Nov 27, 2023 - 21:01 UTC - 3 minutes to read - by Lena - in serious, boundaries, consent

A conversation that needs to be had

A broader discussion about boundaries
Content Warning: teaching children boundaries, nonconsensual touches, animal respect/abuse

I was browsing what remains of xitter (read: shitter), when i came across this tweet, which sparked my attention.

For those who do not use xitter (good thing tbh), or for when it finally all comes burning down, here's a screenshot of it.

Tweet contains a picture of a dog, sitting right next to the legs of a human. It reads: Small child runs up to Zoë. I body block and say, “Maybe we don’t run up to dogs we don’t know.” The parent: She’s three Me: If she isn’t on voice recall, maybe she should be leashed?

This tweet has zero problems in itself, but it sparked a broader discussion about what boundaries are, and how they work, since it's pretty clear that a lot of folks do not seem to understand that.

This blog post is a culmination of my thoughts towards both this and the recent blog post by Drew DeVault about RMS (CW: sexual assault/abuse involving minors)

Setting the stage

Ignoring the obvious discussion that children need to be looked over by their parents, and that there's an inherent safety risk with a child running up to any animal, in any circumstance, especially if unsupervised...

...a surprising amount of people seem to think that 3 year old toddlers aren't old enough to learn what boundaries and consent are, but more importantly that the same notions about boundaries and consent that are valid for humans don't apply to animals as well.

Of course, animals (as well as humans) in public society don't need to be outwardly aggressive towards others (e.g. a dog shouldn't run up to random people just to bite them), but that's not the topic at hand. (As a matter of fact, OP has a service dog).

In addition, young children should learn about boundaries and consent for their own safety, and not teaching a child about such important topics is bad parenting. At 3 years old, a child can definitely understand what "no" means.

Consent is a universal concept.

Unlike what we have been conditioned to think by the patriarchical society, the same way that a human may not like to be touched by a stranger, an animal/pet may feel the same way, and that's a perfectly valid position to hold.

As an example, you don't go hugging random strangers on the street, so why should you pet a random animal on the street?

What makes such an action inappropriate to do to a human but perfectly acceptable to an animal?

Now, this may sound as something basic, that obviously everyone already knows, but it's not something automatic for a lot of folks, and that needs to be said.

But let's assume that both the random stranger and the random dog do like being hugged/pet by complete strangers. You still have to ask.

And it's not different in any way between a human and, say a dog. You still have to go up to them, and... just ask.

Both for the human and the dog, you have to let yourself be known by the other party, which probably involves talking to the human and letting the dog assert you're not a threat (by e.g. letting it smell your hand or something).

(And no, just asking the pet owner is not the way to go, the same way you shouldn't just ask the parent of a child to hug them, but you need to ask the child as well.)

A lot of this stems from a belief lots of people seem to hold, which treats humans as "more" than, say a dog.

But that's... the same belief that has been used throughout history to ostracize and dehumanize groups of people who threaten western colonialism and the patriarchical society in general, such as BIPOC/women/disabled/LGBTQ+ folks.

Closing off

If you want to be considered someone who is respectful around others (instead of using progressive language to express the same beliefs that uphold the status quo), then you should start right from the "bottom".

Treating others as equal requires lots of introspection and analyzing personal biases, but that's a necessary step, and while it takes lots of energy and time, it unfortunately can't be skipped.