Imagine, if you will, a seven-year-old me going to her 2nd grade classroom to find the room filled with sugar cookies and balloons. It’s one of my classmate’s birthdays and their mom had brought in some store-bought birthday themed cookies to celebrate. I was what adults called a picky eater; I still am actually. I hate those store-bought cookies—the ones that come in those difficult to open plastic containers and have frosting that sticks to the roof of your mouth like cement. My parents never bought these cookies and so the only times I ran into them were at events like these.
Before, whenever a parent would come in with these cookies, I’d be given one, which I’d immediately sneak into the garbage can when no one was looking. I hadn’t yet learned the skill of eating something just to be polite. This year though I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to waste the cookie. I told the woman passing out cookies that I didn’t want one, that I didn’t like them.
If you’ve ever been in a situation similar to this one you know how persistent people can be when you tell them that you don’t like a certain food. They’ll cajole, prod, and sometimes even trick you into eating the food. Convinced if you try it just one more time that you’ll love it. This woman bothered and harassed me so much about her gross cookies that I ended up taking one and biting into it, even though the taste made me gag. From then I started lying, telling people when they offered me those cookies that I was allergic to one of the ingredients inside.
On the surface this seems like more of an annoying thing that people do rather than a real societal problem, but it’s actually a larger symptom of the problems with consent in America. In that classroom that woman taught everyone in that room that it doesn’t matter what you want. “No” didn’t mean no. “No” wasn’t the end of the conversation, it was the beginning of a siege. You can see parallels in how people pressure others into drinking at parties or even having sex.
This woman thought she knew better what I wanted inside my body than I did. She wasn’t my mother, my doctor, or me. I’m not trying to demonize her, but to merely show that we have a serious problem with how we teach kids about consent. She taught every child in that room that the word “no” was meaningless and that others can and will bully you into doing things you don’t want to do. We can tell children that “no means no” all we want, but unless we put the weight of our actions behind it, then it’s meaningless. Teaching people about consent starts when we respect people and their own personal wants.
Whether its about cookies or sex, No should mean No.
Cover Photo from “Forks in the Road”