I’ve never been the type of person that yearns to put their point across. Just the other week I was at a big business Expo event and I attended various workshops, one of which loved the whole ‘audience participation’ thang (groan…). They asked for opinions on a certain issue and boy did I have them in the bucket load; did I say them? No. Did I raise my hand to signal I had something to say? No. Did I sit there thinking about my opinion, hell yeah, I always have an opinion. I did feebly open my mouth to express it on a couple of occasions (accompanied by the deafening thud of my pounding heart as public speaking isn’t really my bag) but quickly closed it again when someone else started speaking. So, you see, I’m really not one of those people that loves the sound of my own opinion being aired to the masses. I’m opinionated but I keep a water tight lid on them.
But, you know, every now and again a subject will come up that either lights a fire in my belly or rubs me up the wrong way, and when this happens I’m not so good at keeping that lid on my opinion. It, sort of, loosens a bit and my opinion ends up inadvertently spilling out on to whoever happens to be there at the time the lid pops off (when I talk about this metaphorical ‘lid’ I’m more imagining a champagne cork; it’s a bit more glamorous that way.) .
When I read an article in The Independent about a Sexuality Expert’s thoughts on parents asking their children’s consent prior to changing their nappy, I immediately felt extremely uncomfortable. There has been a lot of talk of consent in the press and it is clearly an issue that sparks a lot of debate. For me, the more the issue is in the press and the better we, and the upcoming generations, understand the issues surrounding consent, the better. It is something we all need to understand, promote and respect amongst society. My discomfort came from the issue being discussed by a person described as a ‘Sexuality Expert’. The idea that nappy changing was being discussed by a sexuality expert made me feel uneasy. I worked in Child Protection for almost five years and the things I saw, discussed and read during that time still haunts me today, almost fifteen years later. So, I get that I may be slightly sensitive when it comes to issues such as this. I’ve sat at a table opposite some true monsters. Monsters that really didn’t understand consent. Monsters that didn’t care nor respect children and their right to be protected, kept safe. So, when a ‘Sexuality Expert’ starts commenting on the act of nappy changing, something that, to me, is an innocent act that is part of the every day care of my baby girl, it started to hit a nerve with me. Nappy changing isn’t an act that should be associated with sex or sexuality. It is merely about ensuring your child’s basic needs are being met when they are too young to see to those needs themselves.
So, throw in there the issue of ‘consent’ (an issue heavily associated with sexual relations in the media) and this article started to feel very wrong for me. I am a good mother; my husband is a good father. When we change our baby’s nappy it is an act of innocence born out of the need and desire to take care of her the best we can. When we are frantically pulling fifty five baby wipes out of the packet (when we were only after one single wipe, that is possibly the most irritating baby-wipe-malfunction ever) and trying to scrub the brown stuff off our baby girl before she gets the opportunity to stick her feet (or, quite frankly, her hands – she’s very explorative at the moment….) in it, we aren’t thinking about consent because we are innocently seeing to her needs, we aren’t disrespecting her body, we aren’t thinking about sex or sexuality – we are, quite simply, being mum and being dad.
I never thought I’d see the day I agreed with Piers Morgan (a man with an incredible ability to piss me off just by merely breathing) but when he opened the debate on ‘Good Morning Britain’ (I just had to google the name of it because I still call it TV-AM, a true sign of being an 80s child….) and they were discussing the act of asking a baby for consent prior to the nappy being changed, I found the whole thing ridiculous. And so did old P-Dog. I bet that’s the first and last time we ever agree on something. If I waited for my daughter to give her consent for me to change her nappy, we’d be up to our eye balls in the brown stuff. We would be living at 108 Poo street in Poo-ville, the Poonited Kingdom. I can’t get my little girl to consent to eating a carrot, never mind her agree to have her nappy changed. I literally have to chase her around the floor until I’ve got her in such a position that I can whip her nappy off (whilst praying there are no surprises inside that are going to fly out and splat on our new wallpaper) get her cleaned up and send her on her merry way with a clean nappy on and all in around 0.3 of a millisecond otherwise it’s meltdown mania. Most of the time the process leads to meltdowns of grandeur. It can be a two-person job sometimes! There is not a chance that my baby girl would ever volunteer or actively consent to having her nappy changed.
