The flowering of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault has brought many abusers to justice, but the emphasis on consent can go way too far. One sexuality expert in Australia illustrated the absurdity of the overemphasis on consent by suggesting that a parent should seek his or her baby’s consent before changing a diaper (called a “nappy” in Australia).
“’I’m going to change your nappy now? Is that okay?” Deanne Carson, founder of Body Safety Australia, suggested in remarks to ABC News. “Of course, the baby’s not going to respond, ‘Yes, mom, that’s awesome. I’d love to have my nappy changed.’ But if you leave a space and wait for body language, and wait to make eye contact, then you’re letting that child know that their response matters.”
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) May 10, 2018
Carson has long supported teaching kids about consent in early childhood, but emphasized that this does not necessarily involve teaching them directly about sex. She encouraged “talking about how our bodies belong to us and we have the right to say yes or no.” Extending this to a baby’s diaper change seems more than a bit far-fetched, however.
SkyNews commentator Rowan Dean denounced this idea as “left lunacy,” but Carson defended her remarks saying, “The idea around consent is about empowering children with their rights and protecting them from sexual abuse.”
A few others also defended Carson. “She’s saying you should ask the baby if it’s OK. To get kids used to the idea that their bodies are their own,” John Bowman tweeted.
No, she's saying you should ask the baby if it's OK. To get kids used to the idea that their bodies are their own. "Deanne acknowledged babies would not be able to answer but said it's still important."
— John Bowman (@johnbowman) May 10, 2018
To be fair, a great deal of psychology suggests that long-term problems in life do trace back to childhood, and some even into infancy. Even so, applying the idea of consent to a diaper change is frankly absurd — and extremely insulting to real victims of rape and sexual assault.
Joe Hildebrand, a writer for The Daily Telegraph and television news personality on Australia’s Studio 10, argued that this argument effectively derails the good results of the #MeToo movement.
“We’ve just had a movement which has exposed sexual assault, rape, serial rape, sexual predation by high profile people who made a succession of women’s lives a misery, and then you have something idiotic like this that tries to ride on the coattails of this movement,” Hildebrand explained. He further suggested that sexual predators will start to breathe easier if the movement is derailed in this fashion.
“When we’re talking about consent, we’re talking about sexual assault. If you are equating changing a baby’s nappy with rape, you have just lost the argument. Not only that, you have insulted rape victims, rape survivors all over the world,” Hildebrand declared. “You have completely derailed an important argument that does need to be had and does need to take place and you have just screwed it for everybody else.”
"This is the sort of thing that actually destroys the good things that are achieved through movements…" @Joe_Hildebrand slams the suggestion that parents need to seek a baby’s consent before changing a nappy. #Studio10 pic.twitter.com/IuCyjhAiIk
— Studio 10 (@Studio10au) May 11, 2018
Australian comedian Ben Pobjie introduced yet another important point that contradicts Carson’s basic idea. “The nappy has to be changed no matter how the baby reacts, so if they react negatively, the message they’ll receive is that their consent is irrelevant,” Pobjie pointed out. “By this woman’s own logic, that is – which is bad logic.”
In other words, if parents wanted to teach their babies about consent, asking their permission to change their diaper is the exact wrong way to go about it. The diaper must be changed, or the baby’s health will deteriorate. In order for the child to learn about consent, it must be applied to a situation where the baby can say “no” and have that negative accepted. Diaper change does not fit that criteria.
Laci Green, another sex educator, also shot down the diaper-change analogy. “This is a really bad way to make that point. babies can’t consent! period,” she tweeted. “Telling people to ask consent before changing their baby is like a parody of the real argument.”
sure but….i also understand the upset. this is a really bad way to make that point. babies can’t consent! period. telling people to ask consent before changing their baby is like a parody of the real argument.
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) May 10, 2018
“I think she wants to encourage a conversation about consent amongst kids, but has made a mockery of it by taking it to the extreme. babies can’t consent to anything. ever. they’re babies!” an exasperated Green added. “Their safety and survival needs are assumed. this is NOT a mainstream view of sex educators.”
i think she wants to encourage a conversation about consent amongst kids, but has made a mockery of it by taking it to the extreme. babies can’t consent to anything. ever. they’re babies! their safety and survival needs are assumed. this is NOT a mainstream view of sex educators.
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) May 10, 2018
Carson, far from forwarding the culture of consent in sex education, has made a mockery of the movement that brought many sexual predators to justice. Furthermore, she has suggested a tactic in infant care that may result in the very opposite of what she set out to do — teach babies the value of consent. Finally, even other sex educators think this is a mockery of consent-based sex ed.
There is simply no analogy between a baby’s health need to have his or her diaper changed and the act of consenting to a sexual experience. The baby has no say in the matter, while an adult engaging in a sex act needs to give consent in one way or another.
Overemphasizing consent in matters of sex can lead to absurdity — like “consent forms” for sexual encounters — but it can also lead people to suggest ridiculous ideas regarding childcare. Consent is an important facet of sexual morality, but it is not the only aspect of sexual morality, and it is not the summum bonum of life.
Babies cannot consent to be fed, housed, nurtured, and cared for, but they need it all the same. The overemphasis on individual autonomy can lead to dangerous thinking — and hilarious self-parody.