I’m thinking a lot about body sovereignty these days. And I’d love to tell you that it’s because I’m an excellent and thoughtful parent (true), but it’s not. It’s because, in light of the steady flow of horrific rape accounts, the thought occurs to me that I’ve got to make sure Ida understands that she’s the only one in charge of her body. I know. It got grim and real fast, didn’t it? Parenting is like that sometimes, isn’t it?
Of course, I’m not saying that victims of rape or assault are necessarily not in charge of their bodies. Of course there is no responsibility whatsoever on victims to prevent their attacks. I don’t realistically think teaching my daughter that she’s the only one with the authority to decide how to use her body is going to do one goddamn thing to prevent rape. Only potential rapists prevent rape. They do it by not raping. I’m sad and exhausted just like everybody else. I feel hopeless and scared. But I do think that if everyone were sovereignly in control of their own bodies – if we all acknowledged this about each other and ourselves– it would be a very good start toward somewhere better than we are now. And I’m part of everyone. And we’ve got to start.
This sounds good, right? Of course we want to teach our sons and daughters that they’re in charge of their bodies. We want them to know that nobody has the right to physically force them to do things. Of course our kids’ learning about something so important starts with us. And then I think of all the times I’ve picked Ida up and carried her somewhere against her will.
I don’t have an easy answer for how to deal with this. I’ve never had much success with hard and fast rules in parenting (i.e. I’ll never pick Ida up against her will). But I can draw a straight line from: (1) using my physical power to force Ida to submit to my will, to: (2) her feeling (because it’s true) like she’s not sovereignly in charge of her body. I’m sending her a mixed message. I’m doing it knowingly. I think, like so many times before, I’m doing this wrong. Being a shitty, inconsistent parent should be less mentally exhausting, no?
I temper the impossible coexistence of trying to convince Ida that she is the only one in charge of her body with the fact that I am sometimes in charge of her body. I explain that it’s okay for a mom or dad or babysitter to be in charge of a little kid’s body to keep them safe. And of course this is true. It has to be true. But I watch as this explanation does absolutely nothing to keep the look of utter betrayal from washing over Ida’s face as I force her body to safety against her will. She knows in the deepest way that she either is or is not in charge of her body. I hear all the time that kids are wildly illogical. I beg to differ. They are the strictest of logicians. Ida knows that something is wrong – that both A and not A cannot be true simultaneously.
And I know it too. I know that I want her to know that she’s sovereignly in charge of her body. I also know that when Ida is thrashing around in the madness of a toddler tantrum, coming perilously close to bashing her head against a table leg, I’m going to pick her up and take her to a safer space to carry on tantruming. I’m going to grab her friend’s hard and move it away when I see a punch coming. I’m going to brush her hair and teeth, wipe her face, wipe her butt, and force her body back into her car seat if she unbuckles it on Lakeshore Drive. And because we’ve talked about this a ton, she’s going to scream at me “I am in charge of my body! You are not allowed to be in charge of my body!” with a heart wrenching look of betrayal. And she’s going to be right. And I’m going to be right too. And it’s just going to keep being impossible.
And I know that I’m going to keep trying.
And I know that it’s going to be worth it.