Teaching Kids They Can’t Say “No”?

Utah excels at socializing male supremacy and female acquiescence.

While students at Kanesville Elementary in West Haven, UT, were not required to take part in the Valentine’s Day sixth-grade dance, those participating would be asked to fill out a dance card with the names of students with whom they wanted to dance — anyone whose name ended up on a list was supposed to accept the request; they weren’t supposed to say “No.”:

“Please be respectful, be polite,” Lane Findlay [of the Weber School District] said. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance.”

First, that isn’t how you teach anyone to be kind. Being respectful and polite means doing so in the affirmative and the negative. Both are extremely important. But, really, the negative is the only one that requires any teaching.

While theoretically both boys and girls could make requests, long-standing sexist tradition basically demands that 1) boys initiate and 2) boys only dance with girls (note the illustration on the dance card). So for all intents and purposes, this policy is, in addition to subtly enforcing heteronormative standards, essentially teaching students that boys are entitled to girls’ bodies and girls don’t have a right to say no — there’s really no other lesson to be learned! And more importantly, that’s the lesson some of the girls say they are taking away. So the school has spectacularly failed at their intended goal (kindness) while succeeding at an unintended one (codifying female submission). It’s basically the opposite of  learning about getting — and learning how to give — enthusiastic consent.

This is also another example of extreme helicopter parenting. While nobody likes the feeling of being rejected, it isn’t actually bullying for someone to say, “No, I don’t want to dance with you.” In fact, it’s one of those things that can help to build resiliency and help prepare you for the rest of your life, when you won’t have other people running interference to make sure that nobody ever hurts your feelings. I’m not trying to turn this into a “trouble with kids these days” screed.  But parents not wanting their kids to face any adversity has become an issue. It results in policies like this, so their precious little prince doesn’t experience a moment of discomfort.

And then what happens when that kid is in college and a woman says “No” to him? Let’s just hope the guy isn’t violent and doesn’t have easy access to guns. Because policies like this won’t teach him any sort of coping skills.

I’m reminded of the time my son met an older boy at a playground a few years ago, the summer before he entered kindergarten. The other boy was going into 3rd grade, so he was 8 or 9. The mom sat next to me and wanted to intervene when the boys began debating what to do. When I said they could work it out, she said, “But what if someone gets their feelings hurt?” And sure enough, when my son didn’t want to do what the older boy wanted to do, the older boy cried because my child had decided to do his own thing.

This is the kind of parenting that leads to policies like “Every girl must say ‘yes’ to boys who ask them to dance” — this desire to wrap kids in cotton wool so they never get hurt. And not only does it not benefit the kid whose feelings you’re “sparing,” but in this case, you’re actively harming the other kids (namely the girls) by teaching them that they don’t have agency over their own bodies or a right to their own desires.

Fortunately, because one mother had the nerve to speak to the local news station about it, which resulted in a flurry of national media backlash this week, the school ended up rescinding the forced-consent policy the day before the dance.

Talking to your daughters about:
Consent & Comfort

One Comment

  1. A thoughtful discussion on an issue that many probably don’t think about, yet is systematic to how we talk to our children about consent.

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