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The Tiny Thing You Can Do For Your Daughter That'll Make A Difference In Her Life

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Last weekend I took my daughter to our first march; the Women's March on Washington satellite march in Houston, Texas. It wasn't just her first march, but my first march (despite years of working in politics), too, and our first march together. The list of why we marched was long, obviously, and personal, but one reason in particular is attached to the tiny that I can do for my daughter that'll make a difference in her life. A thing I feel in my bones every time I think about my daughter and her future. A thing a want to instill in her as early as possible. That thing? Consent.

In an effort to continuously fight for my daughter's right to consent, my partner and I do what many would consider to be relatively insignificant: we don't make her kiss or hug or touch anyone (including family members, well-meaning friends, and even her parents) if she doesn't want to. Likewise, no one can force a hug or a kiss on her, either.

It's small habit, taking very little time on our part, but helping her learn early will give our daughter an underlying foundation that she gets to make all the decisions about who touches her and when.

I had a wonderful, rural, middle class upbringing. My parents were (and are) highly educated, highly engaged, and progressive voters. But on Saturday, when we marched, I fought back tears throughout. I could remember a time, only a few years ago, when a man grabbed me by the p*ssy. Literally. I could remember the time at tennis camp when a coach made me so uncomfortable I left early and made up a story about being homesick. I could remember the time in college when a guy I liked took flirting to mean he should assault me in a residence hall bathroom.

When we marched last weekend, I thought about all those instances that should never have happened (and that I barely believed were wrong, or at the very least not my fault, until recently) and I was pissed. Anyone else have a running oh, hell no reaction every time they open the news? Oh, hell no. It's time for the conversation to change.

So we marched, which felt therapeutic and full of action, to begin to change the conversation about consent so that my daughter doesn't grow up in a world where men believe they can take whatever they want from women, simply because they are men.

I could remember the time in college when a guy I liked took flirting to mean he should assault me in a residence hall bathroom.

My daughter is 16 months old, and from the early age when she could start turning her head away if she didn't want to be touched or kissed or hugged, we began our own tiny crusade to uphold her right to consent. When we are with friends or family members who ask for or demand she come over to give them a kiss, we gently explain that she has the right to decide whether she wants to do that. Is it a little awkward sometimes? Yep. Is it so incredibly important that I don't give a hoot? You bet. However, nearly everyone we've had to have that conversation with has understood and respected not only our directive, but her right to make her own decision.

It's small habit, taking very little time on our part, but helping her learn early will give our daughter an underlying foundation that she gets to make all the decisions about who touches her and when.

The goal isn't to make her shy away from or refuse affection, but it's the place the conversation about consent has to start because it's the first time her rights to her own decisions about who touches her begin to be eroded. And when you think about it that way, it's truly heartbreaking. The conversation and the culture changes with her generation and I honestly believe the conversation has to start to change when her rights start being compromised.

So the conversation changes now, and my husband and I are doing our best to employ our tiny but long-reaching tactic when she's just a baby so she will know in her bones by the time she's 5 or 15 or 25, no one else gets to make those decisions.

It isn't always an easy conversation to have, especially with family members of older generations. We start by judging our daughter's cues — does she feel comfortable with the affection or is she turning away. We're not trying to be militantly anti-affection, but we gently remind family and friends that if she isn't into it, that's her decision. We encourage her to give a wave, instead, or sometimes a high five. But if she's not feeling any of those, we make sure she knows that's perfectly OK, too. Honestly, t's not just about educating our friends and family about her ability to make her own decisions from such a young age, it's also about ensuring she never feels judged or punished or scolded for deciding that she's not comfortable with what's going on. She gets to make those decisions, and then she gets to be treated with the same respect and approval from us (and hopefully them) as any other decision she makes for herself.

No one in our daughter's life has intentionally made her uncomfortable; they have only love for her and want to show her affection. However, the idea that she's small and should simply take direction when ordered to come over and give so-and-so kisses, slowly morphs over the years into the idea that women (especially but not exclusively) should simply take direction when ordered. Oh, hell no.

So the conversation changes now, and my husband and I are doing our best to employ our tiny but long-reaching tactic when she's just a baby so she will know in her bones by the time she's 5 or 15 or 25, no one else gets to make those decisions. Her body, her decisions. Always.