The Right To Say No
This article was originally published on the Good Men Project on 3 October 2015.
Regardless of what you believe about gender and equality I am going to worry more about my daughter’s safety than my son’s when it comes to dating.
It’s funny that parents should worry about the distant future before a baby is even born. Since my wife was pregnant with our first I’ve wondered how I’ll teach my kids right from wrong, how to protect themselves on the internet, and how to find their own path to happiness.
Although I haven’t figured out exactly how to keep my daughter safe I do know there are things I can do to prepare her. More than just ‘having the talk,’ sooner than waiting for school-based sex-ed and harassment prevention classes, and more realistic than shopping for a shotgun.
Teaching my daughter that she has control over her own body started on day one. She didn’t have much to say then, but we began respecting her decisions long before she understood the concept of permission.
At bedtime I ask her if I can have a hug. If she’s interested we hug but if she pulls away we don’t. At first it hurt. I got over it.
Sometimes you just don’t want to be touched. It can be hard to remember that even a baby doesn’t always want to be held.
It helped knowing that I was giving her the gift of autonomy from such an early age. But I wasn’t. It wasn’t mine to give. It’s her body and her inherent right to choose when and how she will make physical contact. As her father I am here to protect that right until she is old enough to make her own decisions.
The extended family seemed a bit surprised at our last get together. When it came time to leave I carried Victoria around and asked her if she wanted to say goodbye. She wasn’t interested, although some people got a smile or a wave. My family has always been pretty big on goodbye hugs and I got more than a few comments about it. I just smiled and said, ‘she’s not interested, maybe next time,’ and walked away before anything else could be said. It wasn’t an apology and I wasn’t making excuses. My daughter wasn’t interested and that was the end of it.
It’s been a bit harder on the grandparents.
Back in the spring we were visiting my wife’s parents for a couple of weeks. At some point her mother grabbed Victoria for a hug, and when Victoria tried to squirm away she said, ‘doesn’t count, I’m your Grandma and I get to hug you whenever I want!’
My wife spoke up and reminded her mother that, no, it applies to everyone. As we tell people, it means we don’t always get a kiss goodnight, but it’s always her choice. And if she grows up never questioning her right to say no then I’ll rest easier when she starts dating.
At least until one minute past curfew.
Photo: Flickr/Chris Price