In the face of society’s often blurred understanding of consent and wild disregard for women’s ownership of their own bodies, one mother’s message to other parents has gone viral.
Writing for CNN, journalist Katia Hetter has explained why she doesn’t push her daughter to hug and kiss people, even those she knows well, unless the seven-year-old initiates it herself.
While it sounds simple, not to mention incredibly fair, Hetter has seemingly touched a nerve with some parents, sending her post viral.
In her essay, Hetter writes: “My daughter occasionally goes on a hugging and kissing strike.
“She's seven, and she's been holding these wildcat strikes since she was three or four. Her parents can get a hug or a kiss, but many people who know her cannot, at least not all the time. And I won't make her.
“‘I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it,’ I first told her three years ago.
“And just to be clear, there is no passive-aggressive, conditional, manipulative nonsense behind my statement. I mean what I say. She doesn't have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me.
“I will not override my own child's currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch.
“I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.
“It doesn't belong to her parents, uncles and aunts, school teachers or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn't have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.”
Read more: “Sexual consent: it’s as simple as tea”
Though the essay was first published last year, Hetter’s message has recently been turned into a Facebook meme, sparking wide debate on social media.
While some have called the post powerful, necessary and inspiring, others have rejected the idea that children shouldn’t be encouraged to hug family members.
CAPS Hauraki, a social service agency in New Zealand which shared the meme, however, has hit back at critics with an excellent summary of the point.
Responding to a Facebook user, the agency wrote: “This particular message isn't about ‘inappropriate touching’ it is about the ‘forcing’ and a child's understanding that they are the boss of their body - we mustn't force them to do anything with their bodies against their will.
“The consent message is about changing the culture here in NZ where 1 in 3 girls are victims of sexual abuse by the age of 16. Let's get this straight; we need our children to know that when they say ‘no’ it counts.”
Read more: Why is society having trouble defining rape?
Backing up Hetter’s essay, Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, an American non-profit organisation focused on personal safety and violence prevention, says:
“When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them.”
Parenting blogger Jennifer Lehr, also agrees, commenting in Hetter’s essay: "The message a child gets [from forced affection] is that not only is another person's emotional state their responsibility but that they must also sacrifice their own bodies to buoy another's ego or satisfy their desire for love or affection.
“Certainly no parent would wish for their teenager or adult child to feel pressure to reciprocate unwanted sexual advances, yet many teach their children at a young age that it's their job to use their bodies to make others happy.”
You can read Katia Hetter’s full essay here.