If you’ve seen any form of news from the past few days, chances are you’ve seen this the topic of consent and nappy changing being discussed ad nauseum. Some have heralded it as progressive and thoughtful while others have decried it as political correctness gone mad. Should we be asking babies for consent to change their nappies?
A polarising debate
It’s a divisive conversation and people all have a clear opinion. You only have to read the comment section of any article on the subject, perhaps even this one included, to feel the intensity of people’s reactions to the subject. (read the comments sections, if you dare).
The opinion-storm began when author and educator Deanne Carson (CEO of Body Safe Australia) appeared on ABC News. She was brought on as a commentator to provide insight into the complexity of consent. This was in response to comments made by Saxon Mullins, a woman who spoke on that national broadcaster's Four Corners program about her highly-publicised rape trial. In relation to this topic, Deanne suggested we begin asking babies for their permission to change their nappy, and has since been mocked for it.
Now obviously, a baby is not going to respond with a resounding yes or a firm no. They can’t form sentences until - give or take - 18 months of age. And Deanne recognises this but says it’s all part of creating a culture of consent.
“Of course a baby is not going to respond ‘yes mum, that is awesome, I’d love to have my nappy changed’,” she said.
“But if you leave a space and wait for body language and wait to make eye contact then you are letting that child know that their response matters.”
In the world of 24 hour news cycles, all you need is five seconds of audio to fire up the public incredulity factories that are Twitter and Facebook comment sections.
Is it really that bizarre to ask children if it’s okay for us to change their nappy? We ask them loads of other questions before they can talk, not expecting an answer. We’re told by experts to talk to them all day long.
There’s even research that indicates babies might even start learning language in the last three months in utero.
If we know that communicating to them is so important from before birth, then why is it so bizarre to communicate consent from an early age?
Listen to The Parent Panel:
No, your one month old is not going to reply back. But yes, they will pick up on your intention to teach them well over time. And they’ll know what’s right and what’s wrong in regards to their body from when they can start communicating with their words.
As per Deanne’s response to the backlash on Facebook, this idea is to HELP children, and in no way will it HARM then.
“One in three girls, one in seven boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are eighteen years old. One in twelve girls will be sexually abused before their sixth birthday.
“The work we do with children, teachers and parents is international best practice in abuse prevention. It teaches children their rights AND their responsibilities and connects them with people who care and can help. It invites their parents into the discussion and is sensitive to cultural and family values.”
As for cheeky toddlers, who love to say no to anything – explain your reasons. A simple, “I don’t want you to get a rash or sick" works fine. Once they realise how uncomfortable it is, they'll be back in a jiffy.
Criticism has gone way too far
In no way, shape or form was Deanne suggesting that a non-response from bub is an excuse to leave your child sitting in their own excrement and potentially develop nappy rash, or one of a myriad of other conditions or diseases.
If the interview hadn’t been so blatantly taken out of context, and instead understood in full by all who came across it, there wouldn’t be such violent commentary online (and getting way too personal at that).
Deanne’s job is as an educator. Growing up, many of us had patchy understandings of body parts, bodily functions and sexual intercourse, which didn’t benefit too many people, as the history books show.
Sure, asking a currently-inarticulate baby for their opinion feels weird. That seems to be the main criticism of the whole thing (a quite simplistic reproach to be honest). But there are WAY weirder things that parents have to do. Like playing the same song over and over and over again every single day for a year. Or eating a slobbered-on Monte Carlo because your toddler insists it’s “for you”. Or "just watch"-ing a five-year-old climb up and down the slide at the playground for a good three hours straight.
Whether or not you actually do choose to ask your child for permission to change their soiled nappy, we all have to recognise that Deanne Carson has begun a nation-wide dialog about consent for children and adults alike – one that’s been a long time coming. And that’s all we should all be talking about.
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