“I don’t own my child’s body” is a clever mask for something cruel

“I don’t own my child’s body” is a clever mask for something cruel July 20, 2015


“I Don’t Own My Child’s Body” is the weirdly melodramatic title of a parenting piece from CNN Living.  (It’s from 2012, but is making the rounds again.)   You can see from the URL that the original title was probably something more like, “Give Grandma a Hug” — and that’s really all the piece is about.  The author’s kid sometimes doesn’t feel like hugging or kissing somebody, so her mom doesn’t make her:

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.

Okay, lady.  Big deal.  I don’t make my kid take off her favorite outfit, which happens to be a heavily upholstered puppy costume, but it’s because (a) it’s not hurting anyone, and (b) I’m saving my strength for the big battles.  And I also don’t make my kids hug or kiss people they don’t want to hug or kiss.  Like the author’s child, they are required to be polite, but not in a way that skeeves them out.  But then the author goes on to say:

 I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.

She then quotes a mental health clinician who says that insisting that your child hug a relative

sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it’s not up to them what they do with their bodies … If they are obligated to be affectionate even if they don’t want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on.

She backs this up with a warning from parenting blogger Jennifer Lehr:

 “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,” [Lehr] said

The readers of the piece largely agreed with the author, many of them immediately bringing up the phrase “rape culture.”  They firmly believe that there is a direct, possibly inevitable line between “Please give Grammy a kiss, because it makes her happy” and “Please put out for the entire varsity football team, because it makes you valuable as a person.”

I suppose it’s possible that some kids could make that connection, but only if there are other severe problems with the family of origin or with the child’s mental or emotional health.  Healthy families with standard-issue kids do not need to be on permanent freak-out mode about their kids’ bodies.  What you do is you tell your kids, “Look, unless I say it’s okay, like at the doctor’s office, nobody is supposed to touch you under your clothes, and nobody is supposed to get near the parts of your bodies that are covered by underwear.  And if somebody does something that makes you feel creepy, you tell Mom or Dad right away.”  And then you give them lots and lots of examples of normal affectionate behavior, so they can tell the difference between things you go along with, and things you fight.

This article, with its ludicrous leap of logic, reminded me of a phenomenon I see more and more:  the most progressive parents, those who embrace every modern degradation of sex, marriage, and childbearing, are the ones who are the most likely to go completely overboard when trying to keep their children safe.  I don’t know a darn thing about the author of this article, but if she’s writing for a major news outlet, chances are she’s not pro-life.  Her audience certainly isn’t likely to be.  And yet here she is, saying, “I don’t own my child’s body.”

I’m going to try really hard not to talk about abortion here, because I don’t want to have the same old, same old, same old conversation.  I know that pro-lifers will say, “If you don’t own your child’s body, then you don’t have the right to murder him in the womb!” and pro-choicers will say, “If a child owns his own body, then so do I, and that includes anything that might be inside my body, like a parasitic fetus!”

So let’s not even talk about that phrase, “I don’t own my child’s body.”  Let’s talk about why this kind of article is so common — why, as our culture accepts more and more horrors as commonplace, there is an attendant increase in hysteria over little things, trivial dangers, potential risks.

Why do we fret over the dangers of hugging, but shrug aside — well, death?  The death of babies.   The crushing of heads, the marketing of organs. How is this possible?

It’s not enough to say, “Hypocrisy!  Evil!”  I believe the two phenomena, the hyper-tenderness and the cruelty, are actually related:  one comes from the other.

We look around, compare our world to that of our grandparents, and the guilt seeps in like blood through a bandage. We know there is something amiss — all of us do.  And so we compensate by making sure that we’re assiduous about bodily integrity and safety for our chosen children.

Extremism is a very convenient mask for existential negligence and evil.  When we get hysterical over something minor, we feel like we’ve done our duty — we’ve hit all the right notes: I CARE about my child.  I THINK about how I am raising her.  I have GUIDING PRINCIPLES that sometimes make other people feel uncomfortable.  I’m not AFRAID to tackle the hard issues.

And once you’ve hit the right notes, it’s easier to tell yourself that you’re singing a tune that is very beautiful indeed — never mind that that “Ave Maria and “Deutschland Uber Alles” have a lot of notes in common, too. It’s no coincidence that modern people are capable of both deep cruelty and overly fastidious care:  these are two sides of the same coin.


photo credit: Little Angel via photopin (license)

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  • Reboot

    Oh, is this the same as shrugging and mostly ignoring the epidemic of children whose straight parents never married, but predicting widespread societal breakdown because the far tinier number of children being raised by same-sex couples will now be able to have their families recognized under the term “marriage”?

    • LFM

      Straight parents who never marry cause their children many problems, especially if they break up sooner rather than later. It is, however, impossible to convince them that this is or could be harmful behavior, once it is enshrined in the law that children do not need one or other biological parent, when biological parenthood is treated by the law as a mere physical fact, when men and women are encouraged to sell their gametes to make reproduction possible for gay people, which is what happens when gay marriage is made legal.