When the specialist on TV-AM (or whatever…) was asked by Piers how a 3 month old baby gives consent, she said that there are non-verbal ways of communicating consent, like a baby will relax its shoulders because it will feel happy that his or her nappy will be about to be changed. I’m not sure if my two were just wild or possessed (or both) or what but even at 3 months, they were not fond of the nappy changing thing. No-siree. There were no relaxing of the shoulders or giving non-verbal signs that they were in any way enjoying being changed. They gave plenty verbal signs that they weren’t enjoying it, mind. There were plenty of them. The neighbours 5 doors away heard them every bloody nappy change.
My biggest gripe with this whole debate is that if we are to teach consent to our children, we have to be 100% committed to respecting their consent (or lack of it). To ask a child for consent to do something, something that we know, as parents, that we have to do regardless of their consent, is teaching the very opposite of consent, respect and trust, so why ask for consent in the first place?! My feeling is that every child should be taught consent. They should be taught to respect their body and that they have autonomy over who touches, and what happens to, their body. I’m not arguing with that in the slightest. What I do struggle with is introducing it at such an age where the baby is physically, cognitively and emotionally unable to understand the concept of consent. I also really struggle with teaching consent through an activity that has to be carried out regardless. What is that teaching them? That their consent means nothing. In the same way that when I change my baby girl’s nappy no matter how hard she protests so that one day she learns that nappy changing is something that has to be done no matter how strongly she feels about it, children who haven’t consented to their nappy change who go on to be changed and have their consent ignored, will learn that consent means nothing and that, for me, is the most dangerous thing about this whole debate.
If we are ready to teach consent to children who have the cognitive ability and the emotional literacy to understand the concept of consent, we have to be willing to respect that consent otherwise it will only serve as a reminder of the fact that their consent just doesn’t mean anything. We can’t have a generation of children growing up under the impression that consent is something that can be ignored, or something that really doesn’t matter. That is the very last thing our children, and our society, needs.
My bottom line on this is that the issue of consent is absolutely something we have to approach with our children but from an age where they have the ability to understand. I think that asking for consent from a baby to change their nappy only serves as a means to make us feel better about doing it. It tricks us all in to thinking that we are respecting the body, wishes and feelings of that baby but in reality, that consent means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because them withholding their consent makes no difference whatsoever to what happens to them. And we can’t risk that sort of culture emerging with the next generation.
We can only teach consent when we are truly willing to respect the child’s response. Until we are completely committed to respecting their view on consent, we shouldn’t be introducing the idea because it will only have a negative effect on their perception of the issue.
I (stupidly) got a little bit too wound up over this debate and put out a flippant tweet explaining that I was fed up of hearing about it and that I thought the idea of gaining consent from a baby was ridiculous. It wasn’t directed at anybody, it was just me needing to vent about a topic that was irritating me somewhat. It got a mixed response; people agreed and people didn’t agree. Most who didn’t agree explained their reasoning in perfectly respectful terms and I have no issue with that whatsoever. It would be a boring world if we all felt the same way about everything, after all. There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate. Everybody is entitled to their opinion; that’s the beauty of free speech.
There’s always one though, hey. Someone really didn’t like my opinion and had worked out that, from the fifteen words or so in that one single tweet I put out, I didn’t have the intelligence to understand the wider issues surrounding consent. I didn’t much like the suggestion that I hadn’t fully understood the issue of consent, particularly given my background in both child protection and teaching, so I explained that I fully understood the matter. I wasn’t rude or argumentative, I just defended the idea that I was a complete and utter nugget who didn’t have the first clue about what I was talking about. I always say that in life you never know the battles people are facing and therefore, I don’t ever like to be confrontational or disrespectful because you just never know the impact that could have on someone, particularly on social media, where you interact with people that you’ve never spoken to before. So I maintained my position but I did it with respect. A couple of others entered the “discussion” and most of them were supportive of my opinion. A couple of lovely people with well meaning intentions challenged the person over the way in which they had spoken to me and BANG! Then the fireworks started going off. It got pretty personal very quickly, with comments being aimed ay myself and one of the people who had stuck up for me about our age, lack of understanding and there was even a ‘why don’t you stop arguing with me and go and see to your kids instead?’ type comment, clearly suggesting that being on Twitter made us poor parents because we should have been dealing with our kids instead. They were in bed, by the way. Not that we need to justify ourselves.
