This article was originally published in the Bay Weekend. ( http://www.whakatanebeacon.co.nz/)
Body Autonomy and why it’s super important for our kids
At some point as our children are growing up, we start to talk to them about how their body is their own, and no one is allowed to touch it without their permission.
Of course, as parents, we have to make choices that sometimes go against this very lesson, in what we deem is the best thing for our children, but certainly the overall intention is to protect our children from others, for their entire lives.
Body autonomy means that the person has the right to control their own self, how and what their body used for. It is the idea that no one can touch you without consent, that no one can use your body without your expressed permission (think blood and organ donation).
Of course, a big question is: when does a baby or child have bodily autonomy and be able to refuse or accept what happens to their body: ear piercing, hair cutting, choice of clothing, abortion, circumcision, tattoo, sex, seat belts, vaccinations? Is there an ‘age’?
Some families honor body autonomy and will respect a child’s wishes from birth, asking permission to dress them, or to change a nappy. Others will be ‘cruel to be kind’ in their efforts to be great parents, and will hold a child down in their car seat or immunisation regardless of how the child feels.
You may be thinking: haircuts are completely different to circumcision. Are you also considering how you teach your child not to let anyone touch them without permission, and then you hold them down in the doctor office for a check-up?
Recently a local business was the subject of a little online abuse after refusing to pierce a baby’s ears. It started a discussion amongst local parents about the question of consent, with many believing that piercing does not enhance the quality of life for a baby and body modification is unnecessary. There were others who believed, ‘my baby, my choice,’, cited religious reasons, and were affronted at the judgement of others.
The discussion was fascinating reading. It highlights again a cultural norm in New Zealand to ‘go with the flow’ and not research (ear piercing in babies can be dangerous, painful, constant infections etc). It also demonstrates the huge spectrum on which people parent and have different beliefs.
While rarely serious and/or life changing (co-sleep/not, organic food/not), that spectrum divide is sometimes scary, and certainly one recent controversial topic is the release of 50 Shades of Grey.
Fifty Shades is credited for bringing porn into mainstream books, and for popularising the BDSM lifestyle (whether it is a correct reflection or not). People are flocking to the movie in the same way that the books flew off the shelf.
What is concerning though is that women believe that Fifty Shades is harmless (I say women because I couldn’t find a male to talk to who had seen or read it!). While it is great entertainment, the message is the complete opposite of harmless, and we need to distinguish this so we can teach our children to recognise it.
This week I have been sent three different articles from friends who knew I was wary of the story’s message, and a powerful quote: “50 Shades is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he was living in a trailer, it would be a Criminal Minds episode.”
Doesn’t that throw the coin a little? A man who is obsessed with a women, stalks her work, shows up in her apartment uninvited, violently deflowers her, tracks her whereabouts when she is clubbing, sells her car without her permission and monitors her phone calls.
That is assault, rape, creepy, breaking and entering, abuse, controlling and manipulating, theft. Certainly offenses under law. A ‘poor’ man would be charged under the court of law – because Christian is a rich millionaire (and who hasn’t dreamt of one of them!), he not only gets away with it, but it can be disguised as ‘romance’!
We need to teach our children that this is not a love story, and this is not a normal and healthy relationship. While BDSM is fine when consensual and safe, using to it control and abuse is not. By throwing 50 Shades into mainstream, we risk our children seeing this as a norm – and that’s not harmless at all.
I think it’s worth the discussion with our teenagers (girls and boys) so that they do appreciate that beyond the entertainment, there are lessons to be learnt. We want our boys to be respectful in their relationships, and we want our children to know they deserve to be loved and cherished, not manipulated and abused.
Ashlee Sturme is a busy mama by day, freelance writer by night. She blogs at www.phraseology.co.nz