      Of course, that last practise has been going on for years and is used by infertile straight couples too, which I think is a terrible thing and have been arguing against for years. But at least straight couples don’t go so far as to argue that it really makes no difference to a child of whatever age whether he or she has a mother and father (even a “social” mother and father) or not.

      • Reboot

        “enshrined in the law that children do not need one or other biological parent, when biological parenthood is treated by the law as a mere physical fact, when men and women are encouraged to sell their gametes to make reproduction possible for gay people, which is what happens when gay marriage is made legal”

        As you correctly point out, straight couples do this. Also, gay couples did this, and single people did this, long before Obergefell was decided. Neither the Supreme Court’s decision, nor the earlier opening of civil marriage to same sex couples in New England, Iowa, etc, initiated this. For many years, people have been donating sperm anonymously, selling eggs, and acting as surrogates, all of which did exactly what you say — intentionally separating children from one or more of their biological parents. Adoption does the same thing. And in many places, a married male/female couple was not required for any of those procedures.
        Further, many gay married couples won’t be starting families in this way at all. Is it ok if they marry?

        My point is simply that the sudden coming to life of an effort to protect children’s rights in response to the nation-wide protection of a right to civil same-sex marriage is analogous to the overreaction Simcha decries in her piece on protecting children’s bodies after birth. Somehow the millions of children already being permitted under law to be raised by gay or straight couples, separate from their biological parents, or gay or straight *singles* where the family structure definitely says “hey, you don’t need a dad/mom”, wasn’t a big deal … but oh, if the gay couples among those types of families can marry, then this problem has been “enshrined in law”? I don’t get that logic.

        • LFM

          No, they are not analogous, for the reasons I indicated (and which you miss) in my previous comment. For that to be correct, all of us who are opposed to legal same-sex marriage would have had to be indifferent to ART, etc., until legal SSM came along. That is simply not true. It *is* true that the movements against both SSM and ART (and the other issues to which I referred), gained intensity in recent years. But that is largely because (a) opponents of SSM began to grasp the scope of the changes it would bring; (b) we learned more about the damage done by ART to the children conceived in that fashion; and (c) the Internet made this information easily accessible to more people than ever before.

          Note that the Internet also made it easier for more of us to learn about how the MSM lied and had always lied to people to bring about the “progressive” social changes it desired. From the lies about Roe v. Wade (“Roe”‘s pregnancy was not the result of rape); to the lies about divorce not injuring children based on “studies” carefully constructed to hide the fact that it did; to the lies that adoption and ART are delightful ways to provide infertile couples with children and that children who complain are ungrateful neurotics; to the lies that the issue of same-sex couples’ parenting has been studied extensively and found to be as good as or superior to the other kind, we have learned to distrust the bien-pensant tendencies of the MSM.

          It is absurd to compare this process of growing suspicion of the possible consequences of SSM to the way people have become somewhat hysterical over the potential sexual abuse of children (although such abuse seems to be far more common than one had hoped), while ignoring the terrible realities of abortion.

  • Eileen

    I don’t know about the over protectiveness being the MO of the most far left. I think it runs the political gamut. I know tons of really, really liberal people who are very lax with regards to protecting their children from abuse. I also plenty of ultra conservatives who are very protective. I admit I tend to the wacky – we don’t even allow our kids to sleep away from home until they’re 14 or so. We trust my mom, a few sisters and sisters in law, and no one else. There’s a long history of sexual abuse (some of it incestual) on several branches of my husband’s family. There’s none on mine (to my knowledge).

    Another (in my view, telling) difference between our families is that my husband and his siblings were raised with many more expectations on their public behavior than we had. Deference for authority figures was mandatory in his family, while laughing at the idiocy of a teacher, principal, or boss was normal dinner conversation for the kids in mine. I don’t know that there’s a direct correlation between the behavior expected of the children and the amount of abuse, but I strongly suspect there is. And so while I agree that it’s ridiculous to extrapolate a forced victim mentality from a single instance, I do think making a child give grandmom a hug could be symptomatic of larger undesirable behavior expectations.

  • Susan Mathis

    Thank you for posting this, Simcha. I am a research writer and have recently finished a piece on Roman Polanski, the famous director who in 1977, at the age of 41, admitted that he had sex with a 13 year old girl, after her mother gave him permission to photograph her, topless, behind closed doors, in a bedroom in Jack Nicholson’s home. Their acts included oral, vaginal and anal sex. (Nicholson was not home at the time but his live-in girlfriend at the time, Anglica Huston, later spoke out in Polanski’s defense.) In fact, many of Hollywood’s finest, including Harrison Ford, have continued to defend Polanski through the years. For pleading guilty to his “unlawful sexual intercourse,” he was sentenced to 90 days in a psychiatric facility but was turned loose 42 days later, after doctors concluded that he had only made a bad decision and that he would not do it again. This was pretty standard practice and sentencing then. At the time of this crime, he was also romantically involved with 15 year old Nicola Kinski. This was legal because 14 was the age of consent.
    Compare this, if you will, to the current hoopla over Josh Duggar, whom I have no interest in defending. The question is, what has changed? Are children today more innocent? Certainly not. Are parents interested in stronger laws to protect their kids because they feel like they can’t? Maybe. I don’t know the answer, but the question has been bugging me and I think you might be on to something.