I did the thing that frustrates my hubby the most about me. I sat and wrote out response after response after response but I let my finger hover over the ’TWEET’ button for just one moment too long and the hesitation was enough for me to have second (third, fourth and fifth) thoughts, scrap the tweet and start all over again. I would scribble a response in haste, wound up, but by the time I reached the end of the tweet I had calmed down enough to question whether it was really wise, or appropriate, to respond in such a way so then I deleted it all and started draft 2, draft 3, draft 144 – you get the idea. None of those drafts made it out in the Twittersphere.
I would love to say that those small comments or ‘digs’ made about me didn’t bother me but, you know, actually they did. And I don’t have any reservation about admitting that. We are all human at the end of the day. I often feel old enough looking at all the twenty somethings smashing it on social media every day so that comment about our age (she approximated that we were 40, she was a few years out and, let’s face it, when you get to nearing 40 every single year counts!) did bite a little bit. The suggestion I was too stupid to understand the bigger picture of the debate hurt too. I try to live my life being as least judgemental as I can because I know how it feels to be judged and would hate to do that to someone else; so when she made the assumption based on my tweet (and maybe my profile picture, I don’t know…) that also got me a little bit. Social media as a general arena is very public so to be accused of, in other words, being stupid, I was acutely aware of all the other people that would see it too and that didn’t feel good. Believe me I wish I didn’t give a shit. God, it would be so cool not to give a shit. I would LOVE not to give a shit.
Despite feeling a little bit miffed, I maintained my composure and the ‘debate’ was over in a milli-second. I thought nothing more of it. The following day, more lovely peeps from Twitter replied to my original tweet with their views. It’s, very obviously, been a topic that has stirred up strong opinions in a lot of people so my initial tweet got engagement from people who also wanted to state how they felt about the issue, and they were very welcome. Again, it was a mixed bag, some agreed and some disagreed. Apart from reading everybody’s replies with genuine interest, I thought nothing more of it. Until I received a notification that the original tweeter (or twitterer, I’m not 100% on the Twitter etiquette so forgive me…) who had taken such issue with my opinion was at it again. She mocked me about interacting with new people who had replied that day, telling me to ‘get over it’ and suggested I had harassed her all day because she had automatically been tagged in to every reply made to the original post due to her initial reply. When accusations like that were starting to be bounded about I wanted to switch off my phone (actually, I wanted to throw it through a double glazed window in my office but I thought it would be unfair to expect the cleaners to tidy up the glass afterwards) and run away. I thought how on earth can one tweet cause so much hassle? I get that it is a topic that people will respond emotionally to. I get that people are passionate about their opinion. But being passionate about your own opinion is different to being passionately negative about someone else’s.
I did reply, but only to tell her that I had not tweeted her once and I explained the way Twitter works and that her being tagged in is automatically done by the folk behind the blue bird. I left it at that. I was biting my tongue and sitting on my hands but I left it at that.
Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate. It has changed the way we do, just about, everything. I have met some truly beautiful people on Twitter, and I have witnessed some despicable behaviour on Twitter. I’ve been a bystander in kick off’s on other people’s posts before and when I think about some of the horrible, nasty and unkind things I have read others say to each other, what I experienced on my post was nothing in comparison. Social media provides us with a community in which we should feel free to discuss our opinions, ideas, thoughts and beliefs without fear of unkindness in response. I can listen to opposing opinions all day long (in fact, I am a true believer in that doing so widens our minds) but if someone mocks you for what you think and gets personal in a bid to fuel an argument (I’m not sure why anyone would want an argument mind, maybe there wasn’t much on the telly or something…) it’s just not fun.
I’m not sure I will be rushing back to Twitter (or any social media platform for that matter) to share my opinions anytime soon. I’ll revert back to that wall flower who is too scared to open her mouth and share her opinion publicly.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this debate though – feel free to comment with them; for the avoidance of any doubt, you can rest assured this is a safe, judgement-free space to share your views!
Have you ever got in to a bit of a hardcore argument on social media? Tell me all about it below!