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Saying No: Speaking Up About A Culture of Consent, Gender & Power

I was standing in line at a local sub shop waiting to place my order. Just ahead of me stood a man and his young daughter. I’m guessing she was around 7. They placed their order and as they waited he amused himself by starting a tickle fight.

He played roughly. He picked the girl up, swung her over his shoulder. In fact, at some point in his motions, he caused her to kick over one of the shelves of chips. He only made a half-assed attempt to fix the mess while looking around to see if anyone noticed. I noticed.

On top of the incredibly inappropriate place for this kind of rough housing, I was most disturbed by one other aspect.

As he lifted and tickled his young daughter, she laughed and shouted, “No, Daddy! Don’t! Stop!” But, he never stopped.

I hate tickling. I have always hated tickling. When people would tickle me (friends, brother, cousins, etc.), I would laugh because that is sort of involuntary. Then, I would scream for them to stop and eventually I would reach a breaking point where I would lash out physically. That is when they would wonder out loud why I was so upset. You know, because I was laughing.

I watched this man handle his child this way and watched as she, in public, pleaded with him to stop. And I didn’t do anything.

I didn’t want to say anything because most of the time, when you say something to a parent in public they tell you mind your own business. And, I wasn’t the only one disturbed who didn’t say anything, but that hardly makes it right.

If I happened across a woman being abused or sexually assaulted in public – a woman crying out for her attacker to stop – would I have done something?

The “Culture of Consent” is being talked about a lot more these days, which I think is a positive step in the right direction. However, I’m worried that we aren’t going far enough. We need to teach young girls that it is OK for them to say no to ANYTHING. We need to teach young boys that they need to respect that and stop any behavior it is that they are told is unpleasant and unwelcome.

We need for Dads to respect their daughters’ boundaries, too. Sure, tickling isn’t always sexual assault, but if a girl is actively saying “NO” it needs to cease immediately. Otherwise, the message about saying no to sex becomes quite muddy.

I am a woman without children. I can’t tell anyone how to be a parent, but I really think that we are doing a disservice to all young people, especially girls, by compartmentalizing when it is and is not OK to say “no.”

It is always OK to say, “No”.

Originally posted January, 2015

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