Yesterday at the grocery store I heard the young man about to bag my groceries exclaim “I hate it when you do that.” He was visibly upset as a female cashier walked away laughing.
The male cashier running my groceries through turned to him and said “what’s that all about?”
The exasperated young fellow said “they grab my side fat all the time. I already know it’s there I don’t need them to tell me.”
The cashier overcome said “I hate that shit,” quickly turning to me to apologize for his language.
I said “You know they aren’t allowed to touch you right? Just like you can’t put your hands on their bodies.”
Both men were quiet for a moment. Then the cashier turned to me and said ” but can a man say something about that?” He was ernest and sincere in his question.
I miss heard him and thought he was asking me if I could say something to management about the incident. I replied in the affirmative. “Really we can?” he asked.
I may have then slipped into a bit of a rant. Explaining to both of these men that it was not okay for anyone to put hands on their bodies without their permission. Just as they were well aware they could not touch the female staff. Consent, I explained, works both ways and is for EVERY BODY! I quickly ended my rant explaining I was raising two young boys and consent was a topic we covered a great deal.
The young bagger was replaced so he could take his break. He walked away and then turned back to thank me and wish me a good evening. I could feel his gratitude for this new information and I was hopeful it would make his work environment a little less hostile in the future.
All of this reminded me quickly why from the very beginning we have worked to keep our boys in charge of who can touch their bodies. This covers every thing from well meaning relatives, hugs from us, to kisses and tickling. They have known for years what consent is and that it is required by anyone who wants to touch their body. As well, that they must gain consent before touching a body that is not their own. And they now, remind me, when I reach in for a tickle, forgetting my own intentions, by saying “consent mom!”
I did not grow up with this strong message. I could tell tales of the how and the why because I’ve been working to untangle all the stuff so I don’t pass it along to my boys but I’m not looking to toss around any blame here. I am healing through giving something different to my own children. Because I do have scars and regrets for the moments when I was silenced by fear or didn’t believe I had the right to or know how to say no. I want that voice to be strong in my boys as they step out into the wider world, for their own protection as well as the protection of those they may encounter.
So we have all sorts of uncomfortable conversations as different ages and stages pass through our journey together. We cover the what if’s and the how to’s so they are prepared in the heat of the moment with some partial rehearsed scripts that can help them speak their truth. So they know the sound of their own voice and how to use it to protect themselves, their friends and even strangers being treated wrongfully. I ask what would you do if the …… and off I go to the bar where a girl’s had too much to drink, or the friend of color being harassed by the police, the man trying to lure them into a vehicle etc. We talk about the their white skin, their gender and how it comes with advantages and privileges other folks have to fight for. And how to be an ally over and over and over again to anyone who is being treated unfairly. But wider than that, at this stage in their life , we do the hard work of healing our own wounds so the boys can witness us out in the world standing up for others who are trying to find their own voice, those being mistreated constantly seeking out the shared humanity with in each one of us. Because, we have to start somewhere, in healing this broken world, with allies instead of enemies, with similarities instead of differences.