SET­TING BOUND­ARIES

By open­ing a dis­cus­sion around body au­ton­omy early with kids, we al­low idea of sex­ual con­sent to fall into place later.

Toronto Star - - TRAVEL - Brandie Weikle

Nearly ev­ery day in the news there’s a movie stu­dio, politi­cal party, rock band or tele­vi­sion net­work try­ing to man­age its rep­u­ta­tion in light of sex­ual abuse or ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against some­one in their or­ga­ni­za­tion.

It’s in­deed high time that these per­pe­tra­tors are held to ac­count, along with the or­ga­ni­za­tions that — to vary­ing de­grees — have been com­plicit in their ac­tions. Time’s up, right?

But what if we also need to take a good hard look at the role fam­i­lies have played in re­in­forc­ing the power dy­namic that has al­lowed sys­temic sex­ual abuse to go unchecked? In light of the #MeToo move­ment, a grow­ing cho­rus of par­ents — moth­ers in par­tic­u­lar — are speak­ing up about changes they’re mak­ing at home to move the nee­dle on ha­rass­ment and abuse. And women’s rights ad­vo­cates say they’ve got the most im­por­tant role of all.

In her new au­dio­book Try­ing to Be Good, Van­cou­ver ac­tor and mom of two Emelia Syming­ton Fedy writes can­didly about her own ex­pe­ri­ences with non-con­sen­sual sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in her teens, and her de­ter­mi­na­tion to raise boys who truly un­der­stand con­sent.

“When I was 16 there was an older boy in­ter­ested in me. He was prob­a­bly 22. He had me over to his house dur­ing a party, and I didn’t say no, I didn’t yell no, I didn’t scream no . . . but he could tell through my body lan­guage that there was a prob­lem.”

Fedy said the young man pro­ceeded to have sex with her any­way and that her thought process at the time was around avoid­ing a scene.

“I made the de­ci­sion in the mo­ment: ‘I can scream. I can make a big deal about it. All these kids are cooler than me. I’m go­ing to be em­bar­rassed. It’s eas­ier just to let it hap­pen and go home.’ ”

Now that she has two sons of her own, Fedy is start­ing their ed­u­ca­tion around con­sent early. At just 41⁄ and 31⁄ 2, Arthur and Obie are rough-and-tum­ble

2 lit­tle guys whose play style gives her and their dad plenty of op­por­tu­nity to talk about healthy bound­aries and agency over their own bod­ies.

“We say ‘Arthur, is Obie lik­ing that? Is he giv­ing you con­sent to keep wrestling?’ ‘No.’ ‘OK . . . well, then, stop. He did not give you con­sent.’ ” Ditto when they’re chas­ing girls around the play­ground.

That pol­icy ex­tends to the way she re­spects the boys’ bod­ies, too. “When I’m tick­ling my sons, when they say no, I stop im­me­di­ately.”

Karyn Pick­les of Paris, Ont., takes the same ap­proach with her kids, Ben, 11, and Molly, 8, ask­ing if they want to cud­dle or share a hug. “My son has su­per-long hair and he drives me crazy be­cause he calls me out when I start un­tan­gling it with­out ask­ing first: ‘Mommy, I do not give you per­mis­sion to touch my hair.’ ”

But she said she’s glad she and her part­ner have laid that foun­da­tion.

“When you start with that ba­sis, sex­ual con­sent falls into place,” said Pick­les, who of­ten writes about sex ed­u­ca­tion and women’s rights on her blog, pick­lesink.com.

“You teach chil­dren and model for your­self an ex­pec­ta­tion that you don’t touch an­other per­son’s body — in friend­ship, love or anger — with­out check­ing that they’re OK with it first.”

But un­der­stand­ing con­sent isn’t the only part of this pic­ture.

Julie S. Lalonde, an Ot­tawa-based women’s rights ad­vo­cate who spends a lot of time speak­ing to groups of kids, said that de­spite it be­ing 2018, boys still get a lot of mes­sages that it’s not par­tic­u­larly manly to ex­press and talk through emo­tions. And that leaves them ill-equipped to nav­i­gate their in­ter­ac­tions with girls and, later, women.

Part of en­sur­ing we’re not rais­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of We­in­steins and Spaceys re­quires par­ents to have frank con­ver­sa­tions with boys about deal­ing with — and ac­cept­ing — re­jec­tion. “When we deny young men the space to be vul­ner­a­ble, we cre­ate the con­di­tions where they don’t take no for an an­swer,” Lalonde said. “They take it as a per­sonal af­front to be re­jected.”

Lalonde would know. For 10 years, she was stalked by an ex-boyfriend. “He felt en­ti­tled to me. He had not been told no his en­tire life. And when I broke up with him be­cause he was aw­ful, he was like, ‘What do you mean, no?’ ”

Far­rah Khan, man­ager of sex­ual vi­o­lence ed­u­ca­tion and sup­port at Ry­er­son Univer­sity in Toronto, said the con­ver­sa­tions par­ents have with their kids about healthy re­la­tion­ships are crit­i­cal, es­pe­cially given that be­tween the ages of 16 and 24, there are high rates of sex­ual as­sault.

Although it may be tempt­ing to try to shel­ter kids from these dif­fi­cult sto­ries, the many sex­ual abuse cases in the news to­day do pro­vide an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion starter.

“The thing that par­ents can do is talk to your chil­dren, and not from a place of shame and blame, but a place of hope,” Khan said.

We need to en­cour­age our kids to ex­press their body au­ton­omy, talk about bound­aries and feel se­cure in their right to say no, she says, and to un­der­stand “that say­ing no to some­one else is say­ing yes to your­self.”

Sadly, girls and women are of­ten en­cour­aged to quiet the “shark in­side the tummy” or the hair that’s raised on the backs of their neck, Khan said. “We tell girls to be quiet when they say some­thing’s wrong. We have to chal­lenge that.” Brandie Weikle writes about par­ent­ing is­sues and is the host of The New Fam­ily Pod­cast and editor of the­new­fam­ily.com

DREAMSTIME

It may be in­no­cent horse­play, but par­ents need to teach their chil­dren that it’s time to quit if the other child isn’t en­joy­ing it.

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