Can babies express consent? This is one of those things I know parents have wondered about for years. Sometimes a baby will have a certain look in their eye and you think, I knew it, he totally understands me. Then that same baby spends the next six hours drooling and staring at nothing and you think, Maybe not. Well, the question of consent is a hotter topic now than ever, and one sexuality expert suggests parents get permission from babies before changing their diapers, if you can believe it. And her controversial view has a whole lot of people seriously confused.
Deanne Carson is a sexuality expert, speaker, and CEO of youth relationship services for Body Safety Australia. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was being interviewed by ABC News in Australia about the nature of consent. The interview started off well enough, with Carson suggesting that developing a culture of consent needs to start from a very young age. But here's where things get slightly questionable; she said she believed parents should be asking their babies for consent before changing their diapers. As Carson told ABC News, parents should set up a culture of consent from infancy by asking their babies, "I'm going to change your nappy now, is that OK?"
Carson went on to qualify that she understood parents wouldn't be able to get a verbal response on account of babies can't talk. She explained:
Of course a baby is not going to respond ‘yes mum, that is awesome, I’d love to have my nappy changed. But if you leave a space and wait for body language and wait to make eye contact then you are letting that child know that their response matters.
And with that last statement, that babies will somehow be able to give their permission to have their diaper change and understand that their response matters from a young age, Twitter blew up with responses.
Some parents were sort of comically baffled by the concept of baby consent.
Still, there were some people who understood what Carson was trying to say, and took to Twitter to show at least some support.
Unfortunately, there were far too many people who made this about "leftie lunacy," including Sky News Austraila Outsiders conservative commentator Rowan Dean who shared the clip with an introduction saying, "This is just superb and it was on YOUR ABC earlier this evening, which you paid for this leftie lunacy, have a look."
Personally, I don't think the issue to be concerned with is whether or not parents are the ones in charge... probably because I remember what it was like to have babies and sorry, they were totally in charge. I think the real concern, as outlined by this tweet from sex educator Laci Green; implying babies have the cognitive power to give consent is dangerous.
To be perfectly fair here, I think what Carson is trying to accomplish is not only admirable, but massively important. No child should ever have to feel as if they don't have autonomous ownership of their body, and parents should absolutely develop a culture of consent at home. As Katie Russell, a spokesperson for the non-profit sexual violence organization Rape Crisis England and Wales, said to Newsweek in defense of Carson:
She's simply making the very reasonable case for establishing a 'culture of consent' in households and with children from the youngest possible age. This is about both getting parents and carers into positive habits of not assuming consent from their children and about teaching children that they have a right to decide what happens to their bodies.
Perhaps it would make more sense to say to a toddler with language skills and developed information retention, Hey, it's time for a diaper change, OK?" I mean, that's not so ridiculous, is it?
Although don't ask me what you're supposed to do if they say no. Perhaps that's a question for the experts to answer.