it turns out that I might just be harming my children.
This is very distressing news as there are three of them – so that’s a whole lot of harm!
I didn’t mean to do it, in fact I thought I was doing the right thing.
But as with all things often in this parenting caper what you think is ok – you will soon read is anything but.
I’ll make the confession in the spirit of sharing but I want you to be gentle on me in the comments cause I really didn’t mean to do it.
Here it is.
I made my six-year-old kiss his Grandma.
(I have to continue now I’ve started.)
I also made my two-year old kiss her Uncle and my four-year old (who would prefer to be called 'The Incredible Hulk Boy' at the moment) kiss ME when he was in a complete sulk-come-tantrum over me taking away the green zinc.
Who’s to know that what I have in fact been doing is putting them at risk of sexual exploitation?
I don’t mean to be glib about sexual exploitation or harming children, as they are two things we can never ever take lightly, but this latest piece of research may leave some of you scratching their heads.
According to reports out in March parents who force their sons and daughters to give their Granny - or anyone to which they are reluctant - a peck on the cheek may be doing them harm.
I am guessing this covers the oft played out scenario when my sons are so entranced by Scooby Doo and won’t take their eyes off the screen that I threaten them with TV-turning-off unless they kiss their Grandmother goodbye.
Well that’s causing them harm.
(And here I was thinking Scooby and Shaggy were the culprits in this scenario)
Now I don’t actually know any parent who WANTS to cause their child harm. In fact I can personally vouch that every parent I know loves and cherishes their child and wants nothing for them but the best.
But I bet that every single one of them has at some stage co-erced their child into kissing – or going into the arms of an adult to which they are hesitant to go to.
But according to Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum in the UK “instead of helping a child learn about showing affection, it may blur the boundaries of what is acceptable when it comes to physical contact.”
‘Children need to learn from the start about the importance of consent and that their bodies are their own’, she says.
These comments were made in the UK Sex Education Forum’s termly e-magazine.
It was part of a discussion on the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which found that one woman in five and one man in 20 in Britain had experienced attempted sex against their will.
"I believe learning about consent starts from age zero," Lucy Emmerson said.
“Much is learnt by young children from everyday experiences about whether or not their opinion is valued and if they have any control over physical contact with others.’
However her comments have come under fire in the UK with family campaigners saying there was no evidence that children who are persuaded to kiss close relatives are more at risk of being sexually exploited later.
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, told the Daily Mail: ‘Even if the distinction is lost on the Sex Education Forum, children and young people are able to recognise that there is all the difference in the world between self-consciously– and perhaps on occasion reluctantly – kissing an uncle or aunt on the cheek on the one hand, and accepting unwanted sexual advances on the other.’
Emmerson used a blog by Australian author Kasey Edwards, “Stop Asking My Daughter To Give You A Kiss” to underline her point. Edwards wrote that parents automatically comply with social rituals in getting their children to kiss ‘ strangers’:
“The reason is that a kiss isn’t just a kiss, no matter how innocent and innocuous the intent might be. The ritual of demanding affection from children on cue is one of those tiny, everyday little lessons in which we teach children—especially girls—that they are to tailor their emotional responses to please others
If a child doesn’t want to kiss a relative stranger—and let’s face it, why would they?—then they shouldn’t have to.”
Now I can’t imagine many would disagree with Kasey Edwards. She cites an example of a man in a petrol station wanting a kiss from her four-year old.
Sounds creepy to me.
But this seems to be a distinctly different thing than kissing their Grandmother or a distant Uncle.
Back in the UK Emmerson said “Intervening may be awkward... but it is necessary if we are truly to teach children that their bodies are their own.’
Sex Education Forum in the UK suggest instead encourage children to give a ‘high-five, a hug, blowing a kiss or a wave to put the child in control.’
Margaret Morrissey, of family campaign group Parents Outloud told The Telegraph that the recommendation was ‘ridiculous’.
Referring to kissing relatives, she said: ‘It’s something we need to preserve, because it’s part of being a caring family.'
‘Parents are very sensible and know exactly what’s appropriate for their children.'
‘If a child isn’t taught through the family connection how to show appropriate affection, then they’re going to have a very difficult time when they become teenagers and adults.’
What do you think? Do you feel uncomfortable about children being made to kiss relatives when they are reluctant? Or is this ‘ridiculous’?