In addition to the horrorshow that is the news of the United States these days, recently a friend of mine called in a panic. He was supporting a friend of his, who had just been sexually assaulted – a woman, assaulted by a man. Once we got through the basics – how to support a survivor; going to the police; going to the hospital; calling a crisis line; etc – we gradually got to the crux of his experience:
He is a good man, and his is the father of two young boys. So he wanted to know what to teach his sons, so that they would never do this to someone – intentionally (as is overwhelmingly the case – perpetrators don’t fail to get consent because they don’t know about consent; they fail to get consent because they don’t care about consent) or unintentionally.
Shortly after this, another friend of mine – a good man, father of a son and a daughter – posted on Facebook, “When I look at all the shit in the world, one thought overwhelms me: we have forgotten to attend to the psychology of boys.” Other friends of mine – a father of a son and a daughter, a father of a son, another father of two sons – agreed instantly, and the comment thread was filled with book suggestions, anecdotes, and overwhelming agreement. Overwhelming agreement – and this is on FACEBOOK, people – but no concrete, specific, straightforward strategies for creating change.
I believe in concrete, specific, straightforward strategies. And I believe there is one, in this case. And I believe that people who say, “There are no simple answers to things like this,” are lost in the woods. Sometimes there are simple answers – though they might be difficult. Simple answers are never The Whole Solution to any problem. But they’re solutions you can use TODAY and every day, to begin creating a world where it is not possible for acts of hate-fueled violence to happen.
Here is what I told my friend, the father of two boys (old enough now to speak their gender identity, and happy in the identity of “boy”) who helped that survivor:
People get to choose how they touch and get touched.
People get to choose. She gets to choose. You get to choose. He gets to choose. They get to choose. Everyone gets to choose.
Want to touch that girl’s hair? She gets to choose how she gets touched.
Two men kissing in public? They get to choose how they touch and get touched.
Want to masturbate in the shower? You get to choose how you get touched.
Hoping your date will give you a blowjob? They gets to choose how they touch and get touched.
There will be times when you want to touch someone and you ask and they say “YES PLEASE!!” And that’s fun – you both got to choose when you touch and got touched.
There will be times when you want to touch someone and so you ask, but they say, “Nah.” And that’s frustrating – but you both get to choose how you touch and got touched, and that is much better than if just one person gets to choose.
Like, imagine how it would feel if someone wanted to touch you in a particular way and you said, “Nah,” and they touched you that way anyway. That would suck, right?
People’s bodies belong to them. People get to choose how they touch and get touched.
Everyone gets to choose.
I know there are all kinds of “But! But! But!” situations that you might want to dissect, to explain why it can’t possibly be that simple – because gender socialization; because sexual entitlement; because survivorship changes the dynamic – but if you return to the principle, you can’t go far wrong. The answer to your “But, Emily!” question is, “Everyone gets to choose how they touch and get touched.”
Sure, it’s difficult sometimes, especially like when one person wants one thing and another person wants something else. But those difficult times are why we spend to much time reinforcing the basic principle:
People get to choose – everyone gets to choose – how they touch and get touched.
When it’s difficult, you go back to that idea.
I’m not saying that teaching this one sentence – over and over again, every day, in words and action – is going to end all violence and sex- and gender-based oppression.
Except I might be saying that. I might be imagining a world where everyone follows that one simple idea – everyone gets to choose how they touch and get touched – and it’s a world where I don’ t have to worry about anyone groping me at a dance club, or anyone pushing your daughter for sex at the end of a date, or anyone telling your son he’s a loser if he doesn’t want a handjob [EDIT: or, as noted by Carmen Amicitiae, “anyone telling your son, he’s a loser, if he wants a handjob from someone, but doesn’t get one.”
Everyone gets to choose. Everyone’s body belongs to them, and everyone gets to choose.