A Utah school says girls have to say yes when a boy asks them to dance. Can we talk about this for a minute?
First, it’s all kinds of wrong. It’s sending the worst message and I have lots to say about this misguided school policy. Here’s why:
Consent matters. This is a message we need to teach our girls (and boys!) – that they don’t have to do things they are uncomfortable with in the name of kindness. It doesn’t matter how nice that man was on your date, you still don’t have to do things you don’t want to. You can call an uber and just leave. It’s okay.
Kindness should be reciprocal. It’s unkind to require someone to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Body autonomy is key. Boundaries should be respected. Just like men who complain about being “in the friend zone” are reminded when they complain, kindness isn’t legal tender with which to purchase compliance. Folks still get to opt in and opt out. Being kind is honouring their writ to do so.
Let’s not get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We should not normalize the discomfort that comes from unwelcome contact. That icky feeling when something is happening and you’re not okay with it should not become familiar. It happens enough with the micoagressions and outright aggressions we encounter as women and it should not be enculturated by an educational institution.
It’s hypocrisy. It’s a slippery slope when we also ask things like, “Why didn’t she say no?” Sometimes things happen and you can’t form the words. If you’re in a position to say the words, you should certainly be allowed to. It’s good practice. If you say these girls don’t have the right to say no, I never want to hear you ask why someone didn’t. Seriously.
It doesn’t teach the right lesson. We should teach our kids to accept rejection with grace, not remove the opportunity to learn from it and grow. It’s a safety issue. There are women who actually die after saying no. Let’s keep everyone safe by starting early to teach our kids to accept a no and learn what to do with that (reflect and redirect efforts elsewhere, not continue to coerce.)
It emboldens and furthers rape culture. It sends a message to boys that they have entitlement over women’s bodies and their desires and interests matter more than the person they are pursuing. By making a rule about it, you’re literally institutionalizing the concept.
It minimizes the importance of mutual enjoyment. Like sex, it’s only fun if everyone is having fun. If you’re saying, “She doesn’t have to have fun as long as you’re having fun” you’re reinforcing the groundwork for future bad sex. While we don’t necessarily want to think about our kids having sex when they are older, I think it’s worse to think your kids might end up having terrible sex because someone let them know the girl doesn’t have to enjoy it.
Participation ribbons on steroids. In a time where people complain that everybody gets a trophy (which I actually don’t care if they do, let’s celebrate trying if a trophy is purchased and given willingly), this takes things to the next level. Everybody gets the reward of the outcome of a positive social interaction without doing the work required to obtain it. And it’s not just a policy of purchasing and providing participation ribbons, it’s demanding girls hand them out because it’s nice.
Girls are already enculturated to be nice. Don’t be too bossy. Don’t take up too much space. Don’t be too ambitious. Diminutive messaging that encourages women to overlook their own wants and needs are not in short supply. We don’t need to feed that. They need to be taught that they matter, and that their wants matter and that’s the basis of a culture of self-care and self-respect.
It creates and normalizes a power imbalance. It puts boys in a position of power over girls and requires them to pander to their wishes. Anyone who’s experienced sexual harassment in the workplace is familiar with not being able to say no and it’s not something you would want to wish on a child.
And hear me loud and clear on this one:
It stops being a request if you can’t decline. If you aren’t allowed to say no to something, it’s not really a question anymore. It’s an order. It’s the difference between being invited to an experience and being drafted to bolster someone’s self-esteem at the expense of your own discomfort.
Learning the steps to ongoing, active and enthusiastic consent is one of the most glorious dances we can teach our kids. So instead of telling them they can’t say no, why don’t we start saying yes to respecting their body autonomy?