What I Need My Daughter To Know About Consent, Even Though It's Difficult To Talk About
The job of raising children entails a comprehensive, albeit exhausting, list of responsibilities. The duty is a privilege but the pressure to "get it right" weighs heavily on me, particularly when it comes to sex. Considering my own salty experiences, consent isn't just an important topic, it's the most important topic — with both my daughter and my son. While I try to remain an open book, there are things I haven't been teaching when I talk about consent, especially with my daughter and mostly because I've been afraid of getting "too deep" into the subject of sex. However, and arguably now more than ever, I need to "dig deep" and have these important conversations.
The first time I had sex I was a junior in high school, and while there was consent I had a few traumatizing experiences years prior that, to this day, I'm not completely "over." With divorced parents in and out of relationships and my life completely devoid of comprehensive sex education or much, you know, "notice," it took the whole "live and learn" motto to to an extreme and simply tried to understand sex, sexuality and consent as best I could.
My daughter must, and I mean must, realize how difficult it is, so it doesn't come as a surprise to her when and/or if she is faced with a decision and the need to protect her voice and her body.
I'd never been taught much about consent or that it's my right to decide what happens (or doesn't happen) to my body. I grew up within the bounds of massive chaos that didn't allow me to decide, even if I had known. Sexualized at a tender age due to a body that matured early, I'd become used to catcalls and looks from strange men. Eventually, I was assaulted by people I trusted; once on a basement floor and a second time in a parking garage. Both events changed me in ways I could never see coming, especially as a parent and partner.
I didn't tell anyone about either of the incidents. I felt ashamed and thought no one would believe me. If they had, I surmised I'd hear things like, "You asked for it," or, "I thought you liked him," all of which would've only added to the discomfort I already felt in my skin. Rape culture is a powerful thread, woven deep into the fibers of society. As women, it erases our beliefs that we are worthy, we can say no, and, more importantly, we can change our mind if we'd said yes.
For this reason, and many others, I started talking to my children early on about consent and why it's so important. By telling them they don't have to hug someone goodbye if they don't want to, and setting personal boundaries within our bodies and others, I laid a foundation (I hope) that will aid them both — and especially my daughter — if they're faced with similar circumstances later on. I want my daughter to know, her body, her rules and that her voice matters.
One thing I didn't know then, was that my silence was not consent.
When I think back to those times I went through after the assaults, I'm saddened. Not only did they morph the way I felt about sex from then on, they changed my views on relationships in general. I don't mean for it to affect my every move, but it does. Having your body taken advantage of changes a person. I certainly don't want my daughter (or son) to ever feel this way so I'll do whatever I can to protect them or, at the very least, empower them through both my experiences and words.
That means not only teaching my them both about consent, but explaining to my daughter how difficult it can be to withhold consent when you feel uncomfortable. The pressure to make people — especially men — happy when you're a woman is unfathomable to those who do not experience it. So many women (and men) stay silent, for fear they will be judged or ridiculed or put in a physically unsafe situation. My daughter must, and I mean must, realize how difficult it is, so it doesn't come as a surprise to her when and/or if she is faced with a decision and the need to protect her voice and her body.
With the way society sexualizes women, it's easy to feel powerless in any sexual situation.
One thing I didn't know then, was that my silence was not consent. I thought by not agreeing or disagreeing, everything was OK, no matter how much I screamed inside of my head. This is so wrong. I've taught my daughter this and hope she utilizes the knowledge she's in control of her body.
With the way society sexualizes women, it's easy to feel powerless in any sexual situation. Now that these talks are more prevalent (thanks to an uprising in news stories), the one thing we're not teaching out daughters when we talk about consent is that very right to change her mind whenever she so chooses, no matter how difficult or embarrassing it may be. If I teach her nothing else, I hope this embeds in her subconscious. It could mean the all difference in the world.
Parenting has challenged me every single day since my early days of pregnancy and I'm beyond grateful for those difficulties. In the end, they've helped me evolve in ways I otherwise wouldn't have, and have opened my eyes to all the things I didn't know when I was a child that I now fight to know for my own children.
When I look into my daughter's eyes, I'm fully aware of the gravity consent brings. I want her to know all her options before she's in a situation she can't get out of. I want her to know how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to exercise any of those options, because peer pressure is powerful and social expectations are palpable. She can say yes, she can say no, and she can damn well change her mind whenever she damn well pleases.
Her body, her terms. The end.