The old message to girls was that consent was a blurred concept and if you lead a guy on, there will be consequences. The old message was “boys will be boys” and “what were you thinking allowing yourself to be alone with him?”. When women were victims of rape, date rape or sexual harassment, too often the message was that she must have somehow led him on, that their clothing, friendliness or proximity somehow issued consent. But the new awareness and more nuanced understanding of consensual sexuality cuts through the culture of victim blaming. Thank goodness that with the women’s movement and #metoo, girls are no longer buying into the old thinking, that accepted this as part of the fate of being born a girl.Women and girls are increasingly no longer subject to the old paradigms in a culture that understands the times are changing and women will no longer stay silent.
As mothers, we have a great opportunity to teach our daughters how to keep themselves safe, and understand boundaries around their own sexuality and sexual consent. It is up to us to really look at the messages we accepted as true, and weed out the false beliefs that no longer serve us. To empower our daughters, we must first do some real soul searching in regards to the way we may have been victimized ourselves, and really look at how we can turn around the thinking that allowed this. What we would do differently, knowing what we know now? And how can we help our daughters navigate through this new, better, yet more complicated sociological sexual terrain?
Start by teaching your daughter that her body is her own. Teach her that she has a right to express her own boundaries and her own body integrity. Teach her, she does not need to consent to giving anyone a hug if she doesn’t feel comfortable. Give her a voice about her own body and her own wants. Empower her to express herself through the way she chooses to dress. Empower her to feel strong and capable through sports and movement. Give her opportunities to stand up for herself by showing her that her opinion matters. And for God’s sake, don’t regurgitate that old myth that the boy who teases you and pulls your hair only does it because he likes you.
As an adolescent, this is a very fragile time. The self confidence of a young girl often lies in the balance as she tips the scale toward womanhood. Too often, this is the time when an otherwise confident young girl begins to feel insecure. She starts to see herself through the lens of media, culture and through the eyes of boys. It is essential that we keep an open conversation about self esteem, and social interaction between boys and girls. We have a huge opportunity to talk about societal pressures with our daughters, to help them feel equal to boys in their blossoming sexual curiosity, as well as empowered to make their own decisions.
As our daughters grow into teenagers, sex and sexual consent is an extremely important topic. As alcohol and drugs may start to factor into social situations, the lines get blurry. We need our daughters to be increasingly aware of the potential dangers of being intoxicated and getting into tricky situations. Allowing our daughters to feel unashamed of their sexuality will allow them to be more conscious and less reactive to the newfound power and/or disempowerment of their sexual identity. We need to help her understand that consent means you agree and want to engage in a certain act with somebody. It is accepting a level of trust and mutual respect. Consent means, you have the right to change your mind no matter how far it has gone. And consent means, you have a right to demand he use a condom. When a woman is raised to feel she has a voice over her own body, not only are we empowering her but we are helping to remove so much stigma and unfortunate confusion around sexuality for both girls and boys.