  • Leah Joy

    Have you been reading Walker Percy? Because you’re repeating one of his points almost exactly: sentimentalism and cruelty go together in a culture.

  • Marta Elena Soto

    I love your point at the end about two sides of the same coin.

    But the particular example you give may be misunderstood. I’ve heard that letting your kids decide how to dole out physical affection is protection not against high school promiscuity but against sexual abuse of young children by adults.

    If a 4 year old is told by their parents they have to hug & kiss when an adult who asks them, even if it makes the kid uncomfortable, they may be more easily abused by trusted adults. This connection seems logical to me.

    Compared to other parenting hysterias, sexual abuse by a known adult is sadly common. 10% of kids are abused, and 3/4 of those by a non-stranger (ie, someone that a little kid may believe they are expected to show affection to on demand).

    • Becky Z

      Thank you; that is actually exactly why it is so important to teach kids that they don’t have to hug/kiss anyone. Most child sexual abuse happens with a trusted adult, and very commonly with a family member. This is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough.

  • Antiphon411

    Bingo. This also explains the faux morality of the anti-tobacco crusaders. Where there is no real morality, a new morality must be fabricated. Kill babies, but don’t smoke; allow sodomites to marry, but don’t own a confederate flag.

    • Reboot

      Post nonsense, have a good day.

  • Becky Z

    I think you’re leap of logic is a little uncharitable. Does making your child show physical affection to people even when they don’t want to mean they will sleep with the entire football team and go crazy? Probably not. Does it mean that they have been primed to be convinced by a boyfriend to go farther than they feel comfortable with, all in the name of showing love? I think there could be a good case for that.

    Regardless, it’s still a very good thing to prevent child sexual abuse. Most abuse happens within families. Even if you say “don’t let anyone touch you there”, kids can easily be manipulated by adult figures who they are close to. If they get that message AND they have gotten a consistent message that they don’t owe anyone physical affection, they are going to be much more likely to not be victimized.

    I get where you are going with the last part, but I really don’t see why this article is inciting such ire.

    • Michelle Thuldanin

      Exactly what I was thinking. The chances of a child being molested by a random stranger versus Creepy Uncle Ed that mommy feels guilty about and always makes her hug and kiss even though she don’t want to? And even well intentioned, totally harmless adults that can be trusted still should respect a child’s “no” because it reinforces that it means something and that adults who don’t respect it are doing something wrong. If they hear over and over that no doesn’t really mean no, I mean, no wonder people cite the rape culture. Children are generally groomed for a while and then the abuse starts. I am not sure how the author equates the knowledge that I DO NOT own my child’s body and a pro-abortion mentality is a little far out there.

  • jrb16915

    Look at all of the cultural problems with have solved in the last 50 years:

    Compare the language children are exposed to everyday in real life, tvs and other media to those of 50 years ago.

    Compare the images children are exposed to today compared to 50 years ago.

    Compare the styles of dress parents chose for their children (or allow children to chose themselves) today compared to 50 years.

    Compare what children are taught is normal with regards to what constitutes a family today vs 50 years ago.

    Compare what children think is normal parental responsibility for their safety and upbringing today compared to 50 years ago.

    Compare what children are taught about the “right” to kill an unborn child in the womb today compared to 50 years ago.

    Once you realized how we have solved all of those aforementioned problems that existed 50 years ago, its obvious the reason children today might have defects regarding their ability to understand proper physical boundaries or maintain proper personal relationships must be deeply rooted in forced aunt and grandmother hugging. I think if we could just make an example by shaming and maybe jailing a few of these hyper aggressive grandmas we could solve this problem too. It probably needs a catchy phrase or acronym to really catch on though. Maybe something simple like “grandma bullying” or something more complicated like the SGHN movement (Stop Grandma Hugging Now)

  • Boyd

    Probably not OT but it’s interesting how this issues is seen by different generations. Our youngest grand-daughter refused our daughters demand to hug Grandma on leaving after spending all afternoon with her. Daughter was very upset by this. Grandma, who differs with daughter over many child rearing philosophies, comments later to me, “Of course she didn’t want to hug me. Grandma’s not here to be grand-daughter’s friend, Grandma’s here to bring consistency and discipline.” And so she does.

  • J.D.

    I was one of those who, as a teen, was unexpectedly grabbed by my grandmother and bear-hugged. I know she meant well and it was a gesture of affection, but in a completely involuntary reaction, I stiffened all over. My body language communicated the unspoken, ‘do not touch me without permission or warning’. She was offended by that reaction and got huffy about it. What I want to know is, why would her feeling of being offended be treated as legitimate and acceptable , yet my involuntary feeling of not liking being grabbed without permission or warning be seen as not? Why does her right to handle supersede mine to remain unhandled against my will. Is it simply because she’s older that her presumption of being able to handle someone else’s body without asking is given credence?